Justice Jummahs: Accountability in Muslim Media and Beyond
Updated: May 20, 2019
We want to cast a wide net. People like Laila Alawa, Amani al-Khatahtbeh, their core teams, and other Muslim organizations need to be held accountable.
As-salāmu ʿalaykum friends, Muslim siblings, and those seeking solidarity,
Last Friday we kicked off the first of our #JusticeJummahs series. We wholeheartedly appreciate your support and warmth as well as hunger for justice. We want to thank muslim femme brigades for inspiring us with their #AllahLovesAccountability series, we wish to continue their work this Ramadan through Justice Jummahs. Last week we wanted to highlight the difficulties and mistreatment of our sister Aima, known as @AimaNiqabae on twitter and @niqabaechronicles on instagram. We want to emphasize that we care about labour as an issue that intersects with queer identity and that this is not about Amani al-Khatahtbeh alone. This is not about cancelling anyone, this is about accountability and justice. We have been driven to react since witnessing the treatment of other young Muslims by Rabia Chaudry and we are tired of Muslim gatekeeping and whisper networks. We want justice, transparency, and responsibility to be taken like our deen teaches us.
"We want to emphasize that we care about labour as an issue that intersects with queer identity and that this is not about Amani al-Khatahtbeh alone. This is not about cancelling anyone, this is about accountability and justice."
This Friday, we want to highlight the concerns we have for our siblings who have worked or are currently working at The Tempest. The Tempest (formerly known as Coming of Faith) was founded by Laila Alawa many moons ago. Regardless of whether The Tempest is about/for all women or only muslim women, we care about it as a labour issue and an ironically thorny issue. Laila has been similar to Amani in many ways. She has plagiarized a call for pitches from Haley Mlotek. She has offered young impressionable Muslim women “exposure” (read as ZERO to FIVE dollars) for writing for her publication. She has had her un/underpaid editors and interns copy and paste a mass spam email with copy and pasted article titles to the Muslim writers who wrote them, offering them a paid opportunity as bait. The opportunity was paid at $5 an article. Yet, she has sunk her teeth into the ethical issues Amani has been implicated in at the helm of Muslim Girl.
Laila has criticized Amani with little self-reflection of how she built her own media organization. There has been similar pressure and tokenization of stories at The Tempest. Beyond this, it has been reported that Laila pits other Muslim creatives against one another like Amani. We recognize the driving forces in white supremacist capitalist colonial systems to aspire to attain what an oppressor had before us. That results in Muslims oppressing other Muslims. Some navigate Muslim creative spaces while also surveilling Muslims by working for the FBI, and we all know there should be no chai for the FBI.
After much thought we have decided to expand on this idea of surveillance in the Muslim community. We want to warn and protect our youth from state surveillance and violence especially when it is from our own community. Countering Violent Extremism initiatives, popularly known as CVE proliferated in the post 9/11 era. State surveillance is fascinated with policing racialized Muslim bodies and has recruited many Muslims to act as spies within the community. They often exaggerate events, conversations and knowledge to receive praise and recognition from their employers. In the photos above, you can see that Laila Alawa has been mentioned in many DHS documents for her involvement in CVE. In fact, Alawa herself admits to her involvement with CVE activities and instead frames it as a way of helping CVE be more aiding the Ummah. As Alawa puts it on The Tempest her presence there was "...to ensure that the future of America’s CVE programming focused on creating inclusive solutions that promoted a national sense of community and belonging, rather than isolation and alienation." We want to reiterate there is no good way to be part of the surveillance state.
Alawa has worked extensively with CVE initiatives and was the lead informing a Department of Homeland Security subcommittee on pop culture and millennials. This is exceedingly predatory given the work she does as CEO and Founder of The Tempest and her online presence. She tries to build connections with young vulnerable Muslims and usurp their stories while concurrently providing insight that enhances state surveillance and security measures that constantly render us othered. CVE is an industry that thrives on racist, colonial, orientalist narratives. CVE furthers Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment while fuelling invasions and occupations of majority Muslim countries. CVE propels carceral systems and spies within our communities are implicated in the imprisonment of many innocent Muslim brothers in Guantanamo Bay. Alawa's own website has published an article that aligns with our view that "CVE is a program that has disproportionately targeted and harmed Black and brown Muslims..." we encourage Alawa to listen to her talented writers.
Reflecting on our religion and surveillance, The Quran reads, “Believers, avoid making too many assumptions — some assumptions are sinful — and do not spy on one another or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother” (Qur’an 49:12) We, as Muslims firmly believe that those who spy will be held accountable one day. We urge fellow Muslims to stop engaging in statecraft and divest from media and opportunities provided by Muslims who spy on one another. Further we are tired of warm body representation. We no longer want to see people championed or praised merely for being Muslims, we must advocate for people with the radical justice oriented politics we wish to see in the world. To transform the world we need transformative people.
"We no longer want to see people championed or praised merely for being Muslims, we must advocate for people with the radical justice oriented politics we wish to see in the world. To transform the world we need transformative people."
We must recognize that people who lead these organizations also have executive teams. These people are also guilty of harm. The core teams of Muslim Girl, The Tempest, illMuslims and so many other organizations are toxic and predatory as whole. Many Muslims prey on younger Muslims to “volunteer” or have them work for free in exchange for “experiences” and “exposure”. In fact, last year at Muslim mentorship events, influential Muslims addressed young Muslims struggling to gain meaningful employment to excessively volunteer in the community. This continues the cycle of abuse and furthers the idea that young Muslims are disposable and not worth paying in the larger world. While the Muslim executives of these different organizations build empires to satiate their celebrity Muslim aspirations the young teams behind them are exploited and silenced. The backbone of these organizations are these young team members who work tirelessly and on tight deadlines. The ironies are plentiful including the fact that those at the forefront of these organizations demand to be paid for their time when they begin to get opportunities as a result of their blood built organizations.
We want to cast a wide net. Our call for justice in creative industries will continue next week. Jummah Mubarak! Read below for our direct demands for action.
A (Queer) Muslim Manifesto for Organizations Working with Young Muslims
1. Muslim based organizations and those at the forefront have not been held accountable and the time has come this Ramadan
2. Advocacy, Arts, and Media organizations that happen to recruit a lot of Muslims or garner Muslim readership are built and sustained on anti-blackness. They treat Black Muslims as an afterthought and are often Arab and South Asian centric.
3. These are not single person issues. These issues involve multiple individuals. There are teams who did this. Many people criticizing individual leaders are implicated in harm too. Fear Allah and Ego.
4. Stop launching fundraising campaigns unless you are able to show how money was used. This is a common practice for non-profits. We’ve had enough of these black holes. Financial accountability to your teams and readership should be standard.
5. To fellow Muslims and those seeking solidarity stop donating and giving web traffic to these organizations until further notice of attempts at transformative justice.
6. Choose deen over dunya. Say sorry in a real way. Show us your finances or shut up. Show us you want to change and are striving to change or shut up. Show us you know you have done harm. Show us you understand that impact is greater than intent.
7. Stop scavenging for clickbait stories and bleeding young people of their most marginalized moments for “exposure” paying people less than a latte or nothing to write about trauma vignettes in their lives is haram. Period. Let us suspend harm.
8. Communities have the right to voice their concerns, especially when faced with intra-community violence. It is not backbiting - in fact it is our Islamic duty to spread truth, knowledge, and warn others. Do not shut down dialogue or dismiss it as gossip. An authentic commitment to social justice acknowledges dialogue and is responsive not defensive. Be self-reflexive, let’s meet each other where we are at and build.
9. Stop being fake woke. It’s corny. We mean it. So many of these organizations are pushing an attempt to appear hip and woke. It ends up being non-black people of colour appropriating AAVE and swerving out of their lanes. Move back. Learn about social justice from more than the internet. The internal structures and conversations that occur in these organizations are jarring and cased in anti-blackness, classism, ableism and more violence. While profiting on the facade of black aesthetics and posturing a social justice lens. Please take time as you build to honour the histories of people you cite or post about, read, and get some training. Reflect on who your organization is filled with and the reasons why. Dismantle and build again if it is still feeling broken.
10. Move beyond fixating on myth busting for (Arab and Desi) Islamophobia. We don’t need another hug a Muslim campaign or another think piece about how you were bullied but now you are totally cool, rad, assimilated, and as American as apple pie. Beyond the saturation we believe as Muslims we must work towards decolonizing our understandings of our value, stories, and histories. We do not have to be respectable. We have to be real.
Islam is a religion of strangers first and foremost. It began as something strange and will return to something strange according to our Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Therefore we should not pander to white audiences who only want to use our voices for click bait. We want to be accountable to you too so we are spreading the net. We want to see foundational changes in people and relationships ripple into our community. Big love and solidarity to all of those seeking justice.
So until next Friday,
Queering Ramadan Family
This is a republished piece - we apologize for republishing but we felt an urgent need to expand on the haram nature of working with state surveillance and needed to make a few edits. Have a great weekend!
P.S. next week we will be thinking about how to move forward in more depth and highlighting another organization that needs to be more self-reflexive about their practices as well as looking at how prison abolition movements in an Islamic context.
P.P.S. If you aren't already following us on twitter and instagram you can find us @queeringramadan.