Sulekha Hassan and Bushra Wasty are editors at Islamicate.
The reaction to the death of Nahid Almanea by some Muslims has been rather interesting with many of them making comparisons with the murder of Lee Rigby as well as focusing on the perceived lack of interest by the media. It takes just a few clicks to see the falsity in saying that there has been no media coverage; astoundingly, the Daily Mail, which has a reputation for regularly maligning Muslims, ran it as a main story as did many other national newspapers whilst the Metro newspaper had it up as a headline on their front page.
The comparison with Lee Rigby’s murder has exposed the inability of some Muslims to differentiate between two matters that may superficially appear the same. Lee Rigby was murdered on a London high street by machete-wielding individuals, with very misguided intentions. It would be a challenge to not have been struck by the barbarity of what they saw on their TV screens and we cannot forget that the killers themselves asked to be filmed. In fact, the intensity of the coverage of the brutal murder was to be expected and it shouldn’t surprise anyone else.
Ms Almanea’s murder, on the other hand, seems much like any other heinous murder and its motivations will remain speculative until more evidence comes to light. It is for this reason that it is sad that Muslims have taken it upon themselves to politicise the death of two people as if they stand in opposition to each other. Whilst we should always remain critical of the media to regulate them, it does us no favours when we resent the attention given to an individual who was a victim like this Muslim woman. Some have naively reacted with the customary and rather misplaced paradigm of the ‘kuffar vs us’. We should, in fact, recognise that a barbaric individual murdered an innocent Muslim woman; just as Muslims should not have to be subjected to being indicted for the actions of a crazed few, so the rest of British society is not to be held responsible for the murder of this student.
It’s rather strange that many of us have already made up our minds that this was a religiously motivated attack given that the police have suggested that this is only one of their lines of inquiry. Muslims have done precisely what they accuse others of and have prematurely jumped to conclusions; this being a religiously motivated attack is a likely possibility but it does not justify the outpouring of venom that we have seen.
Even more surprising is the response from Ed Husain suggesting that since Muslim women were advised by ‘scholars’ (a term we use very loosely when it comes to Mr Husain) to stop wearing hijab, the same advice should now apply in the murder of Ms Almanea, who was clad in hijab and abayah at the time of the attack. It goes without saying that using this killing to make such a suggestion is beyond crude; it’s downright repulsive. Just like the Muslims he would call extreme, Ed too has jumped to conclusions that this attack was Islamophobic of which there is currently no evidence. If indeed this is the case he, as well as others holding the same views, have validated prejudice and racial bigotry. By purporting such values, Mr Husain has absolved the countless accounts of intolerance and racism based on appearance that have taken place in history. Furthermore, when faced with opposition on Twitter, he had the audacity to suggest that the British Muslim community is too immature for this discussion.
Such a declaration reeks of misogyny, as yet again a man is attempting to determine an acceptable form of women’s dress. The fact is that claiming that women shouldn’t be identifiably Muslim, whether the motive is Islamophobic or not, is misogynistic as well as suppression of female identity. The element of victim blaming is not lost either; this is essentially telling women they shouldn’t dress a certain way if they don’t want to be attacked whilst simultaneously blaming Nahid Almanea for her own tragic death. The repercussions of this approach on the following generations of women are grave and thus it is important to keep such statements in check. On the other end of the spectrum, there are many Muslims making absurd claims that women should not leave their homes at all unless they have a mahram (male relative) to accompany them. Again, this is a form of victim blaming – the victim was not murdered because she didn’t have her brother with her. The murderer could have killed them both, if possible. In reality, there are many Muslim women who venture outside the home without risking their lives; the bottom line here is that a woman was murdered in broad daylight.
Reactions such as comparisons with Lee Rigby combined with the victim blaming is indicative that some British Muslims are unable to rise above the ‘tit-for-tat’ attitude. Instead of waiting for more evidence and news on a crime, we stoop to the level of politicising a murder victim’s death. Indeed it is highly important that we challenge Islamophobia as well as the deeply held convictions of some that its existence is a myth; we must challenge these views wherever they emanate from. However, our reactions as Muslims need to be measured, as difficult as we may find this. Justice for Nahid Almanea should mean a thorough police investigation, a desire to ascertain the truth and ultimately bringing the perpetrator (or perpetrators) to justice. Everything else is just speculation, which helps nobody.
Correction – Previous versions of this article stated Ed Husain is part of Quilliam Foundation. We would like to clarify that Mr Husain has not been part of Quilliam since 2010. He is part of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.