Intersectionality and Palestine Solidarity: Why Muslims Need to Lead the Gaza Protests | Blog

Published: June 19, 2024 • Updated: June 21, 2024

Author: Tom Facchine

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

A practicing Muslim walking through some of the student encampments for Palestine that have spread across the country might be dismayed by what they encounter. Blaring music, people lounging with their dogs, and the faint smell of weed are common. Read the various signs at some of the encampments and you will find rainbow flags and messages calling for queer liberation. Many practicing Muslims don’t feel welcome in an environment that departs so strongly from their values. As a result, their first trip to an encampment will often be their last. When Muslims avoid participating in the encampments—or other sites of political activism—a downward spiral ensues where the space caters less and less towards Muslims, driving even more Muslims away.
My call to Muslim youth is not to run away from this challenge but to face it head on, to step up and help lead the movement to end the Zionist occupation of Palestine once and for all. The time of being a bystander or letting others silence us is over. Ending the Zionist occupation is a Muslim issue and an Islamic issue, no matter who tells you otherwise.
Regrettably, even some of the most famous spokespeople for Palestine are guilty of anti-Islamic sentiment. A number of these spokespeople have argued that Palestine is not a religious issue but a human one, or that making it an Islamic issue benefits the Zionists. They are wrong, horribly wrong. At best, these takes are based on false dilemmas; the occupation of Palestine and genocide of the Palestinian people can be a human issue, a religious issue, and an Islamic issue all at the same time. At worst, taking Islam off the table is part of the colonization of Palestine and the Muslim world. Here I mean not the formal colonization of territory but the mental colonization that dictates how the occupied can or should resist. This is not to say that people with different beliefs or practices are not welcome to participate in a movement reenergized by Muslim leadership. We recognize that people with whom we disagree are moved by the unspeakable suffering of our brothers and sisters; however ,this does not mean that the central Islamic values of this cause can be stripped of the movement and undermined under the guise of "tolerance." Forced accommodation of values hostile to our own is not tolerance at all, but rather another site of recolonizing our struggle.
The uniquely anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic dimensions of Zionism must not be dismissed or minimized. While Zionist violence targets Palestinians regardless of their faith, Zionist justifications rely more heavily on anti-Muslim tropes than on anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian tropes, which naturally evoke far less sympathy than their anti-Muslim counterparts. In the immediate aftermath of the October 7th attack, Israel deliberately tried to make a connection between Palestinian resistance factions and ISIS. And while this narrative failed among Western populations and Israel eventually pivoted away from this talking point, it has succeeded in shaping the way Western governments perceive and contextualize the ongoing events. Adopting the Zionist framing, French Prime Minister Macron suggested expanding the existing coalition against ISIS to coordinate with Israel against Palestinian resistance, as if fighting one were an extension of fighting the other. US representatives and unhinged Zionist professors regularly smear anyone even mildly critical of Israel as terrorist sympathizers.
This is nothing new. For decades, Zionists have contributed to and exploited the post-9/11 War on Terror framework that uniquely securitizes Muslims, predicated on a belief in the inherent violence of Islam and its threat to Western civilization. Even before 9/11, Israeli officials were keen on this framing. Yitzhak Rabin said in the early 90s,

Today, we the Israelis truly stand in the firing line against fundamentalist Islam. We demand all states and nations to focus their attention on this huge threat inherent in Islamic fundamentalism.

In 1993, Shimon Peres said to a group of White House officials,

The U.S. should increase its aid to Israel instead of reducing it because Israel is waging a ferocious war against Islamic extremism.

The fact of the matter is that when Zionists stand before potential donors and supporters they don’t ask for help against Palestinian terrorism or Arab terrorism, they ask for help against “Islamic” terrorism. Zionists have spent millions of dollars explicitly trying to create an association between those two terms and continue to do so, as billboards across the United States attest.
Given this reality, it is insulting and disingenuous to be told that Palestine is not fundamentally a Muslim or an Islamic issue. This is nothing less than an act of gatekeeping designed to create a secular, nationalist, and leftist monopoly over pro-Palestinian advocacy and activism.
Muslim activists, if you allow yourselves to be sidelined and erased, the movement to end the Zionist occupation of Palestine will falter and ultimately fail. This is because without being anchored in Islam, any movement purporting to free Palestine risks drifting away from the largely Islamic values held by the great majority of Palestinians in Palestine itself. We must adamantly refuse the elitist and neocolonial suggestion that those assimilated to Western values—no matter their ethnicity—know better than those pulled from the rubble shouting triumphantly “La ilaha illa Allah!”
Without an Islamic grounding, activism for Palestine will lose focus on Palestine itself, becoming instead merely one ingredient of the familiar cocktail of leftist or progressive causes, the deviation from any one of which results in their silencing and marginalization. This is another site of recolonizing the terms of our resistance. As the chief victims of global Zionism and its primarily anti-Islamic discourse, we have the right to condition participation in our cause upon not conjoining Palestine with other contentious issues. Someone might think queer liberation and Palestinian liberation make perfect sense together. However, the majority of Muslims in Palestine and the world over do not, so such people should not be allowed to enlist and tokenize fringe Muslim elements that will give such maneuvers a green light, thus erecting yet another “good Muslim/bad Muslim” dynamic within our activist spaces and exposing the rest of us yet again to the question: “Those Muslim students don’t have a problem with it, why do you?” Furthermore, we should not shy away from challenging those Muslims who do allow themselves to be tokenized and used as such. As observant Muslims, we must become resolute and confident enough to prevent our voices from being drowned out by “allies” and other Muslims who have joined them, just as Imam Omar Suleiman foresaw in his article on Faithful Activism:

What if in the process of trying to craft our space, we become marginalized within that space? My hope is that if we become authoritative enough on important issues, we can exert enough strength to stay firm. But we have to be careful not to empower a space that is bound to suffocate us. It is natural that Muslims will always feel the pressure, especially as a vulnerable minority, to advance at all costs. We have to demonstrate that not all advancement is good, and there is such a thing as making strides with your religious principles at your center instead of cast behind you.

In order to not empower spaces that suffocate us as committed Muslims, we need to make sure that we get allyship and coalition-building right. In Toward Sacred Activism, Imam Dawud Walid makes the case that alliances and coalitions are actually two very different things,

Thus, many of those whom Muslims work with that are of other faiths or no faith at all are in fact suitable coalition partners within some circumstances but do not constitute true allies within the scope of al-Wala’a or what should be considered true ally-ship. This framework differs from the language put forth in the contemporary social justice world, which is primarily shaped by secular liberalism even when religious language is interwoven.

In this understanding, allyship is an inner circle made up of Muslims while coalition is an outer circle made up of non-Muslims willing to lend their support to a Muslim cause. This distinction is crucial because our brothers and sisters in faith are accorded a different degree of rights, responsibilities, and privileges that non-Muslims are not entitled to. This distinction between allies and coalition members finds support in the Qur’an, where Allah discusses allyship primarily by warning believers not to take allies that aren’t fellow believers and thus don’t share our values. Allah says,

O you who have believed, do not take the disbelievers as allies instead of the believers. Do you wish to give Allah a clear case against yourselves?

Elsewhere, Allah makes it crystal clear that that the key priority underlying any alliance is shared faith, even over kinship:

O you who have believed, do not take your fathers or your brothers as allies if they have preferred disbelief over belief. And whoever does so among you—then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

Allah is abundantly clear that our only real allies are those who share our faith and our values:

Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed—those who establish prayer and give zakat, and they bow [in worship]. And whoever is an ally of Allah and His Messenger and those who have believed—indeed, the party of Allah—they will prevail.

With such a strong emphasis placed on keeping to Muslims and avoiding compromising “alliances” with people who don’t share our faith or our values, to gather coalition members before attending to our true allies within the community is to put the cart before the horse and is an enormous mistake that might well result in our erasure from our own causes.
What pushes people to court outside help at the cost of their own community’s backing? Allah says,

O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you—then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people. So you see those in whose hearts is disease hastening into [association with] them, saying, “We are afraid a misfortune may strike us.” But perhaps Allah will bring conquest or a decision from Him, and they will become, over what they have been concealing within themselves, regretful.

In short, people rush to tend to outside support before sufficiently organizing inside support because they want the cause to succeed and are afraid that losing their outside support will result in the cause itself failing. Allah describes such people as having a disease in their hearts because they don’t have sufficient trust in Allah’s ability to deliver positive results to a righteous cause. Allah also points out that groups who don’t share our faith often have more in common with each other than they do with Muslims, highlighting the misalignment of values that often takes place when Muslims prioritize coalition members over allies from within the community.
This misguided belief is based on the premise that numbers and naturalistic causes determine the outcome rather than Allah. This is a failure to grasp the lessons of the Battles of both Uhud and Hunayn, when Allah pointed out to the believers that numbers essentially don’t matter much and in some cases can even be a liability,

Allah has surely blessed you with His help on many battlefields, and on the day of Hunayn, when you were proud of your great number, then it did not help you at all, and the earth was straitened for you despite all its vastness, then you turned back on your heels...

Adding the help of others might seem like simple arithmetic: the more people that assist you in your cause the more it is strengthened. But Allah tells us that numbers can just as easily be a liability as they can be a support. The participation of particularly problematic people and groups can bring more problems than their support justifies. Allah describes one such situation,

Had they gone forth with you, they would have been nothing but trouble for you, and would have scrambled around, seeking to spread discord in your midst. And some of you would have eagerly listened to them. And Allah has [perfect] knowledge of the wrongdoers.

Success is dependent on the permission of Allah, despite the numbers. Allah says,

How many times has a small force vanquished a mighty army by the Will of Allah! And Allah is [always] with the steadfast.

This should form the bedrock of our attitude to politics, civic engagement, and activism: first and foremost, we need us. We need enough committed Muslims that we can dictate from a place of principle how an encampment, demonstration, or campaign will look. We have to stand up to other groups and not be bullied into silence. And if we can’t conduct our politics alongside others while adhering to our principles, we should be prepared to walk away and do our own thing. This should not be confused with arrogance or ingratitude to the many sincere non-Muslims who are willing to lend us their support while simultaneously respecting our values. We might consider them similar to the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib, who lent key assistance to the Muslim community without embracing the faith himself. We can maintain a respectful and grateful bearing towards such individuals without compromising our principles.
But as Muslim activists we owe it to our fellow Muslims to build our alliances internally before seeking outside support. Once we have the home team locked in, then comes the time to build the coalition. Even then, Allah warns us that such help seldom comes for free. Usually there are expectations, strings attached to the help that is being offered. This is why Allah’s cautionary words about allyship often also involve warnings against obeying other groups:

O you who have believed, if you obey a party of those who were given the Scripture, they would turn you back, after your belief, [to being] unbelievers.

And again,

O you who have believed, if you obey those who disbelieve, they will turn you back on your heels, and you will [then] become losers. But Allah is your protector, and He is the best of helpers.

The sad reality is that some people only want to support the fictional, idealized “Muslim” of their imagination, one that has a very nominal connection with Islam and is actually a mouthpiece for their own values and agenda. They would like to be ventriloquists and turn Muslims into dummies. Such characters must be avoided at all costs.
When there is coalition work, participation should be limited, conditional, and accountable. By limited, we mean that it is focused on an issue or a concrete objective, not an entire agenda or platform. We don’t expect everyone who cares about Palestine to care about religious freedom or the sanctity of marriage, so we should not be expected to voice support for any cause other than the cause that is the basis of the coalition’s work.
By conditional, we mean that the group or groups primarily affected by an issue have the right to stipulate conditions for participating in that cause. The issue of Palestine is an issue that primarily affects Palestinians and Muslims. The support of others is welcome as long as it does not seek to separate us from our values and principles. It is our responsibility as Muslims to show up and lead with those values and principles and not allow them to be sidelined.
By accountable, we mean that coalition members must be held responsible for stepping out of line, even if that means ending the coalition and going our own way. When the Prophet ﷺ made hijrah to Madinah, he made an alliance with its three Jewish tribes agreeing that the Muslims and Jews would share in protecting the city from any outside aggression. When, one by one, the Jewish tribes violated the conditions of the agreement, the Muslims made sure to hold them accountable, even ousting them from the city for their treachery when necessary. Such actions demonstrate an understanding that coalition members who aren’t accountable to specific conditions are more dangerous than not having coalition members at all.
Some of the encampments across the country and across the world have succeeded in creating a palpably Islamic environment that is welcoming to Muslims without being unnecessarily alienating to non-Muslims. We must follow their example to emulate the savvy of the Prophet in making and navigating coalitions. Ending the Zionist occupation of Palestine for good has never been more urgent. As a faith community we must step up, not step back, and be unapologetic in leading the way.
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2 p. 54.
3 4:144.
4 9:23.
5 5:55-56.
6 5:51-52.
7 9:25.
8 9:47.
9 2:249.
10 3:100.
11 3:149-150.

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