Islamicate Literature — a Tool to Tackle Islamophobia

Islamophobia is a long standing, deeply entrenched, global issue. Growing bodies of research point to the proliferation of Islamophobia cases across the globe in recent years. It disrupts civil society at many levels, from anti-Muslim policies to heightened tensions and hate crimes, including the increased bullying of Muslim children. One of the core causes of Islamophobia is ignorance, which is often fueled by stereotyped and negative portrayals of Muslims in media and popular culture.

In tackling Islamophobia, literature plays a prominent role. As a tool to procure knowledge, literature can impart actual narratives on what it handles within — shedding light on the incomprehensible enemy. Since imparting knowledge is a strategy that can resolve many glitches, it follows that the literature on Islam has the power to make people realize the true meaning of Islam.

In the Middle Ages, writers attempted to vilify Islamic doctrines to defend the far spread of Islam throughout Europe. Dante, the prominent Italian philosopher and poet, tried to demonize the Prophet ﷺ in his highly celebrated “Divine Comedy.” Spanish historian, Miguel Asín Palacios, suggested in his book “Islamic Eschatology in the Divine Comedy,” that Dante’s Divine Comedy was inspired by his attraction towards the Night Journey of the Prophet ﷺ, even though the poet placed the Prophet and his son-in-law, the forth Caliph of Islam Ali bin Abi Talib, in the eighth level of Hell. These kinds of works had a key role in spreading a horrible outlook into Islam. It fulfilled a stereotypical European approach towards Muslims and Islam.

Islamicate Literature

The word “Islamicate” defines that associated with regions in which Muslims are culturally dominant, but not specifically with the religion of Islam. The term was coined by Marshall Hodgson in the first volume of his book, “The Venture of Islam.” Hodgson used the term to describe cultural manifestations arising out of an Arabic and Persian literary tradition, which does not refer directly to the Islamic religion but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims.” [1] Due to the overriding influence of Islam on non-Muslims living within Muslim realms, Hodgson used the term to demonstrate the importance of Islam as a cultural force that influenced non-Muslim forms of art, literature, and custom.

Islamicate literature is the new wave in postcolonial literature. It is the artistic works of Muslims and non-Muslims that focuses on the cultural and canonical aspects of Islam. This is extremely important, for even if postcolonial literature handled the cultural and ethnic issues of religion there remained a lacuna for the discussion of Muslims and Islam.

The core cause behind the aura of new terminology in Postcolonial literature is alluded to by Dr. Claire Chambers in her article, where she writes, “Despite postcolonial theory’s relative neglect of Islam, during the last dozen years or so, increasing numbers of scholars are following Amin Malak’s suggestion that this lacuna may be due to high theory’s unwitting valorization of ‘a secular, Euro-American stance’. Muslim literary criticism constitutes a young but increasingly bustling and intellectually curious field of enquiry.”

Separating from the existing modes of postcolonialism, Islamicate literature molded a variety of contents from Islamic values. Dr. Chambers writes, “In fact, Muslim religion and culture, far from being opposed to narratives, is replete with them, whether stories that derive from the Qur’an and Sunna (life of the Prophet), or hadiths (sayings about the ways and deeds of Mohammed)”.

Orientalism is a Western scholarly discipline of the 18th and 19th centuries, that encompassed the study of the languages, literatures, religions, philosophies, histories, art, and laws of Asian societies, especially ancient ones. Recently, mainly through the work of the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, the term has been used disparagingly to refer to the allegedly simplistic, stereotyped, and demeaning conceptions of Arab and Asian cultures generally held by Western scholars.

Orientalist scholars attempted to build up a prevalent and hostile image of the Eastern cultures as inferior, stagnant, and degenerate. The West exploited these representations to justify their imperialist policies in the Middle East and beyond. In contrast, Islamicate literature traced and read the religion through the fundamental texts. It is an endeavor in opposition to all the Orientalists have done to misfortune Islam.

‘Counter Islamophobia through stories’ campaign.

In January 2017, the “Counter Islamophobia Through Stories” campaign launched to change the stories and misinformation about Muslims, especially for young minds. The campaign was conducted based on research that indicates that exposure to other cultures should begin at an early age.

The Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign provided a framework and resources to tackle issues of positive representation and build a bridge between cultures in classrooms and communities. The campaign seeks to change the stories about Muslims and fight hate with knowledge. Giving children different perspectives through books and stories opens up their minds and enables them to appreciate and respect diversity in our multicultural world.

Through the campaign, the public is provided with curated booklists around four different themes: Muslim kids as heroes, inspiring Muslim leaders and thinkers, celebrating Islam and folktales from Islamic traditions. With the misinformation and misconceptions that exist around Islam and Muslims, having own voices authors is critical in telling authentic and culturally rooted stories.

Literature helps to bridge between communities and cultures. It eradicates the misconceptions and phobia through a medium which is powerfully effective — the mind. This campaign is an example of how literature can transform the way of thinking.

According to the responses which the organizers received from the participants, its efforts were highly appreciated. It is clear that literature can vilify and purify the minds as per its contents. Literature in the classical period has a key role in the tremendous changing of its social contexts. This still holds true in this modern era, and a world that understands each other and has mutual respect for the values of others will help us make a peaceful planet.

Works Cited :

[1] S., Hodgson Marshall G. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. University of Chicago Press, 1977. 

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

About the Author: Muhammed Shabeebudheen is an English graduate. Mainly focusing in Muslim Culture, Sharia and Quran in Indian and Global literature. He obtained a MA in Islamic Sharia from Jamia Markaz, Kerala, and studied Theology, Hadith and Philosophy from Gousiyya Da’wa College, Kerala. You can find him on Twitter here

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

4 thoughts on “Islamicate Literature — a Tool to Tackle Islamophobia

  1. You can’t hide the elephant in the room by telling stories; the Islamic source materials details many evil things Muhammad said and taught. Muhammad taught jihad, i.e. aggressive wars of conquest to spread Islam’s rule. Muhammad had his critics murdered, (e.g. Asma bint Marwan and Abu Afak). Muhammad married and had sex with a 9 year old child.
    Take a look around the world and see how backwards and repressed true Islamic societies are. There’s a reason for that: Islam. The more Islamic a culture or country is the more dark and backward they become. That’s not a phobia, that’s a fact.

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