A Virtue Of Disobedience

By Asim Qureshi

A meditation on oppression & authoritarianism, reflecting how faith & virtue can lead to liberation

Non fiction
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Publication date: September 2019

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New revised edition – includes brand new and updated chapters

In times of political crises and repression, the state has often resorted to emergency powers, often directed at specific suspect communities. Whether it is the period of Nazi Germany, the black civil rights movement, Apartheid or the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there has been a tension between the way that power exerts itself and those who seek to resist the excesses of the state.

Movements seeking rights and equal treatment before the law produced vast amounts of literature to intellectually describe and challenge the epistemology and discourse of their periods – they formed a body of resistance literature that has been crucial in formulating what we consider today to be among the most important works on anti-racism and anti-tyranny. 

As a Muslim, whose adult life has been spent largely responding to the excesses of the global War on Terror – I have found there has been no Muslim-centred response to these same challenges. This is needed, as there are differences. Muslims are not located in one region of the world, nor are they comprised from one specific ethnicity – so how can we understand what a doctrine of resistance might look like in light of those differences? Many Muslims resort to the politics of post-colonialism as their way to make sense of the world around them, except post-colonial responses largely imagined the nation-state, something that is perhaps out of congruence with a community that has international connections and concerns.

Further, the issue for Muslims is compounded by a class of scholarship that preach quietism in the face of despotism in the East, and a non-confrontational approach in the West. Doctrine is used politically and religiously to neutralise any dissent to the state, in whatever circumstance this might occur.

I am concerned by this, and history teaches us that this is not how human beings should respond to authoritarianism. I want to study the movements of the past and learn lessons from their plight, but more importantly, their resistance. I want to understand how they went about enforcing the morality of the law, in a circumstance where it was being structurally decimated. I also want to understand how the past is connected to the present, and so want to look at the killing of Philando Castile in the US, the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in the UK and the general state of political violence in our world. 

This book is an attempt to reflect on the world we live in, and by using the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, to posit a notion of virtuous disobedience, one that is not only congruent with the teachings of Islam, but also true to the history and experience of others who have fought for the rights we are seeking. This book does not attempt to provide all the answers, but to start a conversation about what the status quo is, and what philosophies we can adopt in furthering rights for ourselves and others. Do the scholars have it correct, that we must wait for the hereafter for justice, or as the actor Jessie Williams states, ‘the hereafter is a hustle’. I want to ascertain the lines of intersection across all of these moments, in the hope that the conversation can shift beyond the ‘good Muslim bad Muslim’ reductionisms that currently set the discourse. My hope is that by being disobedient to authoritarianism, we can put forward a claim to being obedient to justice. 

New Content

New sections on:

Neoliberalism kills people
- The violence of neoliberalism
- A faith based ethic in response to this violence
- A decolonial rethinking of what inequality means

Liberal complicity
- How special advocates reinforce the racism of the judiciary
- How liberal engage and reinforce a racist system
- Responding to allies who cooperated with the Commission for Counter Extremism

New chapters on:

Collaborators
- A four-point method developed to assess complicity with injustice
- Reflections on state sponsored trips to Israel in the US and UK
- Thoughts on the resisting roles played by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim Congresswomen in the US.

Disobedience to Condemnation
- Thoughts on why Muslims are required to condemn terrorism.
- A scientific approach to understanding the efficacy of calls to condemn terrorism.

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    Asim Qureshi

    Asim Qureshi graduated in Law (LLB Hons) LLM, specialising in International Law and Islamic Law. He competed his PhD in International Conflict Analysis from the University of Kent.


    He is the Research Director at the advocacy group CAGE, and since 2003 has specialised in investigating the impact of counterterrorism practices worldwide. He has published a wide range of NGO reports, academic journals and articles. In 2009, he authored the book Rules of the Game: Detention, Deportation, Disappearance (Hurst, Columbia UP) a chapter in the 2017 book What is Islamophobia? (Pluto Press, Chicago UP) and in 2018 A Virtue of Disobedience (ByLine Books). Since 2010, he has been advising legal teams involved in defending terrorism trials in the US and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

  • Throughout history, there are numerous examples of how the divide-and-conquer tactic has been used as a precursor to total destruction. We know that much of the science of anthropology was born in genocide[i] – to meet the need of their empires to understand a people, and ultimately to destroy them.

    Perhaps the most sophisticated version of this process was Operation Dalet, as described by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, which was carried out by the Zionists after years of mapping Palestinian villages and communities – the result was the Nakba (the Catastrophe) that would establish the state of Israel and displace hundreds of thousands Palestinians in 1948.[ii] I think this is perhaps the most surprising of all cases, as the Jewish people are perfectly familiar with all the abuses that were perpetrated against them in the past, and yet somehow some of them who went on to be involved in political Zionism, perpetrated similar abuses against others.

    But this type of intergenerational trauma - which underlines the notion developed in the previous chapter that time does not heal trauma, but rather can further it – brings with it its own complexities that need to be better understood. History is complicated, and the way it intersects with contemporary life is often difficult to discern, however, there were moments where others should have stepped up to assist the Jewish people.

    During the late–1400s, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had forcefully converted the Jews of Spain to Christianity, known thereafter as the Conversos. The Conversos were systematically discriminated against based on their previous religious practices as recorded by Matthew Carr in his book ‘Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain’.[iii] However, up until the point of the forceful Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492, what was the role played by Muslims in defending their Jewish counterparts? To what extent did they predict that the forceful conversions and discrimination being perpetrated against Jewish communities would come to haunt them over the next 120 years? I wonder how Allāh viewed any action they took, or indeed inaction, as something that was blameworthy in His eyes? Was this a Muslim moment of the bystander effect?

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