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A Critique on Hoda Katebi and the Rise of Secular Liberal Activism within the Muslim Community

A Critique on Hoda Katebi and the Rise of Secular Liberal Activism within the Muslim Community

The tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the media frenzy that followed is significant in also analyzing the ideologies that activists within the Western Muslim community abide by and what true activism under Islamic values is defined as. One such activist who rose to the occasion was Hoda Katebi.

A Critique on Hoda Katebi and the Rise of Secular Liberal Activism within the Muslim Community

The tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the media frenzy that followed is significant in also analyzing the ideologies that activists within the Western Muslim community abide by and what true activism under Islamic values is defined as. One such activist who rose to the occasion was Hoda Katebi.

By Sayyeda Raza

The protests in Iran have captivated Western media headlines, fueled by the tragic death of Mahsa Amini. Media outlets have been quick to weaponize Amini’s death and generate a frenzy, primarily pushing a narrative of Iranians fighting for “regime change.”

This event is of particular importance in distinguishing activists that look beyond what is initially broadcasted from those quick to jump on trending media campaigns.

This affair was also significant in analyzing the ideologies that activists within the Western Muslim community abide by and what true activism under Islamic values is defined as.

One such activist who rose to the occasion was Hoda Katebi. Hoda is an Iranian-American writer and community organizer who does a wide array of work in politics and fashion. She was quick to leap onto this Anti-Iran media frenzy claiming that Amini was “beaten by the Gashte-Irshad ” without backing up her accusations with evidence. Meanwhile, the Director General of Forensic Medicine in Tehran states there are “no signs of skull fracture, bleeding, or rupture” of Amini’s internal organs. Despite evidence pointing to Amini’s natural death, authorities in Iran are still actively investigating the circumstances behind the situation. It is questionable as to why Hoda was so quick to join a hate fueled campaign that is not even backed up by any subsequent evidence. 

In a recent Instagram post, Hoda also justified her support for the burning of the hijab, comparing it to burning the Israeli flag.

The attempted demolition of a religious symbol as sacred as the hijab is not comparable to the burning of a flag that represents a century-old illegal settler colonial entity.

 There is nothing courageous about trying to prove a point through burning a symbol sacred to Muslims around the world. Hijab in itself has been a symbol of resistance, particularly against a society that seeks to capitalize on women and use female sexuality as a commodity.

These actions of attacking Islamic symbols, even if they are being spread by those who consider themselves Muslims, are promoting ideas against the very fundamentals of the religion. Hoda uses the same narrative enforced by the West by stating that Iran has weaponized faith through the implementation of laws that govern an Islamic society.

This argument, rooted in favor of the Western ideology, completely negates the fact that the Islamic Republic itself would not exist without the majority of the people voting in favor and that laws outlining modesty are a critical part of an Islamic society.

In another post, Hoda writes,“down with all oppression, from the shah [king] to rahbar [Leader of the Republic].” This incorrectly conflates the Shah, a leader of an overthrown and widely recognized corrupt monarchy, with the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who remains revered by the majority of society. It is inappropriate to compare a system that was overthrown by the people to a system that is currently maintained by the majority.

True to the center of secular liberal activism, Hoda's statements blur the lines between truth and falsehood. This allows her activist ideology to directly align with the West's 'Anti-Iran' defamation campaign.

Secular liberal activism is a form of activism that negates any form of leadership, highlights individualistic freedom and nullifies any moral standard at which to abide by. Under secular liberalism, there is no clear contrast between good and evil as there is no compass at which one may distinguish between right versus wrong, other than whatever one personally decides. As someone who has attended various faith centered conferences and events, I have seen many secular liberal activists, such as Hoda, widely broadcasted.

These spaces that claim to uphold “Islamic Activism” are ironically showcasing a brand of activism that directly opposes Islamic values. These values are reflective of a growing brand of activism within the Muslim community, one which lacks a foundation rooted in spirituality and instead integrates Western liberal ideas.

When such liberal based ideas become shown through Islamic spaces, it creates the false image that such ideas are rooted within the principles of Islam. Particularly in Hoda’s case, her support for leftist ideas, her lack of response on the burning of Alams, flags considered sacred symbols that honor the tragedy of Karbala, and her blatant defending of burning the hijab shows that her activism is not rooted in religious values, and therefore should not be broadcasted in spaces that claim to uphold Islamic values. 

True Islamic activism, unlike secular liberalism, does not have a notion of selecting and merging opposing concepts. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) speaks about the dangers of mixing truth and falsehood in Nahjul Balagha Sermon 50. He states:

“If wrong had been pure and unmixed it would not be hidden from those who are in search of it. And if right had been pure without admixture of wrong those who bear hatred towards it would have been silenced. What is, however, done is that something is taken from here and something from there and the two are mixed! At this stage Satan overpowers his friends and they alone escape for whom ‘virtue has been apportioned by Allah from before.”

Here, Imam Ali (as) is explaining the danger of not clearly separating truth and falsehood and how this mixing is ultimately what leads the masses to succumb to falsehood. Even though Hoda has previously been openly critical of the West, Western media outlets such as The Los Angeles Times are now furthering Hoda’s current views. This is solely because her rhetoric conveniently contributes to their propaganda. 

They have strategically used her ‘truth mixed falsehood’ brand of activism for their own interests.

Ultimately, this only goes to further highlight the importance of understanding the causes one wishes to serve and realizing her voice actually strengthens the goals of the West far more than it defends Islamic values.

Islam, unlike this secular liberal brand of activism, gives value and honor to following authority, specifically one centered around God. The Holy Quran notably states,

“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those in authority from among you” (4:59).

Moreover, the Prophets of God are outlined as the model activists whose primary messages were to establish Tawheed, instill organization and ultimately reform society. Islam has particularly emphasized the importance of spiritual reformation being at the very center of political reformation. The Battle of Karbala was caused by more than just the need for political reform. In his addresses to his brother, Imam Hussain states that his uprising is only “to seek reform and equilibrium in the nation of my grandfather, the Messenger of Allāh”.

He further adds that his goal is to “invite to good and dissuade evil; and adopt the path of my grandfather and my father, Alī bin Abī Tālib.”

This proves the necessity of a societal reform on the basis of spiritual equilibrium alongside any political agenda. Similarly, this was also the change that Islam brought upon a pagan society in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (S) as he sought to reform the community through purifying the intellect (aql) of the people. 

Many leaders throughout history have also recognized the significance of spirituality in activism. Malcolm X states, “Mankind’s history has proved from one era to another that the true criterion of leadership is spiritual.” During the Islamic Revolution in Iran, its leader, the late Imam Khomeini centered the revolution of society around spiritual elevation and purification. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) during his governance would not entrust a position to anyone before investigating their honesty, experience, and sincerity.

These examples serve to show the importance of centering spirituality and God-consciousness around political reformation and activism. It is imperative to look upon activists that uphold Divine authority, root their activism in Divine principle, and make a clear indication between the camp of truth and the camp of falsehood.

The United States and their Allies could care less about “justice” but rather have weaponized Amini’s death as an attempt to weaken the system of governance that Iran abides by: Wilayatul Faqih. Wilayat al-Faqih “advocates a guardianship-based political system, which relies upon a just and capable jurist (faqih) to assume the leadership of the government in the absence of an infallible Imam.” Since the implementation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, in which the people voted for its very protection, there have been countless attempts by the West to dismantle this system. The West knows that such a system is a threat to The Western imperialist agenda worldwide.

The invalidation of authority under secular liberal activism aligns enitirely with the Western attempt to obliterate the system of Wilayatul Faqih. Therefore, the western media outlets will be quick to highlight such activists, all while those that have clearly outlined truth and falsehood will face a campaign of censorship.

It has become evident that true Islamic activism is one rooted in spiritual reformation and God-centricity while secular activism directly opposes this ideal. Therefore, I call into question all events, conferences, and Muslim spaces, both Shia and Sunni, who host this liberal brand of activism that contradicts our faith at its very root. Such spaces which have provided platforms to these secular liberal activists must also be held responsible for their words and causes. If our own spaces censor the voices that have clearly outlined truth and falsehood and replace it with the likes of Hoda Katebi, we are doing a disservice to the younger generations who will champion a confused Islamic identity. It is imperative that our youth can distinguish and follow faith centered activism when they see it. This can only be done through a fundamental understanding of Divine Guardianship (Wilayah) and the importance of spirituality within any societal reform.

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