People, Labels, and Intellectual Racism

Liberal, Progressive, Moderate, Secular, Fundamental, Traditional, Modern, Conservative, etc.

Have you ever heard of any of them? They are all labels, just labels.

But apparently, many people are so focused on these labels up to a point where they would immediately draw conclusions about the labelled people without due consideration on individual uniqueness and context, engaging in a type of “if you are not with me, then you are against me” type of mentality.

Personally, I care less about the labels and I care more about what they mean. Specifically, I care about what individuals mean when they mention a label because we might be talking about the same label but we mean different things.

For example, when a person says that he/she doesn’t believe in God, the first question to ask is not “Why don’t you believe in God?” The first question to ask is, “What do you mean when you say God?”

It might sound ridiculous to ask that question since the word “God” is common and everybody knows it. However, just because everybody knows it, doesn’t mean that they all think of the same thing. Perhaps my conception of God, the Islamic conception of God, is different from yours.

If you say that you don’t believe in a certain conception of God that I myself don’t believe in, then I would agree with you. If when you say, “I don’t believe in God”, what you really mean is, “I don’t believe in the conception of God promoted by Christianity”, then I would agree with you.

It is important to consider what each label means to the individual in question, in the context of the situation, and to draw our individual conclusion based upon it – not based upon the label itself.

Try to analyze situations not based on superficial qualities like labels, because that will simplify what is in reality, a complicated issue. We use the filter of Quran and Sunnah not on labels, but on the reality behind those labels in the context in which they are used – we look at what they mean.

For example, if someone claims to be liberal and it is by his/her liberal belief that women should not be oppressed. Then, Islam has no problem with that. What does female oppression mean? That can be discussed deeper, but the basic premise is agreed upon. No question about that.

By grouping everything (and everyone) in one label, we are essentially resorting to a type of a mental shortcut. Just go straight to the conclusion without bothering to check and consider the content of the argument.

It is a type of laziness to be engaged in this practice; too lazy to think.

It is also a type of injustice, where we immediately push aside a person’s thoughts and opinions on the basis of the label he/she may (or may not) represent, not on the basis of the merit behind his/her arguments and argumentation style.

Like racism. People with a racist tendency push aside other people’s thoughts and opinions (and by extension, the people themselves) on the basis of their skin colour. In this case, it is not the people’s skin colour but it is the people’s label (or the label that we placed upon them).

As if a tiny subset of racism is slowly emerging – an intellectual racism.

Let us not see people as walking labels, because we are too intellectually obese to walk a mile in their shoes. Let us not resort to shortcuts with these labels, thinking that we will have them all figured out when we place those labels upon them.

See people as people, as unique individuals with thoughts and opinions which we might disagree or agree with. But to know which is which, we have to first listen to them and not let our mental chatter of labels drown out their voices.

We can disagree with one thing that a person says, but it doesn’t mean that we disagree with everything that the person says.

2 thoughts on “People, Labels, and Intellectual Racism”

  1. Peace be upon you Brother Aiman,

    The post is really a fun topic to write and talk about. It a matter that we should be discussed further 'openly', 'intellectually', academically, and sociologically. I really hope you can write further about it. Maybe less abstract and more academical. Ya, I know I shouldn't be asking you to write it that way. But you are the one who have the words and voice to talk about such matter. And of course, you are more knowledgeable.

    I once wrote about something similar (not quite, but surrounding similar subject), but it end up sounded quite personal and individualistic. And the voice behind it couldn't go far.

    Who knows, if you discuss it further, it can go far 🙂

    Wallahua'lam and regards,

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