“Growing up as a working class Muslim, I faced the sharp end of the horrors of capitalism. As I became political, I developed a deep pessimism that nothing could change. Finding the Marxist Student Federation allowed me to understand the genuine Marxist ideas that we need to fight capitalism. It gave me the optimism to fight. ”
From a young age, I became aware that my family was in an overwhelming amount of debt. So, as soon as I was 16 I was working precarious jobs to support my family.
I had to support myself financially through college and my degree. At one point during the final year of my degree I was balancing four jobs just to pay the bills, and somehow getting by on a diet of eggs and tinned beans.
Growing up as an orthodox Bangladeshi Muslim, I had my fair share of racist and Islamophobic abuse thrown my way .
The poverty and racism I faced politicised me from a young age. I became involved with local Labour party politics and anti-racist movements from age 16. I even became a Labour councillor at 18.
However, this experience demoralised me, as I found that local councillors cannot really change anything. They are restricted by tight budgets and are forced to carry out a ‘dented shield’ policy – which means carrying out cuts as ‘nicely’ as possible.
What’s more, the right-wing bureaucrats in the labour movement want to avoid rocking the boat, and therefore strangle the initiative of enthusiastic politicised young people. From the very start, you are pushed onto a careerist conveyor belt to become part of the next generation of bureaucrats.
All of these experiences led me to search for answers, but I was continually disappointed by the reformist politics of the mainstream. It wasn’t until I found the Marxist Society at Leeds University that I found refreshing perspectives that could accurately explain the world, and provide answers and a way forward.
The only contradiction with Marxism I had was being a Muslim. At first, I tried to reconcile my religion with Marxism. But, as I learnt more about the world, I learnt how religion has played a decisive role in the development and perpetuation of class society. After this, I began to question the validity of my faith.
Earlier this year, I began studying the philosophy of Marxism – dialectical materialism – with my comrades. On the back of this, I came to the conclusion that there is no God or any higher power that is pre-determining world events.
This was one of the best things to ever happen to me, both personally and politically.
“If Allah wants to do good to somebody, he afflicts them with trials.” (Bukhari 5645. Book 75, Hadith 5).
As a Muslim I grew up believing that the poverty, ill-health, starvation and abuse that I or any working class person faced was just a trial from God, who did it because he loves us and wants us to go to heaven. Either that, or it was a punishment from God for being sinful.
Either way, we all had to endure the suffering of life to get into heaven. This includes wars, genocide, violence against women, sexual abuse, child abuse – all of it was part of God’s divine plan.
The answer to all these horrors in Islam was that this life is temporary, and we must endure this test set for us by God so that we may enter the eternal Kingdom of Heaven in the afterlife.
Such a belief in an eternal resting place for the soul – common to many religions – is very convenient for the ruling class. It leads people not to question the real root of their suffering, and to forgo changing their real conditions in favour of sticking it out, waiting for the afterlife..
Marxist economics explains that under capitalism, the pursuit of profit forces people to work harder and longer for less money, while wealth is concentrated in a smaller and smaller number of hands. Poverty is therefore a product of class society. And poverty itself is the main cause of many social ills we face today: crime, drug abuse, mental health problems, and so on.
Similarly, wars are an inevitable consequence of capitalism, as the imperialist powers vie to impose their interests on smaller nations, often by violent means. This causes untold suffering for millions across the world: in Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Of course, the ruling class are spared this suffering.
Religion throughout history has been one of the many means by which the ruling class justify their rule over the oppressed classes. Our enemy is not the devil, but the capitalist system. Its representatives are by no means eternal – they can and will be defeated.
Marxist philosophy changed my life. Marxism is the scientific study of all phenomena in an attempt to understand and therefore change the world.
Rather than the idealism which religion is based upon, we understand that there is only one world – the material world – and that all of our ideas are drawn from it.
Using the materialist method of Marx, we know that the world is not shaped solely by ideas or a divine being standing above reality, but from a constantly changing natural and social environment.
Basing ourselves upon science, we know that consciousness (or ‘the soul’) is not something mystical and divine, but something we can understand. The brain is simply matter organised in a certain way – or as Ted Grant puts it in Reason in Revolt, “matter that has become aware of itself.”
That does not mean that we are just passive bystanders, which is what most religions reduce humanity to. We can and do have a decisive influence on events As Marx and Engels said:
“History does nothing, it possesses no immense wealth, it wages no battles. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; history is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.” (The Holy Family).
Applying this scientific method to history demonstrates how class society is not something eternal and unchanging, but only a temporary period in human development.
Because the world is only made up of matter which is not separate from consciousness, we can fully understand it, and therefore change it.
I no longer feel stuck in a rut of pessimistic and depressing idealism, but filled with revolutionary optimism! Heaven may not exist after life, but it can be created by us on earth.
Workers from all religions, and with all kinds of ideas, can and will enter the struggle when events force them into action.
But to wage a successful revolutionary struggle, the working class needs not just any old ideas, but precise, scientific ideas – ideas that can take the long view of history and guide the struggle to its end.
This is what Marxism represents, and this is why I fight!