In Defense of Peter Robinson

Ricky Gervais says it best (even if he uses a character played by another actor): It’s political correctness gone mad! (this was in Extras Season 2 Episode with Daniel Radcliffe). But that is the case with UK politics sometimes – they are scared away from making certain statements because it may offend entire communities.

According to a BBC report, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson claims that a remark ostensibly in support of a pastor, James McConnell he made was misunderstood and he never meant to hurt the Muslim community. What did he say exactly? According to that report:

Mr Robinson had told the Irish News on Wednesday he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or devotees of Sharia law.

This is entirely different from the aforementioned pastor’s remark which called Islam a ‘pagan’ and ‘heathen’ religion. Of course I disagree with the pastor’s remark, being a Muslim myself, but do I really blame him? I only need to go to Coventry Rd in Brum to find Muslim bookshops which stock books telling us the pagan/heathen origins of Christianity. That is Ahmed-Deedatian Islam (a superficial polemical approach in Islam). If we celebrate our conceptual purity over Christians (and I wouldn’t, just investigate the pre-Islamic origins of the Kaaba), then why are we offended when they return the favour and call us pagans? It’s just tit for tat.

But back to Mr Robinson’s statement: he would not trust Muslims who are involved in violence or devotees of Sharia law.

Guess what? Neither would I.

I am a Muslim who believes the Quran is inspiration from Allah but no way would I trust Muslims who are involved in Jihadism or those who call for Sharia (i.e. Islamofascists).

The reason is simple: neither is Quranically correct to me. These ideologies of Jihadism and Islamofascism are antithetical to Islam. They are instruments of oppression, misogyny, racism, control and essentially social death. They have destroyed numerous Islamic societies so why should we trust them?

And it’s not like they try to implement Sharia fairly (read: democratically) either. No, they commit acts of terrorism (like on Lee Rigby) instead of making a formal declaration of war (and thus getting arrested). Or they start creeping into school boards of govenors and start introducing Sharia-based policies. Or they start setting up their own courts and socially coerce Muslims to follow their rulings. They are extremely deceptive in their strategies. So no, I cannot trust them at all.

Politicians need to take a stand. If they wish to agree with religious sentiments (like those made by Mr. McConnell) then there are apparent legal consequences and of course, they stand to lose support from the Muslims.

However, if they don’t take a stand against Jihadism and Islamofascism (which is socio-political rather than theological), then those ideologies will slowly creep into our democratic societies and manifest in ways which will harm us irreparably.

 

Does the Quran Really Promote Jew Hate?

The American Freedom Defence Initiative are now promoting advertisements portraying the Quran as the source of Muslim hatred for Jews. The implication they are putting forward is obvious – if the hatred for Jews is in Islam’s Holy Scripture, then Islam promotes racism toward the Jews.

The Muslims’ problem here is not that Pamela Geller and her cohorts have imputed on the Quran yet again. Ms Geller’s diatribes are usually infantile and not worth the paper on which they are printed. This time however, these Islamophobe racists are not only using the rhetoric by the Islamofascists but also to which the majority of Traditional Muslims subscribe since it in their books. These books of Tradition have strong elements of anti-Jew feelings. Exacerbated by the politics of the day, many Traditional Muslims have turned their hatred of Zionism into an outright racist feeling towards Jews.

Of course the Quran, being the first source of religion for Traditional Muslims, was co-opted in this campaign of Jew hatred. The purpose of this essay is to analyse whether the Quran has a bona fide hatred for the Jews or whether Islamofascists readings have projected this sentiment onto the Quran through Traditional sources. How can the latter happen? Traditional sources claim to represent Prophet Muhammad and his utterances about the Quran and hence it claims to be the ‘official’ interpretation. However, these traditions create vast contradictions with the rest of the Quran when their interpretations are analysed. Hence, we will attempt to move towards a more coherent intratexual reading. In other words, a reading which agrees with the Quran as a whole.

We will also present two different approaches. The first approach will agree in principle that, as the Traditionalists assert, Jew-related terms (alladhina haadoo, al-yahood, ahl al-kitab, bani israil) are in fact so. Even in this analysis, it is impossible to find the Quran promotes Jew hate. The second approach (to which I personally subscribe) rejects Traditionally imposed meanings altogether and prefers a more holistic reading which I will substantiate before going into the analysis proper.

The first approach (If we accept that Traditional understandings of Jew-related terms):

Traditionalists tend to see that terms such as ‘alladhina haadoo’ , ‘al-yahood’ (both translated as Jews), ‘ahlul kitab’ (people of the book, referring to Jews and Christians) and ‘bani israil’ (Children of Israel, a nation of ancient Jews) as obviously referring to Jews. Since this is the most normative opinion, we will consider it for in this first approach.

In Chapter 2 of the Quran itself, there are already three calls to the Children of Israel. In these calls, they are reminded of their covenant (2/40) and given a set of instructions to follow (2/41-46). They are told not once, but twice that they were raised above the nations (2/47 and 122). More than fifty verses are devoted to the recounting of their story and how Allah gave them opportunities for redemption and growth (2/47-103). Furthermore, in the final narrative of this chapter (2/243-252), the nation of Israel during the time of Saul and David are are recounted, highlighting their victory over Goliath and his troops. In the same chapter, Solomon is said to have dominion (mulk as in ‘mulku sulaimaan’ – 2/102). This is the only personality to be phrased in this way.

Moving on to the term ‘alladhina haadoo’ and ‘al-yahood’ (both translated as Jews), there is a balanced narrative regarding positive and negative traits. ‘Alladhina hadoo’ are seen quite positively and said to be given salvation (three times in fact as in 2/62, 5/69 and 22/17). Their problem lies in their imperfect applications (such as 4/46 and 5/41) which resulted in a faith attainment less than the ideal, symbolised by Abraham (the contrast is seen in 3/67). In no way are they said to be hated at all.

In the second form of the word, ‘al-yahood’, we should first note that there is a specificity regarding to term (embodied in the article ‘al’ as in ‘al-yahood which means ‘the jews’ and not ‘Jews’ in general). This refers to a specific set of people and if we accept the Traditional meaning, then it can only refer to a set of Jews ostensibly living at the time of the Prophet. These Jews were said to be stoking the fires of war (5/64) and the worst of enemies to believers (5/82). Yet, in the very same passage, we have the aforementioned ‘alladhina haadoo’ (also translated as Jews) to be one of the peoples promised salvation (5/69). Therefore, the condemnation to the ‘al-yahood’ is very specific and due to behaviour. It is in no way an inherent curse borne by heritage. In Quranic metaphysics, no bearer of sin shall bear the burden of another (35/18).

As for the term ‘People of the Book’, the same case applies. There are members of the People of the Book who earn condemnation for their acts (exemplified in 2/104) but even these are said to be ‘rejectors from the People of the Book’ (alladhina kafaroo min ahl al-kitab). The People of the Book are never condemned outright. There are, in fact, among them who are highly lauded for their devotion to Allah (3/113-115).

From the above analysis, we can clearly see that there is no ‘Jew Hatred’ promoted by the Quran. If we accept that the terms above as related to Jews, then the Quran uses them as a community which is given revelation. This community is elevated in many ways but also some among them were debased for their unacceptable acts. Racism is out of the question and so is even religious tribalism– it is actually about human behaviour to which all of us are susceptible.

In the proceeding part of this essay, we will analyse why the above hypothesis (that the Quran actually talks about the Jews) is untenable given that we read the Quran holistically. In this analysis, I will prove why I believe the terms discussed above actually refer to humanity without any kind of religious tribalism.

Apostasy of Sudanese Woman – What It Means to Me as a Muslim

Another apostasy case has made the headlines. This time a pregnant woman is about to be sentenced to death if she doesn’t repent. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag (but addressed with an Islamic name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah, in court)claims to have never been Muslim. She was raised by an Orthodox Christian mother and an almost absent Muslim father. Apostasy cases resonate with me deeply.

Growing up in conservative Malaysia, I had never had the occasion of meeting an actual apostate from Islam. I hadn’t even understood the idea until I was sixteen or so when a close friend admitted to me that he felt that his family’s conversion to Islam wasn’t right. His grandmother had converted to Islam to marry his grandfather and now due to strict conversion rules in Malaysia, Islam remained an unwanted element in his life.

I felt bad for him, of course. He was actually my best friend and at the time, I thought even the desire to leave Islam would earn him eternal damnation. This is what Conservative Traditional Islam taught me – that those who leave Islam must be killed and earned eternal damnation from Allah. It sat very badly with me at the time. I could not fathom how Allah would give human beings different cultural experiences yet expect them to accept one true religion. Even more so when the adherents of that religions were racists and religious bigots which is relatively common in Malaysia.

My views have changed considerably, having been a Quranist for the past seventeen years or so. It is unequivocally clear to me that the Quran gives total freedom of belief. I have written an article about it here. This particular post however, isn’t about textual evidence (dalil naqli in Islamic legal jargon) but rather about rational ones (dalil ‘aqli). Let us look at the reasons as to why we should respect a person’s freedom to believe or disbelieve.

The first and foremost reason is that Islam is a human product. Sure the overwhelming majority of Muslims believe that the Quran is divine (including myself) but even Conservative Traditional Muslims have to admit that the processes regarding its interpretation is human. That’s why there are deep disagreements between various Traditional schools. Human beings disagree with each other all the time. The only problem is that one set of human beings want to control the limits of disagreement.

Even the Quran has issues ascribed to it by Traditionalists themselves. Take the issue of the verse of stoning (ayah ar-rajm). This is a verse said to be forgotten or abrogated because it was eaten by a goat! So if this story is accepted by Traditionalists – that the companions of the Prophet were defeated by a goat – how then can they fault Muslims when they leave Islam? These stories aren’t exactly great advertising for Islam.

So there it is – Islam is a human culture. It is only our belief that makes islam divine. And it is only divine to us. We are therefore imposing our beliefs on another person. How would we react if others do the same to us? I am certain we wouldn’t appreciate that at all yet we have no problem doing just that to others.

Another thing to consider is what actually happens during apostasy. Does the apostate somehow become an evil criminal who starts terrorising society? Most apostates would probably continue their normal lives. So why are we so concerned about it? Would Allah judge the entire Muslim community as failures if people leave the faith? This is patently absurd.

The real truth is that apostasy pokes at our egos. That whole Ahmed Deedat ‘we are the chosen community’ myth gets deeply disturbed when a Muslim decides that Islam isn’t for him. Suddenly Islam isn’t so invincible anymore and shows its vulnerability. This provokes the Muslims considerably although they should be more provoked by Islamofascists like Boko Haram.

Worse still, the clergy loses clients. Imagine if millions of people leave Islam, soon there may not be people to support their gravy trains anymore. When this happens, they might have to look for real jobs! Of course that’s worrying for them.

For me however, apostasy isn’t a problem at all. This person is simply choosing another path in life, another human culture. Hopefully that path would result in happiness for him or her on a level that Islam could not. As long as he or she remains a peaceful member of society, why should I be disturbed by this? Every single cultural stream or tradition can offer a means to access The Divine. The Quran itself offers this freedom by acknowledging the multiplicity of paths (29/69) so we Muslims should be more open and accepting that Islam isn’t for everyone.

Britain First Mosque Invasions – An Attempt at a Balanced View

I came home tonight from an inspiring dinner only to find a rather painful video on my Facebook feed. The video is by ‘Britain First’ (can be found on their homepage , ironically on the far left)  a rather determined looking organisation who go into the masjids and strongly assert their leaflets to an unsuspecting imam or whoever is in there. They also give the poor chap a Bible and tell him Muhammad is a false prophet. All in all, not a pleasant experience for an average Muslim.

What’s their beef? What has enraged them so much that they can invade Muslim sacred spaces? They claim to be warning the Muslim community against Muslim grooming gangs which made some headlines a while back.  They claim that Muslims have done nothing to combat this social disease. This is simply not true if this phenomenon is still going on, then we are not doing enough.

Can this be a stunt to gain some political mileage by stomping on on the Muslims? Given that Paul Golding, the chairman of Britain First is an ex-BNP councillor, that seems likely.  But is this Muslim grooming thing imaginary? Of course not! It was a well reported and documented phenomenon. It has taken place and many girls and their families have suffered for it. And Muslim grooming gangs don’t stop at White girls either. They actually do it to their own as well. You can read about it here.

Islam is a religion of mercy and compassion. We  have extended and should keep extending this mercy and compassion to the victims of this crime Of course we should. We should do if  even if the perpetrators were not Muslims. This is our social duty to the human race.

Is it fair though that these Britain First folks invade mosque spaces just because these evil monster grooming gang members claim to be Muslim? Absolutely not. We are NOT personally responsible for what has happened with the gangs. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of us including myself are horrified at this. It is totally unfair to blame us.

But lets think about the emotional trauma of this phenomenon. For the victims and their sympathisers, the most obvious thing is the fact that these gang members are Muslim. By that, I don’t mean that they were pious Muslims. They are part of the Muslim Race – people who are part of the Muslim cultural matrix but obviously repudiate its ethics and morality.

Sadly, these kind of ethics and morality isn’t something we wear on our sleeves. Rather, our most obvious signs are just that..more obvious. Things like our racial profile  which is why Samantha Lethwaite is called the ‘white’ widow and Jean Charles de Menezes tragically lost his life. There are also our clothes, our names and others. Have a look at the grooming gang members, they fit the profile pretty well. For Gods’s sake, one guy’s name was Mohamed Islam. With a name like that, one would expect a person to have higher ethical standards.

So this is the tragic fact – we are chained to these evil men by virtue of belonging. We belong together to the cultural matrix of Islam. This is the very same reason why Mohamed Saleem was killed – because he looks like a toxic personality like Anjem Choudry.

Where does this leave us? I say we need to be proactive. One reason these gangs still operate is we are too ashamed to admit it or too afraid to lose honour. These are simply delusions which we have chosen to subscribe to. In reality, while we allow these folks to hide safely in our midst, their toxicity is affecting the entire community. But that is not even the worst of it – the worst is that by being silent, we are effectively betraying our islamic ideals. This is one of the worst things anyone can do – sexual exploitation of minors – and any muslim should not tolerate even a second of it. It is our duty to remove this from society no matter who does it and no matter who it is done to. Lets focus on that and things will get better.

IslamoFASCISM, not Islamism

I am acutely aware of the campaign to blanket the world of Islam with the attribute of extremist ideologies and terrorism. Language is a powerful tool and certain subconscious triggers can easily be invoked in order to plant ideas in our minds. Check it out:

Islam – a complex network of human activity, a world in itself. Mostly manifests as a religion. The followers of this religion are overwhelmingly peaceful members of the human race.

Islamism – an ideology of supremacism, misogyny, oppression, control.

Does this seem fair to you? Not to me.

I suggest using the term ‘Islamofascism’. Islamofascism is a balance of acknowledgement and repudiation. It accepts the origin of this evil ideology is from the fringes of Islamic tradition but it REJECTS that it is essentially Islamic. Rather, this ideology adopts elements of fascism and culturalises it in Islamic terminology. Since the world of Islam is a human legacy, Muslim cannot deny Islamofascists their right to use Islamic terminology but our protest is pronounced by tagging it with ‘fascism’.

Islamofascism is the ideology we must all oppose. Islamism is an attempt to blanket Muslims with the filthy cloak of extremism.

 

Boko Haram Drags The Ummah Through the Mud (Again)!

Boko Haram must be a dream come true for the sharks waiting to devour the Muslims up. Seriously, you can’t ask for a better pantomine villain than Abu Bakar Shekau. The guy has an air of insanity about him. The way he speaks, you can tell he looks like he’s relishing the power given to him by virtue of this evil act. You may be able to see what I mean here.

Some Muslims get rather indignant when I say ‘we need to be proactive to overturn Islamofascism’. They feel that they shouldn’t be associated with such acts. I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t like being associated with such acts either. Sadly, we don’t live in a world of should and should nots. We live in a world of ‘is’ and ‘is nots’ and the sad fact of the matter is this: Boko Haram has made an overt claim to the Islamic identity.

Abu Bakar Shekau has made a few references to Allah, believing Allah told him to do it. In this latest video he claims he’s liberating the girls by giving them Islam. I beg to differ, he’s giving them terror the opposite of peace which islam should bring. This guy has it the wrong way round.

I was especially annoyed today because he made these girls (most of whom are Christians) recite the Quran. This man is so demented that he thinks by making these girls read the Quran in the state of terror he induced on them, that they would be made Muslim? No, I don’t believe so. If I had to guess, I would say this man is on a powertrip. Nothing more. Religious has nothing to do with it at all.

What do we need to do about this? We the Ummah have a lot of work to do to clean the reputation of the Quran and Islam from evil men like these. I highly suggest social action. We need to get together and perform social action. Is this an apology to our fellow human beings? No, we didn’t do anything wrong so we don’t need to apologise. What we do need to do is to liberate Islam and the Quran from the mud which Shekau is dragging through. Social action is what we need to do. And guess what? It’s actually the requirement of the Quran to confirm ad-deen (see Ch 107 of the Quran).

I call this programme Social Salah

HeartFelt Islam: Empathy At The End of Diversity

The post-conference slump is probably the spiritual/religious version of the ‘comedown’ after a chemical high (watch the movie ‘Human Traffic’ to see what I mean). While I’m a firm believer in the principle roughly paraphrased as ‘Action Makes Change’, it is the emotional energy and the psychological impetus which these gatherings generate that drives us to action to begin with. To me they are a form of salah , a connectivity between individuals resulting in an energy spike. A truly beautiful feeling.

For two days, I was charged with this energy. The conference entitled ‘Diversity the Gift of Islam’ organised by the Muslim Institute and Imaan was brilliantly organised and expertly executed. The topics were chosen in such a way that this issue of diversity was attacked from a variety of angles. From Sharia (which should be the fountainhead of our diversity but ironically has become the instrument of Islamofascism) to gender and sexual minority rights to refugees and citizenship to various forms of heterodox Islam and inclusive practices, I really felt the richness of Islam as complex network of human experience. It’s a cultural matrix and what was discussed during the conference was best of that matrix.

However, what really moved me was the reality of what I call ‘HeartFelt Islam’. After one of the panel discussions, I got into a conversion with an auntie, Mrs Khan (not the better half of Citizen Khan, you all know meh). Mrs Khan is the mum of a very good friend of mine. She related to me her background which was Salafee (the most ultra-puritanical form of Traditional Islam). How she felt when family members had certain limiting and counter-productive beliefs (like women are forbidden from driving) but she could not dissuade them. Deep down, she knew these beliefs had no religious bases yet she had no means to engaging with them. It was her children (including my friend) who enabled her to find these channels and now that she has, I sensed relief and peace emanating from her.

This to me, is HeartFelt Islam (HFI). HFI is means for us to know the truth because it exists in a place from which no one can rob us – our hearts. No amount of textual analysis or years spent in Al-Azhar can be equal to the awareness bestowed by HFI. Even study of the Quran will not be whole without the heart to act as a compass. The Quran asks us:

So do they continuously ponder on the Quran – or on their hearts are there locks (47/24).

The heart is also the home of imaan (faith – Quran 49/14) and sakinah (serenity – Quran 48/4) And this is where empathy lies – the heart. We need to go back to this as a source of compassion (rahmah) for all peaceful folks and ‘feel’ our way to islam. Mrs. Khan had helped me sum up the conference – that at the end of diversity lies empathy. We may exist in the infinite human beings but we all co-exist within a singular race of humanity.

To become a fellow of the Muslim Institute, please click here.

To learn more about Imaan, please click here.

Screening of the Documentary ‘Ijtihad’ in SOAS

ijtihad screening

People who are considered ‘liberals’, ‘progressives’ , ‘secularists, ‘reformists’ are so few in number that when we get together, it’s usually a very big deal. Last night was the screening of the documentary called ‘Ijtihad’. The name itself has a different import in Conservative Traditional Islamic circles. A mujtahid (one who performs ijtihad) is a person who is an expert in Islamic texts and he is ‘qualified’ (according to himself and his ilk anyway) to pronounce a legal opinion. In these circles, the qualification to make itjihad is a major thing – it is jealously guarded and why not? It means to attain power within the Ummah and we can see how hypnotized the Ummah is by this word.

Last night however, nine liberal/progressive/secular/reformist Muslims spoke very loudly about their passion and commitment to Islam, a very different Islam than you usually see in the media. While Western media delights in highlighting the ‘otherness’ of Islam and Muslims, the truth is far more nuanced that the media would have us believe. And these aren’t Muslims who are saying ‘Islam is outdated, lets move on and become modern’. No, not all that. Quite the contrary, in fact. These Muslims believe that their views are how Islam should be. They do not run away from Islam. They embrace Islam and I agree, this is the essence of Islam they are fighting for. The very soul of Islam. Values such as justice and freedom and democracy.

Some of these nine heroes (the ones whom I know personally anyway)  are as follows:

1. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim: A legal scholar from Emory University. He is the main advocate of the need to secularise the Muslim world. Once again, this is NOT so we can distance ourselves from Islam (in this case, Sharia law) but rather we can be Muslims of our own free will. Sharia law is normally an oppressive misogynistic regime and so we need a space where people are treated fairly regardless of religion. It is no less than the Quran itself which tells us this (Ch 4 Vs 58)

2. Ani Zonnevld: my fellow Malaysian whom I can proudly say founded Muslims for Progressive Values, USA. Ani has gone into the jaws of the lion, so to speak. She fights for equality and justice in the Muslim world including female imams, same-sex marriages. Ani firmly believes that Islam is a religion for critical thinkers. Once again the Quran seems to agree (8/22, 7/179)

3. Dr Taj Hargey: the founder of MECO from Oxford. Dr Taj is a pioneering force in Oxford, preparing spaces for mixed prayer congregations. Dr Taj has organised several conference to empower liberal Islam. He regularly comes under fire from conservatives but holds strong to his stand to bring Islam into the 21st century.

4. Tehmina Kazi: The director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. Tehmina passionately fights for a secular Islam which would remove the cultural and tribal elements which have crept in and become what is widely considered to be ‘Islamic’. She believes in action rather than never ending debates with conservatives. I wholly agree.

I really do believe that we are on threshold of chance. There is a slow but steady reforming looming on the horizon. Muslims are now much more aware of the dangers of Islamofascism and many who were previously silent of them have spoken out against it. Islam is ours and we should reclaim it. I highly recommend you look for this documentary and purchase it. Please give your support for this worthy cause.