My Encounter with Conservative Traditionalists’ Privilege

I have been happily part of an inclusive jummah for some weeks now. I was even given the honour of giving the first khutbah, speaking on inclusivity which was quite appropriate for this  movement. We had been looking around for an affordable jumma space and were very fortunate to have some lovely people sponsor this space for us for ten weeks..

However, in another space in the very same building, there is another jumma congregation. This lot have been going on for ten years, so they tell us. For the last few weeks, we have been getting their unsolicited attention.  It started with some curious glances in the first week. This progressed to a friendly chat the next two weeks with some curious glances at our literature and today, we were invited outside for a friendly chat.

There were two of us chatting with about six or seven of them. There no was no acrimony at all. Rather, I sensed a tone of concern, at least from most of them. The spokesperson was none other than the imam himself and he introduced himself and his scholarly qualifications duly. We listened carefully.

He first asked why we needed to have our own jumma in the first place. After all, they had been going on for ten years and in the interest of unity, we should all pray together. We answered that our jumma was at a later time. He then expressed what I believe to be the real issue – that men and women were praying together and that he had heard we had a female imam.

We responded that that the practice of praying together went on in Islam’s holiest mosques but there was some murmur of disapproval with the group. This imam then gravely told us that this practice went against the Sunna. Naturally we had to ask which aya or hadith actually stated this to which he replied with an aya which did not mention salah prayers, let alone imam or female imam. Neither did he deign to quote the full aya (it’s 6/82)  translate or give any references. We called him on it, translating it for him and asking where the prohibition or recommendation was. No answer came.

With that, the congregation seemed in a hurry to end the conversation but they did so very politely. They gave us salam and left. It was all very amicable indeed and we appreciate that.

I must however, state my dissatisfaction with the privilege of practice which these people displayed albeit with good intentions. I wonder if it occurred to them that we may want our own khutba and with our own formation of salah. Or perhaps if we were to join them, we are to do so on our own terms and with the premise that our own khateebs may also be given space to speak.  Or when the imam quoted a (half) verse, perhaps he would so kind as to ask our interpretation of the said verse. Nope, none of those things happened at all. Rather, we assumed to be ‘strays’ from the flock and invited back to join the herd. This is the privilege of Conservative Traditionalism.

The Hierarchy of Hijabism

I spent the day at an event organised by the Christian Muslim forum in Abrar house. The event was titled ‘Are we Reflections of Jesus and Muhammad, or Distortions?‘ Even yours truly even gave a little speech on ‘When Muhammad Met Isa – A Conceptual Encounter’. This was an eye-opening research for me as I am a Quranist and almost never focus on Hadith and Sunnah. Yet for this discussion, I deliberately looked for elements within the two which shows that Muhammad copied the blueprint of Isa in the Quran. I was not disappointed.

Ironically however, my own high point of the day was outside the conference where I had a marvelous, mind blowing ninety minutes. Various topics came up but what interested me the most (cuz I get to theorise stuff using fancy words!) was the Hierarchy of Hijabism.

Hijabism? Since when is the hijab an ‘ism’? The hijab is an article of clothing. How is it an ideology? Well I contend that this article of clothing is used to generate political mileage for various articles. ‘Hijabism’ is an ideology of guilt for most, in my experience. I do know of Muslim women who have come to ‘own’ it and define their own identity with it. That’s ‘Positive Hijabism’ to me but for the most part, Hijabism is an instrument of guilt and a means of exerting control, I believe.

What is the Hierarchy of Hijabism. It’s a hierarchy of piety. There are forms of hijab seen as more pious over other forms. Who defined these levels of piety? Most probably the male dominated Ulama. The same folks who produced the fatwa which forbids women to drive ostensibly because the sight of them behind wheels would arouse men to a fever pitch of sexual arousal!

In this hierarchy, at the very top is full burka. More so , with a mesh covered niqab so you can’t actually see her eyes. I guess the next below is the burka with a ‘less modest’ niqab. Then perhaps the abaya without the niqab but rather with a head covering. This seems to be quite common among Somalian women in London.

Next in line is a hijab with loose fitting abayas but with colour. Ultra-conservatives hate colour. It makes the wearer stand out, apparently. Below that are hijabs but with loose fitting western outfits. Try to remain Islamic, the ultra-conservatives say! Then you got hijabis who wear jeans and t-shirts. The hijab could be the big one or one step lower, the head wrap thing.

I’m not sure if I can include non-hijabi Muslimas in this hierarchy but if I’m allowed to, they would be at the very bottom. At least wearing a hijab is a major passport towards acceptability. Ask the Regents Park mosque -a few of my female Muslima friend have been ‘shooed away’ because they were not.

I say to the Muslimaat this – wear whatever you like (this is an encouragement not permission) but also on occasion don’t. On some days, don’t wear the hijab or the niqab and show the Islamic Patriarchy that you’re in charge of what you wear, not them. Totally undermine the Hierarchy of Hijabism and show’em who’s in charge !


The Whys and Wherefores of Being A Cultural Muslim

After the heady discussion I had tonight, I thought about my former lifetime as a student of Islamic studies in Malaysia. That was over twenty years ago, thirty if we count from when I started. In those days we sat in a hot classroom (no gender segregation, mind you!) and we were told what to think and what to believe.

For eleven years this continued (till 1993 when I finished secondary school) and I can’t remember even a single day when we questioned the nature of Islam or even religion. No one ever voiced any kind of scepticism. This was a wholly different experience than what I had tonight.

We sat on a warm London summer evening thinking about our religious identity. We were all from Muslim backgrounds but have engaged with those background in different ways. This term we were  about to bash to death tonight was relevant to us all. In a way, it could be applied to most of us.

What is a ‘Cultural Muslim’? In this context, it was a description of a person who had some form of connection to the Muslim community (‘cultural capital’ as one of us called it) but did not share all or any of their metaphyiscal beliefs. They may not even believe in God. Is that possible?

I guess it depends on the nature of our connection with culture. How are we Muslim? If we go by convention of language, then a Muslim isn’t really to do with ethics or morality. Saddam Hussein was a Muslim and so was Osama Bin Ladin and both were (at least mythically) connected with heinous acts. Yet we hardly hear anyone question their ‘Muslimicity’. Contrast that with the Pakistani teacher who mentioned the Prophet trimming the hairs in certain parts. He was nearly lynched to death and tried for blasphemy.

The Muslim identity is transe-thnic but is itself born of a cultural experience. It’s just that that  cultural experience has now been given a religious tagging, like Eid. Eid is sacred because we make it so. But then, isn’t everything else? The prayer, fasting, hajj, umra, beards. These are all cultural experiences.

The orthodox Traditionalist Muslim would be up in arms at me tagging everything as culture. To him, everything in the religion part of Islam at least, is divinely inspired. I think of it like this. I believe the Quran is divinely inspired yes but just the words. My interaction with it is not. Neither is the process of interpretation nor the tradition which emerged from that. So with that in mind, everything in Islam is a human experience. It’s just that we’re using this human experience through a cultural medium to reach the Divine, if we choose to.

So in a way, we’re all cultural Muslims. All of us are interacting with our heritage and trying to articulate our ideology from it. All of us are subjective and all of us can potentially bridge that subjectivity gap and attain the objective truth, in my opinion. However, can we impose that truth on others? Absolutely not. Culturality is our reality, this we must never forget.

Trojan Horse Fiasco: On the Channel 4 Debate

The Trojan Horse fiasco continues. Now that it has been found that some schools in Birmingham are indeed under Islamofascist influence (although they deny the allegation), the government has stated that all schools should enshrine ‘British Values’. With a highly deconstructible term like this, the sympathisers of the Islamofascists have come out of the woodwork in force, showing us how ambiguous it is and claiming it is being used to exert power.

Last night, on Channel 4 news, Jon Snow hosted a mini debate between Nick Ferrari (who has actually defended Muslims after the Woolwich murder on ITV This Morning) and the ‘Muslim convert’ Myriam Francois Cerrah. I believe this debate helps us see the recalcitrant mentality which some Muslims have as Myriam exemplifies. This mentality is highly regrettable because it plays right into the hands of the Islamofascists whose exclusivist mindset denies any other the right to identity.

Jon Snow began the debate with the question ‘What are British Values?’ to which Nick answered ‘tolerance, fair play, democracy’. He then mentioned D-Day with which I highly connect as that was a battle to overcome an invading enemy. I learned of that story on my grandfather’s knee long before I came to reside in this country. Although we were only a colony, we had a connection to British history. Anyhow, a good start to the debate, I thought.

Jon hen turned the question to Myriam who completely misunderstood its implication She claimed that instead that we should have universal values. Myriam should have understood that we are talking in the context of national unity. Myriam then played ‘British Values’ against values of ‘children whose heritage hark outside the British isle’ claiming that this promotes a ‘hierarchy of values’ with the British values as superior ones and the others as backward.

Jon then asked where Myriam got that from (I was wondering that myself at the time!) and Myriam answered ‘I get it from the notion that you are promoting one culture over another’. This is the confrontational mindset she displays and which I see among many Mulims. British values in this context include values to which Muslims subscribe. I can easily see the values Nick spoke of in our Qur’an. It is the gender segregationist Islamofascist value which I don’t see in there. Not at all.

Myriam’s sentiment is exactly what the Islamofascists play on. Mind you, Myriam is clearly not one herself as she says we need to find the truth in all religions and cultures. However, her recalcitrance shows that she sees ‘British values’ as something which subsumes all other cultures existing within its national context. This is clearly untrue.

As Jon and Nick tried to reason with Myriam, the values which had been defined above as ‘British values’ clearly encompass the freedoms which Muslims (including ironically Islamofascist themselves) enjoy. Nick tried to point out that we should celebrate these freedoms but that we have a predominant Christian culture. The Prime Minister himself has pointed this out before and I have written on this myself. This ‘Christian culture’ concept is not an oppressive concept at all (quite unlike Islamofascist culture) but it does have a set of values to which even non-Christians like myself subscribe. I would add that Christmas for example, is a time which all members of British enjoy after a hard year’s work. Where is the problem in that?

The problem with the creeping Islamofascist influence in schools is not that they’re trying to make Muslims eat pork or drink alcohol. Muslims don’t need school systems to do that, believe me. Rather we are addressing the problem of the influence of cultural elements which undermine our own. We have anecdotal reports of children being gender segregated, of not learning enough of other faiths. Two parents have actually agreed with this, according to this video. One of them opposes it, one was very proud of it, claiming that it is ‘our faith’. It is perhaps his (Islamofascist) faith. It is certainly not mine.

As a Muslim, I see no problem at all with the above notion of British values. This is why I am in this country, because I subscribe to these values much more so than the country of my birth. In the UK, I am allowed to express myself, to believe in my own way or not to believe at all. These freedoms did not come out of nowhere. Britain has undergone a historical process and it has a mature democracy and that is why even the Wahabis can gain a foothold in this county, despite its antithetical position to British values.

Will British values clash with the Islamofascist values emerging from these schools? Of course they will! After all, British values includes fairness while Islamofascist values aims to control and crush any resistance. Look at how this video tells us where girls are placed – at the BACK of the class. This is very typical of Islamofascist culture. Keeping women at the back is indicative of the misogyny of Islamofascism. It won’t be long before they discourage girls from schooling altogether. All of this is Saudi Wahabi highly sexualised sensitivities rearing its ugly head.

As for Myriam Francois Cerrah, her true mentality was exposed about an hour or so later on Twitter. She said ‘NickFerrariLBC patronisingly tells me he approves of my right to wear a headscarf’.  Nick did not insinuate this at all. Rather he was implying that Myriam is proof that British values give everyone the right to express themselves. Myriam actually retweeted a disgustingly racist comment by one ‘saeed ali’ who tweeted ‘oh thank you massa, can I eat from the same table’, alluding to the slave/White owner situation which is simply out of place in this conversation. What an unintelligent remark. One would expect better, seriously.

Islamofascism is not something which simply materialises ex-nihilo as Jihadism. It is the result of a long process which begins with psychological conditioning such as gender segregation. It is possibly this practice which highly sexualises Wahabi discourse until we have Muslim ‘scholars’ disallowing women from driving, claiming that it would arouse male drivers. Such insanity began somewhere and we are already there at the beginning. It is time to put out foot down and say enough is enough. We are a nation which strong positive values and everyone, including Muslims themselves, can lead a productive life.

Trojan Horse Fiasco: Why Are We So Recalcitrant?

I realise this post would probably not be popular among Muslim readers. Sadly, we have to face some home truths if we are to ‘get real’. ‘Getting real’ in turn is absolutely necessary before we have a Jinnah International happen at Birmingham International. Acts of terrorism do not begin out of nowhere. They are the fruit of  which begin with the seed of the Trojan Horse fiasco.

Just one day after I wrote my first blog post on this affair, it has now come to light that some schools were in fact ‘inadequate’ when it came to handling Islamofascism (read ‘extremism’ in their lexicon). Surprise, surprise. As I said before, it’s not easy to delineate between notions of piety and extremism. I don’t blame the government at all for not being able to detect this.

For too long, Conservative Traditional Islam (CTI) has been held hostage by the Islamofascists. The Islamofascists would just point to certain hadith, tafseer or fatwa and the CTIs would quake in their boots, fearing blasphemy and duly obey them. You can easily test this theory by doing the following – ask a Conservative Traditional Muslim what he or she thinks of the law of apostasy (killing those who leave Islam). They would tend to get very squirmy and hot under the collar claiming that ‘you can’t leave the Truth’ and that ‘Islam must protect its community’ (protection by killing, that’s a good one!). This is a peaceful person talking, mind you. What if an Islamofascist preacher (or now teacher as the case may be) theologically blackmails them by saying ‘apostates must be killed’, the ‘Prophet’ told us’? It won’t take them long to be radicalised. Not long at all.

Being a new Twitterer (I’m not calling myself a ‘Twit’, thank you very much!) , I can see tweets by seemingly ‘moderate’ Muslims (‘moderate insofar as they do not preach violence) saying the British government is simply conducting a witch hunt, practising Islamophobia and targeting the Muslim community.

At the forefront of this kind of mentality is of course the recalcitrant Muslim Public Affairs Committee, the same people whom I have asked several times – do they believe in offensive Jihad (the idea of invading foreign lands  to ‘spread Islam’) and do they believe in the apostasy law? To date, I have only been blocked and demonised by the vicious Asghar Bukhari.

MPAC likes to create the picture that Muslims are perpetual victims of Western conspiracy. They would never dare to admit that we ourselves are not the best people when it comes to ethics and preservation of life. It’s this type of mentality which will obstruct any kind of change. MPAC is more dangerous than even the Wahabis.

I really don’t understand the Muslims sometimes. Why are we being so difficult about this? The only way that these Islamofascist elements do not exist is if we bury our heads in the sand. These Islamofascists already show seeds of hatred in their books. They have a disdain for freedom and freewill. They think faith can be legislated and and want to decide who their daughters can marry (it’s a law – girls can’t marry without their father’s permission). None of this is in the Quran, of course. They’re just ancient customs being given an Islamic veneer.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and take a good look. These latest Islamofascists would never stop at simply separating boys and girls or banning Nativity plays. Have a read of any Sharia manual and you will see where they will stop – complete and utter Talibanisation of the world. This is simply the first step. We need to realise that like the Woolwich murder, while Two Adebos are ‘safely’ behind bars, it’s the Muslim population which has to bear the brunt of the backlash by the Islamophobes. It will be the same when these Trojan Horses escalate to full scale Talibanisation. We will be ones who suffer the intensified racism while the Islamofascists will quietly sneak off.

Ok, so you disagree with the government. With Teresa May, Michael Gove, with David Cameron even. But do you want the Islamofascists to rule? Really? Don’t let any kind of tribal loyalty allow you to sympathise with the Islamofascists. We have no loyalty owed to these people. They have some perverted politics of dominations and female oppression on their agenda and Muslims must stand against this. Be recalcitrant with them not with those who seek to free us from them.


Trojan Horses Fiasco: Are We Asking The Right Question?

A few weeks ago, a memo was ‘leaked’ claiming that there is a creeping influence of Islamic extremism (Islamofascism in my lexicon) in some schools in Birmingham, UK especially one Park View academy. (You can read about the entire affair here).

However, it has slowly come to light that this memo may have been a hoax. Certainly anecdotal evidence (we have no other forms of evidence, Islamofascists don’t quantify their work  as they don’t have performance reports!) has emerged claiming there is no such thing. A non-Muslim teacher from the school expressed her denial of this and so has a prominent journalist who grew up around the area, one Assed Baig. All in all, it was a lot of hullabaloo for nothing. It did not happen, they tell us.

But we are not asking the right question here. Ok, so it did not happen but can it happen?

Of course it can. Easily.

How? For those of you who don’t know, Conservative Traditional Islam (CTI) relies on the same texts as the Islamofascists and very often, the same scholars as well. Ibn Taimiya is a good example. Furthermore Birmingham is the centre of Islamic books in the UK. I used to visit Brum every few months just to get Islamic books from various bookshops there (in Spark Hill and Coventry Road and the New St Station Waterstones is incredibly well-stocked as well, for Islamic books that is).

One can easily find in any bookshop, the Quranic exegesis of Sayyid Qutb (called In The Shade of the Quran) which does have some Islamofascist elements. So we cannot easily delineate between CTI and Islamofascism. Same discourse, same personalities.

We can also easily find books fear-mongering about the ‘free mixing’ of men and women. We’re not talking about drunken orgies here but rather saying ‘hello’ on the street. This may lead to fornication, these books tell us.

Adding to that, on Coventry road, there is a tremendous glut of books on Islamic apologetics. We’re talking about Ahmed Deedat type material where superficial arguments are leveled against Christians and Hindus when they can easily be used against Islam as well. Poor, literalist readings. Yet Muslims take delight in the #FeelGoodIslam these books bring.

Given all the information above, it is therefore not difficult to imagine a whole generation of Birmingham Muslims who are now parents filtering this hateful nonsense to their children and thus creating this atmosphere allegedly happening in Birmingham schools.

Has it happened? Probably not. Can it happen? Most definitely!

What the British government needs to do is to throw its support not to the center of the British Islamic political spectrum (the so-called ‘moderates’) but rather further long to the left – to the reformists, inclusivists, liberals, secularists. These are the people who will dig deep into the corpus Islamica and remove Islamofascist elements. Currently, these folks are terribly underfunded while the so-called moderates have a huge center in the East London Mosque in which even the Prophet’s birthday is seen as a cultural accretion.

I was interviewed by the BBC today on this issue. You may find the link here. Please go to the 8th June episode and skip to minute 39 for my interview.

Muslim Institute’s Ibn Rushd Lecture

There is something inexorably charming about London for me – its hidden little nooks and crannies. I have been walking around Holbon and Russel Square for the better part of six years and I hadn’t notice this side street called ‘Cosmo Place’ before today. This little rabbit hole took me to a beautiful little park called Queen’s Park. Seeing this beautiful park for the first time was a little annoying though. For six years, I had to go tonearby Russel Square for some quiet time. Russel Square was far bigger and unfortunately far more popular (read: noisy). Queen’s Park was nice and quiet. I doubt many even knew about it.

I soon found myself at the Art Worker’s Guild – my destination for today. I was attending the second annual Ibn Rushd lecture organised by the Muslim Institute. I had missed the inaugural lecture last year, with much regrets so I was rather resolute not to miss this one. I had another reason not to miss it – the guest lecturer this year was Professor Oliver Leaman and I was a big fan of his writings.

Certainly the atmosphere of the Art Worker’s Guild conduced the title of Professor Leaman’s lecture –Islamic Philosophy Today : Problems and Possibilities. The Guild felt old. A good kind of old. One could imagine attending a lecture by Marx or Darwin in such a hall. And when Professor Leaman (see pic below) took the podium, I found myself humming the opening theme to Fellowship of the Rings (God knows why!)



Professor Leaman began talking about Ibn Rushd, quite appropriately, being the eponym of this lecture series. He began by disclaiming the reason behind Ibn Rushd’s exile, claiming instead that we don’t really know the reason behind it. He expounded on Ibn Rushd’s approach which he called the ‘tariqah burhaniyya’ (way of proof). The word ‘tariqa’ (path or way) usually connotes a spiritual group or sufis so to hear it being associated with rationalism was startling. Ibn Rushd was not a man who gave much credit to mysticism. Professor Leaman himself appeared rather dismissive of the mystical approach himself.

I would probably take issue with him at this point. While I do agree with his proposition that many verses of the Quran (especially those pertaining to metaphysics and theology) do need a heavy dose of reasoning before they can be properly understood, sometimes reason acts as a limiting agent which prevents us from fully experiencing revelation.

This is not to say that reason has no role at all. I see reason as part of the launch pad from which we propel ourselves into the inspiring emotionality of the text. We need reason to arbitrate the right meanings to impose upon a Quranic verse. We need to then factor in the textual coherence, consistency with overall message, flow of the passage. All this requires reason. The Quran does not look kindly on those who refuse to contemplate upon it (Ch 47 Vs 24). However, the launch pad is useless without the actual launch. There must be a point when all the language and reason leaves us and we become inspired by meanings. This is where I think Professor Leaman and even Ibn Rushd himself sold themselves short with regards to the mystical experience. Spirituality, emotionality and mysticism need not necessarily be negative elements but rather what inspires humankind to change.

In any case, Professor was spot on about his claim on the underdeveloped nature of Islamic Philosophy in the Sunni/Arab world. Sadly, we see very often the Islamic priesthood claiming that ‘philosophy is haram’. Philosophers are usually vilified or at the very least ignored. Often they find refuge in the West. A rather famous quranist philosopher, Dr Mohamed Shahrour said that the Muslim world inherited the dogmatism of Al-Ghazali whilst Europe inherited the rationalism of Ibn Rushd. I personally find this a little simplistic because Al-Ghazali clearly mastered some heavy debating skills as can be seen from his ‘Incoherence of the Philosophers’. He was only against Greek thought and its limits. Ibn Rushd was also no heretic despite his devotion to reason. He was a devout Sunni Maliki and did not question religious precepts. He only sought to unite reason and revelation.

I did not manage to get a question to Professor Leaman during the Q&A session but still managed to stalk him long enough to ask him the following:

What is Islamic Philosophy? Is it philosophy from a particular geography? Or from a particular people? Or pertaining to certain subjects?

Can a Non-Muslim be an Islamic Philosopher? Can a Muslim be other than an Islamic Philosopher?

Surprisingly, Professor Leaman was very undogmatic the issue. He basically agreed that it was a problematic term and as I suspected, it became convenient rather than factually correct to use it. Islamic Philosophy is on par with Black Philosophy or Chinese Philosophy – that is to say, philosophy produced in tandem with the existence of a particular civilisation or culture. It is not one thing but a dynamic of things.

This being the case, the condition of Islamic Philosophy would therefore be tied into other factors connected to the world of Islam at that point. Politics, society, economics, education and other factors would form the equation that would tell us how Islamic Philosophy is at a given point in time. The possibilities of Islamic Philosophy therefore is like the sky, virtually limitless.

All in all, I had a lovely time. I look forward to meeting Professor Leaman again or at least, to be dreaming about the bookshop in Teheran which he mentioned – that only sold books on philosophy!