Archive for the ‘Extremism’ Category

Taqiyyah Sunrise: Shining Light on Contemporary Deception

December 22, 2019

 

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

Let not the Believers

Take for friends or helpers

Unbelievers rather than Believers:

If any do that, in nothing will there be help

From Allah: except by way of precaution,

That ye may guard yourselves from them.

[Qur’an, The Family of Imran (Amram), 3:28 – Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation]

There has been some discussion over the past few weeks over the uses and misuses of the term taqiyyah within Islamic jurisprudence. This article seeks to clarify the origins, meaning, and application of the concept of taqiyyah. In doing so, my purpose is to minimise its use, as part of a hostile narrative which paints Muslims are religiously-obligated liars.

I also attempt to explain the damage which the malicious misuse of that term inflicts on British Muslims.

The context of the verse quoted above is the melodramatic battle between the Meccan Unbelievers and Medinan Believers that took place in the earliest days of Islam. The Arabic for “precaution” is tuqaah, an alternative version of which is taqiyyah. As a footnote, as advanced students of Qur’anic studies will know, there are 20 equally-valid recitations of the Qur’an from a basic text that had no vowels or diacritical marks: two of these versions read taqiyyah, whilst the rest read it as the synonymous tuqaah.

The main meaning of the verse is very simple and rather obvious: in times of conflict, one may protect oneself from one’s enemy by apparently ingratiating oneself with them means of dissimulation. This was particularly important for the Muslims persecuted in Mecca, and explains why Ibn Kathir, the 14th-century Qur’anic scholar of Damascus, related it explicitly to the following one:

Anyone who, after accepting Faith in Allah,

Utters unbelief – except under compulsion,

His heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as

Open their breast to Unbelief – on them is Wrath from Allah,

And theirs will be a dreadful penalty.

[Qur’an, The Honey-Bee, 16:106]

That passage makes it clear that the exception to the basic moral obligation to tell the truth about one’s religious faith applies only in circumstances of compulsion. This was not a purely hypothetical situation in the first days of Islam. Many of the Prophet’s early followers were forced, under pain of death, to practice taqiyyah, although some of them notably preferred to express their faith and achieve martyrdom. The above verse was revealed to the Prophet regarding the case of Ammar, son of Yasir and Sumayyah, all of whom were slaves owned by Meccan polytheists. Yasir and Sumayyah were both killed by their owners for rejecting polytheism and embracing monotheism: Sumayyah, a woman, was the first martyr of Islam. But Ammar wasn’t quite as strong as his parents, and was given permission to hide his monotheistic faith by outwardly professing polytheism.

Throughout Islamic history, therefore, persecuted people often had to resort to taqiyyah. The most famous examples of these originate in the experience of the Shia minority, who were often oppressed by Sunni rulers: although this situation was sometimes reversed in regional variations. Muslims persecuted during the Crusades, Reconquista and Spanish Inquisition also applied the principle of taqiyyah for self-preservation.

The principle of taqiyyah is, as you might expect, not limited to Islam: faced with severe persecution or death, and especially in war, most moral and religious codes permit dissimulation. “War is deception” is a principle found across many cultures, from Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War onwards. A takfiri jihadist, particularly one who had been caught and imprisoned while engaged in terrorism, might well believe that he was being persecuted, or was at war, and therefore was permitted to engage in religiously sanctioned dishonesty. It is not objectionable to point that out. However, many of the most deadly forms of incitement and stereotyping often take the form of distortion and misapplication.

To take a parallel example, the Hebrew term “hasbara”, which means “explaining” or “diplomacy” is commonly deployed by antisemites to suggest that Jews customarily engage in insincere propagandistic deception, and so should never be believed. There is a significant difference between observing, on the one hand, that a particular statement from a named Israeli government minister is propaganda, and suggesting that everything that Jews say can be dismissed as lies, on the other.

In a similar manner, it has become a common trope of anti-Muslim hatred, in particular by the far-right, to accuse all Muslims of taqiyyah. It is an accusation that is obviously impossible to rebut in the eyes of the haters, because no matter what Muslims may say or do, they may be practising taqiyyah!

That the alt-right and far-right peddle conspiracy theories involving taqiyyah is not surprising. But it is disappointing that The Times of London, one of the most important newspapers in the world, should publish Melanie Phillips saying so.

Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist and often appears on the BBC in its TV and radio programmes such as Question Time and The Moral Maze. She also writes for the Jewish Chronicle. In her article, “Islamists are not the same as other prisoners,” (The Times, 3 December 2019) she claims that “taqiyya, the command to deceive for Islam … is of fundamental importance in Islam. Practically every Islamic sect agrees to it and practises it.” Her authority? A minor Lebanese academic who is a member of the relatively heterodox Druze sect. This is a bit like deploying Neturei Karta against mainstream Jewish sects, or quoting a Jehovah’s Witness as an authority on the doctrinal content of post-Nicene Christianity.

There is value in deepening our collective understanding of the commonalities between the approaches Abrahamic faiths: a task which I, a priest and a rabbi attempt to undertake in our book: People of the Book: How Jews, Christians and Muslims understand their Sacred Scriptures. Jewish and Islamic jurisprudence have many similarities, and an analogous principle to taqiyyah is found in Judaism: Rabbi Michael C. Hilton writes, “Melanie Phillips should know that there are important Jewish precedents for hiding your beliefs in a situation of persecution.”

And Rabbi Mark Solomon of London writes,

“I teach about taqiya in the context of medieval philosophers (like Maimonides) using taqiya to obscure their most radical ideas behind a screen of orthodoxy, but to accuse all Muslims of it is deception of a different order.”

Ironically, the vast majority of Muslims, 80% of whom are non-Arab, are probably unaware of this obscure concept that is mentioned only once in the entire Qur’an. To give an example, Osama Filali-Naji, founder of the Arab Millenials network, comments:

Interestingly, growing up as a Sunni Muslim, I never heard of the concept. The first I learned of it was from islamophobes who claimed I was practising taqiyyah. Ultimate paranoia!

It is true that hardened islamist terrorists, such as the Al-Qaeda & ISIS supporter Usman Khan who murdered two people at Fishmongers’ Hall, do misuse the principle of taqiyyah in order to further their cause. However, the charge that all Muslims are generally religiously obligated to lie, and do so routinely, is both dangerous and untrue. Moreover, it is dehumanising. It suggests that deception is in our nature, and that we are not to be trusted. At secondary school in North London in the 1980s, I learned in history classes that the Nazis had compared Jews to rats in cinema films. In 2013, at the Museum of the Jewish People at Tel Aviv University, I remember my horror in viewing the Nazi footage that painted Jews as a plague on humanity. We understand, from the experience of too many persecuted minorities throughout the world, the deadly consequences of years of the steady, drip-drip effect of demonisation.

This is not a new complaint: just over a decade ago, Ed Husain warned of such use of the taqiyyah trope by the same writer. More recently, the Deputy Director of Hope Not Hate, writing in the Jewish Chronicle, TellMAMA and Dr Hisham Hellyer have raised similar concerns.

I cannot overstate how damaging the charge that Muslims are directed by their religion to lie has been. It is impossible for us to “prove ourselves” against the backdrop of this pernicious accusation of taqiyyah and consequent implication that Muslims can never be trusted. The Times, the JC, the Spectator, and the BBC should be ashamed of promoting someone who has made this charge against us for so many years.

Seventeen years ago, the New Statesman published an issue with a front cover which referred to a “Kosher Conspiracy”. The language of that headline invoked ancient accusations that Jews were conspiring to control the government. The subsequent reputational damage to that magazine, and to its then editor Peter Wilby, was significant.

The Times should learn the lessons of that episode. It is outrageous that a respected national newspaper should render the tropes of anti-Muslim hatred mainstream in this manner.


(Imam Dr) Usama Hasan

London, UK

22nd December, 2019

This article is slightly modified from the version published by the Jewish Chronicle on 19/12/19.  The main modification is the addition of several hyperlinks, plus a couple of other edits.  In particular, the taqiyyah reading is found in 1/10 qira’ats (Ya’qub al-Hadrami only), equating to 2/20 riwayats (Rawh & Ruways from Ya’qub), and not 1/20 as I incorrectly stated in the JC version.

Some thoughts on the Tunisia massacre, including why it is absurd to link an attack against a Muslim-majority state to Islam

July 1, 2015

Bismillah.

I would like to express my thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Sousse massacre, about 30 of whom are British citizens.

This was a monstrous attack, accompanied by a disgusting statement of justification (see previous blog post). The Imperial Hotel was hardly a “den of prostitution, vice and unbelief” – it was a legitimate holiday destination authorised by the state of “Muslim Tunisia” (to use ISIL’s own phrase). Rezgui is not a gallant knight, but a coward who attacked unarmed men and women holidaying with their families and friends, often with little children, some of whom are now traumatised and emotionally scarred.  Many of the victims were old enough to be the killer’s parents or grandparents, but he still showed them no mercy during his attention-seeking, narcissistic rampage.  “Look at me!  I am a deluded, wannabe holy warrior!”

The previous week, another deluded young man massacred nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston.  Some of the victims’ families have already forgiven the killer.  I hope that at least some of the British victims’ families will find it in their hearts to forgive the Tunisia killer, although that is of course easier to say than do, and it will be a painful internal journey for all the survivors and relatives – life is a constant journey, outwardly and inwardly, of course.

We are just days away from the 10th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist attacks in London on 7 July 1995. The ringleader of that attack claimed it was on behalf of “his people,” i.e. the people of Iraq, even though he had never set foot in that country. British Muslims should all stand in solidarity with the victims of 7/7 and of the Sousse massacre, and make it clear in no uncertain terms to the members, supporters, sympathisers and apologists of Al-Qaeda and ISIL everywhere, that include hundreds of deluded Brits, that the British people are “our people,” as are the vast majority of decent, civilised people everywhere. And all British people should come together against the horror and barbarism being perpetrated by ISIL and similar groups worldwide.

The terrorist mass-murderer, Seifeddine Rezgui, was clearly a loser who became a monster. The attacker’s title al-Qayrawani is carefully chosen: it claims that he is from Qayrawan or a graduate of it, an ancient Islamic city in Tunisia, and site of one of the oldest mosques and universities in the world. Hence the symbolism: a holy warrior, steeped in prayer and learning, slaughtering the Crusaders to protect them from “Muslim Tunisia.” This illustrates the utterly delusional, fantasy world of ISIL, although unfortunately, given the right conditions, there are millions of people seduced by this stupid and monstrous, ahistorical narrative. In reality, “Muslim Tunisia, a 99% Muslim-majority country, has an overwhelmingly secular constitution, approved by a coalition of post-Islamists and Muslim secularists, and this “Muslim Tunisia” is an enemy of ISIL, committed to protecting itself and its economy from being ravaged by ISIL madmen. Rezgui was clearly, utterly ignorant of the centuries-old ethical tradition of Islam, including in regard to warfare, never mind somehow being al-Qayrawani, or a graduate of Qayrawan, one of the oldest universities and centres of learning in the entire world.

Muslim Tunisian hotel workers saved the lives of their holiday-maker guests at the Imperial hotel. Muslim Tunisian doctors and nurses, including veiled and unveiled women, saved lives and treated the injured in the hospitals of Sousse. Crowds of Muslim Tunisians chased the ISIL fanatic, putting themselves in great danger, and some of them threw rubble at him from rooftops. It was Muslim Tunisian security forces and snipers who finally shot him dead, cutting short his rampage and saving many more lives. Since the massacre, crowds of Muslim Tunisians have rallied in protest against the massacre, carrying Tunisian and British flags, making heart signs in solidarity with the victims, and holding candlelit vigils in their memory.

This reality destroys the fiction entertained by both Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim bigots, that somehow Rezgui represents Islam or Muslims in any meaningful sense. It also illustrates the absurdity of linking this terrorism, overwhelmingly rejected by a 99% Muslim nation on the basis of their faith, to that faith itself.  Similar logic applied when terrorists murdered Muslim schoolteachers and schoolchildren last year in Peshawar, Pakistan, a 95% Muslim-majority country.  Just as no serious Brit associated IRA terrorism with Christianity, knowing the sublime ideals of that religion, no serious Muslim has any doubt about the disgusting, filthy nature of takfiri terrorism.  It is only to people outside the faith, often swayed by ignorance, fear and/or prejudice, that such questions are unclear. Westerners associating ISIL with Islam is equivalent to Easterners associating Breivik, with his symbols of the cross and crusade, with Christianity.  Neither position makes any meaningful sense.

Tunisia has produced the most ISIL foreign fighters ‎because of the relative success of the democratic process there: takfiris go abroad to live out their fantasies. In neighbouring Libya, the civil war provides ample opportunities for takfiri violence.

Thus, Muslim Tunisia has embraced democracy and secularism as antidotes to both dictatorship and islamism. This ISIL attack is a pathetic, cowardly attempt by childish, attention-seeking islamists to stop the consensus of the good people of Tunisia in favour of liberty, democracy and religiously-neutral secularism: the separation of mosque and state, a principle praised by one of the leading Sunni Muslim theologians of our time, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, in his Sina’at al-Fatwa as far back as 1428 / 2007.  A full translation of his arguments may be found in my essay, From Dhimmitude to Democracy, available elsewhere.

I end with my translation of a few selected phrases from the new Tunisian constitution (2014) that illustrates this “Islamic civil secular democracy”: for study, discussion and analysis. Note that this constitution has been endorsed by (the party of) Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi [Rashid al-Ghannoushi], who has a Muslim Brotherhood background, but is effectively post-islamist:

Tunisia is a free, independent, sovereign state …

Islam is its religion. Arabic is its language. Democracy is its system …

It is a civil state, based on citizenship, the will of the people & the primacy of the law …

The people are sovereign, and are the source of authority, which they practise via elected representatives …

State slogans are: freedom, dignity, integrity, order. [hurriya, karama, ‘adala, nizam – all of which are maqasid or universal objectives of the ethical and legal tradition of Islam known as Sharia]

And because ISIL and their apologists do not believe in freedom, dignity, integrity and order, and have effectively lost the intellectual argument about the future of Islam, they will continue threatening their childish attacks and terrible violence whilst throwing a massive, global tantrum. And they will lose, because this madness is unsustainable in the face of the millions of decent, civilised people who will continue to stand strong for truth, justice, mercy and beauty, all of which are reflections of the Names of God, and will therefore always attract Divine help, intrinsically and extrinsically.

The coward of the caliphate

July 1, 2015

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim [With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful]

[MUSLIM TUNISIA – LOGO]

BREAKING NEWS: Tens of innocent holiday-makers, supporting the economy of Muslim Tunisia and the livelihoods of Tunisian Muslims, killed and injured in a cowardly attack in the city of Sousse in Muslim Tunisia

9 Ramadan 1436 [26 June 2015]

In a cowardly attack, which God facilitated Muslim members of the local security services to cut short and save many innocent lives, a coward of the so-called caliphate, the loser Abu Yahya, calling himself al-Qayrawani, as though he was steeped in prayer and learning at one of the world’s most ancient mosques and universities, although neither was the case, launched an inhuman attack upon Muslim-owned resorts where innocent, guest civilians were enjoying their summer holidays, supporting the economy of Muslim Tunisia and the livelihoods of Tunisian Muslims, and benefiting from traditional Muslim hospitality in the city of Sousse. Taking advantage of soft targets on the al-Qantawi beach: men, women and children, including families and the elderly, our deluded brother was unfortunately able to reach the Imperial Hotel. Rather than attempting to share the beautiful teachings of mercy, compassion and kindness of the Noble Qur’an and the Holy Prophet, a mercy to the worlds, Abu Yahya mercilessly killed nearly forty people aged 19 to 80 in cold blood and injured just as many, leaving little children psychologically and emotionally traumatised. Most of them were nationals of western democracies where millions of Muslims enjoy unparalleled freedom and prosperity as equal citizens, including the freedom to practise their faith and criticise their governments. This was a painful blow and a message dyed with blood to the 99% Muslim Tunisia and their civilised friends of all faiths and humanistic philosophies, from a small band of people devoid of true faith, understanding, compassion or humanity. Civilised people should seek God’s refuge and protection against more sad news in the coming days, by the permission of God, for in Muslim Tunisia, there are hate-filled, ruthless and raging madmen who do not sleep on the absurd grievances taught to them by their tours of qital [fighting for the sake of fighting, devoid of ethics and humanity] in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. We ask God to accept the innocent victims amongst the ranks of the martyrs, and make from their blood a ray of light to illuminate the path of noble and courageous people everywhere. We ask God to envelop the innocent victims in His Mercy and Compassion, and to deal with their murderer with His Infinite Justice. [END]

The caption under the photo of Seifeddine Rezgui that is being circulated online reads, The coward of the so-called caliphate Abu Yahya (may God deal with him harshly), the loser who carried out the attack on Muslim Tunisia, murdering people from the same western nations that taught him to enjoy break-dancing and the football of Real Madrid

 

Make sense?  Now read the pathetic and monstrous original:

[ISLAMIC STATE TUNISIA – LOGO]

BREAKING NEWS: Tens of Crusader coalition nationals killed and injured in unique raid in the city of Sousse in Muslim Tunisia

9 Ramadan 1436 [26 June 2015]

In a unique raid, for which God facilitated the causes of success, a soldier of the Caliphate, the gallant knight Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani, launched an attack upon the filthy dens where prostitution, vice and disbelief in God are bred in the city of Sousse. In spite of the stringent security protecting these target dens on the al-Qantawi beach, our brother was able to reach the target in the Imperial Hotel. God enabled him to defy the infidels with a great defiance, killing nearly forty and injuring just as many. Most of them were nationals of states of the Crusader coalition that wages war on the state of the Caliphate. This was a painful blow and a message dyed with blood to the apostates in Tunisia and those behind them, their masters in the Crusader alliance. They should brace themselves for good news that will sadden them in the coming days, by the permission of God, for in Muslim Tunisia, there are gallant men who do not sleep on the grievances taught to them by their tours of jihad in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. We ask God to accept our brother amongst the ranks of the martyrs, and make from his blood a ray of light to illuminate the path of monotheists everywhere. [END]

The caption under the photo of Seifeddine Rezgui that is being circulated online reads, The soldier of the Caliphate Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani (may God accept him), the knight who carried out the raid in Muslim Tunisia.

ISIL on Tunisia hotel attack 2015

 

Read both visions and narratives for the world, and make up your mind.  Choose the right one, and share it with others! As Muslims, including British Muslims, we need to challenge extremist and murderous rhetoric robustly whenever it appears, dismantling its arguments so that we do not leave a shred of doubt for impressionable people.  May God guide us to help heal humanity’s self-inflicted wounds, and not deepen them further.

Usama Hasan

London, 14 Ramadan 1436 / 1 July 2015

Tackling extremism in UK universities and mosques

March 3, 2013

Bismillah.  The recent cases of the “Birmingham terrorist trio”, one of whom was a university graduate, and the resurfacing of underlying problems at City University, both from the end of February 2013, as well as that of four young men from Luton pleading guilty to terrorism on 1st March, show that the problems of extremism and terrorism amongst British Muslims still persist.  Note that the men from Birmingham and Luton were all influenced by Anwar Awlaki, who lived for a while in the UK, c. 2002-3.  Campus connections to extremism and terrorism are well-documented, and the two “Undercover Mosque” programmes on Channel 4 embarrasingly exposed the same problems in a small number of UK mosques, although some of these mosques were, worryingly, major ones in London and Birmingham.

These problems continue to need to be tackled by Muslims themselves, as well as by others.  A good start would be for Muslims to stop being in denial about the small number of would-be terrorists in their midst, whose crazy actions could lead to catastrophe in this country.  Conspiracy theories must end, given the overwhelming evidence against such people, including their own “martyrdom videos” and guilty pleas, and the well-documented details of their plots, e.g. photos of unexploded bomb material from the failed 21/7 attacks and the police’s secret footage of the liquid-bomb plotters’ “bomb factory” in Forest Road, Walthamstow, screened some years ago on BBC Panorama.

Another step would be open, honest discussion about the underlying, extremist, Islamist ideology that underpins, justifies and legitimises Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism in the minds of its proponents.

Below is a relevant and, I hope, useful article reproduced from the end of 2009, i.e. just over 3 years ago.  A slightly-edited version of it was published in the print edition of the Daily Telegraph on 31st December 2009, within a week of the failed attack by the “underpants bomber” Mutallab on Christmas Day, 2009.  (Mutallab had earlier served for a year as President of the UCL Islamic Society.)  The article has never been published online before.

Following publication of this piece, a leading UK salafi scholar criticised me for it after the next Friday prayers that I led at Al-Tawhid Mosque in January 2010.  (It later turned out that Mutallab had named him as one of his major religious influences, although there is no proof that this cleric knew about the underwear-bomber’s terrorist plans.) Since most of the speakers banned from university campuses over the last few years and exposed in the mosques have been of a salafi background (with a significant number also from extremist Deobandi backgrounds), he said that I should not criticise “our brothers in creed” (ikhwanuna fi l-‘aqidah).  Of course, I did not accept this sectarian suggestion to avoid opposing people preaching hatred and extremism on the grounds that they pay lip-service to the “creed of the Companions and the Salaf” whilst having almost no sense of the latter’s spirituality: as Imam Ibn al-Qayyim stated, all the early Sufis such as Hasan Basri, Junayd, Ma’ruf, Sari and Bistami were also amongst the generations and followers of the Salaf.

Tackling Extremism on UK Campuses

Usama Hasan

(an edited version of this was published in the print edition of the Daily Telegraph on 31st December 2009, within a week of the failed attack by the “underpants bomber” Mutallab on Christmas Day of that year)

 

Students’ Islamic societies on UK campuses are dominated by fundamentalist ideas and overly-politicised interpretations of Islam.  During the 80’s and 90’s, when I spent eight years as a student at three of this country’s leading universities, serving as Islamic society president at each, I saw at close hand, and took part in, the radical activism myself. The energy was partly provided by events overseas: the Islamist revolution in Iran; the Afghan jihad against the Soviets; the Israeli invasion of Lebanon; the first Palestinian intifada; the first US-led war against Saddam; the wars in Bosnia and Chechnya. Countless Friday sermons on UK campuses, mirroring those around the world, were devoted to reinforcing the idea that all these events proved that there was a worldwide conspiracy of godless infidels (non-Muslims of all faiths and none) against Islam and Muslims everywhere.  Meanwhile, events that challenged this melodramatic worldview, such as the long and brutal Iran-Iraq war or the vicious civil war amongst the Afghan mujahedin groups after their victory over the communists, were conveniently ignored.

 

University students have a long history of radical, political activism around the world, and this is not wrong in itself.  One thinks of the French student revolts, or the brave student dissidents in Tianamen Square and Tehran.  And fundamentalism, by which I mean the reading of scripture out of context and failing to apply its universal and timeless principles faithfully to modernity, infects many religions.  But whilst those students and graduates from British universities who went off to Afghanistan and Bosnia for military training and action in the early 90’s were arguably participating in just causes, those involved in terrorist plots since 9/11, such as Umar Abdulmutallab, have lost their moral bearings completely, under the influence of Al-Qaeda and its apologists worldwide.  Part of the solution to this problem should involve providing safe alternatives to young men with an understandable desire for military training and adventure, perhaps involving the British armed forces and their reserves.

 

Alternative theological and intellectual narratives also need to be provided.  In my time on campus, there was intense rivalry between different fundamentalist factions, but all the Islamist groups agreed on the objective of a single, worldwide caliphate, governed by a strict interpretation of Islamic law or Sharia, and most of them were opposed to any form of democracy or secularism.  Vehement rhetoric against “the West” was commonplace.  Liberal and rational interpretations of Islam, inspired by Averroes, Ibn Khaldun or Iqbal were rarely heard.  The promotion of authentic Sufism on campus will help, but true religious experience will never be apolitical, so it is a question of balancing faith, politics and spirituality.

 

But the problem is not all about theory and politics: social realities have a major impact.  With traditional, devout Muslim societies being teetotal and gender-segregated and some religious authorities prohibiting music, many believers find it difficult to integrate, since British student social life is based around the bar and often seems to be a “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” culture.  In the face of this, it is easy for believers to withdraw into cult-like social circles that reinforce a narrow worldview.  Many bodies provide advice to students regarding alcohol, drugs and sex, of course – greater cultural awareness is the key here.

 

Promoting more individual and social cohesion and balance is not easy.  A firmer emphasis at university on “higher education” of the whole person may help, such as termly meetings with mentors who help with students’ personal and social development; schemes like these are already in place at many universities, and Muslim chaplains could play an important role here.  A stronger sense of the student body, such as your batch or cohort studying the same subject, may also provide a safety-net for would-be terrorists.  Other countries seem to have a stronger tradition of this approach compared to Britain.

 

Increased interaction amongst different student communities and the open exchange of ideas are paramount.  Muslim-Jewish relations on campus are especially important: they have been poor historically, largely because of the Israeli-Arab conflict which continues to provoke religious and political extremism on both sides.  In this respect, work like that of the Lokahi Foundation and the Coexistence Trust, who organise joint campus tours by Muslim and Jewish leaders and role-models, deserves to be supported and expanded.

 

A 13th-century Moroccan Sufi on the Hadith of the 73 Sects

February 24, 2013

Bismillah.  An important explanation of what is meant by “What I and my Companions are upon” in the hadith of the 73 sects, a phrase often abused nowadays by un-Islamic, sectarian mindsets.  With thanks to Arnold Yasin Mol for digging this out.

In the tafsir by the 12-13th century Moroccan Sufi, Abu al-’Abbas al-Subti, he makes a very interesting exegesis on Qur’an verse 16:90 and the famous 72-sects Hadith. Through Asbab al-Nuzul he sees that 16:90 was revealed about the brotherhood pact between the first Muslims from Mecca (Muhajirun) and the helping community in Medina (Ansar) through which they obliged each other to share everything equally. The word ‘adl (عدل) in 16:90 means ‘equal value/weight/justice’, and so al-Subti understands that true justice means sharing everything equally among everybody. Later he sees that the famous 72-sects Hadith (72 Muslim sects go to Hell, 1 sect is saved) which is abused by many groups and sects to declare themselves the ‘saved sect’ and all others as condemned, was said the day after the ‘equal sharing pact’ was made, and thus equal sharing is what the Prophet and the first Muslims followed. The Hadith isn’t about following detailed sectarian rules concerning creed and ritual; to be saved is to share equally among mankind.

“I found a verse in the Book of God that had a great effect on both my heart and my tongue. It was, ‘Verily, God commands justice and the doing of good.’ I pondered this and said [to myself], ‘Perhaps [finding] this is no coincidence and I am the one who is meant by this verse.’ I continued to examine its meaning in the books of exegesis until I found Gharib at-Tafsir, which stated that [the verse] was revealed when the Prophet established brotherhood between the Emigrants (Muhajirun) and the Helpers (Ansar). They had asked the Prophet to establish a pact of brotherhood between them, so he commanded them to share among themselves. In this way, they learned that the justice commanded [by God] was through sharing. Then I looked into the saying of the Prophet: ‘My community will be divided into seventy-two sects, all of which will be in the Fire except the one followed by me and my companions,’ and found that he said this on the morning of the day that he had ordered the pact of brotherhood [to be established] between the Emigrants and the Helpers … So I understood that what he and his companions adhered to were the practices of equal sharing (mushatara) and favouring others (ithar). Then I swore to God Most High that when anything came to me I would share it with my believing brethren among the poor. I followed this practice for twenty years, and this rule affected my ideas to the point where nothing dominated my thoughts more than uncompromising honesty (sidq).”

[translation: Vincent J. Cornell, “Realm of the Saint: Power and Authority in Moroccan Sufism”]

Cornell also mentions that to Abu ‘l-‘Abbas, every act of human mercy (rahma) evoked a merciful response from the all-merciful God (ar-Rahim). He summed up his theory of reciprocity with the maxim: “[Divine] Being is actualised by generosity” (al-wujud yanfa’ilu bi ‘l-jud).

City University and the Islamic Society Prayer Room

February 22, 2013

Bismillah.  UPDATE 24/2/13: Some readers have reasonably asked about more recent activities of City Isoc – the signs are not encouraging.  One commenter below mentions that, in November 2012, the Isoc hosted a preacher known for his extremist views.  The “Muslim Voices on Campus” (MVOC) group also promoted an event addressed by a Hizb-ut-Tahrir speaker just 3 days ago (the speaker was opposed to gender-equality and freedom, both of which are fundamental maqasid of the Sharia, understood in its most generous sense as opposed to the narrow reading that dominates much of contemporary Muslim thinking).  Furthermore, MVOC now have a lawyer representing them: no surprise that it is Saghir Hussain, who worked for the Awlaki-supporting CagePrisoners group for many years and also closely-advised the extremist group that took over Al-Tawhid Mosque in 2011-12, as detailed elsewhere on this blog and admitted by the man himself during the 2012 Islam Channel discussion on the topic.  Hilariously, Hussain is promoting “freedom of expression” on campus whilst denying it at mosques, where he supports takeovers by fanatics.  Furthermore, extremist Muslim groups have no right to continue spouting fascist views and support for terrorism yet scream “Islamophobia!” and retreat into victimhood and a siege-mentality when others, including Muslims, very reasonably oppose their excesses!

Bismillah.  According to City University, they withdrew Friday Prayer facilities for Muslim students in November 2012 after the Islamic Society (ISoc) failed to respond to several letters, over a period of several months from Summer 2012, requesting a list of Friday preachers and the topics or contents of the sermons.  The issue has only appeared in the media today, 3 months on, because of a new campaign by Wasif Sheikh of “Muslim Voices on Campus,” who incidentally pulled out of a live radio debate with me tonight on the BBC World Service radio station, for reasons unknown to me – Newshour went ahead by interviewing just me.

Rather ridiculously, some people have today tried to blame others for the University’s drastic decision, which they would easily reverse if the Isoc co-operated, rather than recognise the root of the problem: the  extremist activities of City University Islamic Society and its President, Saleh Patel, 2009-10, some of which are detailed below.

(Patel’s father and two uncles were part of the extremist group that forcibly took over Al-Tawhid Mosque in 2011-12 – we still await the decision of the Charity Commission’s investigation into that case.)

The extremist activities included promoting the terrorist preacher Anwar Awlaki and threatening two of the university lecturers after they criticised the Islamic Society’s disgraceful behaviour:

1) Islamic students at top university ‘are preaching hard-line extremism,’ terror experts warn (Daily Mail, 18/10/10)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321264/University-urged-action-Islamic-extremists.html

2) Claims of Islamic Extremism at London University (LBC Radio 18/10/10)

http://www.lbc.co.uk/claims-of-islamic-extremism-at-london-university-31352

3) Islamic extremism, intimidation at London’s City University  (Jewish Chronicle 18/10/10)

http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/39929/islamic-extremism-intimidation-londons-city-university

4) The report on Islamic extremism at City University London, and how it will affect student relations (18/10/10)

http://jonrossswaby.com/20101018-city-university-isoc-islamic-extremism/ (link no longer available)

5) James Brandon: Exposing Islamic extremism on British university campuses – and what we can do about it (Conservative Home 30/10/10)

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2010/10/james-brandon-exposing-islamic-extremism-on-british-university-campuses-and-what-we-can-do-about-it.html

6) Storm over extremist preachers (City Inquirer, 18/11/09)

http://cityinquirer.com/?p=1156 (link no longer available)

7) City Islamic Society defends radical preacher and threatens the Inquirer (City Inquirer, 2/1/10)

http://cityinquirer.com/?p=1787 (link no longer available)

8) Rosie Waterhouse: Universities must take action on Muslim extremism (The Independent, Thursday, 18 March 2010)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/rosie-waterhouse-universities-must-take-action-on-muslim-extremism-1922730.html

9) Rosie Waterhouse: Will the voice of moderate Muslims be heard at City?  (The Independent, Thursday, 1 July 2010)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/rosie-waterhouse-will-the-voice-of-moderate-muslims-be-heard-at-city-2014822.html

Some of the highlights from the above episode, exposing the ignorance and superficial understanding of the extremists involved, are:

1) The counter-extremism think-tank, Quilliam, said they had evidence of the president of City University’s Islamic Society, (ISoc) openly preaching extremism during a prayers held on the campus during the 2009/10 academic year, led by the president, Saleh Patel.

They said the president, Saleh Patel, was recorded saying:

When they say to us ‘the Islamic state teaches to cut the hand of the thief’, yes it does!

And it also teaches us to stone the adulterer.

When they tell us that the Islamic state tells us and teaches us to kill the apostate, yes it does!

Because this is what Allah and his messenger have taught us and this is the religion of Allah and it is Allah who legislates and only Allah has the right to legislate.

When a person leaves one prayer, one prayer intentionally, he should be imprisoned for three days and three nights and told to repent.

And if he doesn’t repent and offer his prayer then he should be killed. And the difference of opinion lies with regards to how he should be killed not as to what he is – a kafir or a Muslim.

When they say to us that Islam was spread by the sword, and there is no such thing as jihad, we say to them ‘no’. Islam believes in defensive and offensive jihad. The Qur’an is the proof, as is the Sunnah.

According to students interviewed for the report, the actions of leading members of the ISoc made members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Society (LGBT) feel “scared.”

Some Jewish students felt “intimidated”, and the group’s actions forced ordinary Muslim students to adopt hard-line Islamic practices which led to some Muslim students publishing an open letter complaining that their religion had been “hijacked” by the ISoc.

Report author Lucy James, said:

“It is deeply shocking that such extremism is being openly promoted on a university campus in central London.”

2) Rosie Waterhouse (1/7/10):

A colleague, Paul Anderson, wrote an article on his blog saying universities were secular institutions and supporting my stance against the potential promotion of violent extremism on campus (although he was not in favour of a niqab ban).

In May, while on holiday overseas, I received a text message from Anderson saying my photograph and his had been posted on the Islamic Society website together with a diatribe accusing us of being Islamaphobic and harbouring “outright hatred” of all Muslims. To me, this was a deeply disturbing and palpable threat. I contacted Anderson and the acting vice-chancellor, Professor Julius Weinberg, to instruct the Islamic Society to remove my photograph and the offending article.

Anderson telephoned the Islamic Society president Saleh Patel. He explained how upset I was at this perceived threat, and wanted the items removed, but Patel refused. When I returned to university, I felt all eyes were on me. To my distress, the Islamic Society continued to refuse to remove my photograph or the article. They might not have contained any overt personal threat but they were intimidating, at the very least.

It took almost two weeks and the intervention of the vice-chancellor, the students’ union and, eventually, the police before my photograph and Anderson’s were removed. The article stayed. Relations deteriorated and the Islamic Society was deregistered as a recognised society of the students’ union. Their website has been taken down.

“Such extremism can create dangerous divisions on campuses and, if not tackled, may even lead to terrorism.”

3) In April 2009, City Islamic Society organisers invited three radical Islamist preachers to address the society’s annual dinner, with the “brothers” and “sisters” segregated, and the latter forbidden to ask questions. One preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki , was to speak by video-link from Yemen, because he was banned from Britain for alleged links to terrorists. But the then vice-chancellor Malcolm Gilles intervened and the video-link was banned.

The above evidence speaks for itself.  Over the past decade, dozens of British university graduates have been convicted of terrorist offences, including several ISoc Presidents, the most notorious one of which was the 2009 “underpants-bomber.”  Clearly, universities cannot allow Isocs and Friday Prayers to continue to promote hate-preachers and terrorism-sympathisers.  (The “Birmingham 3” terrorists convicted yesterday included a graduate of Aston University.)

Here is the poster advertising the scheduled talk in April 2009, i.e. less than four years ago, at City Isoc via tele-link by Awlaki, the late Al-Qaeda preacher:

awlaki-city-u-4-09-300x211

And here is a post on the City Isoc website from December 2009, i.e. just over three years ago only, in praise of Awlaki and the “Al-Qaeda soldiers”: awlakicityisoc

The answer to the current impasse is quite simple: the Isoc needs to co-operate with the university authorities, who are concerned about the welfare of all their students, including the Muslims.  The Isoc should be able to ensure and guarantee that the vicious activities of 2009-10 are not repeated, in which case the university would surely reinstate the Friday Prayer facilities, since all UK universities are required to cater for the religious needs of all their students, and many universities provide very generous prayer-rooms for Muslim students.  I pray that the City University and its Isoc are granted the honesty, humility and courage to make the right decisions and arrive at a win-win situation for all sides.