Book Review : Young British and Muslim - Philip Lewis – Continuum - 2007
Click here to see Part 1 of this review
A 2002 Q-news article called “Fear and Loathing on Campus” by Yahya Birt stated that “Often squeezed between the Salafis and HT, Muslim students were left with few alternatives to a crude, de-spiritualised, angry and self-righteous take on Islam”. The British “ulema - custodians of traditional Sunni Islam - were unable to “develop a plausible alternative to . . .(such) controversies.”
In May 2007 the Bradford Council of Mosques produced a beautifully produced course on practical citizenship - Nasiha (good counsel). It is the brainchild of a young teacher , active in a local mosque committee. He was worried about the attitudes of some youngsters with regard to three issues:
a) A temptations to lionise Osama Bin Laden as some kind of Robin Hood figure, with youngsters lacking any real knowledge of the extent to which his extremism is a betrayal of Islamic norms.
b) The complexities of rival nationalisms in the Israel-Palestine tradegy is oversimplified as Muslim vs Jew, which fuels a casual anti-semitism.
c) Finally, traditional Islamic formation in the madrassa often does not equip youngsters with the knowledge relevant to their situation in the UK today. When they look outside the mosque for teaching, they often find themselves exposed to radical websites and materials which present “British Muslim” as an oxymoron. This prevents them from acknowledging and valuing the positive aspects of British society.
The aim is to pilot the project in a number of Bradford mosques where imams will be trained and will receive a certificate when they have delivered the course. The course covers areas such as the sanctity of life, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate ways of earning a living and anti-social behaviour.
Some of this intolerance is being imported from home countries, for example, according to a report by Pakistani educationalists, early Pakistani textbooks presented ancient Hindu history without denigration, criticised aspects of the activities of early Muslim conquerors and acknowledged with gratitude Gandhi’s role in saving many Muslims at partition. Over the last thirty years, these views have been replaced by narrow, ideological viewpoints that vilify and create hatred of the (especially Hindu) “other” - while justifying violent jihad and glorifying martyrdom. All in all, this has contributed to the growing violence in Pakistani society, whether intra-sectarian or against religious and ethnic minorities, as well as women.
(see A H Nayar and A Salim, “The subtle subversion : The state of curricula and textbooks in Pakistan (Islamabad: Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 2004))
This violent extremism has been defined by Tariq Ramadan as being characterised by a combination of three factors :
A Manichaen mind set that thinks in terms of “us versus them”
A preoccupation with the capture of political power
A willingness to use violence to achieve their goals
Critically, the book makes the point that whatever the complex reasons advanced for the popularity of such movements (e.g HT), ex-members as well as critics realize that that their popularity will only be eroded if practical alternatives exist for constructively channelling often legitimate disquiet within the Muslim communities with patters of social exclusion, Islamophobia in Britain, or the negative impact of Western foreign policy
The book provides space to a number of voices who rail against the sense of victimhood that British Muslims are prone to, some of these are shown below:
Hamza Yusuf: (Q-news Oct 2001):
Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage (broadcast from pulpits) in which people with often recognisable psychpathology use anger. . . to rile Muslims up, only to leave them biter and spiteful towards (non-Muslims) people who in the most part are completely unaware of the conditions in the Muslim world, or of the oppressive assaults of some western counties on Muslim peoples. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology. We have almost no theologians in the entire Muslim world. . . (Muslims) generally prefer to attack the West as the sole reason for their problems when truth is we are bankrupt as a religious community. . . where is out media? Where... are our spokespeople? Where are our scholars? Where are our literary figures? The truth is we don’t have any – and so instead of looking inward and asking painful questions we take the simple way out by attacking people’
Imam Zaid Shakir ( from an article in the Observer)
'We must stop thinking of ourselves as "the tribe of Islam",' declared Imam Zaid Shakir, an African-American scholar and civil-rights activist. 'Until we start to think of ourselves as the children of Adam, concerned about the welfare of all our fellow human beings, we are missing the point of being faithful. These are days when there is a lot of talk about defending the honour of the Prophet. What would it do for the honour of the Prophet if Muslims mobilised their tremendous resources to eradicate hunger from this planet? What would it say to the world if Muslims mobilised to end the conflict in the Congo or to make generic Aids drugs available where they are not?' The crowd burst into enthusiastic applause."
“Why should we put up with the peddling of false dreams of future domination and merrily waiting to fight some grand global jihad later on (when the reality is that Muslim countries cannot even secure their own basic sovereignty), of the insecure proclamation of our inherent superiority (surely conditional on our actual conduct), the need to continually demean the kuffar (...(such) obsessive hatred reveals something of a fixation akin to attraction), the nasty denigration of women and speaking as if they were in a position to enforce, with relish, the fixed penalites (hudood) of Islamic sacred law (rather than as being, as in fact the congregation is, subject to English common law)."(see “uncovering “undercover mosque” - yahyabirt.com)
“Why we are where we are” (article in the Invitation magazine)
“(our) dominant chauvinism has trampled upon (women’s) God given rights. . . Women have become subservient to. . husbands. . extra decoration pieces in their homes. . There are few independent and progressive thinkers in contrast to the vast majority of traditionalist (scholars). . . because it is an easier option as compared to requiring itjihad or adaptation to the new realities of the modern world. In the absence of any clear vision, today the Muslims present themselves as victims around the world. . . (We retreat into) escapism from reality. . . (and) blame the Jews for our ills. . .(we need to) build bridges of understanding with the West(.)
Some of the books listed in the bibliography are listed below:
Abou El Fadl, K : The Great Theft : Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)
Bianchi, R : Guests of God : Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World (Arrow Books, 2006)
How politicians and generals across the Islamic world use access to pilgrimage to reward their supporters
Bulliet, W : The case for Islamo-Christian civilisation (Columbia, 2006)
Cesari, J and McLoughlin, S (eds) : European Muslims and the Secular State (Ashgate, 2005)
Cook, D : Understanding Jihad (University of California Press, 2005)
Cuts across the myths and traces its meaning across the centuries
Goodman, L: Islamic Humanism (OUP, 2003)
History of Islamic philosophy etc and interaction with other faiths
Kepel, G : The war for Muslim minds: Islam and the West (Belnap press of Harvard University)
See “Medieval Islamic Political Thought” - P Crone, Edinburgh University Press, 2004
See also :