Demo in London today

Today I came up London to attend a demo against oppressive anti-terrorist laws organised by, among others, Stop Political Terror and the Free Babar Ahmad campaign. The demo started in Marble Arch and finished about a mile up the Edgware Road, at Paddington Green police station which is where terrorist suspects are taken to be interrogated. (It’s also where the released Guantanamo detainees were taken on return to the UK; all were released within days without charge).

The Marble Arch rally included speeches by Shaikh Sulaiman Gani (imam of Tooting mosque), Haitham al-Haddad, and two former detainees, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga. (Interestingly, they introduced the latter as Martin Mubanga and not by whatever his Muslim name was.) A lot of demonsrators carried placards pledging that the community will be united, that we will not spy on each other, and declaring that the “war on terror” is in fact a war against Islam, and numerous other slogans. Mr Begg read out a poem he wrote while in Guantanamo (The Dagger’s Hilt, which you can find on this page, along with another called Indictment USA). A commonly-repeated theme of the speeches was that you don’t have to actually be a terrorist to be branded one and treated like one.

This demo was unfortunately marred by what I call “Muslim rally syndrome”: the persistent interruption of speeches with loud takbeers, which are used as a cover for emotion. By contrast, despite our obligation to offer salaat and salaam on the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) when he is mentioned, not a tenth of the noise levels could be heard in salaat and salaam as in the takbeers in the middle of people’s speeches - and this is particularly relevant given that this is the month of Rabi al-Awwal, the month in which it is generally accepted that the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, was born. At some events you even get speeches interrupted by young boys shouting “Nara’i Takbeer”, in apparent attempts to “have a go” at calling a takbeer. After a few speeches we took off up the Edgware Road, mostly to the chant of “labbayk Allahumma labbayk …” but also to takbeers and, depressingly, to shouted demands for “justice”.

While this may be appropriate to shout in front of a police station, it is certainly not appropriate as a general slogan. Shaikh Hamza Yusuf once commented on this tendency when he made an unexpected appearance at Westbourne Park mosque during Ramadan a couple of years ago, and he said that whatever Allah decrees is just, even if it’s not what people want. The cry of “justice” is certainly not something which originated in the Muslim community. One could also hear the voice of the brother with the megaphone breaking at one point as he shouted “takbeer!”. It reminded me of a piece in Q-News a few years ago, which took Muslims to task for deafening people with takbeers; it mentioned a hadeeth about such actions, in which some sahaba were told, “have dignity - your Lord is not deaf”.

The demo was certainly large - occupying one side of the Edgware Road (which is a dual carriageway), it extended most of the way down the road at the point where the front reached the Maplin shop. The police had arranged two pens underneath the Marylebone flyover, but in the end it proved insufficient, and the women were allowed to congregate on the north side of the flyover, directly outside the police station. There was one speech outside Edgware Road, by a member of Hizbut-Tahrir. It was about 2pm when the rally finally started to disperse.

On arrival, I was handed a flyer with the words of the “labbayk” chant and also instructions to make the demo orderly: “remain calm, in control & cooperate with the stewards”, “defy stereotyping and leave actions such as flag burning”, and to take any litter home with us. As far as I could tell, the demonstration was a highly orderly affair - there was no attempt to break police lines, nor any scuffle or other trouble that I could see.

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