“Hate books” that aren’t

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A report was published yesterday by the “Policy Exchange” alleging that so-called hate literature is widely available in British mosques (PDF), many of it subsidised by Saudi Arabia. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, this was published on the same day as a Saudi state visit. The report is written by Denis MacEoin, on whose letters to various newspapers I have commented here in the past. He is well-known for having anti-Islamic attitudes, having written letters to newspapers opposing Muslim girls’ rights to wear hijab and on one occasion alleging that “multiculturalism gets you Northern Ireland”, rather than invading someone’s country and gerrymandering a state so that your planted minority can rule over a section of the majority population in that country. (More: Osama Saeed, Inayat Bunglawala, Sticks & Carrots, Gabriele Marranci.)

The 202-page report consists of a survey of various mosques in which a selection of books, of mostly Wahhabi, Deobandi, Ikhwani or Mawdudist natures, are available. The books include collections of fatwas by various scholars, particularly Saudis, to general guides to various aspects of Islamic law, some aimed at adults and some at the young. The complaint, mostly, is that these texts encourage an attitude of sectarianism and separatism, encourage Muslims to see themselves as superior to others and to distrust others, but it also mentions the old-fashioned attitudes that these books encourage regarding the status of women, such as the suggestion that they should not go out to work unless it’s necessary, and avoid undue contact with men outside their families.

I get the impression, as with the Dispatches programme “Undercover Mosque”, that their “researchers” were expecting to find material a lot more incriminating when they went snooping round various mosque bookshops. As with that incident, they have found nothing incriminating, and resorted to reproducing whatever they suppose their audience will find objectionable, or just ridiculous. Some of the material is indeed objectionable, like the citation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by a tract which was available to children at the King Fahad Academy. But most of it is merely “separatist”, produced by a sect whose separatism has been well-known of for years, and the vast majority of whose followers are under the influence of preachers who oppose terrorism and political activism of any sort. The group thus becomes a kind of Islamic equivalent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Plymouth Brethren, though admittedly they are not pacifists.

Another flaw in this study is that it quotes certain passages as “extremist” material from Wahhabi or Deobandi books, apparently intending to give the impression that there are other Muslims who believe otherwise. For example, a “key quote” on page 9, from a book called Women Who Deserve to Go to Hell, lists four such women, namely those who grumble about their husbands, those who “adorn themselves” (meaning in public), those who affect masculinity and those who are cruel to animals. This book is of Deobandi origin and published in Pakistan. Yet any Bareilawi, despite their being portrayed in this pamphlet as cuddly Sufis, would have similar opinions to this and most of what they quote regarding the status of women. This particular book would not have been found in Bareilawi mosques not because the management would have disagreed with its content, but simply because Bareilawis would not have accepted a Deobandi book in their mosque. Any pamphlet which castigates Wahhabis for “sectarianism” should not have failed to notice the Bareilawis’ own sectarian tendencies, which are a lot more explicit than the Deobandis’, and more acrimonious towards them than the Deobandis’ are towards the Bareilawis.

The study also does not make it clear whether these “objectionable” books were prominent in the Islamic centres’ bookshelves or were simply available. Islamic bookshops have a commercial imperative to supply as broad a range of books as they can to serve the whole community or else, particularly in the age of the online Islamic bookshop, they will go out of business, and much as we may wish the whole community were mainstream Sunni, Wahhabis do make up a large proportion and are probably among the keenest book-buyers. The fact that the bookshop at the Regents’ Park mosque is controlled by the sectarian Dar-us-Salaam company is certainly a problem, but the mere fact that one or two such books have been donated to a library and that the management puts them on the shelves without reading them does not mean that what is in these books is the mosque’s official policy, or that the material is being preached in the mosque.

The study also makes no distinction between articulating a position in the Sacred Law which is particular to the Islamic State and suggesting that it applies generally. For example, the killing of apostates is not something which falls to the ordinary Muslim, but to the ruler, and must be done according to certain protocols which very clearly prohibit simply striking someone down in the street. I appreciate that this might not be much comfort to some non-Muslims reading this, but until very recently the West was not a safe place for Muslims, much less converts to Islam, either; people who converted to Islam moved to Turkey or north Africa, and similarly those who converted the other way moved to Europe - something which is not always possible today due to restrictive asylum laws in some Western countries. Osama Saeed has commented on the prominent media reporting of the fact that a text articulating this ruling being available in Edinburgh mosque, omitting that the mosque’s actual policy, at least as regards Muslims living in the west, “is that everyone should have the right to practice religion as they see fit”, including leaving Islam. Br. Osama also notes that there have been no killings of apostates in Edinburgh, and the situation in the rest of the UK is similar.

The report deals with the internal disputes between Muslims as covered by these books, ignorant of the full situation behind them. For example, on page 115, he notes that a letter in Fatawa Islamiya (Bin Baz et al, published by Dar-us-Saalam) refers to “a sect known as Ash-Shathliyyah who neither pray nor fast, nor give Zakat, and there is a person whom they call Sayyiduna (Our Master) and they say he occupies the place of their ‘lord’, and he is their representative on the Last Day, he forgives them everything which they do in their lives in this world”, to which the mufti gives the predictable response that they are disbelievers. The report notes that many shaikhs of al-Azhar have been Shadhilis and that they do in fact pray, fast and give Zakaat (which is true, as I know from personal experience). However, there are also many “Sufi” groups in the Muslim world in various states of fossilisation and decay, some of which maintain some of the rituals of the Sufi orders as some sort of public performance, and some which have been known to allow their followers to work in the industries the group controls rather than pray, and even some where the shaikhs sexually abuse followers, and the like. These corrupt pseudo-Sufi groups are what that passage obviously refers to, not Sufism in general, although it is true that Wahhabism is strongly opposed to Sufism.

The report cleverly avoids attacking the whole Muslim community by focussing on three particular well-known groups. However, the positions for which they attack them are often common to all orthodox Muslims, and any attack on Wahhabis which points out the requirements they have for women’s dress, for example (even if not all their women do in fact dress this way), will expose women of other Muslim groups to the suspicion of being Wahhabis; an attack on a given mosque for carrying “extremist” or “sectarian” literature casts suspicion over Muslims who attend that mosque. It castigates Muslims for encouraging separation, without recognising what these particular Muslims might require separation from, and without recognising either that these same Muslims do in fact work and study with non-Muslims and are in general law-abiding. I note that the size of the book has been inflated by repeating the passage dealing with a given book every time it occurs in a given mosque. While it does raise one or two genuine points of concern (which have already been raised elsewhere), such as Saudi influence and anti-Semitism, mostly it consists of an attempt by people with a history of hostility to Islam and Muslims to raise suspicion and hostility against Muslims in general by holding up a few extracts and saying “look what they’re saying about you!”, in the hope that the contacts with politicians that they refer to will come to an end and that Muslims’ lives will generally become more difficult.

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