Suspicious Muslim minds

Regular readers will know that I rarely use this site to preach, preferring to use it as a column in which to defend both Muslims’ rights and also other causes I support. However, the recent Policy Exchange report, which relied on the work of “Muslim” researchers who were conveniently unavailable, supposedly on a spiritual retreat in Mauritania, when the BBC exposed the basis of the report as unreliable, has aroused one of the more unedifying tendencies of some of our Muslim youth - that of suspicion against other Muslims, in particular of drawing connections where none might exist and of presuming guilt where there is merely association.

The two places I have noticed this are on the MPACUK website and on The points of concern are not really in the articles themselves but in the comments after them, and the suspicion is mainly directed at Yahya Birt, the director of City Circle, a Muslim debating forum in London. To show the general tenor of the suspicion, let’s look at the comment from one “Kazeem” at MPACUK:

Have a look at the the major Muslim players in government schemes and you will the big “murids” the shaykh in Jordon. For example check out City Circle, the other day they has an article from the Zio-Con Douglas Murray on their website. Do you know who is the director of City Circle???

“The shaykh in Jordon” is Shaikh Nuh Keller. He is my shaikh as well. I’ve checked out the claim about Douglas Murray having an article on the City Circle website, and if there ever was one it has been removed, since Google returns not a single hit for “douglas murray” at (try it for yourself; I have). If there ever was one, it was no doubt relevant to a debate they were having, and no doubt balanced out by other material, because I cannot imagine a site like that hosting an article by as rabid an Islamophobe as Murray (actually, when I saw him on TV he seemed somewhat pathetic; he comes across as being rather scared when he is talking about the subject) for other than a good reason. I have known a number of fellow students of Shaikh Nuh (mureeds, incidentally, is a term reserved for those who have passed the muraqaba, a test of refraining from seven specified sins over forty days) and some have views considerably more hardline than brother Yahya’s.

The views expressed at UmmahPulse, however, are much more specific. A guy called Anees wrote this, alleging a connection between br Yahya and “Ed” Husain:

Ahmad, the problem is that some of the Brelwis and new-age-sufis (with Jordan connection) are actively supporting Ed Husain. Some in secret and some in public. In his book Ed says admits this and he thanks the “good people at”. (p.286).

Another example is Yahya Birt’s review of his book which such a strong endorsement that, Ed’s literary agents are using Yahya’s comments to promote the book on their website. See here:

The Quote from Yahya Birt included “I can vouch that he accurately describes an historical period”. Of the many inaccurate and preposterous arguments made by Ed in his book, one is that the Tabilighis said that they were sponsored by the Saudis, and, thus, by America to politicise Islam during the Cold War. (p.48)

Does Yahya Birt know about the punishment on the day of Judgement for bearing false witness?

Yahya’s review of “Ed” Husain’s book can be read here and it is far from an uncritical endorsement. As I said in a comment at UmmahPulse, it is a very common tactic for publishers to extract short passages from negative reviews and present them as endorsements; this happens with both fiction and non-fiction. However, it must be remembered that Ed Husain’s book is far less extreme in its content than his utterances in the media since. I have not read all of The Islamist, but I did not read anything like this, and I suspect that Yahya Birt did not either when he did read the book:

“… therefore Muslims should go far as to say that other modes of reaching the noble aims of the Shari’ah, in other words protection of life, property, reason, religion and so on, if we can attain those aims by other means, i.e. imprisonment and so on, then why we do we need to go down that barbaric, inhumane and outdated mode of stoning and flogging people”.

This was said on the Today programme, in front of Massoud Shadjareh and the presenter, John Humphries. This clearly places him outside the traditionalist camp which is the subject of all the suspicion, to say the least.

As far as the reference to is concerned, it is a fact that he has received a lot of criticism there as well. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of his work concerns things he said at that site, namely telling people there not to wash dirty linen in public by discussing the controversies surrounding Hisham Kabbani’s public statements, while in the process of writing a book to do just that about another section of the Muslim community. I am a regular there, and have criticised his work heavily and have been quoted elsewhere by critics of his book and his subsequent media appearances. Another comment was from Bilal Patel, who claimed that he appeared alongside Dianne Abbot on the BBC2 Politics Show, and “went into a tirade accusing her of ignoring the threat from women who wore hijab”. Only a couple of weeks ago Deenport contributors were attempting to support a sister who had a hijab issue at work.

Further down, here is another contribution from Anees:

Masud bhai, who need enemies when you have friends like these. Your people need to answer the real questions being debated here, In a nutshell here is some of it:

1- The Policy Exchange report benefited from Ed Husain’s book. 2- Ed Husain in return promoted the Report in the media. 3- Yahya Birt testified to the accuracy of Ed Husain’s book. 4-Ed Husain thanked the “good people” at DEENPORT. COM in his book(p. 288). 5-The BBC says the people who spied on the Mosques were Muslims who are now on a rihlah in Muritania.

Therefore I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that there is connection here between all of these strands of information. I don’t think the people on this forum are being unreasonable in questioning yahya birt on this matter. Why don’t you get him to answer some of these questions instead of trying to censor comments and stifle debate?

However, point 3 refers to something which happened before points 1 and 2, and point 4 refers to things which happened much earlier. No doubt Husain was able to use material he found at Deenport as sources for his book, before they realised what he was going to do. His extremist true colours have been shown only since the summer of 2007. None of this proves Anees’s contention that traditionalists or, as they are referred to in the thread, “new-age Sufis”, are any more likely to be treacherous, or supporters of Ed Husain or the Policy Exchange report, than any other Muslims. I do believe that the informers were either people very close to Ed Husain, Irfan Alawi or other members of that clique, or misguided Bareilawis, but none of the shaikhs of the traditionalists encourage treachery of this nature.

Later on in the thread, Yahya is accused of being “associated” with another writer, Philip Lewis, who “thinks that ulama are stupid and would not recognise his real intentions because they would never read his writings” and who “hates the guts of Deobs” (Deobandis). From my own conversations with brother Yahya, I know for a fact that he does not hate Deobandis himself at all; in fact, if my memory serves me correctly, he told me that they produce most of the UK’s top muftis, which were influential in his decision to follow the Hanafi school. Like Shaikh Nuh, he is not rabidly pro-Bareilawi nor pro-Deobandi, even if the same cannot be said for some of the other students of Shaikh Nuh.

People rushing to assume ill of brother Yahya make a number of mistakes here, but the most important appear to be assuming that anyone getting support from someone else must be giving support to them also. I’ve personally been on the receiving end of this - in my run-in with MPACUK in 2006, I was accused of having “Zionist well-wishers” when anyone who bothered to read my blog would have known my views on both Zionism (I oppose it) and my well-wishers at Harry’s Place (with whom I had almost invariably disagreed).

Then they jump to conclusions based on one part of his writings, without reading any of the others. For example, he wrote the following on Deenport in reply to Ed’s “brave persecuted me” whinge in the Observer in June 2007:

I have to say that I am very disheartened by this article.

Of course any threat of violence must be taken seriously. First of all any trouble makers can be dealt with through the mosque authorities themselves, and given a rap over the knuckles, and told to back off, or, failing that, reporting named invidividuals to the police, so that they can have a good talking to. But, at leaast from what this article has said, we are not given proper evidence that this third-party reported threat was inspired by “Islamism”, or proof that the mosque authorities were somehow invovlved. What has been the reason to set out these sorts of reports, given by a third party, in the Observer? Was this done after other steps were taken previously and then found insufficient, and “not fit for purpose”?

Secondly, I am quite taken aback by Sidi Mahbub’s characterisation of the response to his book. It is either full-blown support or slander or naivety. In short, he thinks there is no credible criticism of his book that has not been driven by “Islamism” or by “moderates” duped in some way by Islamists:

“As I exposed Islamism (and as a Muslim and former Islamist I could not be as easily discredited as non-Muslim journalists) the vicious slander machine from Islamists came into play. To my shock and horror, even moderate Muslims who had familial and professional or business ties with Islamists started to spread rumours in the British Muslim community that I was an MI5 agent, a government stooge, a neo-con, a liar, and out to make money.

Spiritual Muslims and scholars advised me in private to persevere. ‘Carry on, brother,’ said one. And then hugging me, ‘Allah will strengthen you.’ Those moments of love and support kept me going. But soon the threats and slander reached worrying new levels.”

This is outrageously simplistic assessment of the response to his book. I would agree that there has been far too much instant slandering of his faith, his motives etc, which I have had to defend Sidi Mahbub from in the comments section to the review I wrote of his book, but I must say that his subsequent behaviour and conduct have certainly helped to tip people towards a more sceptical reading of his motives, and, no, they are not people who have been duped by Islamists, or indeed have been working members of Islamist organisations. Nor have they ever been Islamists — unlike Sidi Mahbub! Is he so sure that he can characterise their responses as naive?

Thirdly, we need to find outside corroboration of the details in Sidi Mahbub’s account, for — if it is found to stand alone — it cannot be treated as an authoritative piece of history. Let me illustrate this by mentioning that another person who knew the circumstances of the gruesome murder at Newham College characterised it entirely differently than Sidi Mahbub has done. For Sidi Mahbub, it was Britain’s first Islamist murder; for this other person, it was gang and drug-related. I posted this alternate account up on the “The Islamist Rev’d” threat and in the comments section of the my review of the book on my website.

Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it? I do not suppose that these people have read Deenport enough to know what goes on there; it is apparently enough for them to condemn it that “Ed” gives thanks to them in his book. This does not prove anything against the dozens of subscribers to Deenport; to prove anything against them, you must read what they actually wrote. I’ve been going over some it just now, and it is mostly negative. They saw through him very quickly.

There is another aspect to their suspicion, which is about Yahya’s background. His parentage is no secret, and is something I knew before I met him, but if someone comes from a privileged background and received his education from a private school (I’m not sure if he did, but let’s assume for the moment) and can argue more persuasively than a hot-headed youth from Bradford, that is really no fault. Are people envious of his background? People are certainly apt to suspect that converts from white middle-class backgrounds are insincere, or even are spies. People suspected this of me long before I started this blog or tangled with MPACUK - in fact, within weeks of my conversion to Islam in 1998. However, at least one of the agents provocateurs who were involved in entrapping Muslims into fake terrorist plots for the FBI was an Arab, not a white middle-class convert.

I cannot help thinking that Policy Exchange are rubbing their hands with glee at the suspicion and hostility they have engendered among Muslims for each other with their report. However, Muslims are told not to assume ill of each other, and those who rush to evil conclusions about other Muslims, let alone publish them, should fear Allah. Here is what the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said on the subject (via SunniForum and The Muslimah):

عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ‏ ‏صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ‏ ‏قَالَ ‏‏ حُسْنُ الظَّنِّ مِنْ حُسْنِ الْعِبَادَةِ

“To have good thoughts (or suspicions) is from well-conducted worship.” [Abu Dawood]

‏ ‏إِيَّاكُمْ وَالظَّنَّ فَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ أَكْذَبُ الْحَدِيثِ وَلَا ‏ ‏تَحَسَّسُوا ‏ ‏وَلَا ‏ ‏تَجَسَّسُوا ‏ ‏وَلَا تَنَافَسُوا وَلَا تَحَاسَدُوا وَلَا تَبَاغَضُوا وَلَا ‏ ‏تَدَابَرُوا ‏ ‏وَكُونُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ إِخْوَانًا

“Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other, and nurse no malice, and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah.” [Sahih Muslim]

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