Khalifites at the New Statesman

The Khalifites are, thankfully, a group one does not encounter often as a Muslim these days, but they seem to come in waves when they appear. In the mid-1990s, during the heyday of the old Usenet newsgroups (apologies to any old ARPAnet hands who think Usenet’s real heyday was back in the 1980s or earlier), they briefly hijacked the group soc.religion.islam (see this article, originally posted there in 1995, and this, by a Salafi, posted in 1996). They are a group founded by Rashad Khalifa, an Egyptian (allegedly, originally Copic Christian) immigrant to the USA, which believes in some sort of mathematical miracle in the structure of the Qur’an, and when they found two verses which allegedly did not conform to it, they pronounced that they should be excluded. They also totally reject the Sunnah, claiming that it is nothing but a load of hearsay. The group has a week’s residency at the New Statesman’s Faith Column (last week, it was the turn of a representative of the Alevis of Turkey), which means they will get the benefit of a bit more publicity.

The first that I found was from someone called Zubia Malik from the “UK Community of Submitters”, called Hijab, the dress code for Muslim women?, and it is her excuse for why she no longer wears the hijab. This is an odd standpoint for a member of a group which claims to follow the Qur’an alone, since the Qur’an does indeed tell women — implicitly, admittedly — to cover their heads, by telling them (24:31) to draw their head-coverings (khumoor) over their necklines (juyoob), i.e. over their chests. So, the excuse that this is just something out of a collection of hearsay thrown together by some guy called Bukhari, as hollow as that normally is, is even more irrelevant here. How she fulfils this verse without wearing a head-covering to begin with is not explained.

From her article:

My initial wearing of the hijab was at university and upon examination the real reason behind this was to discourage any male intrusion, a form of protecting myself from unwanted attention. Little did I realise that by adorning this veil I would be entering some form of ‘groupie.’ That wearing this cloth over my head gave me a ticket straight to God’s Kingdom. I am in no way against those women who wear the hijab as part of the modest dress code but I am concerned about those who are teaching others about Islam and promote the hijab as the only modest way for a Muslim woman to dress.

I soon realised that my reasons behind wearing the hijab became questionable. Was I sending out a message to others that this is the way for Muslim women to dress? Was the hijab the only way? Or was I adhering to some culture that was practised centuries ago in the time of Prophet Mohammad.

To begin with, women do not wear hijab just to protect themselves from “male intrusion”, at least, not in the UK. To protect oneself from this, one only has to cover the rest of one’s body effectively with a loose T-shirt and a pair of jeans or a skirt. Hijab is worn by Muslim women because it’s a religious requirement. Equally, the notion that it contributes to any sort of group identity is irrelevant; there are many groups among Muslims nowadays, and you will find hijab-wearers among all of them, and nobody ever said it was a ticket to Paradise in itself; rather, it is part of a set of behaviours which earn such rewards. It is not as important as praying or the other Pillars of Islam, but it is a duty.

She then raises the issue of the origin of the word hijab, and notes that nowhere in the Qur’an does it refer to the veil. Perhaps not, but other words are used to refer to it, such as khimaar (or its plural, khumoor). She seems to promote the idea that the Qur’an promotes mere “modesty”, but rejects any attempt at defining it. However, the word “modesty” is a subjective and relative term; for example, at a public pool, a woman wearing a bathing suit could be called modest if all the other women present were in bikinis. The Islamic dress code for women is rather more specific: that she wear long, loose clothes, covering everything except her face and hands.

Another post in this series at the NS is by one Tajudeen bin Tijani entitled What unites all Muslims?, the answer being the Qur’an. His post is much more general and rambling, but concludes:

Ironically, many a journey made by those who call themselves Muslims leads them to communities where they cannot decide for themselves.

Nevertheless, I have found a community where I can read and reflect on the Qur’an and decide for myself, as well as put in to practice what I have grasped, namely the UK Community of Submitters. Note that I too am one of those who call myself a Muslim.

However, a Muslim is more than one who calls himself a Muslim; a Muslim is one who believes and affirms as a Muslim. Since the total rejection of the Sunnah of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in favour of a generalised, philosophical “religion of submission” is something which would be anathema to any Muslim throughout the ages, they can only be said to be following a religion apart from Islam, even if it bears some resemblance to it. This is not unusual; there are several such groups in the west, the so-called Nation of Islam being the best-known example.

The people who run the New Statesman website are, of course, entitled to provide web space for whichever sect or cult they like, and there does not seem to be any deception involved here (such as the case of a certain individual promoted as a “progressive” Muslim leader by the media a couple of years back), but there is intellectual dishonesty in advancing the false notion that a Muslim is whoever calls himself one rather than one who believes as one; or that Islam is some sort of wishy-washy “lifestyle” rather than an all-embracing religion with specific commands, including some to behave other than as most of those around us do. So far, the Khalifites posting at the NS have not outlined their group’s main beliefs or what differentiates the “Submitters” from actual Muslims, but the spectacle of a representative of a group which insists that Islam consists of following the “Koran alone” making excuses for going against the Book illustrates their intellectual bankruptcy.

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