Notes on the Sheffield hymn scandal

Islamophobia Watch and a Muslim Facebooker drew my attention to the “scandal” of the head-teacher in Sheffield who was “forced out” after Muslim pupils (and, presumably, parents) objected to her whole-school assemblies. She had abolished the separate assemblies Muslim pupils had when she arrived and instituted a secular assembly for everyone, and later turned it into a “mixed-faith” assembly in which Christian hymns were sung. That is what offended the Muslims.

The Daily Mail alleged that there are about 35 Muslims among the 240 pupils at the school; the Times’s report puts the figure at “more than 20%”, which means more than 48. Both articles are littered with reports from anonymous teachers and parents, but the Mail did name one of the Muslim interviewees:

Fiyza Awan, 19, a Muslim whose younger sister is a pupil, said problems began when hymns were introduced to the all-pupil assemblies.

‘When Mrs Robinson took over she said she wanted one assembly for all the students,’ she said.

‘We didn’t have a problem with that but wanted a secular assembly where no hymns were sung and topics involving all the children could be discussed. But after a while hymns were introduced again and we objected.

‘We told Mrs Robinson we wanted our children withdrawn and to have a separate assembly again.

‘We felt we were being marginalised. We didn’t put any pressure on her, we want continuity at the school, it was her decision to leave.’

This has not stopped Damian Thompson alleging on his blog (hosted by the Daily Telegraph website) that this represents the formation of another of the “Muslim ghettoes” he sees “being constructed across the North of England”. Separate assemblies — for what, half an hour a day? — hardly constitute a ghetto when the children still sit in class together, and where there is no suggestion that they do not go into the same playground as well. Besides which, “Muslim ghettoes”, or rather, Asian ghettoes, as they exist in northern England are the product of the politics of an age before widespread Islamic “fundamentalist” revivalism, and in a real ghetto, children do not even go to the same school, let alone the same assembly. They are not “being constructed” now.

His attitude towards the separate Muslim assemblies, which the Muslims were happy to do without as long as they were not expected to participate in any Christian worship, reflect a wilful, ignorant suspicion about “what goes on” in Muslim assemblies:

Those Christians who think that it’s better to have separate Christian and Muslim assemblies rather than the “inclusive” services Mrs Robinson planned are missing the point. They think “faith” is good, irrespective of what faith it is. Myopic idiots.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “inclusive” services were annoyingly PC, like 99 per cent of all school assemblies in Britain. And I don’t know what went on in the weekly Islamic assemblies led by a parents at Meersbrook School. But I do know this: Muslim ghettos are being constructed across the North of England, and among their building blocks are school-sanctioned meetings for children from ethnic minorities designed to turn them into strictly observant Muslims - whether they like it or not.

Well, the law gives parents the right to decide which form of worship children undertake while in school, so parents can withdraw their children from, say, religious education classes, but this right is not, at least explicitly, extended to children. The same is true for Catholic as for Muslim children. Thompson does not bother to find out what goes on; his imagination is enough for him. The Muslims were not proposing to force anyone else to join in their worship, although it was actually open to non-Muslims; rather, the school was trying to force Muslims to sing Christian hymns. Thompson claims that secularism does not bother him as much as allowing Muslims to bring their religion into school; the problem is that if the school had stuck to the religiously neutral assemblies, there would have been no problem.

The Times notes that the law states that there must be a daily act of collective worship which should be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”. In a school which is not a Christian faith school and not predominantly Christian, this law does nobody any good and should be changed or scrapped. After all, these may well often be daily acts of mass hypocrisy carried out purely to satisfy the state. Engage notes that the Education Act “also allows for other faiths to be catered for in the school system through a process of determinations - whole or part - which, if approved by the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), permits the mainly Christian based collective worship requirement to be adapted to reflect the faiths of the school’s pupil population”, but surely, what is required in a mixed school is for the school assembly to be separate from any act of worship.

Thompson’s rant, and the presentation of the Mail’s story in particular, is yet another example of the malice freely directed at Muslims in the popular press. Another is Melanie Phillips’s attack on Islamic banking on the Daily Mail’s website (an online exclusive). She starts off by claiming that Britain’s Islamic banking sector is bigger than that of Pakistan - not a great achivement when one considers that British people are just richer than Pakistanis, particularly when the currency exchange rate is considered. A fair proportion of people in Pakistan probably do not have bank accounts, Islamic or otherwise.

The article makes ludicrous claims about what the banks require of their customers:

What they refuse to acknowledge is the real price that is to be paid for this. They don’t understand that the spread of sharia banking in Britain and America is a significant part of the attempt to Islamise Britain and America. Acceptance of sharia finance furthers the Islamist objective of gradually legitimising Islamic sharia law more generally in the west.

The point which is being missed is that all who use it must conform to the dictates of sharia law. Sharia financial institutions may not be making this clear now - they don’t want to frighten people away - but at some point that IOU of sharia-compliance will be called in. This is how sharia-compliance will be spread to both the Muslim and non-Muslim population.

Any Western institution that endorses sharia-compliant products therefore effectively endorses the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam, whether it knows it or not.

The most important point to grasp is that Islam recognises no authority superior to sharia. Sharia banks will therefore not recognise the superior authority of the law of the land. When trillions of pounds and dollars are locked into them, who will argue with them?

The only way these banks can stipulate “Shari’a compliance” on the part of their customers is to refuse to lend money or offer services to projects which are un-Islamic. Apart from that, they cannot tell anyone what to do any more than any other business can. Whether they recognise laws other than Shari’ah or not, the law of the land is the law, and the government can and does seize and freeze assets, particularly when the owner is allegedly connected to terrorism.

Does this paper have no shame, hosting an article containing such obvious, malicious falsehood? (Anyone who has read Flat Earth News would probably not be surprised, however.)

The article is also accompanied by an inset picture of two women in niqab (the same picture featured on the front of one edition of Phillips’s book Londonistan, albeit with the woman giving the V-sign cropped out), a complete irrelevance to this article. Phillips alleges that the religious authorities associated with Islamic banking, which include “the Fiqh Academy in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, which is associated with the Saudi-dominated Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); the European Council for Fatwa Research, and the Fatwa Council of North America”, are all “associated with the radical Wahabi and Salafi schools of Islam adhered to by groups such as al Qaeda and Hamas”, another breathtaking statement of ignorance. Besides getting two of the organisations’ names wrong (it’s European Council for Fatwa and Research, and Fiqh Council of North America), neither of the last two are Wahhabi in nature at all.

She also suggests that Muslims’ zakat money “may well find its way to organisations promoting jihad and supporting suicide bombing including Hamas, Hezbollah, the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and Islamist madrassas in places like Pakistan”. Well, giving money to families of suicide bombers is probably not illegal, particularly given that the Israeli army destroys the houses of suicide bombers without needing to prove that the families were in any way involved, and it is certainly not akin to actually sponsoring terrorism. It should also be noted that there are many Islamic charities in existence and that only a handful have ever been associated with terrorism, although even most of these associations are disputed; money may well find its way to illicit purposes by channels other than Islamic banks. They may use traditional hawala money transfer services or normal banks.

Phillips also claims that interest is widespread in the Islamic world, permitted even in Saudi Arabia, and that there was a fatwa issued by Shaikh Tantawi of al-Azhar in 1981 legitimising it. There have been various fatwas issued over the years allowing Muslims to charge interest while in non-Muslim countries, on the basis of a hadeeth stating that there is “no interest with a harbi (a hostile non-Muslim) in the land of war (dar al-harb)”. Most Islamic scholars reject this as a basis for allowing interest generally, because dar al-harb does not mean any non-Islamic country but rather a country at war with the Muslims. Furthermore, Shaikh Tantawi is the furthest thing from a Muslim Pope, and fatwas from “top Egyptian muftis” which allow things which are generally considered to be prohibited are generally ignored. The Syrian shaikh Muhammad Sa’id al-Buti, on hearing a more recent pro-interest fatwa from al-Azhar, is reported to have said, “Is Al-Azhar dead?”.

I have long been puzzled by the hostility shown the Islamic banking sector in sections of the media; the reality is that Islamic banks are agency banks which do not even have the power to clear their own cheques (they rely on a clearing bank, meaning one of the major “traditional” banks, to do this). The existence of the IBB has been commonly used to support claims that Muslims were forming a state within a state, when in fact, the IBB have only eight branches in total — four in London, one in Manchester, two in Birmingham and one in Leicester — which leaves large parts of the Muslim population in this country out in the cold (e.g. south London, the Home Counties, Yorkshire, Scotland). Many Muslims, and even Muslim charitable and educational organisations, bank with traditional banks. How does this make a state within a state?

The only conclusion is that these people are so blinded by hate that they do not let facts, let alone subtleties, get in the way of one bigoted rant after another. How else does one explain the fact that they try to drag Muslims into every disaster, be it the Hemel Hempstead oil fire or the recent forest fires in Australia? How else do we explain the fact that they condemn every accommodation to Muslims, even when it is by a commercial organisation and the Muslims are their customers? That these people exist is not really shocking anymore; what is shocking is that the mainstream media give them column inches and webspace when they come out with such arrant, demonstrable garbage.

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