Muslims, Islam Channel and QF: who represents who?

The Quilliam Foundation recently put out a so-called “alert” about Islam Channel which drew attention to the “undesirable” elements which, they claim, account for “many of its speakers”. Those they name include Azad Ali of Islamic Forum, Yasir Qadhi of al-Maghrib, Inayat Bunglawala and various members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Amad at Muslim Matters has already posted a refutation, extensively exploring the role of the media in foisting representatives on the Muslim community who are, in fact, representatives of them and not the community, and defending the reputation of Yasir al-Qadhi. The same organisation also recently published an “alert” against Osama Saeed, an occasional blogger whose links with the Muslim Brotherhood are no secret, who was recently selected to stand for Parliament for the Scottish National Party.

The alert claims that among the regular presenters are Azad Ali, Yasir Qadhi, Inayat Bunglawala and various Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists. As for Azad Ali, they allege that he has written blog articles which “have been interpreted as condoning terrorist attacks on British troops in Iraq - as well as other blogs supporting Hamas and advocating the re-creation of the Caliphate”. They link to a “This is London” article (TIL is run by the Evening Standard) written by Andrew Gilligan. Among Gilligan’s accusations is that Azad Ali praised “Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s key mentor”; however, Abdullah Azzam was murdered in 1989, years before anyone in the West had heard of Osama bin Laden; it is alleged that he was at odds with Ayman al-Zawahiri, who regarded the Egyptian rulers as infidels and sought jihad against them, while he was opposed to calling Muslims infidels. Calling Muslims infidels is very common among Muslim extremists (Abdullah Faisal was notorious for it).

Even if Azad Ali’s views are offensive to some non-Muslims, Islam Channel is a channel for Muslims. Views highly offensive to Muslims, and articles clearly aimed at stirring up hostility to us, are found in media aimed at other religious groups, and sometimes find their way into mainstream journals (Melanie Phillips’s conspiracy theories in the Spectator, for example), so as long as Azad Ali is not directly inciting terrorist violence, there is no reason why his views should not be heard — particularly if they are not being expressed on the Islam Channel. Advocating the re-establishing of the Caliphate is not an extremist position by anyone’s standards.

Next, Yasir Qadhi is described at once as “a Wahhabi graduate of the University of Medina”, in a clear attempt to poison non-Muslims’ minds against him. While it’s true that a lot of Arab Muslim extremists have Wahhabi beliefs, what separates Wahhabis from other Muslims consists of matters of theology which most non-Muslims would not understand or even care about, such as whether innovations in religion can ever be justified and whether certain verses in the Qur’an are literal or figurative. The alert says that Yasir Qadhi also denounced Shi’ism as “the most lying sect of Islam”; quite apart from the fact that articles denouncing Wahhabis in far more vituperative terms can be found on various mainstream Muslim websites, and their deviation from normal Islam is much less severe, the use of dishonesty in attempting to spread Shi’ism, which is all that he is referring to, is something many Sunnis can attest to ([1], [2]). As for the claim that he “has denied the Holocaust”, he is well-known to have revised these views.

The complaint about Inayat Bunglawala is really quite irrelevant, since it relates to Daud Abdullah and his Istanbul Declaration, not something he himself did or said. The alert alleges that Bunglawala complained to the BBC after they called Abu Qatada an extremist; if you read the complaint, it cites Victoria Brittain from the Guardian accusing the media and the security services of demonising him without any proof.

On top of all this, they have not expended one word in complaining about anything that these three, or the various HT figures they allege appear on the channel, has actually said on the channel! The complaint is solely that they shouldn’t be there because they are “tainted”.

The alert continues:

Islam Channel claims to be committed to giving a platform to a range of views from across Britain’s Muslim and non-Muslim communities. However, one unfortunate side-effect of this laudable and broad-minded policy has been to give an undue prominence to Islamist voices that represent only a small minority of British Muslims. This over-representation has also led to other voices - for instance from the UK’s Shia community or from non-Islamist Muslim groups - being under-represented on the channel.

The particular claim about Shi’a representation may be accounted for by the fact that the Shi’a and Sunni Muslim communities in the UK do not have much to do with each other; they do not even pray at the same mosques, for example. There are also Shi’ite TV channels which are available on satellite as IC is. Not all the presenters are “Islamists” and the QF’s own Usama Hasan is listed as one of them. They also allege that the IC-sponsored Global Peace and Unity conference has “featured anti-Semitic speakers, Holocaust deniers and supporters of terrorist violence and gender apartheid - as a well as a range of hardline Wahhabi speakers - while moderate, tolerant Muslim voices have been sidelined”, without naming anybody or suggesting that offensive speeches were made at the event itself. Whether anyone else likes it or not, a lot of Muslims like these people and respect them, and will pay money to listen to them, and they are not best known for these views but rather, for other things (a crucial difference from the well-known Holocaust deniers such as David Irving and Ernst Zundel). As for “gender apartheid”, this is a derogatory comparison between what is normal in most Muslim countries, namely the separation of non-related men and women, with a system of racial segregation, based on hatred and contempt and used for the purpose of exploitation.

A further insight into the politics of the Quilliam Foundation can be found in their alert on Osama Saeed, accusing him of not really believing in democratic values or in equal rights for non-Muslims, and suggesting that he might follow “the same sectarian and divisive agenda that he has followed in the past”. That agenda has consisted of defending Shaikh al-Qaradawi, supporting the Caliphate and the establishment of Muslim schools, and defending Shari’ah punishments. The attack is peppered with subtle untruths and smears, such as:

  • The claim that Shaikh al-Qaradawi justifies “the murder of homosexuals”, citing this article at IslamOnline. While I accept that some readers might find even that opinion offensive, the death penalty for sodomy, not for merely being gay, is what was being discussed. Given that the penalty requires witnesses or a confession, and not merely suspicion (as was the case with the old indecency laws which were abolished in the UK in the 1960s, which opened the door to blackmail), the chance of anyone actually being executed is actually pretty slim, as is the case with adultery. Claiming that someone justifies the murder of homosexuals is a very serious accusation, as it suggests that he is telling people to just kill gays, which he is not. The claim is a lie.

  • The paragraph which attacks Osama Saeed for criticising the late Zaki Badawi for claiming that hijaab was not mandatory. This is an errant or “shaadh” fatwa which is contrary to normal Muslim practice and scholarly opinion and which has been generally ignored, and was only given in response to anti-Muslim hate crimes and was not intended to be general; its only value is as a weapon to those who want to force Muslim women and girls not to wear hijab. Being willing to tell outsiders what they want to hear about Islam does not make anyone a moderate. I am sure some of the QF’s “pet scholars”, or at least those who have yet to disassociate themselves from them, would take the opposite view.

  • The claim that the Scottish Islamic Foundation has “given platforms to … foreign Islamists, including two senior members of the Brotherhood-linked Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR)”, when the CAIR is not a front group but a well-respected organisation which campaigns against Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims, both of which have been rampant in the USA recently, particularly under the last administration. The fact that they have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood does not make their main work any less valid or valuable.

  • The paragraph about his “ambiguous stance on Shari’ah punishments”, an irrelevance to his campaign as Scotland, let alone the UK, is not a predominantly Muslim country and so the question of implementing them here is not under discussion. They demand that “Saeed should be publicly challenged over his view of the Sharia’s traditional punishments and asked whether he believes they are applicable anywhere in the modern world”, but the orthodox view is that they are still part of the Shari’ah, subject to the normal rules of evidence and other constraints imposed by the Shar’iah. Ed Husain’s own view on them was expressed very clearly on the Today programme in December 2007, but that is certainly not the orthodox Muslim view.

It is ironic that the alert accuses Osama Saeed of promoting censorship while they take a position that Muslims should be screened to check for what are perfectly orthodox Muslim opinions before they are allowed to run for public office, even though those opinions may have no real significance in this country right now. It is dishonest for them to pose with Islamic scholars such as Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari while condemning a Muslim for holding such views, as the scholar is likely to have much the same views about the Shari’ah in, say, Pakistan; one of Dr Musharraf’s shaikhs was Pir Karam Shah, who served as a judge in the Pakistani Shari’ah appelate court. The same views are likely to be held by any other practising Muslim, so who is going to be challenged over them and who is not? Why is Osama Saeed challenged, and their “pet” shaikhs not?

The QF do not claim to be a representative organisation; they call themselves a think tank. One does not need to represent anyone to have an opinion, but to be the Muslim voice that dictates which Muslims are entitled to run for public office and which aren’t, you need to get your authority from somewhere, and Ed Husain and his Quilliam Foundation certainly don’t get it from the Muslims in this country. They can boast all they like about the anonymous Muslims who have told them they’re doing good, but their name is mud among most of the Muslims that I know, and most of them are not Islamists.

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