Dispatches: “Lessons in Hate and Violence”

Tazeen AhmadLast night, Channel 4 broadcast another Dispatches programme titled “Lessons in Hate and Violence” (not available currently to watch online, possibly because arrests have been made in connection to some of the footage, but there is an article by the presenter here), presented by Tazeen Ahmad (right), in which hidden cameras were used to reveal that children were being taught to distrust people from outside the circle that ran that particular mosque (Muslims and others) in vituperative terms, and that children (all boys, in this instance) were being hit and having things thrown at them by teachers and older boys in a supplementary school in Keighley. They also show their footage to Taj Hargey, who has turned up in previous broadcasts of this type, and to the former MP Ann Cryer, and feature people who want to “speak out” about abuse and isolationist teachings in mosques, but supposedly are only willing to do so anonymously. There is a summary of it at Bart’s Notes. (More: Tabassam Hamid @ Emel, Engage.)

To their credit, the Keighley mosque where the assaults took place co-operated with the police and a man has been arrested (though since bailed). It’s still a mystery why younger boys were left in the ‘supervision’ of older boys who hit and kicked them and threw things at them. It appears that the man arrested is the teacher filmed hitting and kicking pupils during lessons (we were told they were Qur’an lessons), but I wonder if they have any plans to change the way boys are supervised during prayers, or the people hired to do the teaching.

The mosques weren’t so keen to face up to the problems behind the lectures that were shown in the Birmingham mosque. The young man was shown lecturing the children with derogatory jokes about Hindu beliefs and practices, suggesting they “drink cow piss”; another group are lectured about avoiding the customs of non-Muslims and that people with less than a fist-length beard are worse than snakes and that travelling with such a person is more harmful than doing so with a Jew. The school’s defence is that the individual responsible was a senior pupil who had since been expelled, that some teachers had been dismissed and that outside speakers had said things that were out of keeping with the school’s ethos. Really, blaming the underling (the pupil) is the oldest trick in the book; it’s how the Daily Mail reacts when people claim about an offensive poll or headline — they just blame some junior sub-editor; it’s never really the paper’s or editor’s fault, even if the offending phrase appears again and again.

This sort of talk is fairly common among Deobandi youth, so obviously it’s coming from somewhere and that kid giving the lecture got it from somewhere. I’ve not heard the comparison of men with shorter than fist-length beards to snakes or Jews before, but hostile attitudes to Muslims who don’t live up to the particular regulations they live by have been common knowledge for years. The fact that there are four madhhabs in Islam and only one of them has that ruling, or that many Muslims who don’t follow them come from places where growing beards and maintaining traditional Islamic dress is not possible for political reasons, is not accepted, particularly by their youth (and guess where they get their ideas from). The casual insulting of others’ religions, particularly Hindus’, is something anyone who has spent time in the community will have experienced from time to time, and it’s not always Deobandis and not always madrassa boys.

On the other hand, the wheeling out of Taj Hargey is unforgiveable. Frankly, the comment about beardless men and snakes could have been made about him specifically; he is a marginal figure with a tiny following whose mission seems to be to show up the rest of the Muslim community as “backward” in front of the media by staging plainly un-Islamic ceremonies as publicity stunts. The beliefs articulated on his organisation’s website, and in his letters and articles in various newspapers, suggest that he has anti-hadeeth leanings, as demonstrated here:

We need a reformation that saves Islam from foreign-inspired zealots. That reformation is already under way, with Muslims going back to the pristine teaching of the transcendent Koran, not taking on trust the hadith (a compilation of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad recorded some 250 years after his death by non-Arabs) or the corpus of medieval man-made Sharia (religious law). …

Although the Koran repeatedly declares that God’s revelation is conclusive and sufficient guidance for Muslims and that there is no need for any supplementary legal authority in Islam, the traditional Muslim clergy defies this explicit divine assurance. They falsely convince their flock that they cannot be true believers without the hadith. They falsely assert that this source of Islam is at the heart of being a real Muslim. Most Muslims have been told that the hadith are the sacred authentic words of the Prophet, but the plethora of fictitious and forged hadith poves otherwise.

He goes on to say that a hadith must pass a “rigorous” test, namely that it should not contradict the Qur’an and not contradict “reason and logic”. The first has no Islamic basis at all, since the words of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) are regarded as a revelation in themselves, and can abrogate, and certainly qualify, a verse in the Qur’an. As for “reason and logic”, coming from someone like this it can mean anything he might say it means, paving the way for an “Islam” based on his and his friends’ desires, essentially a sort of Unitarian Universalism with the Qur’an used as a decoration. It would bear very little resemblance to Islam.

His claim that the Deobandis were running a system of “apartheid” is baseless; apartheid (like segregation, another term commonly bandied around for this purpose) is a system of legally enforced separation, not a situation whereby a religious community mostly lives and socialises together. Muslims are not as isolated as might be supposed, even if they do live in a primarily Muslim area. There are religious Muslims who work in the civil service and in every industry you can think of (except for things like alcohol).

The people “anonymously” speaking out about what is being taught in the mosques failed to convince, frankly. Clearly these were people who had already withdrawn their children from mosque classes and had made a stand, if they were for real. Perhaps they could not find anyone to speak because nobody wanted to take part in yet another television “exposé” based on dishonesty and spying? We have had nearly six years of this and people know the tricks very well, which may well be why they have to fall back on Hargey and Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, a chameleon who sheds one skin after another depending on whether he can make a name for himself as an Iranian stooge or a “progressive”.

The documentary presented a few problems that have been known about for years, and again pointed the finger at the Bridge Schools Inspectorate for possibly failing to do its job properly, but it presented a false alternative in the form of two foreign men desperate to find a community to lead here. The impression is given, with continual attacks on Deobandis generally, that this is typical, when in fact not all the institutions shown (not the one where the kids were being beaten, for example) were Deobandi anyway. At a time when tabloid media attacks on the Muslim community generally are a regular occurrence, the footage of the children being attacked could have been passed straight to the police, or to the local MP rather than being broadcast on national TV. The programme did expose some serious problems in some of our religious schools, but used it as an opportunity to promote two tired old hacks that nobody takes seriously even if they have heard of them, which means they did not have any real solutions.

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