Usama Hasan: thanks for the apology, now clear off

Recently the east London imam, Usama Hasan, who has been involved with the Quilliam Foundation (a media-friendly group of purported former extremists) and promoting the idea of reconciling Islam with Darwinian theory, went beyond the pale in a public meeting by saying that Adam, the first human being and Prophet (peace be upon him), had parents that were nearly human, i.e. that there had been evolution up to him. This put him outside of Islam (making his position as an imam untenable) for two reasons, the first being his insult to a Prophet and the second being his direct contradiction of the account in the Qur’an which says that Adam (peace be upon him) had no parents and was created directly. (More: Peace, Bruv.)

It just so happens that Usama Hasan was associated with a “salafi” mosque in Leyton, but this would have been just as controversial if it had been said in any mosque. Muslims simply don’t believe in the evolution of the human species, end of story. A sample of what was said at the event where these statements were made in January is posted here; some of his other statements were made in an interview on the BBC Hardtalk programme in 2007 and in an email sent to a mailing list called Abjadiyya, in which he describes women wearing niqaab and men who grow their beards as looking, respectively, like “ninjas and clowns”. These statements are reproduced in this PDF which has the important conclusion:

Usama Hasan’s contemptuous attitude towards Masjid al-Tawheed congregation, by considering them descendants of apes, ninjas and clowns, calls for the congregation to be more vocal and proactive in taking the authority of the mosque back from Usama and those who back him, for a mosque is a house of Allah, and a community centre, and not a family business.

Yesterday, he posted a notice on his blog retracting a number of the statements he made about the matter of the “parentage” of Adam, peace be upon him, but did not resist the temptation to get a dig in at his opponents:

Neither does it excuse those who have continued their mediaevalist, hair-splitting theological and jurisprudential discussions whilst remaining silent about the clear incitement to murder uttered by some in their midst. “Slaughter the people, but worry about killing mosquitos.”

This last comment refers to the behaviour of certain sectarians in the early days of Islam who were so pious as to have asked as to whether killing a mosquito would nullify their pilgrimage, but were associated with various killings and massacres of other Muslims over usually very minor disagreements. He accuses people of threatening his life; that is the hallmark of the Quilliam group, who are fond of portraying themselves to the mass media as boldly speaking out against extremism when nobody else will (it is a standard tactic of anyone who wants to portray themselves as lone defenders of truth; the death threats do not have to be real). One recalls Hassan Butt, who admitted inflicting stab wounds on himself and attributing it to a “Muslim extremist” who was angry at him for turning against them, when in fact he had made up much of his story about his “adventures” with al-Qa’ida in Pakistan.

Usama Hasan’s actions require a mea culpa, an unconditional retraction and repentance, without any parting shot at anyone, and without it, Muslims should not accept him. While anyone threatening him was in the wrong, it is he who was in the wrong by making statements which are incompatible with Islam and then expecting to remain in a position of authority at a mosque of any stripe. In fact, this action allows him to cast himself to his non-Muslim admirers (like Johann Hari) as a kind of Muslim Galileo, forced to retract beliefs he “knew” to be true by obscurantist religious authorities. He is nothing of the sort; he was facing nothing more than the loss of a job which he and his few supporters seem to have regarded himself as entitled to by birth, but which his beliefs made untenable. He was not facing the chopping block.

If Usama Hasan is sincere, he should accept that he has burned too many bridges with the Muslim community at large, that people are not comfortable praying in a group led by him, that many people no longer trust him, and he should step down immediately. After all, when I converted to Islam myself, I did not become an imam; I became an ordinary Muslim, and this is what he should have to accept, and his supporters should as well. To reiterate, a mosque is not a family business, and nobody is entitled to leadership because of who their father is.

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