Breaking stereotypes? How?

Picture of Sara Khan of InspireMuslim women: beyond the stereotype | Life and style | The Guardian

G2 carried the above article, and it featured a number of Muslim women who claim they are challenging stereotypes and extremism; they include Tehmina Kazi (who has commented here in the past) from the so-called British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Sara Khan of Inspire, Houriya Ahmed who was with the Centre for Social Cohesion until recently, and one Rabia Mirza who is involved with an outfit called Cheerleaders Against Everything which has “informal links” with both the BMSD and the English Defence League. (Having looked at CAE’s Facebook page, it’s not a Muslim group; she just happens to be involved in it.)

If you saw the print edition, you might have noticed that neither of the two women were wearing hijab, and that’s where their claim to be “challenging stereotypes” starts to come down, because stereotypes about Muslim women usually involve those who do wear hijab. There actually are nowhere near as many barriers to Muslim women who refuse the hijaab, or who come from families where it’s not worn anyway, achieving in mainstream society as there are for those who do wear it. Significantly, of the “record number” of Muslim MPs that were elected at the last general election, none of the females wore hijaab and all of the males were clean-shaven.

Then there’s the problem with the groups they represent. British Muslims for Secular Democracy uses the non-Muslim definition of a Muslim — namely, someone who looks like a Muslim, has a Muslim name and claims (however dishonestly) to be one. Two of their trustees are Taj Hargey and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, whose status I have discussed here in the past. Alibhai-Brown is a particularly poisonous character, notorious for her broad-brush character assassinations of Muslim women in the popular press. Sara Khan’s group “Inspire” (note: the site has sound which plays automatically) is barely less problematic; it is currently organising an event at City Hall in London, entitled “Speaking in God’s name: Re-examining Gender in Islam”, whose publicity reads:

Unfortunately some of those who deny women their rights claim to do so in God’s Name. For too long these ultra-conservative views in the UK have remained unchanged and unchallenged - until now.

The line-up of speakers includes only one person who could be called a scholar in the traditional Islamic sense; the rest are activists of one sort of another, and are expected to present standard secularist, anti-orthodox views laced with generalised attacks on traditional scholarship and a few stereotypes of their own (such as that classical scholars were all or nearly all men, which was not true, particularly in the very early days which is when most of the work of deciding what was or wasn’t the Shari’ah was done). Although there are no speakers known for extreme hostility for genuine Islam or Muslims (like Hargey or Alibhai-Brown), they do have Amina Wadud, who gave one of her “woman-led Friday prayers” at Hargey’s institution in Oxford. It is significant that no scholar and nobody from any major Muslim organisation in the UK has been invited, so it is not a dialogue with conservative Islam, or even Islam as normally practised in the UK, but merely about it, in the court of a mayor with a long history of hostility towards Islam. It’s a case of “about us, without us”.

They also make some specious claims about female “extremism”, such as that there is a “lack of Islamic literature for female followers and provision for women at mosques” which is why people like Roshonara Choudhary, who stabbed the MP Stephen Timms last year, had to learn their faith from the Internet. There is actually no shortage of such literature — you only have to pay a visit to any Islamic bookshop — and it is not just women who learn about Islam from the Internet; there are many cases of male extremists “self-radicalising” by reading material online, but there are also a lot of quite worthy Islamic forums online, as well as Islamic resources such as question-and-answer websites. As for good-quality Islamic teaching, particularly in English, there is a shortage of that for everyone, particularly adults and converts.

However, my biggest criticism of them is that they are not breaking any ground for Muslim women who wish to follow the deen in its fullness, and that includes wearing the hijaab. It has always been possible for someone with brown skin to tell a right-wing, white-dominated think-tank what its leaders want to hear, and get a job, and there have always been men and women of various ethnicities working in the race relations and equality sector. Neither is there any dispute about the right of a Muslim woman to wear hijab and be a housewife or full-time mother or run a sewing business at home. What’s at stake is the right to wear hijaab and do a normal job, and when these women take off their hijabs and talk about stereotypes about extremism and hijab in the same article, it does the women who practise the deen properly no favours.

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  • abu

    Thanks for your analysis bro. The Hindu daily here a bedmate of G sorry its cousin reproduced it to point the Indian Muslims to imitate the likes of BMSD and their ilk. We have lots of those bunch here especially MSD run by proclaimed atheists and agnostics camouflaging with their birth name as Muslim. And throwing all Islamic ideals are considered as modern and progressive whereas failure to abide by their ideals are termed backward and mullah-cracy.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Have you seen the price of that Inspire event?! Tickets start at 125 and there’s not even any childcare facilities, when a major cause of women not attending events/lectures and the masjid generally is the lack of facilities for children.

    The pricing of this event along with their general rhetoric shows their ignorance of the elephant in the room: the poverty experience by many in the UK Muslim community. Crime and drugs are far greater threats to our youth then extremism, but nobody seems to care. In my line of work, I’m seeing increasing numbers of young Muslims with serious drug problems - where are the groups to help them?

    This is a another reason why having a speakers list which is 95% USian is a bad idea, the US Muslim community is very different from ours, with very different issues, how can they be expected to ‘lead’ us?

    The very flaw of these groups is that the want to mold the Muslim community to fit their ideas, rather then work with the community and what the community wants/needs.

    Oh, and BMSD have no credibility with me after publishing a guide for schools called ‘How to deal with Muslim children’. ‘Deal with’? Words fail me.

  • I’ve got nothing against Wadud as a scholar, but her support for MWU and then MECO is perplexing. Why should holding liberal and heterodox opinions necessitate siding with those who bash traditionalists and conservatives? If you look at something like Berg’s “The Development of Exegesis in Early Islam”, the arguments over hadith from pro, anti, and middling camps are all cogent and feasible. Seems to me MECO and BMSD are the ideologues motivated by egos and politics - not the traditionalists.

  • M Risbrook

    so-called British Muslims for Secular Democracy,

    That’s a state run outfit.

    Significantly, of the “record number” of Muslim MPs that were elected at the last general election, none of the females wore hijaab and all of the males were clean-shaven.

    I have my doubts whether these are real Muslims. Think about it, do you really think that a secular political party would give a winnable seat to a devout Muslim who placed the principles of their religion above the ideology of their political party? I think not. It would be like giving a safe seat to a sworn hardline Nationalist from the mould of John Tyndall! The secular parties will only offer safe seats to Muslims in name who uphold the policy of their party - and that includes a commitment to secular liberalism and a foreign policy in tune with the interests of Washington and Tel Aviv, not the Ummah.

    British Muslims for Secular Democracy uses the non-Muslim definition of a Muslim

    That’s because their masters are non-Muslims. Namely MI5.

    The line-up of speakers includes only one person who could be called a scholar in the traditional Islamic sense. It is significant that no scholar and nobody from any major Muslim organisation in the UK has been invited.

    The fact is, neither the mainstream media nor the political establishment will give devout Muslims with political ambitions a serious look in any more than they will to hardline Nationalists striving for a white British population and opposing the existence of Israel. The mainstream media and the political establishment are only willing to co-operate with outfits promoting a watered down secularised version of Islam such as the MCB, or are outright hostile towards politicised Islam such as Quilliam.

    As for good-quality Islamic teaching, particularly in English, there is a shortage of that for everyone, particularly adults and converts.

    Why don’t you start creating some useful teaching materials.

  • Anon

    Why is Umar Faruq Abd-Allah speaking at the conference? I can’t quite figure it out.

  • I am the Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. The majority of media pieces are actually about women choosing to cover their hair. If women have a right to talk about wearing the hijab, why should women who have removed it not be allowed to express their views? Many women who stop covering their hair experience intimidation and rejection, and others who would like to remove it do not do so because of this very fear (and comments like some of the ones made above do not help).

    Re: the concept of modesty, some may feel women who show their hair are somehow ‘immodest.’ Others will argue that one can dress modestly without the need to cover one’s hair, and will actually use theological arguments to back up their case. There are indeed religious arguments which conclude that hijab is not mandatory. The relevant Qu’ranic verses have different interpretations and have done so over time.

    Whether a woman wears a scarf or not, her choice should be respected. People might not accept her view, but that’s not the point. All women should be treated with respect and dignity, and this is what Islam advocates.

    Incidentally, I co-facilitated the Citizenship Foundation’s Young Muslim Leadership Network over an 18-month period, and some of the young people made a documentary expressing a wide variety of perspectives on the hijab. For anyone who wishes to see this, it is here: http://vimeo.com/21314070. Our launch event was on 26th March 2011.

    Oh, and Safiya Outlines, our guidance was called “Advice for Schools: Brief Guidance for Handling Muslim Parental Concern.” At least get it right. Thank you.

  • Anon: I don’t know. However, people often claim that someone is to speak at their event to make it look like they have more support than they really do. Certain “salafi” events in the UK have been known to do that with Sufi-oriented speakers as well. Someone should really contact him.

    M Risbrook: I would agree that some of these are not really Muslims even if they are from a Muslim background, but with certain exceptions (particularly Yasmin Alibhai-Brown) I would not come out and say that an individual is not Muslim. Muslims (with the exception of extreme “salafis”) do not do this unless the evidence is very clear and what they have said or done cannot be interpreted any other way.

  • For the record, BMSD haven’t taken any Government funding since 2008 (I didn’t come on board until May 2009). Even then, it was a much smaller amount than many other British Muslim organisations.

    And Yusuf, I don’t know how you can state that only one of the Inspire Conference speakers is a traditional scholar. Why would someone like Shaykh Michael Mumisa be “attacking traditional scholarship” when he is a CLASSICALLY-TRAINED scholar himself?

    Going back to BMSD, I don’t think people appreciate just how much work goes into running a national charity almost single-handedly, without any volunteers. Yusuf, I thought you of all people would understand this, with your knowledge of the voluntary sector (at least in relation to disability).

  • So we are bandying around declarations of takfir now, are we? Very disappointing. Also, it makes no sense to assert that one can only break stereotypes if one is dressed in a certain way.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Tehmina Kazi - I’ve mentioned the real issues happening in the Muslim community and all you seem to be concerned about is hijab.

    It’s a pointless charity that seems to exist only to sustain its own self importance.

  • Safiya: I was responding to Yusuf’s blog post, which is mainly about the hijab. There are lots of charities working to address poverty and drug abuse (see the Muslim Youth Helpline for the latter), but ours focuses more on civic engagement and social exclusion. That’s why we undertake democracy workshops with refugees, the Young Muslim Leadership Network that I mentioned above, and a research project on factors affecting the political choices of Muslim students. These are all on our website. We are also currently undertaking research into stop and search powers and forced marriage. Yet our grassroots work is always ignored by certain commentators.

    When you start working 12-hour days for this cause, THEN get back to me.

  • loveProphet

    To BMSD: Many terrorists work 16+ hours for their cause, so does that mean we can’t criticise them?

  • loveProphet: Instead of constantly criticising, why not set up your own organisation? Just a thought. I’m sick of all this in-fighting - far better to do something constructive.

  • Seems the main criticisms here are for broadening the scope from inter community relationships to those purely within the community.

    Any organisation should have boundaries of scope, reducing the risk of overlap. Instead of trying to hound the BMSD for not including yourselves within its scope you should be looking to see if there is anyway to use each other to mutually raise awareness… a simple idea often used by charities outside of your ‘deen’

    I applaud Tehmina and all at BMSD for standing up for their own rights, and for not bowing down to pressure from those who class themselves so learned as to declare somebody as not Muslim, something I honestly thought would only be decided at the time of Judgement..

  • Ching Revels

    Well done to them! If you could only get over your headscarf-fetish and appreciate women who have actually gone out and done something with their lives… There are times when I see what our brothers and sisters are up to and I feel ashamed to be Muslim. Then I come across people like Tehmina and others in the article and feel inspired. If you don’t like it, get out there and do something you can be proud of yourself instead of criticising others.

  • DrM

    Oh yes, “breaking the stereotypes,” i.e. stop practicing Islam and following their own nafs’ with bogus “interpretations” pleasing to their masters on 10 Downing Street. Yet another of sycophants pretending to be Muslims. That’s not takfir, its common sense. Marketing an “Islam” which is devoid of any spirituality, a shadow constructed to appeal to white western secular consumerism. They have zero credibility.

  • M Risbrook

    For the record, BMSD haven’t taken any Government funding since 2008 (I didn’t come on board until May 2009). Even then, it was a much smaller amount than many other British Muslim organisations.

    The fact that it’s even had a penny of government money is enough to sound the alarm bells with me because it’s clearly obvious that it works in the interest of the government or else they wouldn’t have funded it. I’m a member of more than one Nationalist organisation and the government so far has been unwilling to give any of them a penny because their ideologies and agendas run counter to those of the establishment.

    I would hazard a guess that the reason the government hasn’t given money to BMSD since 2008 is because they have richer rewards from Quilliam.

    Any charity that receives government money is a fake charity. Just Google this term to find out more.

  • M Risbrook

    I would agree that some of these are not really Muslims even if they are from a Muslim background, but with certain exceptions (particularly Yasmin Alibhai-Brown) I would not come out and say that an individual is not Muslim.

    You get frauds everywhere and why should Islam be an exception? My experience in Nationalism has revealed countless so called Nationalists who are clearly bogus and are in the game for the money or are agents of the establishment. Nick Gri££in and 5IMon Darby are two classic examples.

    What have these (so called) Muslim MP’s achieved for the Islamic cause?

  • George Carty
    Any charity that receives government money is a fake charity. Just Google this term to find out more.

    Actually, a fake charity (at least according to FakeCharities.org) is one which receives government money and also lobbies the government.

  • Nonsense. Other charities like MINAB, Muslim Youth Helpline and British Muslim Forum have also received Government funding in the past. Are they “towing the Government’s line” too? It seems as if BMSD are the only ones who get criticised for this. For the record, I have asked the Government to change many of its policies, most notably the “Preventing Violent Extremism” agenda. Don’t believe me? Have a look at my conference speech in November 2010, from Pages 23 to 25 of this document: http://www.bmsd.org.uk/pdfs/Prevent.pdf

  • I have campaigned against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and have been involved in Palestine activism FOR MANY YEARS. On 3rd March 2011, BMSD held a successful roundtable with a key Palestinian activist. Yet blogs like yours always leave these parts out. I wonder why?

  • Those who know me can attest that I am not a consumerist at all. But hey, don’t let that get in the way of judging someone you don’t know.

  • Salman

    many of these comments are seriously bitter. why do you have a problem with these women going out and doing their thing - they seem sincere, which is more than can be said for their detractors. we shouldn’t assume that people are lackeys just for taking Govt funding… There are some very worthy grps who have (I’m sure they’d prefer not to, but it’s a bleak situation for lots of charities out there).

  • Well said Salman, cohesion and integration not the separation and ‘my way or the high way’ attitude seen here

    Funding, all charities need it, wht be bitter about where people get it?

  • M Risbrook

    Secularised Islam is not Islam. In the same way that an apple pie without apple isn’t an apple pie.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at non-Muslim liberals who try to forge alliances with secular Muslim outfits.

  • Salman R

    2 questions:

    1. Why don’t any of these secularized pseudo “Muslims” go to one of their success stories — Iraq — and tell the Muslims their the success that is freedom and democracy enforced at the point of a gun? Better yet go to Abu Gharaib and talk about women’s rights?

    2. I have never understood from secularists, if you hate Islam so much and find it incompatible with modernity, why don’t you leave the faith entirely? Why the two faced hypocrisy? Your lodestar, Ayaan Hirsa Ali left Islam and cashed out (with govt. aid as well) and even now calls herself an “ex-Muslim”. Why can’t you do the same?

  • M Risbrook

    Why don’t any of these secularized pseudo “Muslims” go to one of their success stories — Iraq

    Iraq was a secular country under Saddam Hussein. He was originally a puppet of the United States during the Iraq Iran war.

    I have never understood from secularists, if you hate Islam so much and find it incompatible with modernity, why don’t you leave the faith entirely?

    I have never understood why non-Muslim liberals who go round supporting and standing up for (largely secular) Muslims don’t go and convert to Islam if they love the religion so much. Examples of such people include the numerous idiotic reds in UAF and the Respect Party.

  • ali khan

    @salman and m risbrook

    good points guys. BMSD=Oxymoron. Extremism my ass. the whole thing is a zionist scam and some ****heads fell for it hook line and sinker.

    ROTFLMFAO

  • ali khan: Do I really have to repeat myself on here? I said have campaigned against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and have been involved in Palestine activism FOR MANY YEARS. On 3rd March 2011, BMSD held a successful roundtable with a key Palestinian activist.

    It seems like no matter how much evidence I give you all, you are determined to cling on to your misconceptions. The kind of activism mentioned in this article is the future, whereas the mentality of some of the commentators here is very much stuck in the past. It’s time to get used to that :-)

  • As for secular democracy being compatible with Islam, why don’t you ask the CLASSICALLY-TRAINED scholar Shaykh Michael Mumisa? He is doing excellent work on the articulation and deployment of masalih (public good) and maqasid (goals of the Sharia) in secular democratic societies.

    For the record, we do not advocate ideological secularism (where any kind of religious expression is excluded from the public space, e.g. the hijab ban in French schools), but rather secular democracy in the procedural sense, which accommodates a diverse array of religious traditions in the public sphere… The state remains neutral, in order to safeguard religious freedom and pluralism for everyone. Cambridge University’s “Contextualising Islam in Britain” report makes these distinctions. Also check out Sidi Yahya Birt’s blog on the issue, which plugs the new book “British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the state” http://www.yahyabirt.com/?p=220

    Sidi Yahya says it best here: “Unsurprisingly all three discussants tackling this first issue — Abdullah Sahin, Nick Spencer and Norman Solomon — make a careful distinction between what they affirm and support as ‘secularity’, an accommodative arrangement that does not exclude religion from public life and that is committed to democratic inclusion, but are critical of a ‘secularism’ that systematically excludes religion from public life.”

  • M Risbrook

    I said have campaigned against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and have been involved in Palestine activism FOR MANY YEARS.

    So what! About half the members of the BNP could have made exactly the same claims when I was last a member.

    but rather secular democracy in the procedural sense, which accommodates a diverse array of religious traditions in the public sphere… The state remains neutral, in order to safeguard religious freedom and pluralism for everyone

    What you are basically saying is that you are against a political party with a platform of politicised Islam and Sharia law. Such a party achieving a majority in parliament is the one and only way to turn Britain from a liberal secular nation into an Islamic nation with Sharia law. The fact that such a party doesn’t even exist means that BMSD are fighting a nonexistent enemy. Any speculations that Muslims will convert an establishment party into a politicised Islamic party are frankly ludicrous.

  • Syed

    I am surprised by how many here are debating who is a ‘real’ Muslim and who is not. I did not think that we, as mere human beings who worship Allah as the almighty judge, have any right or capability to assess such a thing. I am also wondering why we find dialogues on Islam, in whichever space or medium they are presented such a threat. If Islam is truly a religion for all people and for all time, we need not be threatened by challenges to it. Instead we need to welcome the opportunity to discuss, dialogue and debate so that we can become better Muslims and we can increase our understanding of Islamic teachings. In addition, the way that we go about debating is also a sign of how we practice our faith. Are we respectful? Are we demonstrating honesty? Are we demonstrating a genuine willingness to understand, bring kindness and love to humanity? Let’s stop worrying about others’ Islamic-ness and focus on ourselves, are we truly living up to the highest of values?

  • Greengrass3

    Salams Matthew/Yusuf

    Hope you are well.

    We all have differing experiences. Personally, for many years, the overwhelmingly consistent levels of respect, solidarity and good will I’ve seen Muslim females afford one another, irrespective of whether they wear a headscarf or not, is truly heartening. Long may it continue. Insha’Allah.

    JazakAllah Khayr

    Sobia

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Tehmina Kazi - I am in fact very familiar with 12 hr + shifts, as I work in the health sector in a community with a large Muslim population. Aside from my official duties, I’m also working towards making my workplace more accessible to those who don’t speak English, which would benefit, both Muslim and non-Muslim service users alike. There are also other areas of community activism I would like to branch out into based on my work. So please don’t assume that anyone who criticises you is just sitting on a sofa eating bon bons.

    M Risbrook makes a valid point. The chances of Muslims affecting the religious neutrality of the state are nil. Aside from a tiny minority of rabble rousers, Most UK Muslims are supportive of UK democracy. By dubbing yourselves, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, you’re implying that anyone who disagrees with you is a British Muslim for Theocratic Authoritarianism, which is a false dichotomy.

    The problem with BMSD, is the same as with the slew of organisations that sprung up after 7/7, they are all top-down finger waggers, to keep us naughty Muslims in line after 7/7. Hence, they have all foundered to varying degrees as they lack grassroots support.

    Btw, does your key Palestinian activist have a name, and while many in the UK Muslim community are concerned about Palestine, it’s not really relevant to the problems we face which I have detailed here.

  • Safiya Outlines

    P.S I would however, like to thank you for commenting here to answer our queries.

    It is notable that Inspire and the Centre for Social Cohesion haven’t, although considering I like them even less than BMSD, that is possibly not a bad thing.

  • M Risbrook

    The chances of Muslims affecting the religious neutrality of the state are nil. Aside from a tiny minority of rabble rousers, Most UK Muslims are supportive of UK democracy.

    I’m not convinced that you can justify this one. People like Anjem Choudary and his hideous Islam4UK are clearly state but I’m of the opinion that there is a pent up demand for the imposition of politicised Islam. What is currently lacking is a vehicle which to implement it with. It will not be a direct action group and neither will it be a ‘peaceful’ pressure group as the establishment will not implement Islamic policies any more than Nationalist policies.

  • Campaigning for the right to wear hijab and campaigning against it are clearly NOT equivalent - the latter plays into an agenda that seeks to demonize Muslim women, which is Yusuf’s point. How can you claim to be fighting Islamophobia when you are effectively denigrating Muslim women who are the focus of UK street racism?

    Muslim women’s groups struggled to gain funding for YEARS in the face of establishment racism that dismissed their concerns as “sensitive community issues”. Then along came the likes of BMSD, sounding like Western feminists, with Hargay and Alibi-Brain spouting venom at every passing Muslim conservative, and the next thing you know, BMSD is having a love-fest with the Guardian liberals and counter-terror cash cows. Do me a favour!

    Genuine civic rights campaigns are inclusive, but BMSD is about promoting a particular brand of ‘moderate’ Islam, which is precisely why government sponsored them as well as the other groups referred to above. You won’t see them giving a penny to MPACUK, who promote civic engagement but are highly critical of British foreign policy. I’m a proud proggie, but I staunchly defend the rights of ALL law-abiding Muslims to practice their faith freely.

  • AbdulHamid

    Bismillah hir Rahmanir Rahim, Subhan Allah, Subhan Allah, Subhan Allah. I am never lost for words when reading the lines of the most “pure” and conservative Muslims who follow the example of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them) in their pronouncements but not in their conduct. I am a convert to Islam for over 5 years and the relentless vitriol which flies from the mouths of the Muslim Ummah in Khutbas, online, in conversation, etc never fails to surprise me. The conservative position which is wrongfully promoted as the only true Islamic position is actually a basket of qualites, (e.g. hijab, long-beard, thobe, rigid uncompromising adherence to very old understandings of the deen, fixation on form rather than quality, and, for the coup de grace, political extremism… etc) … which if not severly adhered to by ALL Muslims seems to warrant accusations of faithlessness! This is extremely sad to witness. It aslo contradicts the Qur’an in [3:7]. So long as you adhere to such fivolous and superficial aspects of the deen as being core and essential you will forever be doomed to recoil in your personal confusion and fear leading you to attack Muslim women like Tehmina Kazi for being brave and different. I can only suggest that you educate yourselves, e.g. attend a halaqa not run by a Wahabi, a Salafi or a Deobandi or else you will be doomed to persist in a struggle against forces that are more modern and relevant than your superficial and politically redundant view of the faith. I hope the purists wise up and try to convince others by your manners and standards, but seeing as how these qualities are decidedly lacking in your conduct it may be concluded that the religious or ideological trends that you represent have no meaningful calibre at all. Perhaps you should stop calling yourselves Muslim when you attack people who dont conform to your viewpoint as you do more damage to the ummah than if you simply said nothing. Jazak Allah Khair for reading.

  • Walaikum-salaam, Safiya. I am glad you are involved in efforts to make the workplace more accessible to non-English speakers. An ESOL teacher actually attended one of our democracy workshops with refugees. He later remarked that in terms of English language skills, they seemed to make more progress in in our session, than in his own! Our workshops always gain strong feedback from the participants themselves.

    You’d be surprised at the number of messages I get from people who have a problem with Muslims promoting secular democracy. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me off for what they see as “promoting kufr.” Quite a few people think of atheism as soon as they see the word “secular,” and misunderstandings like this must be clarified. Thankfully, I get many more messages from supporters, who fully embrace the idea of democratic engagement (as you state).

    As for finger-wagging, those who know me can confirm it is not my style ;-) The name of the Palestinian activist is Rami Rabayah. He works on sustainable development initiatives. During the Q&A session afterwards, we discussed the implications for activists in the UK.

  • Yakoub: Who has campaigned against the right to wear hijab? It is equally wrong that some Muslim women have been forced to remove the headscarf or niqab. Have a look at my interview on the niqab ban in last year’s Independent: http://www.bmsd.org.uk/articles.asp?id=68

    It also goes without saying that we should support those who have been on the receiving end of violence or intimidation. I have PERSONALLY secured legal assistance for women who have received abuse for wearing the hijab (the latest was a sister who was verbally abused by a transport worker).

    At the same time, we think it is perfectly acceptable to challenge assumptions within Muslim communities that women who do not cover their hair are automatically “immodest.”

    It is also worth noting that Asghar Bukhari of MPACUK is a fan of my work. Ask him yourself.

    Here is just one of the letters we have written criticising aspects of foreign policy. BMSD Vice-Chair Dr Shaaz Mahboob was the author in this instance: http://www.bmsd.org.uk/articles.asp?id=22

  • Syed and AbdulHamid: Many thanks for your support.

  • Bismillah

    I think the best way to break stereotypes is by being proud of our identity as Muslims and looking Muslim and doing our best to live this faith, which on its own is enough to solve the problems that we face. When someone tells me they want to break stereotypes and they do so by “liberating” themselves from the dress that has been legislated for a woman to be known as a believer, it really pushes me away from their call. Let us break stereotypes by educating with the reality of Islam and its beauty, not opinion, not contradiction, and not our ego.

  • M Risbrook

    An ESOL teacher actually attended one of our democracy workshops with refugees. He later remarked that in terms of English language skills, they seemed to make more progress in in our session, than in his own!

    Please do not conflate matters of religion with cultural matters. As a Nationalist I have nothing against Islam but I strongly believe that fluency in English is a mandatory requirement before anybody is allowed to take up residency in England and refugees are only accepted from countries that are on a government list. Most of the time this list will remain blank. ALL refugees are required to be issued with ID cards and leave Britain when the government decides that conditions in their homeland are safe. Children born in Britain from refugees will take the nationality of their parents and not British nationality, and will therefore be unable to use certain benefits and services including state education.

    who fully embrace the idea of democratic engagement

    I will take it that your definition of democratic engagement means via secular establishment parties and not via politicised Islamic parties and candidates.

    It is also worth noting that Asghar Bukhari of MPACUK is a fan of my work. Ask him yourself.

    MPACUK = MI5PACUK

  • AbdulHamid

    Dear Sister Elizabeth, Assalamu Aleikom! I want to fully agree with your sentiment that we should be proud of our Islamic identity, e.g. hijab, beard, etc but what Sister Tehmina Kazi was saying, I believe, was that women should not be forced by the community to wear a veil for show. If a woman CHOOSES to wear a veil we should say masha Allah. And if she CHOOSES not to wear a veil but is otherwise modest in her dress we should also say masha Allah! And the Qur’an states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion for verily Truth has become distinct from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believe in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things. [2:256]” Then the Qur’an says, “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.” [16:125]. So clearly if you are a hijabi, then Alhamdoulilah, and if you want other sisters to follow suit then it is clear that defaming them is not what the Qur’an prescribes. I hope that a time comes when all women have CHOSEN to wear the hijab but such a scenario cannot come from bully-boy tactics such as the treatment handed out to the women in the above article and adjoining comments. Women who wear hijab can be an inspiration but we should remember that for women there is far more to Islam that wearing a veil on your head. I hope that makes sense. Jazak Allah Khair. Wasallam.

  • AbdulHamid

    Assalamu Aleikom M Risbrook. You said, “Please do not conflate matters of religion with cultural matters.” Then you said, “I will take it that your definition of democratic engagement means via secular establishment parties and not via politicised Islamic parties and candidates.” It seems that you have conflated British government policy with secularism. Do you not know that there are multiple forms of secularism that have nothing to do with British government policy and may sometimes even be against it? Secularism simply means the separation of church (mosque) and state. Within that framework is room for all manner of persuasions to operate which are so diverse it is insulting to them to reduce them to the politics of the British government. As for secularism “in the procedural sense”, as Tehmina Kazi would say, it has to be that way in the 21st century global village so that all citizens may have their rights regardless of affiliation. Otherwise you would have a dictatorship. The amazing “caliphate” concept which is established in binary opposition to “Secularism” is one such dictatorship. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a good example of these types of theocratic state which prove the failure of the merger of religion with state law. Modern political systems require plurality, democracy, choice and just law. The role of religion then is to advise, guide and give example - NOT to rule. Only then can the message of Islam be taken freely and seriously by non-religious people. Severity was not the Sunna of the Holy Prophet (SAWS). Why then should modern Muslims take on such an aspect? Wasallam Aleikom wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

  • M Risbrook

    Do you not know that there are multiple forms of secularism that have nothing to do with British government policy and may sometimes even be against it?

    Like various flavours of Nationalism…

    Modern political systems require plurality, democracy, choice and just law.

    So if an Islamic party promoting Sharia law starts up then that’s plurality. If it contests elections then that’s giving voters a choice. If it wins a majority in parliament then that’s democracy.

  • Tehmina: I’m aware of the diversity of opinions within BMSD, but whatever your personal views may be, senior members of BMSD don’t share your view on hijab - I think we know who they are. And whether MPACUK like your or not is beside the point. After all, Asghar once sent a cheque to David Irving, so his admiration for BMSD is hardly to your credit. The point is, the government don’t like them, and that’s why they will never get state funding.

  • George Carty

    AbdulHamid: To me it seems like Hizb ut-Tahrir (the main organization calling for the restoration of the Caliphate) has been heavily influenced by Leninist methodology (only of course they apply it to political Islam instead of to Marxism). HT propaganda looks like Communist propaganda with a few search-and-replaces, and their vision certainly seems to be a totalitarian one. It’s hardly surprising that although HT was founded by a Palestinian, its strongest support is in the former USSR.

    Kinda ironic given that US libertarian author Rose Wilder Lane in her book The Discovery of Freedom claimed the original Arab Caliphate (or the “Saracen Empire”, to use her term) was the second of three attempts to found a society based on freedom (the first being ancient Israel, and the third being the United States).

  • AbdulHamid

    Assalamu Aleikom M Risbrook,

    “So if an Islamic party promoting Sharia law starts up then that’s plurality. If it contests elections then that’s giving voters a choice. If it wins a majority in parliament then that’s democracy.”

    Absolutely it is. But if you wish to look at the example of Islam4Uk they attempted something along those lines but then shot themselves in the foot by deliberately becoming a menace to social cohesion, e.g. their publicised intention to protest the funerals of dead British soldiers at Wooton-Bassett (which BMSD successfully opposed) that led to them being banned. They spring up again under various forms but still insist on promoting social disruption for the sake of notoriety. They are a bad example of a sharia-based political party.

    Funnily enough the recent rejection of AV by the British electorate dealt a blow to the electoral chances of hypothetical sharia-based parties. The irony is that many Muslims influenced by “caliphate” political philosophy dont vote because it is “kufr”. Had the Muslims added their full weight to AV they could have placed themselves in a much more favourable position within a democratic multicultural framework. Alas it seems they didnt do that.

    There’s nothing wrong from a secular democratic point of view with sharia-based political tendencies - simply get 40% of first-past-the-post vote and you’re successful and can do what you want! But you have to do it first…

    Jazak Allah Khair.

  • AbdulHamid

    Dear Mr. George Carty,

    You wrote: “AbdulHamid: To me it seems like Hizb ut-Tahrir (the main organization calling for the restoration of the Caliphate) has been heavily influenced by Leninist methodology (only of course they apply it to political Islam instead of to Marxism). HT propaganda looks like Communist propaganda with a few search-and-replaces, and their vision certainly seems to be a totalitarian one. It’s hardly surprising that although HT was founded by a Palestinian, its strongest support is in the former USSR.”

    I fully agree with your analysis. Islamist activism mirrors Marxism-Leninism in agreement on political practice, i.e. form a revolutionary party that acts on behalf of the designated group (either proletariat or disenfranchised Muslim) as a vanguard and then organise a revolution to overthrow the inimicable system, either capitalist or secularist. The Iranian revolution is a good example of the comparison. Personally I dont recall any revolution in the 20th century that lead to good things for anyone. That’s why British secular multiculturalism, although imperfect, is the best system provided by history in this era. It is better to be free and obligated to tolerate the views of “the other” whom you don’t really like, than be the dominant group dictating to everyone else and ultimately being destroyed by your own hand. That’s what happened in Russia and is happening in Libya (although Gaddafi is not actually Islamic in his beliefs - his rule represents a personal merger of Islamic with extreme secular elements) and Iran resembles a besieged country in a similar way to the USSR in the 1930s…. It’s not worldly power that makes Muslims strong. It is knowledge and understanding of the deen. A dozen Islamic libraries is worth a thousand lines of infantry. Islam is a message and not a political ideology.

    And yes it is an irony that the caliphate dreamers use extreme radical secular methodologies for the spread of their movement. I don’t remember the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) doing it this way. His life is a history of slow, patient, loving guidance to some very hostile people whom he fought only as an absolute last resort. It would be nice if our contemporary Muslims could learn from this….. Actually such learning is a religious requirement but go figure!

    I hope this makes sense.

    Thanks for reading.

    Regards, AbdulHamid

  • M Risbrook

    Islam4Uk they attempted something along those lines but then shot themselves in the foot

    Islam4UK was state. If you don’t believe me then use Google. I’m of the opinion that it was deliberately set up by the government with the intention of shutting it down in the future simply to deceive the public that the government was taking serious action to crack down on Islamic extremism in order to win back support from the BNP.

    They are a bad example of a sharia-based political party.

    Did they register as a political party? To the best of my knowledge they never contested any elections.

    Funnily enough the recent rejection of AV by the British electorate dealt a blow to the electoral chances of hypothetical sharia-based parties

    The issue of AV and the Muslim vote was discussed in depth on the DC forum. It was concluded that there was no clear consensus within the Muslim community over which electoral system should be used and support for both systems came from both the secularised and politicised factions. I’m of the opinion that AV could have weakened the biraderi system but in no way would have opened clear pathways for politicised Islamic parties.

    simply get 40% of first-past-the-post vote and you’re successful and can do what you want! But you have to do it first…

    An Islamic party promoting Sharia law stands a far greater chance of getting 40% in elections than other secular small parties such as the Greens, UKIP, and the BNP simply because its support base is concentrated into a handful of areas whereas support for the secular small parties is more thinly spread.

    That’s why British secular multiculturalism, although imperfect, is the best system provided by history in this era.

    Nonsense. Multiculturalism is a liberal’s wet dream and is a failure in practice. All it does is turn Britain into another Yugoslavia. Every ethnic group dislikes and distrusts every other ethnic group but the liberals continue to preach that only the white Englishman is racist and seeks to destroy social cohesion - despite it never existing in practice. I remember a race riot between Pakistani Muslims and non-Muslim blacks in Birmingham a few years ago where whites were not even involved. The liberals still haven’t answered for this one…

    Islam is a message and not a political ideology.

    My own study of Islam has revealed that Islam is both a religion AND a political movement. There is no separation of the mosque from the state in pure and traditional Islam. This is the reason why Islam is so badly disliked and distrusted by residents of the secular western world.

  • Not a PC Muslim

    For Muslims, (as opposed to those of merely Muslim heritage, more susceptible to their nafs in their ability to discern), surely Sharia is the final criterion.

    I thought that those who arrogantly judge by other than Islam i.e. the final & perfect Deen, cannot be said by the definitions accepted by mainstream Islam from the time of our beloved Prophet (salalahu alaihi was-salam) to be correct in Belief?

    Politically Correct Liberal fudge in order to distort the received understanding of Islam in order not to offend/upset those who claim to share the faith is like mixing the haq with the baatil. Would they do compromise with Shaitan too & his was-was, as he too claimed to follow the faith once, & almost admirably do, except for qibr.

    Surely the fact that Muslims place our forehead in sajdah, near the Ard from which we are created should show our outlook?

  • Whatever

    A Jihad by Muslim Women Against Violence in New York Times.

    I just saw an article in some US rag about the goodness that these women are doing for the Muslim community in the UK.

    The fact is that these women are a BUSINESS and they are trying to make money by using Islam.

    That’s cheap. And that’s why they are on the defensive. They are trying to get government money as well as rip off Muslims by “educating” them about Islam….And if one reads the article in the NYT where they have contributed to their ADVERTISEMENT, it will come across quite quickly that they are not really giving Muslims a good reputation.

    They will not get any respect from most Muslims. Perhaps if they became a charity and not a business making money, they may get further although as I said, they clearly want to make money. Perhaps if they have any real professional skills other then being Muslims, they could actually set up a consultancy in something or other - not Islam.