Taj Hargey is wrong: there is no ‘British Islam’
Yesterday (Boxing Day), there was a letter in the Guardian from Taj Hargey, the self-appointed leader of the so-called Muslim Education Centre of Oxford and a regular go-to figure for media wanting someone to tell them that most Muslims were doing Islam wrong, praising Marks & Spencer, the British department store chain, for backtracking on a supposed policy of allowing staff with religious beliefs to refuse to serve goods such as alcoholic drinks and directing customers buying them to other tills. Naturallly, despite this policy applying to people of all religions, the story was spun as being primarily about Muslims (it seems to have stemmed from a single incident involving a Muslim woman, as the JC article explains). More recently, the chain apologised, and said that what they actually did was try to assign staff to roles that did not infringe their religious beliefs.
The letter from Taj Hargey reads:
The embarrassing turnaround by Marks & Spencer (Report, 24 December), revoking their policy to allow Muslim personnel not to handle alcoholic or pork products, must be applauded. It’s a major triumph for common sense against emerging Wahhabi-Salafi extremism in the UK. During the past decade, numerous Saudi-funded institutions and clergy in Britain have led an insidious theological campaign to impose primitive tribal mores and cultural rigidity of the most backward land of Islam upon British Muslims. Sadly, many ill-informed followers of the faith have been programmed by Wahhabi-Salafi fanatics to believe that the touching of alcohol or pork is impermissible in Islam. They have also been duped by these ultra-conservative zealots about gender segregation, female head-covering (hijab), face-masking (niqab) and other non-scriptural “customs”.
However, there is nothing in the Holy Qur’an that sanctions this or their repressive and chauvinistic interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalist zealots flaunt the reputed and manufactured oral traditions of Muhammad (Hadith), compiled some 300 years after his death, as the sole basis for their warped perversion of the faith. But educated British Muslims must resist this risible movement seeking to recreate the mythical seventh-century Arab utopia that is now foisted upon Muslim society worldwide by Saudi finance and fanatics. Right-minded Muslims uphold a British Islam that is integral to original Qur’anic precepts, but is also compatible with British social norms. We are relieved that M&S has played a small part in rejecting pernicious Wahhabi distortions.
For a start, he is assuming that the Telegraph story involving the woman who refused to serve someone alcohol is even true, and that the woman even exists. Secondly, he is assuming that even if she does, she is necessarily a “Wahhabi” for refusing to handle alcohol. The vast majority of Muslims in this country are not, and never have been.
Third, the prohibition against handling alcohol, pork and so on is not a “Wahhabi” invention. It is a sin in all major schools of Islamic law to sell or transport alcohol, as are all the practices he lists at the end of the first paragraph.
Fourth, the Qur’an is not the only source of Islamic law and never has been. This is a misleading statement and it appears that Hargey is relying on the ignorance of his readers yet again. Allah says in the Qur’an “obey Allah and His Messenger”. However, the majority of the rulings of the Shari’ah are not based on the collections Hargey disparages but on the much more direct knowledge that the four major imams had of the subject from knowing and learning from large numbers of people only one or two degrees removed from the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). It was a community of scholars, a community of inspired men and women who learned from each other, not from books. The collections he refers to, such as Bukhari, were used by later scholars, although many of them actually memorised hundreds of thousands of hadeeth themselves. So, his image of “Wahhabi fanatics” basing their religion on these collections is a ridiculous caricature.
Finally, there is no such thing as “British Islam” any more than there is an Egyptian Islam, a Moroccan Islam or an American one. It is one religion; a Muslim from this country can go to almost any country where there are Muslims and practise the religion with local people and feel more or less at home. It is also not a pick-and-choose religion in which you can just do away with rules that everyone agrees are part of the religion, just because it makes life a bit easier or meets with less disapproval from others. What Hargey is advocating would reduce Islam to a matter of occasional worship, not even praying five times a day if it would annoy one’s boss. It would be unrecognisable to any Muslim visiting from anywhere. It would, quite simply, not be Islam.
To be fair, if someone takes a job with a company which they know sells alcohol and meat which is not halaal, it is a bit ridiculous for them to demand not to sell those products if they are on a till and someone has queued up to buy these things. It is better to work somewhere else, or ask for other duties. This particular situation should have been handled better both by this person, if she exists, and her supervisors. Still, it is entirely in keeping with Islam not to handle or transport these products, and it does not make one a “fanatic” or a Wahhabi; it is part of being an upstanding and practising Muslim.
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