Thursday, 5 August 2010

Talibanisation or Islamisation?

In this widely circulated article in the Daily Mail, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD), sounds a rare note of Muslim protest against the "extremists" in the midst of the umma.

Providing example after example based on her personal experience with fellow Muslims, she paints a disturbing picture of a culture and society that is totally incompatible with secular British values, which enshrine individual liberty and human equality and rights. She highlights an important Islamic cultural attitude that explains much about the intolerance of many Muslims, as well as why Islam itself deprives its followers of the basic philosophical structure they need to fulfill their full potential as human beings:

Teachers, community, youth and social workers have told me many stories of the suppression of simple childhood pleasures in the name of Islam.

Of course, apart from the direct quotation above, most of what I have just written is paraphrasing. In fact, while the author's condemnation of cultural backwardness among British Muslim communities is noble, her piece does very little, if anything, to address the core issues at play here.

Take the issue of "the suppression of simple childhood pleasures in the name of Islam." It was the Ayatollah Khomeini who said: "Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious."

Renowned, credible academics and scholars of Islam have described it as a religio-political ideology that is inherently totalitarian in nature. Bertrand Russell compared Islam to Communism. And G.H. Bousquet, a leading twentieth-century expert on Islamic law, wrote:

Islam first came before the world as a doubly totalitarian system. It claimed to impose itself on the whole world and it claimed also, by the divinely appointed Muhammadan law, by the principles of fiqh, to regulate down to the smallest details the whole life of the Islamic community and of every individual believer...

Totalitarian systems by their very nature strive to eradicate "fun", which is a means of provoking unregulated human emotion - something that cannot be tolerated under the rules of the strict, all-controlling political ideology.

Ms Alibhai-Brown could have admitted that Islam itself, at least as it has been institutionalised by the most respected Islamic scholarly and spiritual authorities throughout history, is a totalitarian belief system that contributes to the disturbing trends she outlines in her article, and articulated a plea for a grass-roots reform of Islam that would eradicate its political character and reject any assumptions - even long-held, cherished ones - that contradict modern constructs of democracy, freedom and human rights. But she does not do this. Instead, she blames Wahhabism - a "version" of Islam which has only existed since the eighteenth century, long after the aforementioned totalitarian impulse was institutionalised in the Islamic world.

She ignores other things, as well. She ignores the Qur'anic and hadithic teachings that are used to justify the banning of music and art, as well as domestic abuse and honour killing. The problem is that she ultimately has no valid explanation as to why so many Muslims end up becoming "radicals" when Islam is supposed to be a Religion of Peace, and she has no clear method in mind for making this trend change. That is sad, and while I wish her well, I also have little hope that she will succeed in modernising Islam when she fails to acknowledge where the problems are coming from in the first place.

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