Revelation is a mercy from God; divine instruction on how to purify the soul, establish upright conduct, engender good citizenship and build a cohesive, moral, just and prosperous society. Of course these are things that benefit humans as individuals and collectives; as for the relationship between God and men, it becomes one of mutual love (Quran 3:31), veneration for the Most High (Quran 87:1), and mercy (Quran 57:9) and protection for the servant (Quran 22:38).
But little would you think of Islam as fulfilling all of the above these days, either because we have left it to politicians to direct our focus or sentiments, or that Muslims themselves are driven, and subsequently shape their adherence to the deen by fear of what might happen to them or hostility towards protagonists. Allah has defined what we are about but little of that manages to reach the headlines, both amongst Muslims and in wider society. Thus the divine epistle to mankind is left on the shelf – ‘the messenger has said, “Lord, my people treat this Quran as something to be shunned!’ (Quran 25:30), and whilst Muslims object to the notion of secularising Islam, they overlook the fact that they themselves have been foremost in doing so.
Thus religious dogma is misdefined and misused by most positions on the spectrum, even by those seemingly devout, often with secondary dogma reinforcing waning commitment to the first. For example, those who do not view apostasy as a matter of doctrine and instead an understanding of politics during the medieval period, the dogma of unity and brotherhood is fervently declared to shut down opposition or incite uniformity, mostly by those completely oblivious to Islamic law and theology. Such persons have themselves appropriated Islamic doctrine, not to ensure the purity of Islamic belief, for they have undertaken little effort in finding out what it really is, but to position themselves as heroes seeking the attention and admiration of fellow cohorts. Far from surprising, such sentiment has always been resident in the souls of men. The ascetics of old would warn of such proclivities, and in this quagmire of weaponised dogma, only one should stand out like a beacon in the darkness: the dogma of ikhlas (sincerity to God).
But a robust commitment God is of little interest to those on both sides of the political divide, so a fundamental point repeatedly neglected, is that many of the problems raised in the political realm are either fatuous or those of a theological nature that, besides impeding the progressions of British Muslims, have little impact on wider society. Yet all sides accept submissions without retort. On those issues where society might actually be affected by the inanity of some Muslims, there is a consensus amongst specialists and academics that the solution lies in resolving their social problems.
Even if we were to accept the Government’s premise that there exists a religious extremism that threatens the nation by causing Muslims to be susceptible to ISIS ideology (which we reasonably cannot given the wealth of evidence that suggests otherwise), such problems then are obviously theological so whilst commentators, including those who clearly acknowledge this point, race to submit their tuppence, whatever they submit is seldom meaningful as it fails to make theological considerations. We have already seen some of the consequences of this debacle – beyond the conflation of violence with faith we now have
barbaric practices also linked to the religion, positioned as extreme interpretations of Islam. Yet FGM, forced marriages and misogyny are largely ethno-cultural problems, so to subsume them under the rubric of religious extremism is simply absurd. The impulsive and young who endeavour to join ISIS are not mutilating vaginas in their wake nor forcing women to marry against their will – ironically ISIS openly call these young girls to disobey their parents (that would be the agents of compulsion) and emigrate to the blessed Levant for a Conan-like spouse.
Given the logic that religious problems need religious solutions, it is bewildering that the Prime Minister establishes the Community Engagement Forum that is full of organisations that appear to be far removed from the scholastic tradition. Furthermore, to claim to engage a faith ‘community’ by means of organisations that are shunned by most of the faithful is farcical to say the least. Some of these organisations, in their ignorance of theology acquiesce even to the simplest conflations (as outlined above).
For devout Muslims, the fundamental reason to educate Muslims about ISIS or ethno- cultural practices that are as alien to Islam as they are to our western social sensibilities, should be because they inherently contravene what God wills. The only way to define the will of God is by assiduously consulting revelation, being led by the learned and noble, members of society, and stakeholders in the formulation of a common British identity. It is questionable that those lauded by the Conservatives for their counter-extremism efforts and readily invited to the Community Engagement Forum systematically consider what God might want from British Muslims or are motivated to counter aberrant religious views that offend the Most High. Fortunately, intelligent believers see through the veneer of supposed commonality between the Conservative cabinet and interests of the common citizen. This is why organisations such as Quilliam or Inspire will never instigate the revolution they desire, nor bring about a change amongst Muslim communities that might be needed – they have no religion so are compelled to offer political solutions to religious misunderstandings. For government ministers, much of the above should be common sense. The Government will principally turn to those in religious authority when addressing issues affecting Jews or Christians; they are best placed to deal with religious problems within their respective communities. Yet with Muslims simply claiming to be one suffices, let alone holding some semblance of religious authority, the Government’s consultants are either secular activists or pseudo-intellectuals with nominal reading on the fundamentals of Islamic belief, but are readily willing to offer rhetoric that ensures a seat at the table. In the end we are either left with ‘representatives’ who play with the words of the Almighty in much the same way ISIS do, or ethno-cultural Muslims simply seeking to safeguard cultural practices inherited from elsewhere.
The nature of organisations included in the Community Engagement Forum have been subject to stinging criticism, from politicians and academics, to the vast majority of British Muslims. It is by ‘engaging’ these groups who care little for the interests of everyday Muslims as well as Islam itself, that the Conservatives shall legitimise policies that will negatively impact the majority. Whilst most will agree that the current state of play is unacceptable, the apathy that has set into the psyche of many believers has meant that beyond concerns around Prevent and how it might impact on their children at school, the meddling of social services under the contrived excuse of extremism, or suspicion in the workplace, many remain reticent to engage.
However, the dogma of istiqamah (steadfastness) requires true believing citizens to break off the shackles of disinterest and re-affirm their commitment to God and what has been revealed, to ‘form rows as if they were a reinforced structure’ (Quran 61:4), to galvanise, organise, lead and be led, and have those they mandate to iterate both what they expect of the state in forming the common good and what actually is the will of God. The only way the current state of play will change is by engaging in a sensible way or actively supporting those who can, with aspirations that remain godly and conscious of the divine will. God has made it clear:
You who believe! If you help God, He will help you and make you stand firm. (Quran 47:7)
This article has been republished from the blog site of Sh Muhammad Nizami at www.nizami.co.uk