With the recent report published by Mr Cameron’s Extremist Task Force and circulating rumours of ASBO-style orders being placed on a number of religious personalities considered hate preachers by the government, there is a preponderance of thought that Islam is under attack. Understandably, the recent report has left a lot of Muslim leaders uneasy about the government’s intent to combat radicalisation and extremism, a government that must be seen to take a tough stance after the Woolwich killing. As with any bureaucratic office under political pressure, reactions often tend to be populist and disregard concrete factors that lead to efficient solutions. The Tories criticised the previous Labour government for cosying up to supposed Islamists, but if we assert that a government isn’t meant to regulate the ideas and thoughts of the citizenry but rather work towards peace, wealth and social justice, it seems logical that a government would endeavour, by all legitimate means, to work with those who could bring about a safer (and more prosperous) country. Therefore when a group of MPs refuse to engage with experts in the field as well as those within the community, instead favoring the road of unsubstantiated postulations, we are all at liberty to question motives.
But in thinking about the notion of being ‘under attack’, an element of accuracy is missing; it is not being thought of as a Tory administration exacting policies to assuage populist sentiment in light of the upcoming elections in 2015, or even a few neo-conservative members of the cabinet who have set out to demonise those who do not hold their imperialist ideology, but instead as a grand eschatological showdown between good and evil. The inability to deal with political issues shrewdly and instead use sweeping theological rhetoric to arouse passions and garner a fan base has meant that rather than resolve misconstructions and effectively challenge all accusations, many ‘speakers’ actually end up affirming pervasive misrepresentations.
My aim at this juncture isn’t to offer effectual solutions, as we must first identify where we are going wrong in the current context, and so, that’s what I intend to nominally explore. In no way do I intend to absolve those who underhandedly malign our faith, but rectification logically starts from within. Essentially, it is very difficult to make any argument in wider society, in fact unreasonable, if our own house isn’t in order (which it clearly isn’t). It is noteworthy that God leaves us with a prime consideration in situations like these: ‘God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.’
So in order to conceptualise the situation let us not oversimplify the current state of affairs; it isn’t merely a sequence of events driven by an Islamophobic agenda, but also one where certain quarters of the community, especially the political and scholastic leadership, has utterly failed in doing the one main thing their role requires: articulate and promote the Islamic faith intelligently and in the context of British society, its culture, and in consideration of its diversity. There are many examples, perhaps too many to cite here, but in the context of the discussion let me offer the following: it seems rather contradictory that on one hand we cite the failings of political liberalism and the evil idea that it is, but then rely on the very same evil political ideology to argue the right to non-liberal values. We initially talk about their kufr system, the deeply immoral liberalism pervading society, but pushed into a tight spot it’s suddenly our liberal democracy which we value. My point isn’t that liberalism is beyond critical analysis, indeed our civilisation (and I mean western here) is built upon critique and the desire to progress; but there needs to be a composed and nuanced engagement, not a loutish tirade.
Likewise, we cannot argue on the one hand that we appreciate the pluralism that allows ideas to equally flourish, a space in which the most coherent and rational idea will overcome all others, but claim to be under attack when we are challenged or Islam is questioned. It is the belief in the intellectual supremacy of one’s view that should make one comfortable in being able to share with, and tolerate, others; otherwise we act contrary to what we claim. Equally, it is difficult to assert the right to respectful dialogue when some Muslim lay preachers would rather employ vile manners calling those whom they disagree with as filthy and dirty, or resort to immature name-calling in public forums, referring to antagonists as dogs and pigs.
In trying to find the root of the problem with a measure of fair-mindedness, there seems to be misunderstandings on both sides. This of course doesn’t negate the fact that there exist conniving persons in the political realm working against the idea that all parties may broadly achieve their ambitions, but a fact that undermines them is that there are many Muslims who speak about aspects of the Islamic faith that disagree with the position of secular liberalism but nonetheless have managed to create a constructive atmosphere where a level of understanding and tolerance is achieved. Unfortunately, neither these people nor their narratives are promulgated in society and amongst policy makers – many people have the view that politicians are privy to material that gives them an accurate picture of the world, but in reality they are subject to the same misinformation and media as the rest of society. If personalities like Anjem Choudary are being given prime-time slots in the national media, how are politicians to discern his conceptualisation of theology and law from one actually reflective of scholastic learning? Some may assert that the proper voices aren’t given primacy, which is an incontestable fact, but scholars have been reluctant to put Mr Choudary in his place or distance God’s divine address (khitab) from his inanity in-house. Instead, the approach has been either to ignore him hoping that his infamy will at some point subside, or, hold back hoping to convert some of his followers – neither of which has actually worked. Instead, nearly the entire representation of what many in society, (including fair-minded people) end up conflating as orthodoxy has been left to Mr Choudary, and except for having the occasional self-loathing Muslim challenge him where both participate in a usually comical demonstration of theological and legal misapplications, he has been left to his own devices. The fact that he has yet to be openly challenged shows that many are intimidated or stupendously fail to see the pariah that he is.
Some hold the fallacious idea that because some of what Mr Choudary says is true that we cannot be seen to differ with him. The idea is dangerous; the Companion Abdullah b. Umar said of Ma’bad al-Juhani, whom he agreed with on most things, but who denied divine decree: “Inform them that I distance myself from them…” Firstly I accept that rejecting divine decree is quite unlike Mr Choudary’s articulations, and secondly, I’m not suggesting that we should call every person of notoriety to account for the smallest of errors, making mistakes is a human attribute; but on those matters that have gravity and are of profound consequence for the Muslim community we should be swift to protect the righteous cause of God and its proponents. Exemplars such as Malik b. Anas, al-Awza’i, al-Thawri, Ibn Mubarak, al-Shafi’i, Ahmad b. Hanbal and many other early Muslims established this point as a precedent, most notably during the advent of heretical movements and political despotism that lasted centuries and began towards the end of the Companions’ generation.
And even beyond the scholastic apathy we have been privy to, with no clear political leadership (built upon the erudition and instructions of specialists might I add), how is someone on the other side of the fence to know whom exactly a legitimate interviewee or spokesperson is? If many in the Muslim community are yet to distinguish actual theology and law from rhetoric, true scholarship from sloganeering, soul purifying worship from rabbinical prostelysation, religious ideas from (often foreign) cultural habits, and spirituality from superstitious mysticism, how are non-Muslims meant to judge what is or isn’t mainstream Islam? Given that Mr Choudary has already defined the shari’ah in the mind of the country, a representation that nearly none in the Muslim community entirely agree with, how far can we go to place all of the blame at the feet of those who wouldn’t be expected to know any better, especially when they conflate what is and isn’t an aspect of Islamic law?
It is the consensus of orthodox theologians that a case is considered to have been presented only if it is understood. Now whether or not politicians properly understand the contents of mainstream Islam is a point of debate, but I’m sure we can all agree that there has been much to obfuscate the message. Our undertakings are extremely wanting, and for an intelligent bunch of people we refuse to break away from generic patterns of doing things, in the near past having been framed by those who lacked both intellectual rigour and a substantial level of societal integration. Rather than find a way to meaningfully engage, even with those who do not want to engage with us, we organise testosterone-filled events where we rant and protest amongst ourselves, beating our chests merely to appease our deflated egos in the face of intimidating rhetoric from the state. These are neither solutions nor will they progressively ever lead to any, they are the resolve of a people who seem to be giving up. Ultimately, we must be apprehensive about turning inwards; it is what our antagonists desire. Such reactions are caustic, unreflective of prophetic exhortation, and disregard Quranic instruction. To highlight, the Prophet, peace be upon him, stated:
the believer who integrates with society and endures offence has greater reward than one who segregates from society and retreats from being transgressed.
And the Most High decreed:
 Quran 13:11
 Sahih Muslim; reported by Yahya b. Ya’mar.
 Ibn Majah (who graded it hasan); reported by Abdullah b. Umar.
 I have chosen this word rather than ‘wisdom’ since it doesn’t reflect the depth hikmah connotes in this context.
 Quran 16:125