British Muslims & their Strategies for Living in the UK
In H.G. Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes, Graham, a troubled insomniac in 1890s England, falls into a sleep-like trance that he does not awake from for over two hundred years. When he finally does come out of his slumber, he awakens to a world with wondrous technological trappings, yet staggering social injustice and growing unrest. Horrified by the stark contradictions and by the mass poverty, tyranny and malcontent in this disturbing technopolis, Graham says in utter anguish and regret: ‘We were making the future, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!’
H.G. Wells wrote a number of books that he described as ‘fantasias of possibilities’, in which he explored the potential dangers of unchecked capitalism and technological advancement and the kind of society this could lead to. The grim dystopias he earlier envisaged would, in his later life, give way to a fragile optimism, a more hopeful future; but one where much evil would yet be in store for mankind.
It seems a fundamental human need to want to have an overarching life narrative. We human beings are tellers of tales who, it seems, cannot be happy unless we can see the world as a story. Wells’ healthy scepticism was well-founded. The great narrative that dominated much of the twentieth century was the myth that secular progress would ultimately liberate the human creature and bring into being global peace and human happiness. Two World Wars (secular wars) that maimed and killed in the hundreds of millions should have given a lie to this myth and disabused society of this falsehood. Instead, it was explained away by the priests of progress as a temporary glitch in the matrix of modernity.
Other secular horrors would follow in the hallowed name of progress and modernity. Yet the promise of a world where its worst evils would be eradicated – war, hunger, poverty and sickness – has still to materialise.
Of the two ‘versions’ of the secular story, communism and capitalism, it is the latter that has eventually triumphed. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, some rejoiced in the “End of History”. From here on in, only one variety of governance would be legitimate: Western-style (or rather American-style) capitalist democracies. This, we are assured, is either the best of what there is or the least worst of what is on offer. The mandate for global democracy, though, is oftentimes seen by much of the world as a self-serving pretext for American military and economic interests. If the backlash to it increases and intensifies in its violence, it should come as no huge surprise.
Secularism isn’t quite the Muslim story. To the degree that the Western secular story marginalises God and the quest for spiritual growth, to that extent it is at loggerheads with faith. Islam’s vision of society is not theocratic; it is, however, theocentric. Islam, wrote Shalabi, ‘provides man with a spiritual technology by which he may come to know his Creator, thereby fulfilling the function for which he was made, and it is precisely because this process is of such overriding importance that the function of society must rise above that of the provision of man’s material needs and must seek to provide him with the best possible environment in which to carry out this project of self-discovery and realization. Thus Islam’s concern with politics.’1
How the sharia (shari‘ah) applies in today’s world or how it is to shape public life or the public space in Muslim majority countries is, currently, an open-ended question. At present, there is no one model of how public life in Muslim countries ought to reflect religious values and laws. Indeed, given that the sharia is not a monolithic set of laws, and the extraordinary diversity of the Muslim world, there is unlikely to be a ‘one-hat-fits all-sizes’ model. It is something which Muslim jurists and policy makers need to resolve in their own lands and on their own terms, as they keep in mind that the sharia has something known as thawabit wa’l-mutaghayyirat – laws which are fixed and unchangeable, and those that are open to adaption and alteration.
Although it is true that some Muslims welcome the privatisation of faith and believe that life would be freer, easier and more progressive if religion were kept out of the public space, most still hold to the belief that the collective, socio-political concerns of believers are still best dealt with in the light of God’s guidance. Attempts to interfere with the public expression of Islam in Muslim majority countries, or thwart the right of Muslims to self–determination, is seen by many (not without rhyme or reason) as a war against Islam and the Muslim religious way of life.
As for Muslims living under British secular democracy, their reality is very different. The task for them is about how they can best remain conscientious believers, whilst being responsible citizens in a secular society. Here, four attitudes or strategies may be broadly discerned:
First, there is the bubble model. This is where Muslims accept their secular reality, but do their best to opt-out of engaging with wider society or appeal to secular legislation as far as possible. Instead, they insulate themselves, live out their lives according to their faith as best as can be done, and resort to sharia counsels to settle disputes on family issues, inheritance and some commercial matters. These sharia tribunals are similar to Jewish beth-din courts and operate within the framework of British law that currently permits third-party arbitration. Such isolationism, however, is religiously unwarranted and practically unwise.
The second outlook is one of engagement. As above, there is a firm commitment to putting one’s faith into practice, but emphasis is placed on participating in wider civil society and on forging alliances with others who also seek to defend more traditional values against a liberalism that grows ever more totalising and intolerant. There is increasing awareness that if we are to help guide Europe back to God, we need allies (like traditionally-minded Christians and Jews) who share a similar vision of a more spiritual, just and compassionate society and who have the will to question the liberal orthodoxies of the age. This is not merely about homosexuality, gay marriages, or the undermining of traditional marriage and family; it is deeper than that. Modernity is founded on a set of materialist assumptions about human nature which empties life of dignity, purpose and divinity – for we are, after all, products of ‘mere chance’ – and in its sheer greed and arrogance has pushed the planet to the very edge of ecological destruction. Even when the materialist sees beauty in the world, it is no more than sentimentality. To him, the world is still only fodder for the human animal and grist for his mills.
That being so, Abdal Hakim Murad’s Contention [13/6] is possibly the only sane faith-based response to such a materialist Monoculture: ‘It is better to engage fully with the Monoculture from a position of dislike than to engage partly with it from a position of admiration.’
And while the secular Monoculture does not stop Muslims from theologically seeing non-Muslims as inferior, in terms of religious truths and recipients of God’s specific grace, it does require that they be seen as equals in terms of citizenship and political rights. Such a political courtesy is what believers ought to exemplify.
Moreover, secularism in its current liberal image is not too concerned with our creed or ‘aqidah, as it is the social conservatism of most Muslims. That is, Brussels couldn’t care less whether the divine attributes are open to ta‘wil or figurative interpretation, or what types of tawassul are sanctioned by Scripture. However, they are concerned about whether or not Muslims believe in feminism and sexual liberalisation, or accept the legitimacy of gay marriages and the homosexual agenda. So let us not be confused from whence the storm is coming.
While the unfailing light of Revelation tells us that the act of homosexuality is sinful and immoral, “Will you commit foulness such as no creature ever did before you? For you come with lust to men instead of women; you are indeed a transgressing people” [7:80-1], we needn’t voice our opposition to it in hostile rage or violence; but rather peacefully, calmly, without calling for persecution. Mercy is better than malice; understanding better than recrimination.
As for the inquisition or Islamophobia being dolled out by the liberal stalwarts against those who oppose certain sexual practices, let us respond with restraint, dignity and tolerance. And nor should their intimidation and bullying cause us to cower, or fail to state the correct ruling on the matter.
The third strategy is the Islamisation one, devotees of which feel obliged to overturn the secular order so that it accords with sharia laws. Here, it is not merely one or two liberal or secular deviations that are of concern; instead it is the entire secular edifice. Although peddled by right-wing Islamophobes and growing sections of the media as being the true agenda of most Islamic groups, it is a fringe view usually held by those driven by large helpings of religious zealotry, but little religious fiqh.
Not to be misconstrued, this in no way refers to the proselytising strategy which gives priority to the moral, spiritual and unitarian beliefs of Islam, and which uses the art of reason and persuasion, invitation and exhortation, to achieve its ends. Inviting to God and improving society in terms of social justice and moral and spiritual integrity, lies at the heart of a believer’s concern. Instead, what is meant by ‘Islamisation’ is that bent of mind which insists religion must be wedded to and bedded by politics, and is obsessed with forcing Islamic penal laws upon society at the expense of inviting it to Abrahamic monotheism (tawhid), the pillars of Muslim practice, and the moral legacy of Islam.
Hostility and confrontation characterise such extremists; violence is also not ruled out in this strategy. Angry young men holding placards denouncing the West, calling for beheadings, spouting intolerance of others, and basking in gratuitous offence of non-Muslims have become iconic of such mindsets.
No doubt, our personal moral values can and often do influence our political choices and actions. But religion’s attempt to force its standards onto wider society is likely to be met with vigorous resistance. For it is in the nature of human beings that whenever something is thrust down their throats, there is a reflex tendency to vomit it up again. Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner [16:125] cannot be ignored or overlooked here.
In fact, what is the wisdom behind raging for the Islamisation of Britain while anti-Muslim sentiment across Britain and Europe is rising to alarming levels? If anything, classical jurists, like al-Mawardi and al-Nawawi, stipulate that Muslims may reside as a minority in non-Muslim lands (provided they can practice and maintain the basic duties and prescriptions of their faith) without the need to seek for the dominance of Islamic law.2
This is also the view of Ibn Taymiyyah who – when speaking of the Muslim migrants to Abyssinia and its king, the Negus who, having secretly converted to Islam was not able to openly declare his faith – concedes: ‘The Negus was unable to implement the laws of the Qur’an since his people would never have allowed him to do so … Yet the Negus and those like him found their way to Paradise (al-najashi wa amthaluhu sa‘ada fi’l-jannah), even though they were unable to observe the rules of Islam or could only abide by such rules as could be implemented in their given circumstances.’3
Again, what is the logic in being obsessed with wanting the full force of Islamic law on a Britain that has all but eliminated prejudice against foreigners, gays and blacks, but where Islamophobia – prejudice against Islam – remains the last socially accepted form of bigotry. Strategies that eclipse the invitation to belief in God and faith in His beauty and oneness, by unnecessary demands for Islamic law, aren’t only at odds with religion and reason, they are damaging and dangerous too.
The fourth strategy argues for a robust defence of secularism and liberal values. This is championed by an allegedly benign Islamic liberalism which, more often than not, shows itself to be as intolerant and narrow as the very extremists it so despises. It is a liberalism that aims to curtail anything distinctly Islamic to exit the home or mosque and enter the public space. Such an outlook is regarded, and quite understandably so, with deep suspicion by most Muslims, who see in this religious reductionism nothing but a pandering to the tastes of the times. It is seen more as a case of following hawa; whims, than following huda; right guidance! Their “reinterpretations” of religion are as reckless as they are repugnant. Such anxious-to-please, brow beaten Muslims are now popping up everywhere: yet ‘they are no use to their communities, or, ultimately, to their hosts, for they cannot function as healers, but only as a chorus of frightened eulogists.’4
The above depiction isn’t the whole story, it is a mere outline. There are, for instance, large numbers of Muslims who have no strategy; no agenda. For they have either not given the issue much thought, or else it is about taking each day as it comes, trying to keep their heads above water in terms of carrying out the daily demands of their faith. What many of them do intuit, however, is that hostility towards Islam is likely to grow and intensify as secular (liberal) dogmas attempt to impose themselves on society and further suffocate the insights of faith.
1. Islam: Religion of Life (USA: Starlatch Press, 2001), 21.
2. As per al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2000), 21:7.
3. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 19:218-19.
4. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: The Quillium Press, 2012), 68; no.39.
Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh
I think this rising hatred of others is just another part of the plan in qadr. Jews faced the same thing, and we have to face the same trials they faced…..
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
… And this is why we need to rid our hearts of rage and anger, and fill it with patient perseverance and reliance on Allah.
May Allah grant us all tawfiq and taysir.
Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh
A lot of times it seems that when the situation becomes tense we get excited and feel the need to do something. But in reality, we need to be patient. Patience is tying ourselves down and that takes effort. The knee-jerk reactions we come up with during fitnah don’t seem to help out. Sometimes we need to accept that a calamity is a calamity, there are no instant solutions and that we need to wait a little before getting instructions out of our predicament. Interestingly, As-Sabireen in the Quran are also Al-Muhtadeen.
May Allah make me more eloquent so I don’t have to use so many words to convey a few thoughts…..
Ameeen to your dua.
idesireranks: Very true, spot on, and well said. There are no instant solutions, just gradual healing through having sabr and taqwa. The sooner we internalise this, the better our affiars will be.
Sometimes I worry about the use of patience in the context of the above. Only because one could be in any of the four categories and claim to be patient; yet in some cases patience is neglect and in other cases it is stubborn arrogance.
So I do not see a contradiction between patience and action, as long as the action is based upon islamic texts. I would place myself in group 2, who engage – which is an action – while patiently persevering – meeting the trials with acceptance, but continuing my path regardless, as it is based upon quran and sunnah.
Yahya: You are right to feel concerned about the use of the word “patience”, which is so often used as a by word for complacency – which is not what is intended here. So I’ll just quote what I wrote in an article on this blog called, Patience: the Healer of a Hardships:
‘In all of this, we must not confuse patience with complacency. Patience isn’t passive resignation. Neither is it a refusal to act responsibly because of our fears or grief, or because of the seemingly unsurmountable hurdles. Rather, patience is active waiting. It is enduring something, along with doing all that we can – acting, hoping, exercising faith, bearing hardships with stoicism and fortitude; even when the hopes of our heart are delayed. Patience is not just enduring; it is enduring well: For me, beautiful patience is most fitting. [12:18]’
Masha’Allah that was an excellent analysis summarised really well.
Some interesting quotes from “Contention” and especially ibn Taymiyyah’s (r) comment regarding Negus (r).
Worth setting in stone.
It’s worrying though, with the increasing hostility, which way the muslim community is heading.
Live in a bubble / engage to some extent / over- zealousness/ extreme liberalism…
I think I’m a day by day person at the moment.
Do what you can in your field of control for the betterment of mankind and hold on as best as possible to your beliefs.
Thoroughly enjoyed this article. BarakAllahu feek.
Day to day people is probably better; for it could be that such people have resigned their affairs over to Allah, instead of planning their own ones: And Allah is the best of planners.
IMO, The strength of Islamic peace and love, is highlighted daily, within that crisis and pain, that has been subjective, for so long. Those who still suffer and suffered, were asked, in silence of heart and soul, to display that patience and understanding, ultimately leading to that same forgiveness, that was asked of the Jews. Those words that was written within the blessed Qur’an, so, so long ago, which was, lets say, a Test or Mission. This was laid before muslims which they are experiencing daily, desiring peace, yet experiencing pain, almost as if an eternal earthly cyclical punishment. Being constantly reminded through the eyes of Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and many Islamic states, where oppressors are paid to disrupt. The true word that was written, was misunderstood and is still misinterpreted, by those lacking knowledge, of a what a truthful jihad or discovery of self was intended to mean and that was asked of those belonging to Islam. War has been ravaged, upon Islamic oppressors and by deliberate misinterpretation of Islam, through the ignorance and power based religious politics, of those that could not understand, the loving, forgiving words given to the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) which is there openly to read. The true strength of Islam, has now been highlighted through silence and contemplation, of those true to the word. Yet, through the complete ignorance of the oppressor, whoever they be, the words instead of exploding are now imploding on them that wanted to change the true word of Jihad, by making it into a war, against others. What was perceived to be a faith of weakness, by others, has now been re-strengthened, in that loving silence. It is only with true knowledge from each, of that difference of within each faith, that we will eventually achieve peace and understanding, while each, also being truly understood, through that respect of difference, through allowing a Universal faith, to flow through connections to each other and allowing us all to be humanly individual and different! ( I hope you do not think this is too long! Sorry but it what I felt at the moment – I just cannot work with that word – succinct!!) xxx
The heart needs to pour out what it needs to. May the Most Merciful of those who show mercy keep us true to His Word.
May I humbly ask why you refer to the first category as:
“Such isolationism, however, is religiously unwarranted…”
Specifically, why would it be religiously unwarranted?
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah, Abuu Salmaa,
It’s a very good question, and will be the subject of my next posting inshallah.
I wonder what the auliya and men of baseera state? I don’t know but something tells me life will get even more tough. The media has made such an impact that a big massacre is a possibility. Our each action is scrutinised and our faith is criticized at every opportunity. The media has created a climate of fear and blamed Islam for everything. ALLAH save us
Amin, amin, amin!
“May Allah save us”, your attitude is pathetic, this is the attitude of a spiritual coward. Maybe your attitude and actions are scrutinised by society because they are genuinely motivated by delusion? Men of vision would say that you live life based on fear, doubt, disbelief, and that your tenets of faith do not appear in your attitude to life, it does not lead you to mastery of yourself or your environment, you doubt yourself, and the doubt in your subconscious is reflected back to you through your environment. You have to get out of this box where you think everyone is out to get you, get over yourself and move on.
You are quick to refer everything to God, God save us, God do this, God do that…
What about your own will power? What about your ability to alter your destiny?
Also, the guy who posted the first comment who said “we have to go through all the problems Jews went through”, you need to reassess your views. You go through only those things you intend for, there is no compulsion (jabr) in human action, otherwise there would be no validity of divine command or prohibition.
Some very thought provoking and interesting thoughts as always ustadh. I think when it comes to Muslims who have an isolationist mode of thought, many of them unfortunately take the Haredi British Jewish community as a role model for the future of British Islam. While I can see the appeal of a religious community able to maintain its integrity amidst a sea of hostility, their ethno-centric mentality is not one that is suitable for Muslims in Britain. While many of these isolationist Muslims hold on to a very distinct and sometimes overly extroverted display of their faith, taking the hadith of the Messenger (SAWS) “He who imitates a people is one of them” to a very literalist understanding, its unfortunate they don’t apply the same hadith when it comes to taking Haredi Jews as potential role models.
While I agree with you that the isolationist/ghettoisation policy is unhelpful, I’m wondering if it is actually done so in imitation of ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews? Don’t you think that each of the four strategies finds its counterpart in similar strategies by the Jewish community (ultra-orthodox, orthodox, liberal, zionist)? Perhaps such strategies are the natural responses to any text-based religious community trying to cope with modernity?
I also agree with you that those who do have an isolationist approach oftentimes do misunderstand the hadith about not imitating others (which I’d like to tackle in a future post, inshallah).
That is very true, you can find similar movements within most religious communities in the modern west today. I suppose it’s just from my own personal experience that I’ve seen the Haredi community being taken as examples by some Muslims, but I’ve not seen the same thing with say, apologist Muslims taking reformist Jews as their role models.
That’s an interesting observation, in which case what you said holds true.
Salaamun ‘Alaykum wa-Rahmatullaahi wa-Barakaatuhu,
I’ve read the article and all of the comments up until this moment. I believe I’ve been part of every group (except maybe the ‘liberals’) at one point in my life. At the end of it all, I believe the message (at least for me) is a highlighting of the importance of Da’wah. Islaam doesn’t win by being forced from the outside in, it grows from the inside out. Having been active in Da’wah for nearly 2 decades I still see this fundamental misunderstanding. Even our efforts at calling others is often like an assembly-line, all about production. “How many Shahaadahs did you get?” IMO it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. We don’t need marginal acceptance, Friday Muslims, etc. We need people to understand and appreciate our faith, and become vibrant productive believers! If the Non-Muslims get to know us, as people, we will begin to make a difference; no agendas, no speeches, just simple human interaction. The Gallup Polls from a few years ago bore this out; they found that once people actually met and interacted with Muslims their attitudes changed in a positive direction by something like 70%!!!
This is what I’ve taken away from this article … Allaah knows best!
Jazaakum Allaahu Khayran, wa-Baarak Allaahu Feekum, Abu Aliyyah
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
May Allah bless you, Br Sa’eed and cause Islam and the Muslims to benefit from your rich experience. I couldn’t agree more with what you have written, mashallah. You definitely took more from the article than was there; you enhanced it mashallah.
My next piece is about how we should be prophetically-inspired witnesses in our societies, engaging and serving our communities, as well as critiquing them as part of the monotheistic healing Islam has to offer. It is more or less what you have stated in your comment.
This was a pleasant and thought provoking read, JazakAllah khair. And the comments, especially from ustadh Saeed Purcell, are timely reminders and reflections from wise and experienced heads.
This topic is about fiqh al-aqalliyaat – about how Muslims should be when living as a minority. I find this a very interesting topic and not enough reminders and reflections do this issue justice. BarakAllah feek for giving the overview of the different ‘madhahib’.
I recently spoke at a univeristy ISOC event, and a brother from the audience talked about how bad and evil this society is, and how its becoming more difficult for Muslims and that its better to go home to our motherlands. I don’t agree with this opinion, but i was surprised at the number of heads that nodded in agreement with this young brother.
My response to him was to remind him and myself that we as Muslims are messengers of the Messenger of Allah, SAW. Anyone given the responsibility of a sharing a heavenly message should reflect on the example of other prophets – none were sent to a guided people. They were sent to societies that needed guidance. I reminded the crowd that Allah gave prophets the title of ‘Brother’ in relation to the people they were sent to. Even Lut AS was referred to as the brother of his people (Ash-Shu’ara: 161), despite what they were doing, and also that ethnically, he was not from that area or tribe even.
Understanding our society, and helping remedy its problems, will endear society to our cause.
Barakallahu fikum for the comment, and for the reminder at the ISOC event about the need to endear ourselves to society; “our people”. I will just add what I know your words already imply, which is that in seeking to endear ourselves, we do it out of sincere concern for peoples’ welfare and well-being, not out of some point-scoring exercise of da’wah.
Nurturing the prophetic concern in our heart, for the welfare of others, is a spiritual must. Without such a concern, things become mechanical, shallow and disingenuous.
May Allah endear Abrahamic monotheism to the hearts of our people, and cause us to be in the khidmah or service to their spiritual, moral and social well-being.
This is an interesting, well presented article masha Allah, that presents a broad outline of the different categories presently existing among Muslims in Britain today. Undoubtedly, a more detailed discourse would reveal sub-categories alongside emerging ones/trends.
In view of the challenges we face as British Muslims today, I think it essential that leaders emerge showing how best to contextualise essential tenets of our faith within today’s society. The reference to social conservatism and the fact that other faiths and walks of life also share this is an important one and this should be illustrated by Muslims today. This should be done from a perspective of cultural/social exchanges as opposed to a multi-faith approach, the latter of which conflicts with the fundamental tenets of the Deen.
Unfortunately, as this article indicates, the lack of understanding, ghuloo (excessiveness) and extreme liberalism at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, that emanate from sections of our communities, are counter-productive and, I believe, contribute towards the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims.
To reiterate, a drive to provide an accurate context of how to understand and subsequently practice our faith as a minority, is essential.
Jazakallahu khayran for your comment and feedback. You’re right, there certainly are many sub-categories; but I’m not quite sure if attempting to delineate them would add any more clarity to the matter. I could be wrong.
I agree with you wholeheartedly, contextualising the essential tenets (beliefs, practices, ethics and spirituality) is the way forward. All other goals must be subordinated to this greater goal. May Allah grant us the much needed wisdom and courage to do so.
Thank you for sharing your insights br Abdul Haqq.
Ps. Are you the same Abdul Haqq who hailed from South London, I once had the pleasure of knowing?
Salaams, yes Abu Aliyah, it is me – the same Abdul Haqq that also shared in that pleasure of knowing you also!!