The Humble "I"

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Archive for the tag “Islamism”

British Muslims & their Strategies for Living in the UK

640x392_56196_200617In 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.

Terrorism is to Jihad as Adultery is to Marriage


For the past four days I had been working on the following article, which I intended to post yesterday evening. However, I then heard about the vile and sadistic act of violence carried out by two men with knives and a meat cleaver in Woolwich. So I thought it best to review the blog post in light of the event, to see if I should develop it in any way. But barring a few edits here and there, I am posting the article more or less as it was originally written.

This is a brief overview of what Islam has to say about jihad, terrorism and the sanctity of human life. It bases itself, not on the need to please policy makers or the powers to be, nor on a colonialised mindset desperate to fit Islam into some acceptable liberal mould, but upon the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and the consensus (ijma‘) and considerations of mainstream Muslim jurists.

On a personal note, combating terrorism, and its ideological underpinnings, has long been a significant part of my da‘wah or outreach programme; and all praise is for God. It was animated long before the events of 9-11 or 7-7; since 1992 in fact, when a few of my teachers in shari‘ah alerted me to its realities, dangers and its unIslamic character. What follows is, as stated earlier, a brief trek across some of that terrain:

1. The first thing to mention in this regards is Islam’s outlook concerning the sanctity (hurmah) of human life. For as Islam views it, the human creature is indeed a sacred creation; so much so that: Whoever kills a person for other than crimes of manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he has killed the whole of humanity; and whosoever saves the life of one person, it shall be as if he has saved the whole of humanity. [5:32] Such, then, is the extraordinary value placed on human life in the Qur’an. And thus, as will be shown, acts of terror where women, children and other civilians are intentionally targeted and killed is categorically repudiated by Islam and by the agreement of those versed in law and learning among the Muslims.

2. Jihad as a word stems from jahada, which means: to strive, to exert oneself, to take extraordinary pains. As for its religious sense, al-Raghib al-Asbahani (d.425H/1034CE) defines it thus: ‘Exerting one’s utmost ability in repelling an enemy, and it is of three kinds: namely, contending against the outward enemy, the devil, and one’s ego. Each of these enters into God’s statement, exalted is He: And strive for God as He rightly must be striven for. [22:78] And strive with your wealth and your lives in the cause of God. [9:41] Also: Those who believed and left their homes and strove with their wealth and their lives in the cause of God. [8:72]’1

3. In Islam, the decision about war and peace is not left to scholars, soldiers, or anyone else. Rather it rests with the head of state who wields executive authority. This being a cardinal rule of warfare in Islam. Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d.620H/1223CE) explains the rule like so: ‘The question of declaring war [or not] is entrusted to the head of state and his decision (amr al-jihad mawkulun ila’l-imam wa ijtihadihi). Compliance with the decision is the subject’s duty in terms of what the authorities deem fit in the matter.’2 Al-Buhuti (1051H/1641CE) echoes the principle: ‘Declaring jihad or not is entrusted to the head of state and his decision, for he best knows the condition of the Muslims and of the enemy.’3

4. The classical Islamic doctrine that forbids killing non-combatants and civilians in an outward (military) jihad takes its cue from the Prophet’s words, peace be upon him: ‘March forth in the name of God, trusting in God and adhering to the religion of God. Do not kill elderly men, infants, young children or women.’4 And Ibn ‘Umar relates that the Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘forbade the killing of women and children.’5

5. After quoting the last hadith, Imam al-Nawawi (d.676H/1277CE) typified the juristic consensus on the issue when he said: ‘Scholars concur upon acting by this hadith and forbid the killing of women and children, provided that they do not engage in combat. But if they do, the overwhelming majority of scholars (jamahir al-‘ulema) hold that they may be fought.’6 Ibn Qudamah, explaining the logic behind the consensus about not fighting women, the elderly, children, monks or traders, writes that each of these ‘are non-combatants (laysa min ahl al-qital).’7 Again, he states: ‘It is not permissible to kill a child among them, nor the insane, nor a woman, monk, elderly man, someone with a debilitating illness, and nor a blind man – except if they fight.’8

6. Thus, as has been shown, the intentional targeting and killing of civilians, which a fringe minority now seek to pass off as a bonafide jihad, is a gross departure from the classical juristic consensus and a perversion of the prophetic teachings. The wanton carnage and urban mayhem unleashed upon civilian lives, and the twisted re-readings of Islam’s scriptural sources by the current vanguards of terrorism, must continue to be denounced, repudiated and textually exposed. In unmasking terrorism (hiraba) for what it truly is, it has been aptly contended that: ‘Terrorism is to jihad what adultery is to marriage.’9 The Qur’an says: ‘What! Have you slain an innocent soul though he has killed nobody? Truly you have done a thing most foul.’ [18:73]

7. One argument extremists use to justify their acts of terror is to allege that civilians living in a democracy aren’t innocent at all. Their logic runs like this: In a democracy the government represents the will of the people, therefore civilian populations are complicit in their government’s foreign policies and are thus legitimate targets in war. This allegation is as false as it is factually distorted. What this reductionist everyone’s-guilty-in-a-democracy argument ignores or overlooks is that large swathes of citizens in a democracy may not agree with their government’s foreign policies, or even have voted them into power! So how can such citizens be complicit in their government’s actions? The anti-war demonstrations and protests against the Iraq war, for instance, which scores of millions of ordinary citizens across Western Europe and the United States rallied behind, is enough to show the fallacy of such logic. Moreover, as we shall see below, the shariah still considers such people as not being min ahl al-qital – “actual combatants”.

8. A more direct rebuttal of this twisted logic would be to look at the context in which the Prophet, peace be upon him, prohibited the killing of women, children and other civilians in war. This injunction was given when the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the early Muslims were in the midst of war with the pagan Arabs of Makkah, whose goal was no less than the extermination of Muslims. The Makkan idolators were a tightly–knit confederacy whose tribal elders would make decisions collectively at their tribal councils. The average person in such a society had far greater access to their elders and leaders and far more influence on policies than any citizen in today’s Western democracies. In fact, it was not uncommon for women (either married or related to tribal leaders, or those with social influence) to pressurise, cajole and even threaten their husbands into war with the Muslims, on pain of family disgrace and tribal ignominy, if they did not do so. During the battle of Uhud, women, led by Hind, even went out onto the battlefield to lend moral support to the aggressors. In spite of knowing all this, the Prophet, peace be upon him, still insisted: ‘Do not kill elderly men, young children, or women.’10 And when he once saw a woman that had been killed, he said: ‘This is not one who should have been fought.’11

9. Another proof used to justify the killing of civilians is a hadith in which the Prophet was asked about some of the idolators whose settlements had been attacked at night and which resulted in a few women and children being killed. This led him to say: ‘They are from them (hum minhum).’12 There are two reasons why this hadith cannot be used in this manner: Firstly, a large body of jurists consider the hadith to have been abrogated by the explicit command to ‘not kill civilians in war.’13 Secondly, jurists who do permit night raids that could result in civilian loss clearly state: ‘This is provided they [women, children and other non-combatants] are not deliberately targeted.’14 It is also interesting that a leading jurist of early Islam, as well as the actual sub-narrator of this hadith, Imam al-Zuhri, would qualify the above hadith by immediately relating the hadith which forbids killing civilians. Thus: ‘Whenever al-Zuhri related this hadith, he would say: “Ka‘b b. Malik’s son narrated to me; from his uncle … that the Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade the killing of women and children.”’15

10. Another aspect of the shari‘ah which bears on the subject, but which has also come under extremism’s aberrant re-readings, is the notion of ‘aqd al-aman – “the covenant of security”. What this implies is that  Muslims residing, for instance, in a non-Muslim land – either native born, naturalised or legal resident – are under an explicit pact or contract which renders all non-Muslim life, property and honour sacrosanct. That is, Muslim citizens of non-Muslim countries cannot engage in acts of aggression against their own state of fellow citizens. Ibn Qudamah said: ‘As for treachery towards them, this is expressly forbidden. For they only granted him security on condition that he not betray them and that they be safe from his harm. If this is not stipulated in explicit terms, it is implicitly implied. …This being so, it is unlawful for us to be treacherous to them, since this is betrayal; and our religion has no place for betrayal. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “The Muslims fulfil their contracts.”1617

11. It isn’t possible to stress enough how seriously orthodox Islam takes the obligation to honour contracts and covenants, or how unlawful it is for a Muslim who lives or resides in a land to then attack it or its citizens. What should also be appreciated is that a Muslim may even hold the following opinion with no internal contradiction with the above ten points: that America and Britain are waging wars of aggression in the Middle East; however, Muslims who are under a pledge of security may not attack their country, nor its soldiers, nor any of its citizens. One hadith has this threat of humiliation and ignominy: ‘For every person who betrays a covenant will have a flag at his back on the Day of Judgement, which will be raised according to the level of his treachery.’18 

To conclude: the chorus of condemnation from Islam’s textual sources and religious authorities, against acts of terror, must continue to ring out urgently and loudly. If we wish to be dissenting voices on any issue of domestic or foreign policy, we must find legitimate ways within the democratic process to voice such dissent.

It is to their credit that Muslim scholars, despite differences between them on a whole array of theological and legal issues, have come out so unanimously against terrorism. What we also ask of them is to continue to strive to expose and eradicate the deviant notions and assumptions that underpin it. Our governments (British and American) also have a responsibility to act. For they can drain much of the extremists’ anger by securing a fair resolution to the Palestinian problem, closing Guantanamo Bay prison, and enacting just foreign policies. It is for the Muslim scholars, however, to vanquish the twisted fiqh-cum-theology of the terrorists.

1. Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 208.

2. Al-Mughni (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-‘Alam al-Kutub, 1999), 13:11.

3. Kashshaf al-Qina‘ (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Nasr al-Hadithah, n.d.), 3:41.

4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.2614.

5. Al-Bukhari, no.3015; Muslim, no.1744.

6. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 12:43.

7. Al-Mughni, 13:178.

8. ‘Umdat al-Fiqh (Riyadh: Dar al-Mayman, 2009), 220.

9. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 5/7, at

10. Abu Dawud, no.2614.

11. Abu Dawud, no.2669; Ibn Majah, no.2842.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.3012.

13. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 6:182.

14. As per the classical Hanbali jurist, al-Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina‘, 3:47-8.

15. Cited in Fath al-Bari, 6:182. I am grateful to Muhammad Nizami for pointing out this report to me.

16. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1352.

17. Al-Mughni, 13:152.

18. Muslim, no.1738.

Golden Rule for Muslim Activists

activistsThis is a companion-piece to the post, Basic Rules for Religious Activism which may be read here.

In Islam, change isn’t sought for itself, but rather to improve an existing situation. If change does not lead to a greater good, or if it brings about a greater harm, then to bring about such change would be forbidden by Islam. The rule concerning changing the evil is that: la yu’addi ila munkar akbara minhu – ‘It must not give rise to a worse evil.’ If social or political activism is likely to result in a greater evil, or to the loss of a greater good, then what is the point of seeking change?

The hadith master, Hanbali jurist and master of the inward life, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751/1350CE), penned these words on the subject:

‘Forbidding munkar (“wrong”, “evil”, “sin”) has four levels: Firstly, it will be eliminated to be replaced by good. Secondly, it will be reduced, but not fully eradicated. Thirdly, it will be [removed but] replaced by an equivalent evil. Fourthly, it will be [removed but] replaced by a worse evil.

The first two levels are [areas where forbidding evil is] legislated; the third is an area for juristic reasoning (ijtihad); the fourth, however, is prohibitted.

Thus, if you see sinful and immoral people playing chess, for instance, then rebuking them would be a case of poor understanding and insight – unless you can turn them to pastimes that are pleasing to God and His Messenger, such as archery or horseback riding, or the like. If you see immoral people gathered for [sinful] amusements, or for listening to music – if you can coax them away from such acts to acts of obedience to God, then do so: otherwise it is best to let them be than to push them into acts which could be worse. Likewise, if you see a person preoccupied with indecent literature, or its like, and you fear deterring him from it will cause him to turn to books of religious innovation, deviation or magic, you should leave him – for the first types of books are less harmful. This is indeed a vast subject.

I heard Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah say: “During the time of the Mongols, I and a companion of mine passed by some Mongols who were drinking wine. He censured them, so I rebuked him, explaining: God has indeed forbidden wine, as it diverts from God’s remembrance and prayer. As for these people, wine diverts them from murder, enslaving people and pillaging. So let them be!”‘1

1. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002), 4:339-40.

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