Quilliam, the anti-extremist think tank, claims that Islam is compatible with religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy. Many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, would be sceptical of that view, believing that the Islamic scriptures and tradition do not support it, or come anywhere near to supporting it.
Let us examine whether the Islamic texts, which Quilliam director Usama Hasan quotes, do actually support his claims or not.
This is an article written shortly after the Woolwich murder:
1. “The universal verses of the Koran (eg 49:13, “O humanity! We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes so that you may know each other: the most honoured of you with God are those most God-conscious: truly, God is Knowing, Wise”) promote full human equality and leave no place for slavery, misogyny, xenophobia or racism.”
Firstly, although the Koran does use the word “Ilah” meaning “deity” the word used in this verse is not “Ilah” but “Allah”. Why does Dr Hasan substitute the word “God”? Surely to give the impression of a religious universalism which is not there. “The most honoured of you with Allah are those most Allah-conscious” reads quite differently doesn’t it?
Secondly, the next verse says:
“The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
In other words the various tribes and nations are accepted, as long as they submit to the one true religion. Viewing verse 49:13 in its immediate textual context we find no “full human equality”, only equality between Muslims.
Lastly, the verse quoted is entirely silent on “slavery, misogyny, xenophobia and racism”. If Dr Hasan has other “universal verses” in mind he should bring them forward for inspection.
2. “However, other Koranic verses that may seem to accommodate slavery, discrimination against non-Muslims and women and even wife-beating (eg 4:34) were clearly specific for their time and always meant as temporary measures in a process of liberation.”
[Sura 4:34 Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.]
“Seem to accommodate”? “Clearly specific for their time”? “Temporary measures in a process of liberation”? No, Dr Hasan, none of that is clear. In fact, just the opposite. Mohammed insisted that all the teachings of the Koran are the eternal, unchangeable word of Allah, and that is how they have been taken by orthodox Muslims down the ages until today.
3. “The Koranic notion of Jihad is essentially about the sacred and physical-spiritual nature of life’s struggles, as summed up by “strive in God”, a verse revealed in the pacifist period of Islam before war was permitted.”
It is a pity Dr Hasan does not specify the relevant verse so we can inspect it in context. A search of the Koran reveals no such phrase as “strive in Allah”, only several instances of “strive hard in Allah’s way” which obviously has very different connotations. Try it for youself:
(As an aside, while you’re there, why not try typing in “unbelievers” to see what Allah plans for your future, and how his views on religious freedom and equality appear to differ from Dr Hasan’s.)
As it is we only have Dr Hasan’s word for it that Jihad is essentially about the sacred and physical-spiritual nature of life’s struggles. The vast majority of scholars have seen it simply as the spread of Islam by holy war. Just to take one example of many:
Ibn Taymiyyah, mediaeval theologian:
“Since lawful warfare is essentially Jihad and since its aim is that religion is entirely for Allah and the word of Allah is uppermost, therefore, according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought”.
4. “Socio-political Jihads are needed to achieve the goals of noble causes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that may be seen as an extension of the themes of equality contained in the Prophet Muhammad’s farewell sermon.”
That is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the way, which the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, representing 57 states, has been trying its best to emasculate for the last twenty years.
These are the themes of equality Dr Hasan must be referring to:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”
But according to WikiIslam, usually a reliable source on Islamic matters, that section is fraudulent (about half way down the page):
And even if it were genuine, the last three sentences give the game away – equality in Islam is between Muslims only.
This is a video in which Dr Hasan proposes that Islam can co-exist with secularism, democracy and religious pluralism (he gets into his stride after 7 minutes):
On secularism Dr Hasan quotes Ibn Khaldun, the mediaeval scholar, who made much of a story that Mohammed gave some farming advice to his followers. When the crop failed Mohammed admitted that perhaps they might know best in practical matters. Hardly “Render unto Caesar…etc” but on the basis of this Dr Hasan sees Mohammed, the theocratic ruler till he died, sanctioning the splitting of religious and temporal power.
On religious pluralism he quotes the old favourite “There is no compulsion in religion”. Is there not? We know that when he became powerful enough Mohammed certainly did compel neighbouring tribes and kingdoms to convert, that is to say “encouraged” them with offers they could not refuse. For instance here is Mohammed writing to King Jaifer of Oman and his brother Abd Al-Jalandi:
“…Embrace Islam. Allah has sent me as a Prophet to all His creatures in order that I may instil fear of Allah in the hearts of His disobedient creatures so that there may be left no excuse for those who deny Allah. If you two accept Islam, you will remain in command of your country; but if you refuse my Call, you’ve got to remember that all your possessions are perishable. My horsemen will appropriate your land, and my Prophethood will assume preponderance over your kingship.” (The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet)
And here is Ibn Khaldun again, this time on religious pluralism:
“In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force”.
At the end of his talk Dr Hasan says “We have to allow people to adopt their own faith. We have to allow religious freedom, there is no other option…I believe in the validity of all major religions…I believe there are many paths to God.”
A very laudable tolerance on Dr Hasan’s part but this is absolutely not the view of Allah as expressed in many verses of the Koran, for instance:
Sura 48:28 “He it is Who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion. And Allah sufficeth as a Witness.”
Not only does Islamic tradition support this explicit supremacism but the authoritative manual of Shafi’i jurisprudence “The Reliance of the Traveller” actually declares it apostasy “to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be the religion followed by the entire world.” (section o8.20)
Are Dr Hasan’s justifications not remarkably weak? Who will be convinced by them? Surely not the Muslims who chased him out of his own mosque with death threats for talking about evolution. Nor the Jihadis decamping for Syria, leaving behind the family members to tell us they never knew they were extreme. Nor those of us without a scholar’s knowledge but with eyes to read. But possibly those desperate to be reassured, like our political leaders intent on believing that the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists.
And yet, oddly enough, the very feebleness of Dr Hasan’s arguments could be taken as a sign of genuineness. They are hardly the clever double talk of Tariq Ramadan or the quick fire patter of Mehdi Hasan. Those of a charitable disposition could well believe that it is not Dr Hasan’s intention to lull non-Muslims while the hardliners strengthen their position in the country, even though that must surely be the likely effect of his efforts. He is certainly a brave and, apparently, a decent man. Could it be that he is sincere but clutching at straws in the hope that Islam can be induced to change into something it has never shown any inclination to be throughout its history?
If so, then hope must be the operative word here, rather than expectation or even belief. In the end are Dr Hasan’s entreaties not of a piece with his Quilliam partner Maajid Nawaz’s plea to the audience of an “Is Islam a religion of peace” debate, “Please vote for the motion, even if you don’t believe Islam is a religion of peace, in order to encourage it to become so”? (right at the end):