Tag Archives: Tahir-ul-Qadri

Islamism or Islam?

We all heard our leaders say after the Woolwich murder:

“There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act” (David Cameron)
“It is completely wrong to blame this killing on Islam” (Boris Johnson)
“…the distortion of a great salvation religion” (Nick Clegg).
Before them Tony Blair said “Anyone who knows anything about Islam, knows it is a religion of peace”.

Were you surprised that they all had the theological knowledge to make such definitive claims? Did you wonder what their justifications were? They never told us.

Boris Johnson’s case is particularly interesting because he appears to have had something of a Damascene conversion. After the 7/7 bombings in 2005 he said:

“To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture – to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques – it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers….That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem”

In 2008, while campaigning in the London mayoral election, he said he now believed, after having researched the Koran more in depth, that it is “a religion of peace”.

What did he find in the Koran that changed his mind? Sadly, he did not share that with us. Until he gives us chapter and verse, that is sura and ayah, we may suspect that his epiphany came not so much from reading the Koran as from realising the importance of the Muslim vote in London.

After the Woolwich murder Johnson wrote that:

“There is no sense in blaming Islam, a religion that gives consolation and enrichment to the lives of hundreds of millions of peaceful people…we need to make a hard and sharp distinction between that religion – and the virus of “Islamism”.

So there we have it – Islam is the otherwise healthy organism afflicted by an illness, Islamism, which has to be treated. I am grateful to Boris for making the establishment view so clear with his image.

This division is also at the heart of government policy. In December 2013 Her Majesty’s Government produced a report called Tackling extremism in the UK.

It says “As the greatest risk to our security comes from Al Qa’ida and like-minded groups, and terrorist ideologies draw on and make use of extremist ideas, we believe it is also necessary to define the ideology of Islamist extremism. This is a distinct ideology which should not be confused with traditional religious practice. It is an ideology which is based on a distorted interpretation of Islam, which betrays Islam’s peaceful principles, and draws on the teachings of the likes of Sayyid Qutb.”

(As an aside, if Sayyid Qutb is the evil genius behind all this, why is the organisation which reflects his ideology like no other, the Muslim Brotherhood, welcome in Britain? The MB has a record of engaging in terrorist violence or political infiltration according to circumstance, as do its offshoots for instance Hamas in Gaza (the former) and CAIR in the US and myriad organisations in Britain (the latter) and yet it operates openly from an office in Cricklewood. Conversely, if the MB is acceptable why is their great ideologue held up as the inspiration of our enemies?)

One intriguing development is referred to in the report:

“Appropriately recruited Muslim Prison Chaplains are already employed to challenge the extremist views of prisoners and to provide religious direction for Muslim prisoners. Using their experience, they are developing the ‘Ibaana’ [ie “clarify”] programme designed to target the small number of prisoners with the most entrenched extremist views. One-to-one sessions over several hours with a trained chaplain will be used to challenge the theological arguments used by these prisoners to justify their extremist views.”

There is of course the possibility that state backed theologians will just be dismissed by Muslim prisoners as “Uncle Toms” trying to create suitably docile Muslims.

But let us take a more positive view. If our leaders cannot provide the theological justifications for a peaceful Islam perhaps these appropriately recruited chaplains can. Whatever they are telling their charges, let them write it down so we can all see it and have our minds put at rest. I for one would be massively grateful for such justifications because whenever I go looking for them I find either comically blatant deception as in Tahir-ul-Qadri’s famous fatwah against terrorism or what could charitably be called wishul thinking as in Quilliam’s arguments.

No such document being planned? No, I thought not, but if HMG really think their Muslim chaplains can provide sound arguments to counter jihadi attacks against us then surely it has a duty to get them out into the world.

If you want to explore the intellectual underpinnings of the government’s stance then Michael Gove’s excellent book Celcius 7/7 would be a good place to start. It is heartening to know there is someone in the government with such an understanding of the Islamist threat and who is (or was) willing to speak out about it. Nevertheless, it seems to me that his attempt to separate Islamism from Islam does not hold water. He asserts that:

“The distinction is the difference between Islam, the great historic faith which has brought spiritual nourishment to millions, and Islamism, the specifically twentieth-century ideology which twists the religious impulse into submission to a new totalitarianism.”

and

“Islamism is not Islam in arms; it is a political creed that perverts Islam…”

but look at some of his supporting statements (I hope not misrepresented by taking them out of their context):

“…Islamism is driven by a divine mission to ensure that the whole earth, in due course, learns to submit to Islamist rule.”

“For Hassan al-Banna and his followers in the Muslim Brotherhood the roots of decline lay in the abandonment of a pure and unpolluted Islam. Revival could only come through a return to a society ordered on the basis of the literal, and unalterable, truths of the Koran.”

“His [ie Abul ala Mawdudi’s] group, Jamaat-i-Islami [closely related to the MB], was dedicated to the fundamental Islamist proposition that Islam was not so much a religion for private devotion as the source of a complete political system capable of competing with rival totalitarianisms for the minds of men.”

“…Mawdudi’s belief that ultimate sovereignty rested with God alone. It was by his unalterable rules and in accordance with his perfect revelation that society was to be ordered. Down to the last detail.”

Where is the specifically twentieth-century ideology there? I see nothing that could not be described simply as a return to Mohammed’s original religio-political ideology. Surely we must agree that Mohammed’s Islam, as developed in Medina at least, was not just “a religion for private devotion” but absolutely a complete political system.

Then, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, there are the Salafis and the Khomeiniites and Al-Qaeda. Is that one ideology or four? Quite different from each other, they share only one thing – the intent to spread Islam using peaceful or violent means as necessary. It seems to me that these four groupings do not represent a new totalitarian ideology but are simply new varieties of an old one. That is why I would reverse Mr Gove’s statement:

“Islamism is not a political creed that perverts Islam, it is simply Islam in arms.”

I hesitate to challenge Mr Gove’s view but I do have some scholarship on my side. Here is the historian Mervyn Hiskett writing twenty years ago when the terms “Islamism” and “Islamic fundamentalism” were used interchangeably:

“But the truth is, Islamic “fundamentalism”, as the world has understood it…adds little, if anything, to what has always been inherent in Islam since the Koran was revealed. The collapse of [Western European] imperialism and the rise of the liberal ethic have simply removed the barriers that once so salubriously contained it.”

One problem is that the groups we call Islamist are not so obliging as to refer to themselves as such. They see themselves simply as Muslims carrying out instructions laid down in Mohammed’s teachings, and supported by all four of the Sunni schools of jurisprudence and the Shiite equivalent. Look at these expressed views of Muslim scholars among others.

Can you tell the Islamists from the mainstream? For instance, what about the modern Syrian scholar Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Bouti in his major work “Jurisprudence in Muhammad’s Biography”:

“The concept of Holy War (Jihad) in Islam does not take into consideration whether defensive or an offensive war. Its goal is the exaltation of the Word of Allah and the construction of Islamic society and the establishment of Allah’s Kingdom on Earth regardless of the means. The means would be offensive warfare. In this case, it is the apex, the noblest Holy War.”

In fact he would not be considered an Islamist, yet see how exactly he chimes with Osama bin Laden:

“It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.”

The views of al-Bouti, “the scholar’s scholar”, are particularly interesting, even ironic, since he reverses our current ideas about the distortion of Islam. Expanding on his theme of offensive jihad he writes:

“…This is the concept which professional experts of thought attempt to conceal from the eyes of Muslims by claiming that anything that is related to a holy war in Islamic law is only based on defensive warfare to repel an attack…It is no secret that the reason behind this deception is the great fear which dominates foreign countries (East and West alike) that the idea of Holy War for the cause of God would be revived in the hearts of Muslims, then certainly, the collapse of European culture will be accomplished.”

Perhaps our Muslim chaplains will hear him quoted in their conversations with the Islamist prisoners.

It is not that I deny that there is a distinction to be made between Islam and Islamism but I suggest that it is of very limited use. Islamism just refers to those strains of Islam whose adherents are willing to use violence to spread the influence of their religion. That sounds just like the Mohammed of Medina to me. I do not see any distortion of his teachings there at all. In fact I venture to suggest that if Mohammed came back today he would say “Well done boys, keep up the good work”. Presumably he meant it for all time (and this is how Islamic tradition has understood it down the ages) when he said:

“Not equal are those believers remaining [at home] – other than the disabled – and the mujahideen, [who strive and fight] in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred the mujahideen through their wealth and their lives over those who remain [behind], by degrees. And to both Allah has promised the best [reward]. But Allah has preferred the mujahideen over those who remain [behind] with a great reward” (sura 4:95).

So was Mohammed an Islamist or just a Muslim? The historian Daniel Pipes calls this the killer question of those who see Islam itself as the problem and answers it in a worryingly facile way. He says “Muhammad was a plain Muslim, not an Islamist, for the latter concept dates back only to the 1920s”.

Is this not just playing with words? If you put the question another way, “Who in the modern world most closely follow Mohammed’s Medina teachings and example?” surely the Islamists come out tops. Why shouldn’t they be murderous fanatics? That is exactly what Mohammed was. If they are Islamists then so was Mohammed. If Mohammed was just a Muslim then so are they.

Suppose there was an Islamic version of the rapture tomorrow and all those Muslims commonly referred to as Islamists were taken to paradise. Would that solve our problems? According to HMG it must. The ideology which is a distortion or a betrayal of Islam would have disappeared, leaving only peaceful Muslims to live harmoniously with non-believers according to their traditional religious practice. I suggest that before too long some Muslims would start to scratch their heads and say “Hey, look what it says here. Why aren’t we doing it?” Then new groups would spring up with sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, just as has always happened since the 7th century (apart from a relatively short spell of containment under European colonialism).

This is why I say that, while Islam and Islamism can be distinguished, the relationship between them is not that of an organism and an infection but more accurately that of a fire and the flames that it inevitably produces. If you doused the flames currently burning up so much of the world they would soon be replaced by others.

Is it not patronising and futile to imagine we can convince aspiring jihadis that they have misunderstood Mohammed’s demands? It appears obvious to most newcomers to Islam, as it does to so many learned scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim, that supremacism and jihad are utterly inherent in the Islam of Mohammed, not just of Sayyid Qutb. Instead of trying to convince jihadis that they have it all wrong should we not accord them the dignity of regarding them genuinely as our enemy?

Let us close with a quote, taken from a comments section of the Guardian, from an unknown Salafi with whom I would not try to argue:

“As for how I define myself, I am merely a Muslim. If I have to expand on that further then I am also a Sunni. If I need to expand on that even further then I am a Salafi too. I don’t give credence to labels that are thrown around by the infidels. I believe that as a Muslim one should understand the religion by the apparent (i.e. literal) meaning of the texts which would no doubt render me a ‘devout Fundamentalist’. Thus I also believe in the concept of jihad which would also render me a ‘Jihadist’. The usage of these titles is a major bugbear of mine because there is no such thing as a fundamentalist or moderate Islam. There is simply Islam and Muslims may choose to be sincere and accept it in its entirety or on the other hand pick and choose from it to please their desires and others.”

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Deceptiveness – Tahir-ul-Qadri

In 2010 Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri produced a 500 page fatwa condemning all terrorism as unIslamic, “no ifs or buts”. It was welcomed by anyone wishing to believe that Islam is a religion of peace and has been used by “moderate” Muslims such as Mo Ansar and Mehdi Hasan to back up their claim that it is so.

Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch wondered why there was no attempt in it to explain why the so called terror verses do not mean what they appear to mean.

It turned out that there was no need because Tahir-ul-Qadri was working from his own translation of the Koran in which he simply interpolated comments magically taking the sting out of the verses by making them always defensive, for instance this is the standard Pickthall translation of 9:29:

Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.

and here is Qadri’s version:

(O Muslims!) Wage (also a defensive) war against those of the People of the Book (who infringed the peace treaty signed with you, and despite being in exile, provided full support to the disbelieving Meccan invaders who imposed the battle of al-Ahzab [the Confederates] on Medina, and have continued every possible conspiracy against you even now). They do not have faith in Allah and the Last Day, and do not consider unlawful the things Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) have declared unlawful, and do not adopt the true Din ([Religion] of Islam) until they give in and surrender (to the command of Islam), and pay the capitation tax with their own hands after having been subdued.

Who is this sleight of hand going to fool? Not the jihadis who know their Koran, that’s for sure, but possibly naive Westerners merely hearing Ansar’s and Hasan’s assertions. But what of those two themselves, are they in on the joke or are they themselves innocently deceived? Now that Tahir-ul-Qadri has been rumbled will they stop citing his fatwa? We’ll see.

Deceptiveness – Mehdi Hasan

I’ve never taken to Mehdi Hasan. He talks too fast, making one specious point after another and moving on before you can spot the flaw, relying on the tongue being quicker than the mind. Also the fact that I’ve heard him come out with everyone’s favourite doctored quote “…he who kills a soul… etc” doesn’t endear him to me. Nor that he can still use the wretched term “Islamophobia” with a straight face.

However, when someone used the clip of him at the Oxford Union debate in support of their positive view of Islam I thought I’d take the trouble to slow him down with the pause button in order to examine his claims:

1. “A Muslim mathemetician called Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi came up with algebra and algorithms”.

Irrelevant and overstated. Although the word “algebra” came from one of al-Khwarizmi’s innovative mathematical procedures and the word “algorithm” is taken from his name, he did not come up with them. In both cases he was working from pre-existing works by Indians or Greeks.

2. “Although I wrote about anti-semitic prejudice in the Muslim community modern anti-semitism comes from the Judaeo-Christian tradition”.

Well, a lot of it does but he does not mention that the intense, even demented, anti-semitism in the Muslim world today has been incubating quite independently from Christianity ever since the Jewish tribes rejected Mohammed as a prophet. He was cursing the Jews on his death bed and today Muslims refer to them five times a day in their prayers as “those who earned your anger”.

The following hadith has been incorporated as part of the Hamas charter:

“The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews”. (Sahih Muslim 41:6985)

3. “The journalist Tom Friedman told me if Islam were running Europe in the 1940’s there would be 6 million more Jews alive today”.

What a fantastically silly thing to say (if my aunt had….well, you know the rest), particularly since Muhammad Amin al-Husayni the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem spent most of the war in Berlin enthusiastically supporting the Nazis’ final solution and recruiting Muslims to fight in the Waffen SS.

In 1944, while speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husseini said “Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion”.

4. “Atheists see all religions as evil, violent and threatening”.

Firstly, is it not comical when people who complain that Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc happily do the same to other religious or anti-religious groupings?

Secondly, how could anyone at all, atheist or religious, who knows about Jainism, Buddhism or the actual teachings of Jesus or Mohammed accept the equal malignancy of all religions? As a comparison Mohammed ordered stonings, Jesus said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”.

5. “Crusades, Inquisition, Lord’s Resistance Army, pogroms etc”.

Why do Muslims always hark back to the Crusades as an unforgivable aggression against Muslim lands and which the West is meant to feel guilty for? They were a pin prick compared to the Muslim crusade a few hundred years before which expropriated Christian lands from Palestine to Spain.

And, as for the LRA (and Leviticus, another favourite of Islamic apologists), is it not significant how far from the teachings of Jesus the practitioners of this particular false equivalence have to go to find anything resembling the actual words and deeds of Mohammed?

6. “113 out of the 114 suras of the Koran start by introducing Allah as a god of mercy and compassion”.

So what? I start all my letters “Dear…”, usually to people who are not dear to me at all. It’s the content that counts and we all know what is in most of the suras.

Just as an example, this is how one unremarkable sura (111) continues after introducing Allah as a god of mercy and compassion:
“May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he.
His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained.
He will [enter to] burn in a Fire of [blazing] flame
And his wife [as well] – the carrier of firewood.
Around her neck is a rope of [twisted] fiber…”.

7. “Islam is not pacifist but only allows military action in certain limited contexts”.

Unfortunately Mehdi does not detail these certain limited contexts or give scriptural justification, not surprisingly since it is a hotly contested area. Let us just say that:

a. There are suras which appear to require only that the neighbouring people are unbelievers to attract the Muslims’ violent attentions.

b. The renowned scholar Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Bouti (assassinated Damascus 2013) seems to have drawn a different conclusion from Mehdi:

“The concept of Holy War (Jihad) in Islam does not take into consideration whether defensive or an offensive war. Its goal is the exaltation of the Word of Allah and the construction of Islamic society and the establishment of Allah’s Kingdom on Earth regardless of the means. The means would be offensive warfare. In this case, it is the apex, the noblest Holy War. It is legal to carry on a Holy War.” (“Jurisprudence in Muhammad’s Biography”)

c. In the later part of his career when he had the military strength Mohammed certainly invaded neighbouring tribes and kingdoms simply to convert or subjugate them.

Here is Mohammed writing to the Christians of Aylah in Northern Arabia:
“I will not fight against you until I have written thus unto you. Believe, or else pay tribute. And be obedient unto the Lord and his Prophet….Come then, before trouble reach you. I commend my messengers to you. Give to Harmala three measures of barley; and indeed Harmala hath interceded for you. As for me, if it were not for the Lord and for this [intercession of Harmala], I would not have sent any message at all unto you, until ye had seen the army. But now, if ye obey my messengers, God will be your protector, and Mahomet, and whosoever belongeth unto him”.
(Sir William Muir “The Life of Mahomet”)

d. His successors did likewise, presumably under the impression that they were following Mohammed’s intentions, conquering every kingdom or empire from Spain to the borders of India within 120 years of Mohammed’s death. Either that or it was the most spectacular and sustained campaign of self defence in history.

8. “Suicide bombings and terrorist acts are done for political not religious reasons”.

Mehdi has half a point here but Islamic terrorism is conducted not for political or religious reasons alone but for political and religious reasons together. In Islam, unlike all other major religions, politics and religion are inextricably intertwined. That is why terrorists, such as the Woolwich butchers, quoted both Koranic verses and political grievances.

9. “Shaykh Tahir-ul-Qadri published a 600 page fatwa condemning the killing of all innocents and all suicide bombings unconditionally without any ifs or buts”.

Not even the odd if or but? You might wonder how he dealt with the so called terror verses of the Koran. It turns out that he did not have to because he was working from his own translation which renders every violent act defensive with the addition of helpful comments. Just like that….for instance:

Sura 9:123 “O believers! Fight against those of the disbelievers who are around you (i.e., who are directly involved in hostilities and terrorist activities against you). And (fight in a way and at a time that) they find in you toughness (of might, valour and defensive capability). And bear in mind that Allah is with those who guard themselves against evil.”

Helpful, no doubt, to those desperate to believe in the religion of peace or to those wishing to encourage them, but would it convince your everyday jihadi?

10. “Where is the book of Sharia law? It doesn’t exist. People argue over what Sharia law is.”

It is hard to know what point Mehdi is making here. Is it that because there is no one unchanging statute book that there is nothing to worry about? You might as well say that because Islam is fractured into many sects that it presents no problem to the non-Muslim world.

According to Robert Spencer “Sharia in reality is marked by a remarkable uniformity: the four Sunni schools of Islamic law agree on about 75% of all rulings. Whenever and wherever we see Sharia implemented, it looks essentially the same. Changes and variations come in when Sharia provisions are relaxed or dropped altogether, as in secular Turkey — but that is not some different version of Sharia, it is no Sharia at all”.

11. “If a tiny minority of Muslims are committing acts of terrorism why aren’t the rest of us doing it?”

a. Because there is no need. Jihad (the struggle to promote Islam) comes in many forms other than violence, such as contributing to charities which help terrorists or by spreading the influence of Islam through proselytising, lawfare and endless demanding and complaining (note the Arab saying “Show a victim’s face and you will take over”).

As Ibn Khaldun the mediaeval historian said:
“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“.

b. Not everyone follows their religion closely or is neccesarily aware of their obligations, especially as many Muslims merely recite the Koran in Arabic, a foreign language to the majority. Sadly, the more seriously a believer takes Islam the greater the likelihood of violent jihad. How often do we hear of a terrorist that he was becoming more devout in the preceding months, such as this British Jihadi fighting in Syria:

“It wasn’t taught to me that Islam is peace and there’s no fighting.
It is peace but it requires fighting.
The duty of a Muslim is to love jihad.
One of the sayings of the prophet peace be upon him whoever does not go jihad or doesn’t even talk about it dies with the characteristic of of hypocrisy.
I am actually a Muslim following the way I should be.”