The term British Islam has been used quite a bit in the past many months. There is no American Islam, Indian Islam or even Saudi Islam. Does religion need to have a nationality?
An organisation that is as yet nameless has been set up by the government of Britain a few days ago. The board will have 20 Islamic thinkers from academia and the community. Its purpose is to tackle terrorism and to ensure that there is no conflict between being Muslim and British. A report says, “The new British body will see Oxford and Cambridge Universities host a group of scholars to lead the debate on key British Muslim issues such as women’s rights and responsibilities and loyalty to the host country, Britain.”
Since when have women’s rights become solely “key British Muslim issues”? And how does one ensure that an organisation that is to be promoted by the government will teach loyalty and responsibility to the country without prejudice?
This is the same country that has ‘outsourced’ torture of its citizens of Muslim origin to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Labour Party lawmaker John McDonnell admitted to The Guardian, “I believe that there is now sufficient evidence to demonstrate that British officials outsourced the torture of British nationals to a Pakistani intelligence agency.”
Incidents of abductions of Muslims in Britain who are considered suspect, especially following the bomb blasts of 2005, are now coming to light.
Human rights and other such groups do talk about this being “unacceptable”. Will they raise their voices against the ridiculous government-sponsored attempts to make Islam conform to their idea of nationalism and patriotism?
Why is Islam being singled out? One of the spokespersons of the group said, “We need to encourage and create safe places for sensible debate around issues that extremists can seek to exploit and make sure that young British Muslims recognise their faith teaches shared citizenship values.”
Extremists, whether of the Islamic persuasion or of any religion and ideology, do not follow the dictates of that faith or ideology to further their agenda. And if they knew their faith then they would not need to be taught what is there. As someone rightly pointed out, this is a “transparent ploy to create a British state-sponsored Islam”.
There is cockiness in such transparency. It is almost as militant in its motives as any terrorist activity. Is this merely an attempt to ensure that a radical version of Islam does not reach these people or is it exclusionist in its intent? And what is Britain’s idea of “hate-filled teaching”? That it is designed to destroy the Western “way of life”, as has been reported.
This is extreme xenophobia. Would any westerner be in a position to define this way of life? Is it uniform throughout Europe, America? Does it refer to the English-speaking people of the world? Or is it about those societies in the West that still suffer from imperialist tendencies and unabashedly go about decimating little nations or countries that do not understand their way of life?
Of the 1.6 million British Muslims, how many do not understand what their citizenship entails? If you are teaching them about duties, then how about teaching the government and its satellite bodies about their rights? Do Muslims in the UK have the right to be Muslims without being tagged and questioned each time they wear clothes that might identify them as being part of their religion? Does a person with a Muslim name have the luxury of not being frisked a bit more?
If 600 of Britain’s 1,400 mosques run by Deoband-affiliated clerics are taking lessons from the recently issued fatwa by the same group in India, then this is one more publicity stunt. It wasn’t spontaneous. It was the brainchild of an ad man, Alyque Padamsee, who in fact heads the London-based Institute of Corporate Training. He has been quoted as saying, “Terrorists were misusing the name of Islam and the media was maligning the religion. I couldn’t understand why the Ulema were not issuing a fatwa against terrorism.”
He got hold of all the right-sounding secularists and roped in the general secretary of the Jamiat-ul Ulema-I-Hind, Maulana Mahmood Madani. The ad man and the mullah sat in the plush environs of his house. He told Madani, “…a fatwa carried weight, and created a buzz. I recalled how Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie hit the headlines. I wanted similar publicity for the anti-terrorism fatwa”.
This is utterly shameful and also ironic. People who call themselves liberals and oppose the edict against Rushdie now see in it the potential for a marketing gimmick.
All those placards carried by skull-capped Muslims (as though there aren’t any other types) saying “Islam means peace” and “Terrorism is the enemy of Islam” were the result of this exercise in creating a buzz. What is worse is that a man not known to align himself with religion got onto the bandwagon. And rather patronisingly he tutored the maulvi that, “like Martin Luther, he should talk of a dream: to stop Islam from being maligned’’.
People who are in charge of selling soap with models in bikinis under waterfalls are now telling us about how to save the fair name of Islam. This is as Occidental as it can get.
It appears to be all right for the westernised elite to play Uncle Tom and to be blindly worshipped for utterances by the Muslim ‘intelligentsia’. However, if the non-intelligentsia are blind believers of a holy book, then all hell breaks loose. And who is this group that comprises of the intelligentsia? Why do they not have anything to say for themselves? Does it not strike them as odd that they would not garner much space, forget respect, for holding the very same views as the fake liberal sympathiser?
Returning to the question of ‘British Islam’, it is so easy to exercise control given that most Muslims are located in specific areas. Why then is there the need to flaunt citizenship and loyalty issues when the government, the police force, and the judiciary wallow in callousness and corruption and can co-opt the people?
Late last year, Oldham town opened its doors to what was referred to as Britain’s first Islamic ‘pub’, the Halal Inn. The ambience is 19th century; the drinks served are juice and fizz; the music in the background is the sound of nasheeds, Islamic hymns. There is a prayer room, together with a restaurant, study room, business lounge and steam room.
This will probably warm the ale in the hearts of many a Briton: a stereotype that works within the parameters set by the system. These are the readymade slaves that the new organisation is looking for to educate about British nationalism and anti-terrorism. How precious it is to know that the man whose name today is synonymous with such fanatical activities and who made the cave so hip and 21st century a dwelling spent hours not in a halal pub but with a glass of Campari.
FARZANA VERSEY is the author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org