Monday, August 21, 2006

If you want sharia law, you should go and live in Saudi

- Sunday Times - Times Online reported Last Tuesday, after a 90-minute meeting with John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, to discuss the challenges of extremism and foreign policy, I emerged and was immediately asked by the media whether I agreed that what British Muslims needed were Islamic holidays and sharia (Islamic law). I thought I had walked into some parallel universe.

No, the idiots even considering that are the ones in a parallel universe.
Sadly this was not a joke. These issues had apparently formed part of the discussion the day before between Prescott, Ruth Kelly, the communities minister, and a selection of “Muslim leaders”. I realised then that it wasn’t me and the media who were living in a parallel universe — although certain “Muslim leaders” might well be.

Maybe some of these “leaders” believed that cabinet ministers were being alarmist, that the terror threat posed by British extremists was exaggerated. Maybe they thought that the entire plot and threat were the “mother of all smokescreens”, a bid to divert our attention from the killing fields of Lebanon. Or maybe it was another symptom of that epidemic that is afflicting far too many Muslims: denial. Out of touch with reality, frightened to propose any real solutions for fear of “selling out”, but always keen to exact a concession — a sad but too often true caricature of some so-called Muslim leaders.

Other members of the Muslim community I am sure would have cringed as I did when listening to Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary-general of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland, who explained his demand for sharia and more holidays: “If you give us religious rights we will be in a better position to convince young people that they are being treated equally along with other citizens.” He has done much good work over the years but this is clearly not one of his better moments.
Actually it is his way of seeking to turn Britain into an Islamic nation. If he can get Sharia law in a certain part of the country, no non-Muslim will want to live there, so they will move, and the Muslim population is growing faster than the British one, so it will not be long before they are demanding to enlarge the size of the Sharia area, and this will continue until they eventually control the entire country.
Who speaks for Muslims? The government has a near impossible task but I’m sure even it realises that we need to look beyond some of the usual suspects and, crucially, to find mechanisms directly to engage with young people, where many of our challenges lie. To me the plot seemed all too real: I flew back from the United States that very week; my sister, her husband and their two kids live in New York so we all regularly shuttle to and fro. If the alleged plot had been realised we could all have been “statistics”.

As I have repeatedly said, in this world of indiscriminate terrorist bombings, where Muslims are just as likely to be the victims of terrorism as other British and US citizens, we Muslims have an equal stake in fighting extremism. Hundreds of Muslims died on 9/11 and 7/7. But more importantly, given that these acts are carried out in the name of our religion — Islam — we have a greater responsibility not merely to condemn but to confront the extremists. In addition to being the targets of terrorism, Muslims will inevitably be the targets of any backlash.

Given this context, most Muslims will perhaps feel disappointed at some of the comments of those “leaders” who went in to bat on their behalf. Of course self- indulgent bad timing is not the sole preserve of Muslim leaders: David Cameron’s gross misjudgment of the national mood in his criticisms of how the government had failed to keep us safe and secure were just as crass. Cameron’s stance, in undermining the unity required from our leaders on such occasions of national unease, played into the extremists’ hands.

So too, unfortunately, did the comments of some of the “Muslim leaders” who demanded sharia for British Muslims rather than the existing legal system. The call for special public holidays for Muslims was unnecessary, impracticable and divisive. Most employers already allow their staff to take such days out of their annual leave. And what about special holidays for Sikhs, Hindus, Jews? If we amended our laws to accommodate all such requests, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men wouldn’t be able to put our workplaces and communities back together again.

When it comes to sharia, Muhammad ibn Adam, the respected Islamic scholar, says: “It is necessary by sharia to abide by the laws of the country one lives in, regardless of the nature of the law, as long as the law doesn’t demand something that is against Islam.” It is narrated in the Koran that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “It is necessary upon a Muslim to listen to and obey the ruler, as long as one is not ordered to carry out a sin.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no 2796 & Sunan Tirmidhi).

In Britain there are no laws that force Muslims to do something against sharia and Muslims enjoy the freedom to worship and follow their religion, as do all other faiths. Compare Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, a sharia regime where women are forbidden to drive; or Turkey, a secular country where women are forbidden to wear the hijab; or Tunisia, where civil servants are forbidden to wear a beard. I believe that as a Muslim there is no better place to live than Britain.
I suspect that a lot of Muslims would prefer to live in a country like Britain, where they were free to follow their faith, but not be controlled by some country's opinion of what that faith required.
That doesn’t mean that all in the garden is rosy; often Islamophobia is palpable. But my message is: whether you are white, Asian, black, Muslim, Christian or Jew, if you don’t like where you’re living you have two choices: either you live elsewhere, or you engage in the political process, attempt to create change and ultimately respect the will of the majority.
That is a very good point.
When Lord Ahmed, the Muslim Labour peer, heard my comments — I said essentially that if Muslims wanted sharia they should go and live somewhere where they have it — he accused me of doing the BNP’s work. He is entitled to his opinion. However, a little honesty, like mine, in this whole debate might just restore trust in politicians and ease the population’s anxieties.

Since I made my remarks my office has been overwhelmed with support. I also know that some Muslims feel uncomfortable, not necessarily because they disagree but because they feel targeted.
If they stand up and speak against extremism, the British will be much less likely to target them, and if the extremists target them, then they have even more reason to point out the extremists, and get them deported.
But what I want to say to my fellow British Muslims is that in this country we enjoy freedoms, rights and privileges of which Muslims elsewhere can only dream. We should appreciate that fact and have the confidence to fulfil the obligations and responsibilities as part of our contract with our country and as dictated by sharia law.
The only place that will be better than Britain, is Paradise, because you will not have to put up with the extremists who are twisting the word of Allah. Allah has a special place for them, and they don't get 72 virgins.
Marc at Neverdock blogged He's right about the denial part as well. Muslims have to face the fact that Islam is the root of their problems. Muslims have to take ownership of their problem and reform Islam. I see none of that happening.... Malik fails to point out that in Muslim countries, all other religions are persecuted. That persecution is not being carried out by a few militants who have "hijacked" Islam. That persecution is being carried out by mainstream Muslims who have been taught, by Islam, that all other religions are to be persecuted. In the home, at school and in the Mosques, Muslims are taught to hate all other religions. Here's a long list of videos to prove it. While it's refreshing to hear some of Malik's comments, he falls way short of addressing the root cause of Muslims problems - Islam.

Brett blogged The organisers of these events should tell the truth. They should identify these events as political rallies, not dishonestly label them as "bridge building" exercises designed to foster better community relations and understanding. If they really do think they're doing anything towards achieving their stated aims, then all I can say (again) is "oh, for fuck's sake!".

OTB blogged An often heard refrain: “Moderate Muslims don’t speak out against extremism.” But they do, actually. This article from today’s edition of The Sunday Times (UK) can only be characterized as “moderate” and it’s by a Muslim who also happens to be a Member of Parliament. He’s fed up with the extremists, but also those who forget what country they are living in and the freedoms they have there. Worth reading in its entirety.

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