The area that I grew up in is relatively quiet and peaceful. The smell of the countryside lets you know that spring has arrived every year. There isn’t too much in the way of problems. It is a wonderfully mixed community of people from all different backgrounds and lifestyles. Two churches dominate the skyline, and a Mosque sits not too far from the town’s supermarkets. The faith communities have long enjoyed good relations and interfaith dialogue, and so it was surprising news to hear this morning that two students from the area have reportedly fled to join the Islamic State.
The BBC & Leicester Mercury reported this morning that two brothers; Ibrahim and Mohamed Ageed had fled from their studies in Northern Africa, to join IS militants in Iraq & Syria. The Mosque in Oadby told Radio Leicester that the brothers had absolutely not been radicalised at the Mosque, and must have been targeted for radicalisation whilst studying in Africa. Whilst I’m sure this is the case, given the interfaith dialogue promoted by the Oadby Mosque in recent times, I’m a little bit concerned about the language used on the Oadby Mosque website and what it is they’re actually promoting and romanticising.
Firstly, it’s important to note the direction of the narrative. On its ‘history’ page, the Mosque states:
“Despite tabloid press reports, Islam is a peaceful and harmonious religion. It strives for community cohesion, and peaceful coexistence.”
– As with everything in life, we must not take the assertion at face value, and we must seek to understand the specific interpretation of Islam perpetuated by this particular Mosque before we can either agree or disagree that their interpretation of their religion is indeed ‘harmonious‘ and ‘peaceful‘.
Whenever the media is entirely blamed for presenting a negative view of a belief – be it political or religious – it almost always becomes apparent that defensiveness over illiberal views are at the heart of the complaint. In this case, the Mosque’s website has a section entitled Learning About Islam. They have specifically chosen an introduction by Ahmad H. Sakr PhD to explain the fundamentals of Islam. There are several sections to this that worry me somewhat. For example:
“Allah is the name of the One and Only God. Allah has ninety-nine beautiful names, such as: The Gracious, The Merciful, The Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, The All-Wise, The Lord of the Universe, The First, The Last, and others.
He is the Creator of all human beings. He is the God for the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the atheists, and others. Muslims worship God whose name is Allah. They put their trust in Him and they seek His help and His guidance.”
– If we note that beyond the impersonal deist conception of a God, the theist conception of a God is simply the name we give to a group of – often obscure – ideas and laws derived from the moral context of the time period in which it was conceived, we imply by this that all of those listed in the above paragraph – including atheists – are to be considered subject to those ideas and laws, without actually checking with us first. They’ve already presumed a right to chain me to their beliefs, from birth. Liberty is thus extinguished before it has even begun. The idea of the God of one religion, being the God of all of us – including me, as an atheist – necessarily leads to the idea that justice is for me to be subjected to the rules of that religion. The Mosque in Oadby believe that Islam is to be considered inherently, and unquestioningly privileged. They do not first prove to those of us they wish to see subjected to those rules, that their God exists, they simply take it as a given. It is the building block of religious supremacism and oppression. And on that note, they continue:
“Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life. As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, state and religion are under the obedience of Allah through the teachings of Islam. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems are also part of the teachings of Islam.”
– The first two sentences of this paragraph are perfectly compatible with a modern, secular, liberal, democratic framework under the rule of law. The right to believe according to one’s conscience, is a fundamental right. But the next sentences build horribly on the previous paragraph that set up the idea that we are all to be considered the creation of the God of Islam. I certainly wont be told that it is the media presenting the faith in a negative light, at the same time as reading that Islam is not to be separated from the state. And so let us be clear; when put together, the two paragraphs are vastly anti-secular, and driven entirely by religious supremacy. For the state to be ‘under the obedience of Allah‘ implies that all who live in the state – whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, apostates, atheist, heterosexual, homosexual, male, female – must be subject to the rules of one religious belief rather than secular, democratic law under which we are all to be treated as equal citizens.
The Mosque in Oadby is actively promoting religious supremacism. They do not consider Islam to be a personal system of religious belief and spirituality alone, but a political ideology in which we are all encompassed within its jurisdiction, whether we believe or not. Far from discouraging the idea of a Caliphate – by definition, illiberal, and anti-secular – they do not distinguish between Islam as a faith, and Islam as a political system of control, they actively promote the latter. They could have focused entirely on the spiritual, individual element, the right to free interpretation and inner peace and mindfulness, instead they romanticise and promote the joining of religion to every institution of state, and presume ownership of the lives of the rest of us.
Community outreach is a great achievement by the Oadby Mosque. They are not withdrawing into a segregated community, as Mosques elsewhere have done previously. They should be praised and respected for that. They are active in Diwali and Christmas celebrations, they promote community cohesion, they became a polling station in 2014, and they have regular community days. But their outward display of community, is contradicted by their promotion of a religious-supremacist state.
The pro-Caliphate narrative – neither ‘peaceful‘ nor ‘harmonious‘ – must be challenged (note; this does not mean banned). Not just by we secular liberals who must point out its inherent oppressive character at every opportunity, but also by leading institutions of Islamic learning if Islam is to come out of this soul-searching period as compatible with the forward march of liberty across the World. It is not simply negative press reports that give Islam a negative connotation, but also the promotion of a romanticised Caliphate. This is the basis of the extreme narrative clung to by Islamists like Ibrahim and Mohamed Ageed. Illiberal ideas are illiberal ideas whether cloaked in a Qur’an, a Confederate flag, an EDL chant, or any other form. For leading institutions to be promoting the idea of a religious-supremacist state that controls the lives of everyone, by the dictates of their single faith, is a very dangerous premise upon which to base a religious place of learning in the 21st Century, and should not go unchallenged or unquestioningly respected, especially as they reach out to children.
It should be no shock that if you perpetuate the myth of the heavenly Caliphate, some impressionable minds seek it out.