A few basics
o ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’ [to God]
o The rules for submission are contained [amidst much else] in the Koran
o The Koran (‘Recital’) is regarded as having been authored by God and then dictated by the archangel Gabriel to
Mohammed, in a cave – over quite a long period of time
o This was done in the 7th century AD
o Islam is regarded by Muslims as the same religion as that handed down to Abraham by God. They believe that they have
returned to the one true faith, which had been lost sight of by Jews and Christians
o Mecca is regarded as the place where Abraham built a shrine to the one true God
o Muslims accept the Scriptures as an embodiment of God’s teaching and they also regard Jewish prophets as men of the
true faith. They see Jesus in the same way but regard the suggestion that God had a son (or can be divided into 3)
as vile heresy
o Muslims call Jews and Christians ‘People of the Book’ but believe that they have lost their way. The Koran is particularly
critical of Jews for having betrayed their status as the first People of the Book and the guardians of the true faith.
o Apart from criticising Jews and Christians, the Koran also attacks pagan Arabs. All are portrayed constantly as enemies
o There is no doubt that Muslims are urged to fight all non-believers but there is some evidence that this should only be if
they are attacked first and that innocent people should never be killed. Of course, it is always possible to have
a wide definition of ‘attacked’ and a narrow one of ‘innocent’
o The ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ are Faith (belief in the one true God), Prayer, Alms-giving (charity), Fasting and, if
possible, pilgrimage to Mecca
EXTRACTS FROM THE KORAN
I have arranged selected references under various headings. Of course, I am no Islamic scholar so leave interpretation to the reader.
This is no invented tale but a confirmation of previous Scriptures, an explanation of all things, a guide and a blessing to true believers
Aggression; War; Death in the cause of Allah
When you meet the Unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads and, when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly. Then grant them their freedom or take ransom from them, until War shall lay down her armour
As for those slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise he has made known to them
He that fights for Allah’s cause fights for himself. Allah does not need His creatures’ help.
Those that fight for Our cause We will surely guide to Our own paths
Do not make friends with those who are enemies of Mine and yours. It may well be that Allah will put good will between you and those with whom you have hitherto been at odds. Allah is mighty. He is forgiving and merciful.
Allah does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on your religion nor driven you from your homes. Allah loves the equitable. But He forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your religion and driven you from your homes or abetted others to do so.
It shall be no offence for the blind, the lame and the sick and those lacking the means to contribute to the war to say behind.
He that turns and flees shall be sternly punished
If the Unbelievers join battle with you, they shall be put to flight
Mohammed is Allah’s apostle. Those that follow Him are ruthless to the Unbelievers but merciful to one another
Believers, when you encounter the armies of the infidels do not turn your backs on them in flight. If anyone turns his back, Hell shall be his home
Make war on the Unbelievers until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religions reigns supreme
Muster against them all the men at your disposal so that you may strike terror into the enemies of Allah. It they incline to peace, make peace with them
Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and pay the alms-tax, let them go their way
Allah has purchased of the faithful their lives and worldly goods and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for his cause, slay and be slain. such is the true pledge He has made in the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran
It is not right that all the faithful should go to war at once. A band from each community should stay behind to instruct themselves in religion and admonish their men whey they return
Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them.
Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors. Kill them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Fight against them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme
Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it
Make war on the Unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them
Fight against those who have broken their oaths and conspired to banish the apostle [Mohammed]. They were the first to attack you. Make war on them: Allah will chastise them through you and humble them. He will grant you victory over them and heal the spirit of the faithful.
They will not cease to fight until they force you to renounce the faith – if they are able
Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His apostle have forbidden and do not embrace the true faith
It is He who sent forth his apostle with guidance and the true faith to make it triumphant over all religions
If you do not fight He will punish you sternly and replace you by other men. Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your persons.
Jews & Christians
Those who say ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son’ preach a monstrous falsehood
They scheme against you but I, too, scheme against them. Therefore, bear with the unbelievers and let them be awhile
It is time for Believers to submit to Allah’s warning and to the truth He has revealed so that they may not be like those who were given the Scriptures before this , whose days were prolonged but whose hearts were hardened. Many of them are evil-doers
Let the People of the Book know that they have no control over the gifts of Allah; that these gifts are in His hands alone and that He vouchsafes them to whom He will. Allah’s bounty is infinite.
Those that disbelieve and debar others from Allah’s path and in the end die Unbelievers shall not be shown forgiveness by Allah. Therefore, do not falter or sue for peace when you have gained the upper hand. Allah is on your side.
We gave the Scriptures to the Israelites and bestowed on them wisdom and prophethood. We provided them with good things and exalted them above the nations. We gave them plain commandments: yet it was not till knowledge had been vouchsafed to them that they disagreed among themselves from evil motives. On the Day of Resurrection your Lord Himself will judge their differences
We gave the Scriptures to Moses but his people disagreed about them
Jesus was no more than a mortal whom We favoured and made an example to the Israelites. He said ‘Allah is your Lord and my Lord. Serve Him’. Yet the factions disagreed among themselves
If they are resolved to ruin you, We are resolved to ruin them.
These men are Unbelievers. Bear with them and wish them peace. They shall before long know their error.
Allah misleads none except the evil-doers who break His covenant after accepting it and divide what He has bidden to be united and commit evil in the land.
Those who dispute the revelations of Allah turn away from the right path. Those who have denied the Scriptures and the message with which We have sent Our apostles shall know the truth hereafter
Be courteous when you argue with the People of the Book, except with those among them who do evil. Say ‘We believe in what is revealed to us and what was revealed to you. Our God and your God is one. To Him we surrender ourselves’
We will surely punish the schismatics , who have broken up their scriptures into separate parts
Had Allah not decreed exile for them He would surely have punished them in this world. But in the world to come they shall be punished in Hell-fire because they have set themselves against Allah and his apostle [Mohammed].
Those who have befriended a people [the Jews] with whom Allah is angry belong neither to you nor to them. They knowingly swear to falsehoods. Allah has prepared for them a grievous scourge.
They sell Allah’s revelations for trifling gain and debar others from His path. Evil is what they do. They break faith with the Believers and set at nought all ties of [Semitic?] kindred. Such are the transgressors
Children of Israel, remember the favours I have bestowed on you. Keep your covenant and I will be true to Mine. Revere Me. Have faith in My revelations, which confirm your Scriptures and do not be the first to deny them. Fear Me and do not sell My revelations for a paltry price. do not confound truth with falsehood, nor knowingly hide the truth. Attend to your prayers, pay the alms-tax and worship with the worshippers. Would you enjoin righteousness on others and forget it yourselves? Yet you read the Scriptures. Have you no sense? Remember that I have bestowed favours upon you and exalted you above the nations. Guard yourselves against the day when every soul will stand alone; when neither intercession nor ransom shall be accepted from it, nor any help be given it
Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabaeans – whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear nor regret
We made a covenant with you [the Israelites] and raised the Mount above you. Yet after that you turned away and but for Allah’s grace and mercy would surely have been among the lost
There are ignorant men among them [presumably the ones who disagreed with Mohammed], who - ignorant of the Scriptures – know of nothing except lies and vague fancies. Woe to those who write the Scriptures with their own hands
When it is said to them ‘Believe in what Allah has revealed,’ they reply, ‘We believe in what has been revealed to us’ but they deny what has been revealed since, although it is the truth, corroborating their own scriptures
They declare : None but the Jews and Christians shall be admitted to Paradise.’ Such are their wishful fancies
You will please neither the Christians nor the Jews unless you follow their faith.
Who but a foolish man would renounce the faith of Abraham? We believe in the faith of Abraham who submitted himself to the Lord of Creation. He was no idolater.
There shall be no compulsion in religion. True guidance is now distinct from error.
Consider those to whom a proportion of the S were given. They believe in idols and false gods and say of the infidels: ‘These are better guided than the believers’. On these A has laid His curse. He who is cursed by A has none to help him
Men & Women
Believers, you have an enemy in your wives and children: beware of them. But if you overlook their offences and forgive and pardon them, then know that Allah is forgiving and merciful. Your wealth and children are but a temptation. Let neither your riches nor your children beguile you of Allah’s remembrance
[Several times in the Koran, reference is made to the pagan belief that Allah has daughters who should be worshipped, e. g. the sun and the moon. This heresy is dealt with each time along the following lines:-] Is He to have daughters and you sons? This is indeed an unfair distinction! …..When the birth of a daughter is announced to one of them his face darkens and he is filled with gloom. Would they ascribe to Allah females who adorn themselves with trinkets and are powerless in disputation? ……..Would he chose daughters instead of sons? What has come over you that you would judge so ill?
Creator of the heavens and the earth, He has given you wives from among yourselves to multiply you , and cattle male and female
The adulterer and adulteress shall each be given one hundred lashes. Let no pity for them cause you to disobey Allah, and let their punishment be witnessed by a number of Believers
Those that defame honourable women and cannot produce four witnesses shall be given eighty lashes. No testimony of theirs shall be admissible for they are great transgressors – except those that afterwards repent and mend their ways.
If a man accuses his wife but has no witnesses except himself, he shall swear four times by Allah that his charge is true, calling down upon himself the curse of Scriptures if he is lying. But if his wife swears four times by Allah that his charge is false and calls down His curse upon herself if it be true, she shall receive no punishment
Let those who cannot afford to marry live in continence until Allah enriches them.
It is legitimate for true Believers to wed the wives of their adopted sons if they divorced them
[Specifically for Mohammed] We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave-girls whom Allah has given you as booty [There follows a long list of relatives]. This privilege is yours alone. You may put off any of your wives you please and take to your bed any of them you please. Nor is it unlawful for you to receive any of those you have temporarily set aside. That is more proper, so they may be contented and not vexed, and may all be pleased with what you give them
You shall not wed pagan women nor idolaters unless they embrace the faith
Women are your fields; go, then, into your fields as you please.
Those that renounce their wives on oath must wait four months. Divorced women must wait, keeping themselves away from men, three menstrual cycles. It is unlawful for them to hide what He has created in their wombs, in which case their husbands would do well to take them back, should they desire reconciliation.
Women shall have rights similar to those exercised against them, although men have a status above women
[Revocable] Divorce may be pronounced twice and then a woman must be retained in honour or allowed to go with kindness. It is unlawful for husbands to take from the anything they have given them, unless both fear that they may not be able to keep within the bounds set by A.; in which case it shall be no offence for either of them if the wife ransom herself
These are the bounds set by A. If a man divorces his wife [pronouncing 3 times ‘I divorce thee’] he cannot remarry her until she has married another man and been divorced by him.
When you have renounced your wives and they have reached the end of their waiting period, either retain them in honour or let them go with kindness.
Mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years if the father wishes. They must be maintained and clothed in a reasonable manner by the father. A mother should not be allowed to suffer on account of her child, nor should a father. If , by mutual consent, they choose to wean a child, they shall incur no guilt. Nor shall it be an offence if you prefer to have a nurse for you children.
Widows shall wait, keeping themselves apart from men, for four months and ten days after their husbands’ death. It shall be no offence for you to openly propose marriage to such women or to cherish them in your hearts. Do not arrange to meet them in secret and, if you do, speak to them honourably. But you shall not consummate the marriage before the end of the waiting period
It shall be no offence to divorce your wives before the marriage is consummated or the dowry settled. Provide for them with fairness.
You shall bequeath your widow a year’s maintenance, without causing them to leave their homes. Reasonable provision should also be made for divorced women
Give orphans the property which belongs to them. Do not cheat them. If you fear that you cannot treat orphans [girls] with fairness, then you may marry other women who seem good to you; tow, three or four of them. But if you fear that you cannot maintain equality among them, marry only one or any slave-girls you may own. This will make it easier for you to avoid injustice.
Give women their dowry as a free gift
Men shall have a share in what their parents and kinsmen leave. Women also.
A male shall inherit twice as much as a female. [There then follows detailed instructions for inheritance within families]
If any of your women commit fornication, call in four witnessed against them; if they testify to their guilt, confine them to their houses till death overtakes them or till A finds another way for them.
If tow men among you commit indecency punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be.
It is unlawful for you to inherit the women of your deceased kinsmen against their will or to bar them from re-marrying
If you wish to divorce a woman in order to wed another, do not take from her the dowry which you have given her even if it be a talent of gold.
Henceforth you shall not marry the women who were married to your fathers. This was an evil practice.
You are forbidden to marry you mothers, your daughter, your sisters, your aunts, the daughters of your brothers and sisters, the mothers of your wives, your stepdaughters born of the wives with whom you have lain and the wives of your sons. Henceforth you are forbidden to marry two sisters at the same time. You are also forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves. All other women are lawful to you, provided that you seek them with your wealth in modest conduct, not in fornication.
If anyone cannot afford to marry a free believer, let him marry a slave-girl who is a believer
Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then, if they obey you, take no further action against them
If you fear a breach between a man and his wife, appoint an arbiter from his people and another from hers. If they wish to be reconciled, A will bring them together again
Those that do evil shall be rewarded with evil but those that have faith and do good works – both men and women – shall enter the gardens of Paradise and receive blessings without number
True Believers are those who have faith in Allah and his apostle [Mohammed] and never doubt; and who fight for His cause with their wealth and persons. Such are those whose faith is true
Give glory to Allah morning and evening. Praise Him to the heavens and the earth, at twilight and at noon.
Recite your prayers at sunset, at nightfall, and at dawn. Pray during the night well.
Pray neither with a loud voice nor in silence, but seek between these extremes a middle course
Be steadfast in prayer. Prayer fends away indecency and evil. But your foremost duty is to remember Allah.
Dress well when you attend your mosques. Eat and drink but avid excess
Pray to you Lord with humility and in secret
Do not approach your prayers when you are drunk but wait until you can grasp the meaning of your words.; nor when you are polluted – unless you are travelling – until you have washed yourselves. If you are ill and cannot wash yourself or if you have had intercourse with women while travelling and can find no water, take some clean sand and rub your faces and hands with it
Believers, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you; Fast a certain number of days
It is now lawful for you to lie with your wives on the night of the fast. Eat and drink until you can tell a white thread from a black thread in the light of the coming dawn. Then resume your fast until nightfall and do not approach them but stay at your prayers in the mosques
Alms-giving; Charity; Good deeds
Wealth and children are the ornaments of this life but deeds of lasting merit are better rewarded by your Lord and hold for you a greater hope of salvation
Love your kindred. He that does a good deed shall be repaid many times over.
Give to the near of kin their due, and also to the destitute and to the wayfarers. Do not squander your substance wastefully
Alms shall be used only for the advancement of Allah’s cause, for the ransom of captives and debtors, and for distribution among the poor, the destitute, the wayfarers, those that are employed in collecting alms and those that are converted to the faith
The righteous man is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, in the angels and the Scriptures and the prophets; who gives his wealth to his kinsfolk, to the orphans, to the needy, to the wayfarers and the beggars and for the redemption of captives; who attends to his prayers and pays the alms-tax; who is true to his promises and steadfast in trial and adversity and in times of war
Show kindness to your parents and your kindred, to the orphans and the needy, to your near and distant neighbours, to your fellow travellers, to the wayfarers, and to the slaves whom you own. Allah does not love arrogant and boastful men, who are themselves niggardly and enjoin others to be niggardly too; who conceal the riches which Allah has bestowed on them; and who spend their wealth for the sake of ostentation, believing neither in llah nor in the Last Day.
The Faithful will dwell with bashful virgins whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before. Virgins as fair as corals and rubies. There shall be gardens of darkest green. Allah gushing fountain will flow in each. Each will be planted with fruit trees, the palm and the pomegranate. In each there shall be virgins chaste and fair. Dark-eyed virgins sheltered in their tents whom neither man nor jinnee will have touched before. They shall recline on green cushions and rich carpets.
They shall dwell in the gardens of Eden, with rivers rolling at their feet. Reclining there upon soft couches, they shall be decked with bracelets of gold and arrayed in garments of fine green silk and rich brocade.
Those that have faith and do good works shall be rewarded with gardens watered by running streams
He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens watered by running streams. He will lodge you in pleasant mansions in the gardens of Eden.
They shall recline on jewelled couches face to face and there shall wait on them immortal youths with bowls and ewers and a cup of purest wine (that will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason); with fruits of their own choice and flesh of fowls that they relish. And theirs shall be the dark-eyed houris, chaste as hidden pearls; a guerdon for their deeds.
They shall recline on couches raised on high in the shade of thornless sidrahs and clusters of talh; amidst gushing waters and abundant fruits, unforbidden, never-ending.
In fair gardens the righteous will dwell in bliss. Fruits We shall give them and such meats as they desire. They will pass from hand to hand a cup inspiring no idle talk, no sinful urge; and there shall wiat on them young boys of their own as fair as virgin pearls
There shall flow in it rivers of unpolluted water, and rivers of milk for ever fresh; rivers of delectable wine and rivers of clearest honey.
Eternal are its fruits and eternal are its shades
The righteous shall dwell in peace together amidst gardens and fountains, arrayed in rich silks and fine brocade. We shall wed them to dark-eyed houris. Secure against all ills, they shall call for every kind of fruit and, having died once, they shall die no more
Their drink shall neither dull their senses nor befuddle them and by their side shall site bashful, dark-eyed virgins, as chaste as the sheltered eggs of ostriches
They will be decked with pearls and bracelets of gold and arrayed in robes of silk. They shall know no toil, no weariness.
[There are numerous descriptions of this place and the various torments inflicted on those who have not followed the true path. They resemble those of Christian teaching]
Allah has forbidden you the flesh of beasts that die a natural death, blood and pig’s meat; also any flesh consecrated in the name of any but Allah. But whoever is constrained to eat of it without intending to be a rebel or transgressor will find Allah forgiving and merciful.
We have forbidden the Jews the foods We have already enumerated. We never wronged them. They wronged themselves.
Endure with fortitude and forgive. This a duty incumbent on all
Requite evil with good and he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend. But none will attain this save those who endure with fortitude
Keep faith with Allah
Do not break your pledge
Join together what He has bidden to be united
Fear the Lord and dread the terrors of Judgement Day
Attend to your prayers
Give alms in private and in public; Pay the alms tax
Ward off evil with good
Believe in Allah and put your trust in Him
Avoid gross sins and indecencies
When angered, be willing to forgive
Obey your Lord
Conduct your affairs by mutual consent
Bestow in alms a part which We have given you
When oppressed seek to redress your wrongs. Those who avenge themselves when wronged incur no guilt. But great is the guilt of those who oppress their fellow men and conduct themselves with wickedness and injustice.
Believe firmly in the life to come
Be steadfast in prayer, enjoin justice and forbid evil. Endure with fortitude whatever befalls you.
Surrender to Allah and lead a righteous life
As for those that disbelieve, let their unbelief not vex you
That which you seek to increase by usury will not be blessed by Allah
Show kindness to your parents. If either or both of them attain old age in your dwelling, show them no sign of impatience, nor rebuke them, but speak to them kind words. Treat them with humility and tenderness and say, ‘Lord, be merciful to them. They nursed me when I was an infant’
Be neither extravagant nor niggardly but keep the golden mean.
Be neither miserly nor prodigal for then you should either be reproached or reduced to penury
Invoke no god besides Allah
Do not kill except for a just cause (manslaughter is forbidden). If a man is slain unjustly, his heir is entitled to satisfaction. But let him not carry his vengeance too far, for his victim will in turn be assisted and avenged
Do not kill your children for fear of want [Allah reference to the custom of killing daughters]
Do not commit adultery.
Do not bear false witness
Do not lose your dignity when listening to profane abuse
Do not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the revelations of the Lord
Men – turn your eyes away from temptation and restrain your carnal desires
Women – turn your eyes away from temptation and try to preserve your chastity. Cover your adornments (except such as are normally displayed); draw your veils over your bosoms and do not reveal your finery except to your husbands, fathers, husbands’ fathers, sons, stepsons, brothers, brothers’ sons, sisters’ sons, women servants, slave girls, male attendants lacking in natural vigour and children who have no carnal knowledge of women. Do not stamp your feet in walking so as to reveal your hidden trinkets
It shall be no offence for old spinsters who have no hope of marriage to discard their cloaks without revealing their adornments.
You shall not force your slave-girls into prostitution in order that you might make money, if they wish to preserve their chastity.
It shall be no offence for the blind, the lame and the sick to eat at your tables
When you enter a house, salute one another in the name of Allah and let your greeting be devout and kindly
Be humble in your prayers
Avoid profane talk
Give alms to the destitute
Restrain your carnal desires (except with your wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to you)
Do not transgress through lusting after other women
Be true to your trusts and promises
Never neglect your prayers
Do not interfere with the property of orphans except with the best of motives, until they reach maturity
Keep your promises
Give full measure and weigh with even scales
Do not follow what you do not know
Do not walk proudly on the earth
Let no man mock another man who may be better than him
Let no woman mock another woman who may be better than her
Do not defame one another nor call one another by nicknames
Surrender yourself to Allah and accept the true faith; be devout, sincere, patient, humble, charitable and chaste. Fast and be ever mindful of Allah
Allah enjoins justice, kindness and charity to one’s kindred and forbids indecency, wickedness and oppression
Do not break your oaths after you have sworn them. Do not take oaths with mutual deceit and break them on finding yourselves superior to others in numbers. Do not take oaths to deceive each other.
Do not barter away the covenant of a for a trifling price [This seems to be a charge laid against the Jews]
When death approaches, bequeath property equitably to parents and kindred
Do not usurp another’s property by unjust means, nor bribe with it the judges in order that you may knowingly and wrongfully deprive others of their possessions
Be charitable. Allah loves the charitable
Make the pilgrimage for Allah’s sake. If you cannot, send such offerings as you can afford and do not shave your head until the offerings have arrived
It is no offence to seek the bounty of your Lord by trading
There is great harm in both drinking and gambling, though they have some benefit for men; but their harm is greater than their benefit
Give in alms whatever you can spare
A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity followed by insult. Do not mar your almsgiving with taunts and mischief-making like those who spend their wealth for the sake of ostentation
Give in alms of the wealth you have earned and not worthless things that you would yourself only reluctantly accept
To be charitable in public is good but to give alms to the poor in private is better and will atone for some of your sins
Those that live by usury shall rise up before Allah like men whom Satan has demented by his touch. Allah has permitted trading but forbidden usury. Allah has laid his curse on usury
If you debtor is in straits, grant him a delay until he can discharge his debt; but if you waive the sum as alms, it will be better for you
When you contract a debt for a fixed period, put it in writing.
See that witnesses are present when you barter with one another. But if the bargain is concluded on the spot, it is no offence if you do not commit it to writing
Take care of orphans until they reach a marriageable age. do not squander their property before they reach this age. Let the rich guardian not touch his orphan ward’s property; and let the poor man use no more than a fair proportion for his own advantage
Do not consume your wealth among yourselves in vanity but rather trade it by mutual consent
You shall not kill one another
Do not covet the favours by which Allah has exalted some above others. Rather implore Allah to bestow His gifts on you
Having read these extracts, you may be interested in this thought-provoking article from The Spectator of 30 July 2005:-
The myth of moderate Islam
Patrick Sookhdeo, Director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity
The funeral of British suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer was held in absentia in his family’s ancestral village, near Lahore, Pakistan. Thousands of people attended, as they did again the following day when a qul ceremony was held for Tanweer. During qul, the Koran is recited to speed the deceased’s journey to paradise, though in Tanweer’s case this was hardly necessary. Being a shahid (martyr), he is deemed to have gone straight to paradise. The 22-year-old from Leeds, whose bomb at Aldgate station killed seven people, was hailed by the crowd as ‘a hero of Islam’.
Some in Britain cannot conceive that a suicide bomber could be a hero of Islam. Since 7/7 many have made statements to attempt to explain what seems to them a contradiction in terms. Since the violence cannot be denied, their only course is to argue that the connection with Islam is invalid. The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Brian Paddick, said that ‘Islam and terrorists are two words that do not go together.’ His boss, the Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, asserted that there is nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist Muslim.
But surely we should give enough respect to those who voluntarily lay down their lives to accept what they themselves say about their motives. If they say they do it in the name of Islam, we must believe them. Is it not the height of illiberalism and arrogance to deny them the right to define themselves?
On 8 July the London-based Muslim Weekly unblushingly published a lengthy opinion article by Abid Ullah Jan entitled ‘Islam, Faith and Power’. The gist of the article is that Muslims should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims, that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established throughout the world. All is supported with quotations from the Koran. It concludes with a veiled threat to Britain. The bombings the previous day were a perfect illustration of what Jan was advocating, and the editor evidently felt no need to withdraw the article or to apologise for it. His newspaper is widely read and distributed across the UK.
By far the majority of Muslims today live their lives without recourse to violence, for the Koran is like a pick-and-mix selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find verses which permit only defensive jihad, or you can find verses to justify offensive jihad.
You can even find texts which specifically command terrorism, the classic one being Q8:59-60, which urges Muslims to prepare themselves to fight non-Muslims, ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies’ (A. Yusuf Ali’s translation). Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik’s book The Quranic Concept of War is widely used by the military of various Muslim countries. Malik explains Koranic teaching on strategy: ‘In war our main objective is the opponent’s heart or soul, our main weapon of offence against this objective is the strength of our own souls, and to launch such an attack, we have to keep terror away from our own hearts.... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him.’
If you permit yourself a little judicious cutting, the range of choice in Koranic teaching is even wider. A verse one often hears quoted as part of the ‘Islam is peace’ litany allegedly runs along the lines: ‘If you kill one soul it is as if you have killed all mankind.’ But the full and unexpurgated version of Q5:32 states: ‘If anyone slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people.’ The very next verse lists a selection of savage punishments for those who fight the Muslims and create ‘mischief’ (or in some English translations ‘corruption’) in the land, punishments which include execution, crucifixion or amputation. What kind of ‘mischief in the land’ could merit such a reaction? Could it be interpreted as secularism, democracy and other non-Islamic values in a land? Could the ‘murder’ be the killing of Muslims in Iraq? Just as importantly, do the Muslims who keep quoting this verse realise what a deception they are imposing on their listeners?
It is probably true that in every faith ordinary people will pick the parts they like best and practise those, while the scholars will work out an official version. In Islam the scholars had a particularly challenging task, given the mass of contradictory texts within the Koran. To meet this challenge they developed the rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one. To elucidate further the original intention of Mohammed, they referred to traditions (hadith) recording what he himself had said and done. Sadly for the rest of the world, both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. For the peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating from Mohammed’s time in Mecca, while those which advocate war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his flight to Medina. Though jihad has a variety of meanings, including a spiritual struggle against sin, Mohammed’s own example shows clearly that he frequently interpreted jihad as literal warfare and himself ordered massacre, assassination and torture. From these sources the Islamic scholars developed a detailed theology dividing the world into two parts, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, with Muslims required to change Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam either through warfare or da’wa (mission).
So the mantra ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence, particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of war was not dominant. For today’s radical Muslims — just as for the mediaeval jurists who developed classical Islam — it would be truer to say ‘Islam is war’. One of the most radical Islamic groups in Britain, al-Ghurabaa, stated in the wake of the two London bombings, ‘Any Muslim that denies that terror is a part of Islam is kafir.’ A kafir is an unbeliever (i.e., a non-Muslim), a term of gross insult.
In the words of Mundir Badr Haloum, a liberal Muslim who lectures at a Syrian university, ‘Ignominious terrorism exists, and one cannot but acknowledge its being Islamic.’ While many individual Muslims choose to live their personal lives only by the (now abrogated) peaceable verses of the Koran, it is vain to deny the pro-war and pro-terrorism doctrines within their religion.
Could it be that the young men who committed suicide were neither on the fringes of Muslim society in Britain, nor following an eccentric and extremist interpretation of their faith, but rather that they came from the very core of the Muslim community and were motivated by a mainstream interpretation of Islam?
Muslims who migrated to the UK came initially for economic reasons, seeking employment. But over the last 50 years their communities have evolved away from assimilation with the British majority towards the creation of separate and distinct entities, mimicking the communalism of the British Raj. As a Pakistani friend of mine who lives in London said recently, ‘The British gave us all we ever asked for; why should we complain?’ British Muslims now have Sharia in areas of finance and mortgages; halal food in schools, hospitals and prisons; faith schools funded by the state; prayer rooms in every police station in London; and much more. This process has been assisted by the British government through its philosophy of multiculturalism, which has allowed some Muslims to consolidate and create a parallel society in the UK.
The Muslim community now inhabits principally the urban centres of England as well as some parts of Scotland and Wales. It forms a spine running down the centre of England from Bradford to London, with ribs extending east and west. It is said that within 10 to 15 years most British cities in these areas will have Muslim-majority populations, and will be under local Islamic political control, with the Muslim community living under Sharia.
What happens after this stage depends on which of the two main religious traditions among Pakistani-background British Muslims gains the ascendancy. The Barelwi majority believe in a slow evolution, gradually consolidating their Muslim societies, and finally achieving an Islamic state. The Deobandi minority argue for a quicker process using politics and violence to achieve the same result. Ultimately, both believe in the goal of an Islamic state in Britain where Muslims will govern their own affairs and, as the finishing touch, everyone else’s affairs as well. Islamism is now the dominant voice in contemporary Islam, and has become the seedbed of the radical movements. It is this that Sir Ian Blair has not grasped. For some time now the British government has been quoting a figure of 1.6 million for the Muslim population. Muslims themselves claim around 3 million, and this is likely to be far nearer to the truth. The growth of the Muslim community comes from their high birth-rate, primary immigration, and asylum-seekers both official and unofficial. There are also conversions to Islam.
The violence which is endemic in Muslim societies such as Pakistan is increasingly present in Britain’s Muslim community. Already we have violence by Pakistani Muslims against Kurdish Muslims, by Muslims against non-Muslims living among them (Caribbean people in the West Midlands, for example), a rapid growth in honour killings, and now suicide bombings. It is worth noting that many conflicts around the world are not internal to the Muslim community but external, as Muslims seek to gain territorial control, for example, in south Thailand, the southern Philippines, Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine. Is it possible that a conflict of this nature could occur in Britain?
Muslims must stop this self-deception. They must with honesty recognise the violence that has existed in their history in the same way that Christians have had to do, for Christianity has a very dark past. Some Muslims have, with great courage, begun to do this.
Secondly, they must look at the reinterpretation of their texts, the Koran, hadith and Sharia, and the reformation of their faith. Mundir Badr Haloum has described this as ‘exorcising’ the terrorism from Islam. Mahmud Muhammad Taha argued for a distinction to be drawn between the Meccan and the Medinan sections of the Koran. He advocated a return to peaceable Meccan Islam, which he argued is applicable to today, whereas the bellicose Medinan teachings should be consigned to history. For taking this position he was tried for apostasy, found guilty and executed by the Sudanese government in 1985. Another modernist reformer was the Pakistani Fazlur Rahman, who advocated the ‘double movement’; i.e., understanding Koranic verses in their context, their ratio legis, and then using the philosophy of the Koran to interpret that in a modern, social and moral sense. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, an Egyptian professor who argued similarly that the Koran and hadith should be interpreted according to the context in which they originated, was charged with apostasy, found guilty in June 1995 and ordered to separate from his wife.
The US-based Free Muslims Coalition, which was set up after 9/11 to promote a modern and secular version of Islam, has proposed the following:
1. A re-interpretation of Islam for the 21st century, where terrorism is not justified under any circumstances.
2. Separation of religion and state.
3. Democracy as the best form of government.
4. Secularism in all forms of political activity.
5. Equality for women.
6. Religion to be a personal relationship between the individual and his or her God, not to be forced on anyone.
This tempting vision of an Islam reformed along such lines is unlikely to be achieved except by a long and painful process of small steps. What might these be and how can we make a start? One step would be, as urged by the Prince of Wales, that every Muslim should ‘condemn these atrocities [the London bombings] and root out those among them who preach and practise such hatred and bitterness’. Universal condemnation of suicide bombers instead of acclamation as heroes would indeed be an excellent start.
Mansoor Ijaz has suggested a practical three-point action plan:
1. Forbid radical hate-filled preaching in British mosques. Deport imams who fail to comply.
2. Scrutinise British Islamic charities to identify those that fund terrorism. Prevent them receiving more than 10 per cent of their income from overseas.
3. Form community-watch groups comprising Muslim citizens to contribute useful information on fanatical Muslims to the authorities.
To this could be added Muslim acceptance of a secular society as the basis for their religious existence, an oath of allegiance to the Crown which would override their allegiance to their co-religionists overseas, and deliberate steps to move out of their ghetto-style existence both physically and psychologically.
For the government, the time has come to accept Trevor Phillips’s statement that multiculturalism is dead. We need to rediscover and affirm a common British identity. This would impinge heavily on the future development of faith schools, which should now be stopped.
Given the fate of some earlier would-be reformers, perhaps King Abdullah of Jordan or a leader of his stature might have the best chance of initiating a process of modernist reform. The day before the bombings he was presiding over a conference of senior scholars from eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and, amazingly, they issued a statement endorsing fatwas forbidding any Muslim from those eight schools to be declared an apostate. So reform is possible. The only problem with this particular action is that it may have protected Muslim leaders from being killed by dissident Muslims, but it negated a very helpful fatwa which had been issued in March by the Spanish Islamic scholars declaring Osama bin Laden an apostate. Could not the King re-convene his conference and ask them to issue a fatwa banning violence against non-Muslims also? This would extend the self-preservation of the Muslim community to the whole non-Muslim world.
Such reform — the changing of certain fairly central theological principles — will not be easy to achieve. It will be a long, hard road for Islam to get its house in order so that it can co-exist peacefully with the rest of society in the 21st century.