Islam Confused

Peace, one and all…

As most regular visitors to The Corner will know, I rarely make direct reference to current events.  This is entirely intentional.  Firstly, there are many blogs written by fellow Muslims who do that particular job better than I feel I can (Islamophobia Watch and Rolled Up Trousers, to name but two examples).  Secondly, any debate generated by such comment often degenerates into name calling and noisy argument.  I have no wish to feed the paranoia of others.

Occasionally, however, I am tempted to come out of my ‘shell’.  I recently commented on a current affairs thread at Rolled Up Trousers (regarding the MCB’s recent letter to the UK government).  The actual cut and thrust of these comments is not my concern here (follow the link above if you’re interested).  Rather, I wanted to discuss the mistaken confusion between Islam, culture and ethnicity.As the 2001 Census figures reveal, there are approximately 1.6 million Muslims in the UK.  Of this, the majority are of South Asian (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) heritage.  In other words, the vast majority of Britain’s Muslim community have close links with South Asia.  Quite naturally, therefore, South Asian understandings and interpretations of Islam predominate.  Again, quite naturally, South Asian culture (if there is such a homogeneous thing) underpins much of British Muslim culture.

Let me be quite clear and state for the record, in categorical terms, that IMHO this is not wrong.  South Asian culture has many positive values.  British Muslims of South Asian descent are (on the whole, as much as any group) decent, hardworking, law abiding and devout.  As a community, they are now an integral part of UK life and society, and I certainly value their presence (after all, my own wife’s family are from South Asia).

In contrast to what some believe, there is no necessary conflict between Islam and culture.  Islam, as a religious faith, has operated in different cultural environments from its very inception.  Not only were their distinct cultural differences between Mecca and Medina, but the earliest Muslim community was drawn from a very wide area.  The Prophet’s Companions (alayhis salatu wa-salam) came from Mecca, Medina, the lands of the Roman Empire, Sassanid Iraq and Persia, Africa and Yemen.

With the emergence of the vast Muslim state during the 6th century CE, peoples from a truly enormous range of cultures began to adopt Islam.  By 750 (approximately the date of the Abbasid revolution), Islam had spread from China to Morocco and from the Caucasus to Ethiopia.  To see this as the emergence of a monolithic culture would be quite wrong.  In point of fact, there were a myriad of Islamic cultures

A culture is ‘Islamic’ in so far as it follows the faith and principles of Islam.  Thus, in my view, we are witnessing the birth of a distinctly British Muslim culture.  IMHO, to stand any chance of survival, the British Muslim community needs to pass the test of authenticity.  This authenticity works on two distinct levels.  Firstly, we must be authentically Muslim.  That is, we have to live by the principles of our faith.  To clarify, we first need to develop our connection with God.  This, for me, is axiomatic.  To do this requires learning and practice.  There have been a number of really important developments in this area in recent years (Sunni Path is perhaps the best example).  There need to be more (and God’s help is to be sought).

Secondly, we need to be authentically British.  There is no necessary contradiction in being a British Muslim (otherwise I certainly could not exist).  Also, it should be clear that, to be a good Muslim, with a strong connection to Allah, you do not need to wear Arab clothing, nor do you need to wear Pakistani clothing.  Compliance with the Shariah is the only essential requirement.

There is a balance to be struck.  As a British Muslim, my political loyalties (quite apart from my genetic heritage) are with the UK.  That doesn’t mean I agree with our government’s foreign policy (which I certainly do not).  Rather, it means that I live in and contribute to the UK; I vote in elections, pay my taxes, insure my car and have an active interest in the England football team. 

I don’t thereby feel that I have to ‘assimilate’; my culture is already British.  I don’t drink and I don’t go to pubs (I don’t have a big problem with them, but given my beliefs, how could I justify giving brewery companies my money?); this does not make me less British, nor does drinking make me more British.  In this respect, I feel that Islam has a lot to offer wider UK society, especially with regards to the harm caused by alcohol abuse.

As a Muslim, the fate of my brothers and sisters in faith affects me deeply.  This doesn’t make me a part of a trans-national conspiracy (no more than being Jewish makes someone a Zionist).  But, it does mean that current UK government foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon affects me, on an immediate and personal level.  This isn’t blackmail, it’s simple reality. 

IMHO, Muslims do have to move beyond.  And, indeed, there is a lot of useful work going on.  However, I think that the Muslim community still has some way to go.  I’m not talking about ‘assimilation’ or ‘integration’ but rather about becoming a full contributor to UK life.  I have read a number of recent blog postings suggesting that Muslims have somehow compromised their right to remain in the UK.  This is plainly wrong.  Quite apart from being unjust, such claims are false.  Indeed, the real truth is that Islam and Muslims are now a part of British society.  Muslims want to make a contribution to this country and are doing so.  I, for one, hope that we can all begin to accept this and get on with helping our country remain the great place it is.

My apologies for the length of this post.  Whatever is right and true is from God.  Whatever is false and in error is from myself and Shaitan.

Wa akhiru da`awa an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen

Ma’as salama,
Abdur Rahman

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