Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We British Muslims must reclaim our faith from the fanatics

'Let us ask how Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists or Jews retain their faiths without bullying the nation'
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The Independent Online

For the past few years, well intentioned Muslims have backed an annual Islam Awareness week to disseminate positive images of Muslims in this country. Like Black History Month, the aim is not to be too controversial but to inform and educate those who are wilfully or otherwise ignorant about the faith at its best and its millions of blameless followers – a PR exercise and one that was felt to be necessary because of mounting Islamaphobia.

For the past few years, well intentioned Muslims have backed an annual Islam Awareness week to disseminate positive images of Muslims in this country. Like Black History Month, the aim is not to be too controversial but to inform and educate those who are wilfully or otherwise ignorant about the faith at its best and its millions of blameless followers – a PR exercise and one that was felt to be necessary because of mounting Islamaphobia.

This week it is upon us again, but in the choppy, howling world we suddenly find ourselves in today, the original good-news agenda appears tawdry, self-deluding and inappropriate. A tea party in the trenches is not a good idea.

Polite discourse on the nobility of Islam will do nothing to stem the sickening racial prejudices that are re-emerging with a vengeance. Bigoted white Britons (of all classes) now think they have right on their side and so they crush and demean Asian Britons because brown-skinned people are all damned Pakis who support terrorism that kills their sweet American brothers and sisters.

Do-good platitudes will not discourage alarmist reports in the media, now possessed by fears of enemies within, real and imagined. Yesterday a newspaper claimed that its poll of 1,170 Muslims (the first such survey to date) showed one in 10 Muslims approved of the attacks in the US and 40 per cent backed bin Laden. We are not told precisely where this "random" sample was carried out, and there is obviously a lot of scope to prejudice results by choosing certain sampling points, and the questions were designed to entrap. But my English mother-in-law and her neighbours in Sussex will not know that, will they, as they read this paper of authority?

Those frantic suddenly to know the truths about Islam don't need this awareness week, either. My dears, you can't take a teeny step in any direction in our press these days without being accosted by learned white journalists delivering detailed sermons on the Koran (Blair and Straw are also experts on this suddenly) or on various manifestations of Islam and ever more obscure cults and charismatic leaders. Thanks to these newest of Islamic scholars, I have discovered Deobandic Islam in India that forbids the use of chairs and Sayyid Qutb, "the father of modern Islamic fundamentalism", an Egyptian whose loathing of the West was triggered by a drunk American woman who tried to seduce him on a liner in 1948. So all this is her fault then!

Or it could be Wahhabism, the uncompromising form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia and that has been successfully exported all over the world. I even learnt that, until recently, Muslims could openly (not secretly, like some do now) drink alcohol and that many traditional medicine books recommended wine. With so much information sloshing about, why waste the week on awareness-raising?

It is impossible today not to feel that a little less "Islamic awareness" would be a very good thing for those al-Morons who daily pronounce on the evil that is the West and who call upon all Muslims to fight for the Taliban, whose exemplary Islam has destroyed one half of Afghanistan's population – the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters – and incarcerated them in the world's first mobile prisons.

They didn't go to fight the Serbs when the Muslims of Kosovo and Bosnia needed all the help that they could get. No, because those European Muslims represented modernity and cosmopolitanism, not the barbarism that calls itself Islam and is on the ascendancy today not only in Lahore and in Kabul but also in Bradford and in Birmingham.

We British Muslims, with all our diversities and conflicts, are more in crisis today than ever. The fanatics have taken over the asylum, and quiet moderation may no longer be enough to reclaim the faith. Time now for the brave among us to say that we do not wish to be united with the extremists just because they are Muslims. Name them please, the mullahs in mosques, the Muslim and non-Muslim local and national politicians who have in part created the monstrous men we see on the streets who want the Taliban in Westminster.

Let us reflect, too, on how this crisis is affecting other visible groups and, indeed, ask how Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Bahais and Jehovah's Witnesses manage to retain their faiths without bullying this nation? They too face discrimination and fear assimilation. But they see themselves as part of a Western democracy, not against it and against everyone else.

In recent years, too many young British Muslims have rejected anti-racist groups and other communities in the name of their superior Islam. They write to me mostly to tell me that I identify too much with Asians or blacks. True. My Islamic identity is above all humanistic. This is the message that Islam Awareness week could usefully try and impart to the too many xenophobic Muslims we have around us today.

We might also begin more open discussions about the forced marriages (a new government report this Tuesday will show how many of these are found mostly among British Muslims), drugs and degeneracy that are destroying Muslim family life. Women and men are running away because they cannot surrender their free will to cruel authoritarian elders.

This awareness week needs also to launch more media rebuttal networks – we already have some very good ones that are making an impact. We must imprint on the national consciousness the complex views held by moderate Western Muslims about the war. Most want the bombings stopped immediately because we are killing innocents who have suffered enough. They abhor bin Laden and extremists and those (whoever they are, because I am not sure I know) responsible for the carnage in the US.

They do not trust the US government to do what is right and resent the rhetoric of Western political leaders, which implies that American lives are infinitely more valuable (so we must remember them and evoke them in our hearts) than all those Afghans we are killing and than those Iraqis who are now abandoning their babies because they cannot bear to watch them die for lack of medicines and other basics. Such a radical agenda would make the awareness week make sense. Otherwise I can't see the point.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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