Michael Mumisa: How young muslims are being led astray

Channel 4 recently relaunched Shariah TV, a five-part discussion series designed to give "young Muslims the chance to discuss the dilemmas and prospects they face in secular British society, with the help of a panel of Muslim clerics". A carefully selected audience, aged 18 to 35, was drawn from university campuses and Islamic student societies, and invited to put questions to a panel of "prominent and distinguished moderate Islamic scholars and experts". The series was hailed as ground-breaking by a number of Muslim organisations, and managed to win a following among some Muslim students on UK campuses.

I was forced to stay up late to watch the series after being bombarded with e-mails from students who wanted to verify the views expressed by some of the clerics. One young woman wanted to know if she was sinning by travelling to a university in a different city as, according to one of the clerics, women are not allowed under shariah to travel alone out of their home towns. Those who do so, the cleric said, will be condemned as sinners.

A Birmingham cleric who received his training at Medina University in Saudi Arabia told a shocked audience that "Islam allows a man to beat his wife as long as he does not break bones or leave bruises". In programme three, another Saudi-trained cleric from Brixton went on to explain why and how Muslims should circumcise young girls and women: "It is necessary to cut off the clitoris and the labia otherwise a woman's sexual urges will become uncontrollable. The shariah allows it."

What was troubling was that the extremist views expressed on the series were often supported by citing verses from the Koran or statements from the Prophet. No room was allowed to debate and question such literalist understanding of the Koran. Channel 4's first blunder was to name the programme Shariah TV. This meant that both the presenter and audience demanded that the panellists provide verses to support their views. This approach placed even the moderate panellists in a situation where they had to employ the same literalist, rigid approach adopted by extremist clerics elsewhere in response to the audience's questions. For example, when Professor Mona Siddiqui answered that Islam would allow a Muslim to spy on possible terrorists for MI5, the presenter demanded that Mona support her answer with a verse. When she could not provide such evidence a member of the audience went on to cite Koran 49 verse 12: "And spy not on each other."

While the comical views expressed on Shariah TV had viewers laughing at Islam's expense, for some of us they are no laughing matter. We are seeing a dangerous trend in the way Islam is discussed in Britain. Those who have been engaged in the debate on the interpretation of Islam in 21st-century society see the approach being promoted by Shariah TV as extremely dangerous, leading, among other things, to a literalist approach to Islam. Instead of promoting a debate on how the primary source of shariah (the Koran) can be re-interpreted in contemporary Britain, Shariah TV appears to be undermining that debate.

It remains to be seen what impact the views expressed in the series will have on the Muslim students who took part, or on those who watched it from home. Most young Muslims do not ask their clerics religious questions simply to generate debate. They ask because they want guidance and, in most cases, they act according to the answers provided if they trust the cleric.

A spokesperson for Shariah TV defended the programme and claimed that the views expressed by the clerics on the panel represent the majority of opinion among Muslims in Britain. "Whenever we had moderate Muslim scholars on the panel expressing their opinions, the audience kept on booing them and on a number of occasions we had to stop filming due to disruptions from an angry audience," he explained.

By promoting a discussion based on halal (allowed) and haram (prohibited) answers, punctuated by Koranic verses, Shariah TV has become just another fatwa machine. The debate on Islam in Britain should shift from an obsession with simple black-and-white answers to a radical re-think of the method and approach adopted in producing the answers.

University students are already victims of groups that promote exclusivist and extremist interpretations of Islam on campuses. Shariah TV could play a significant role in challenging such interpretations. In that way, it will be living up to its promise of engaging with Islam from a contemporary perspective.

The writer is a Muslim theologian and visiting lecturer at the University of Birmingham

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

h2 Recruit Ltd: New Business Sales Manager - Talent Management - £60,000 OTE

£35000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A true market leader in ...

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Maths Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game