The attacks on London, Part Three: Conflict within Islam
FEAR ON THE STREETS 'Bombings have definitely divided the community'
Sunday 31 July 2005
"This is what is said by a storyteller, not by a scholar. Those storytellers should not have a place. They are dividing society," he says. When he finishes, he is exhausted.
The families listening to Dr El Banna have gathered for a three-day event called Living Islam run by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB). Set in the middle of rural Lincolnshire, far away from any of the large Muslim communities of Birmingham, London or Bradford, in some ways it feels a little detached. But alongside the kids' bouncy castles, archery and horse-riding are the talks on identity and workshops on theological issues. Tariq Ramadan, the controversial Swiss Islamic philosopher, is attending.
Malik - he doesn't give me his second name - tells me that this event "is the real face of Islam". The 36-year-old father of two from Glasgow tells me: "The Muslim community can be spiritually strong but tolerant towards everybody. It can work for justice, peace and for the community's betterment. But it should work not just for Muslims but for the whole of humanity."
Lurking in the ISB's youth wing, however, is an entirely different message. On a website for Young Muslims, or YM, are articles on jihad and calls for the boycotting of the kafir.
Also listed on their website, which caters for 11- to 18-year-olds, is an article entitled "Imam Hassan Al Banna on Jihad". It is the third article from the top.
"Jihad, beloved brother, is a powerful, invigorating yearning for Islam's might and glory, an intense, overwhelming desire for Islam's golden days, its strength and its pride, which makes you cry when looking at the weakness of Muslims today and the humiliating tragedies crushing them to death painfully everywhere," it reads. "Jihad, beloved brother, is: to turn your back on those who turn their back on their Faith, and to boycott those who openly wage war against Allah and His Messenger, so you should not have any dealings, or socialising or relationships of any kind.
"Jihad, beloved brother, is: to be a soldier for Allah, devoting your very soul and everything you own to Him; and when the might of Islam is under threat, its pride is blemished, and the bugle calls for Muslims to rise and restore to Islam its power and glory, you should be the first to answer the call, the first to join the ranks for Jihad (fighting): 'Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their wealth; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise).'"
Further to this are anti-integration articles on atheism and secularism, and listed under the current affairs section are just two articles: "Zionism: a Black Historical Record" and "Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist".
Clearly there is a contradiction between having the same organisation delivering two very different visions of Islam. So what is going on? Nadeem Malik, one of the vice presidents of ISB, explains that he hasn't seen the material on the website himself but ISB doesn't shirk from responsibility. "Young Muslims is the youth wing. Anything that is there is within the remit of ISB. I'm not going to pretend otherwise and I'm not going to justify anything that's on there," he says. "But if it is on there it's a very small part of a much bigger structure that is very much against those views." But he says within ISB that view has come about only after a long debate.
Young Muslims and ISB were merged in 1994 but since then there has been a series of long and lengthy debates that has created this contradiction in views within the organisation. In many ways it is indicative of what is happening within Britain's Muslim organisations and communities across the country.
At the heart of these debates is how British Muslims interpret the Koran. The most problematic sticking point is whether the Koran is seen as a literal document or whether there is room to see the Koran as part of a historical context.
These differences have created tensions between Muslim groups who believe in an integrationist agenda and that more vocal minority who are fundamentally opposed to Muslims living within a non-Muslim structure of law, justice and education.
For an example, take the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Though its membership is in large part made up of the professional classes - managers, academics, doctors and the like - it interprets the teachings of the Koran in a literal fashion. So while Hizb ut-Tahrir does not disagree with the process of voting, casting your vote when it is part of a political system which is dominated by non-believers or kafir is seen as religiously outlawed, or haram.
Following from this, during the recent general election, Hizb ut-Tahrir told Muslims across the country not to vote, as it was forbidden by God. This may seem crazy, but the group is thought to have a membership of 2,000 to 3,000 people. And their invocation of Islam to justify a policy of anti-integration is a powerful message, especially when left unchallenged.
Zeyno Baran, director of international security and energy programs at the Nixon Center, a US think tank, says that that the West hasn't taken these non-violent radical groups seriously enough. "The West can no longer ignore the deadly impact of Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology, which provides very simple answers to complex problems and reaches millions of Muslims through cyberspace, the distribution of leaflets, and secret teaching centres," explains Ms Baran.
"Europe will only survive as Europe if it can assimilate Muslims, but what Hizb ut-Tahrir is teaching is not assimilation and it could be really dangerous for the future of Europe."
She see Hizb ut-Tahrir as part of a "conveyor belt of terrorism" and should not be left out of the security debate. "It is time to name the war correctly: this is a war of ideologies, and terrorist acts are the tip of the iceberg."
Ariel Cohen from the Heritage Foundation agrees that the focus shouldn't just be on violent Islamist groups. He says that violence is just a strategy. What is important is that jihadist groups and non-violent Islamist groups share the same ideas. "[These ideas] are inimical to democracy and human rights and women's rights and that is the lie of Hizb ut-Tahrir," he says. "Its goals are totalitarian and the debate about violence comes at the exclusion of other things. Hizb ut-Tahrir is indoctrinating tens of thousands of Muslims, enabling the creation of an environment for armed struggle." Mr Cohen says an example of this is how Al-Muhajiroun, a violent Islamist group based in the UK, uses the same ideological literature as Hizb ut-Tahrir, a non-violent one. It becomes easier for members to switch from a non-violent group to a violent group without having to change their fundamental beliefs.
So if these groups are so dangerous and divisive to Muslim communities and society at large, why haven't more mainstream Muslim groups acted against them decisively? Naseem Malik tells me that whereas before mainstream organisations wouldn't have criticised these groups directly, things are rapidly changing. "Within ISB there was that idea that you just say what you believe and don't necessarily go around condemning others."
He explains that this partly fits in with being English, where people don't necessarily make too much of a fuss, but he also says that shying away from direct criticism derives from a tradition in Islam.
"Within Islam there is a reluctance to publicly condemn people. Historically we have an imbalance of [lack of criticism], where on the one hand you've got to speak out for what's right but on the other hand you don't want to offend people," he says.
Naseem Malik believes that 7 July was a definite wake-up call and the decision to criticise directly was made only a few days before. "I think some people felt uncomfortable even after 9/11 but after 7 July we unanimously thought we've got to do this now. We have to fight back and come out for justice even if that means naming and shaming organisational groups."
At the same time, people within ISB tell me that they don't really understand how to get their voice heard. Their part-time media officer seemed to be surprised that a newspaper might be interested in what they had to say.
Stalin once said: "Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, so why should we allow them to have ideas?" If we are to tackle what has been happening, we have to acknowledge that ideas can be as dangerous as any bomb.
Mohammed Riaz, of the Leeds Islamic Centre:
These bombers were young and angry about certain things in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they are also out of control and there is nothing any of us can do to keep them in check because they do not listen to us. The police have to give us more support and help us find a way to bring hot-headed youths under control.
Natalie Rushton, 24, from Small Heath, Birmingham, has a five-month-old daughter, Dais:
The world seems to have gone mad in the last few weeks and I don't like the fact that anybody carrying large bags is somebody I look at with suspicion. It has affected race relations but it shouldn't. You can blame a whole section of society for the actions of a few.
Nick Perren, 43, of Southgate:
The bombings have divided the community. People are wary of foreigners, not just Muslims. I notice the divisions among the young, with the different groups all hanging around with those of the same nationality. I can't see the terrorists are going to achieve anything by it. Religion is supposed to be peaceful.
Aziz Hussein, 34, runs a fish and chip shop in Tooting:
I am a Muslim but I'm British as well and I do not like to be stigmatised. London has a diverse mix of people and faiths and it should stay that way, but people who don't have a right to be here shouldn't be. We should know who we let in and who we give money to.
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