Now here’s a news story to inflame the prejudice of internet Islamophobes... No wait, I’m a practising Muslim and this gets my blood boiling too; a string of videos under the name ‘Muslim Patrol’ recently surfaced on YouTube, showing Muslim vigilantes on night patrols in London streets. In an attempt to rid our streets of the perceived evils of democracy and secularism, one video (which has since been taken down) shows a disoriented, young man, harassed by the Sharia squad and cowed into giving alcohol as the reason for his sorry state.
Others show a non-Muslim couple warned from coming too near to Whitechapel’s East London Mosque and a woman hustled away from a ‘Muslim area’ because her attire contravened Islamic dress codes. In the words of one of the culprits, this was an example of “vigilantes implementing Islam upon your own necks”. Another clip, (posted some months ago and, it should be noted, apparently by an English Defence League member) features a group of Muslims on a prostitution purge. One man in a warden uniform tries to apprehend a female passerby, calling her a whore after a brief altercation.
Britain is already one of the most spied upon nations on earth, and this culture of surveillance is now being parroted by one of its most infamous imports: Muslim demagogues. I doubt the Government ever had this in mind; a Muslim street army of crime-stoppers monitoring public spaces. Forget the "Big Brother" state, if these videos are anything to go by, the EDL's much-ridiculed warnings of #CreepingSharia begin to look prescient.
Except, contrary to the fevered fantasies of racists, these kinds of activities are limited to to a few oddballs in the British Muslim community; roughly the same proportion as the white Christians who follow the teachings of the EDL. Anjem Choudary, former spokesman of the radical Islamist group Islam4UK, is the only prominent muslim who has called for the UK-wide implementation of Sharia law. In my experience, far from advocating Sharia squads, most ordinary mosque-goers would be sickened at the sight of co-religionists pontificating about morals to non-Muslims. A very insightful response to these antics came from Islam Channel’s Sheikh Shams Ad-Duha, who made good use of the pulpit by reminding his audience of the degrees of freedom granted to non-Muslims under Sharia law.
However rare these incidents may be, if ordinary Britons are becoming casualties of this kind of morality police, surely it’s the duty of civic-minded Muslims to protect their neighbourhoods from all the clerical bullying? Like the men in the videos, there are millions of Britons, religious and otherwise, who are concerned about the moral decline of our society, from the epidemic of binge drinking, to the sexual exploitation of women and other disturbing trends, but that’s no justification for the ‘faithful’ to sanctimoniously harass ordinary citizens going about their daily business. The sight of co-religionists pamphleteering, forcefully 'chaperoning' others to safety and importing Mutaween-like lynch mob tactics is something that makes me and like-minded Muslims cringe. The notion that non-Muslims are bound by a particular set of moral commitments or otherwise risk drawing flak from Sharia squad busy bodies is as offensive as it is absurd.
I also can’t help but think that there is another, unintended casualty of this misguided anti-obscenity drive: Sharia itself. The Sharia - that is the rich legal corpus that enshrines the principles of fair trial and due process in civil and criminal proceedings - might raise some difficult questions about its application, but it is by no means the brainchild of barmy puritans, prying on indecencies whilst claiming to serve the public interest. From the cradle of civilisation that was Mesopotamia, to Andalusia-Muslim Spain, the archives of history includes numerous examples of how the implementation of Sharia on a state-level could nurture an oasis of science and cultural florescence, that was later inherited by European Renaissance traditions.
Populist tropes reduce this highly sophisticated legal system to the antics of misguided Muslims, masquerading as security guards and there’s no way of giving these crackpots any appearance of sophistication, but we don’t help the situation by kindling misinformation about a legal system which brought civilisation to many societies in the past.