There’s an Islamic school in Birmingham which is very highly regarded. It’s called Darul Uloom — the same name as the school in Chislehurst which was recently the subject of an arson attack. In fact, that’s how I stumbled across it. Anyway, Darul Uloom in Birmingham is a good school not only academically, but also for the emphasis it puts upon neighbourliness, integration, and decent and friendly dealings with non-Muslims. In short it is a model school of its kind; it will surely not turn out furious jihadis, will it? The school encourages multi-faith dialogue, it urges upon its pupils the need to treat all members of the community with respect. Why does it do this? The school explains by means of a quotation on its website. It’s a story about Maalik Bin Dinaar, an early follower of Muhammad:
Once Maalik Bin Dinaar rented a room next to the home of a Jew. His room was adjacent to the entrance of the Jew’s home. The Jew spitefully always deposited garbage and filth in Maalik’s entrance. Even his musalla (prayer place) would at times be soiled. This treatment continued for a long period, but Maalik Bin Dinaar never complained.
One day the Jew came and said: ‘Does the garbage I deposit in front of your room not distress you?’
Maalik: ‘It does distress me, but I wash and clean the place.’
Jew: ‘Why do you tolerate so much distress?’
Maalik: ‘Allah has promised substantial reward for those who contain their anger and forgive people.’
Jew: ‘Truly, your Deen (religion) is beautiful. It commands toleration of even the hardships presented by enemies.’
The Jew was so affected by the beautiful conduct of Maalik Bin Dinaar that he embraced Islam.
So, there we are — even spiteful, filthy, enemy Jews can be redeemed.
We have attempted to placate ourselves, following the savage murder of Drummer Rigby, by deploying a dichotomy: Islam (and ordinary Muslims) versus this thing ‘Islamism’. Islam is a noble and peaceable faith which we must all respect, whereas Islamism is a corrosive and aggressive political ideology, and the two — weirdly — have nothing to do with one another. This is a patent nonsense, a delusion, and while it may work as a form of crowd control, it will not help us win this battle. It is indisputable that the vast majority of British Muslims were as disgusted by the events in Woolwich as the rest of us were — although I suspect a markedly smaller proportion would have been properly disgusted in, say, Gaza or Isfahan or Riyadh or Karachi. That, however, is not the point. The problem is that so-called ‘Islamism’ is already half-formed within the tenets, the texts, the ideas of Islam; within the ideology of how it sees other people, those who are not Muslims, and what one should do with them.
It is the dehumanising of others which is its most marked characteristic, even when the texts are trying to be, uh, kindly. Take the case of a familiar Muslim commentator, Mehdi Hasan. He is left-liberal, impeccably PC. He denounces violence committed in the name of Islam and he has — rather bravely — picked away at the latent (and not so latent) anti-Semitism within the Muslim world. He was recorded a few years back delivering a speech in which he referred to unbelievers — kuffars — as ‘unintelligent’ and ‘cattle’. He was quoting from the Koran. These comments caused a small storm of protest. It is true that the majority of his speech was an attack upon Muslim ‘extremism’, but nonetheless, ‘unintelligent’ and ‘like cattle’ is a verdict from which he did not dissent, even if he perhaps thinks that some of us are quite nice cattle. But it is not difficult to see how one progresses from a view that certain people — Christians, atheists, Jews — are subhuman to having rather less qualms about blowing them up or hacking them to death.
I do not understand why we are so desperate to exculpate an ideology which, at the very least, lends itself too easily to a messianic authoritarianism and viciousness. There may be much in Islam which is agreeable — a respect for the elderly, a commitment to charity, a certain high seriousness, self-discipline and so on — but many of its tenets are simply antithetical to much that we believe in and cherish.
Previously we attempted to circumvent criticising Islam by making another false dichotomy between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’. This didn’t work, either. You might remember the protests which occurred when the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, invited the Muslim cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi to address some ghastly conference in the city. This caused a furore: the man supports female circumcision, Hamas, death to apostates, suicide bombings and so on. Livingstone replied no, you’ve got him wrong, al Qaradawi is a moderate. So who was right? Both. He is regarded as a moderate within the Islamic world. He’s even said nice things, on occasion, about Jews. On the issue of women he is almost a liberationist — he believes they should be beaten, yes, but not with a stick. And he thinks it’s OK for them to become suicide bombers despite the fact that in order to blow people up they might need to remove their hijabs and thus be guilty of immodesty.
We make these distinctions to avoid giving offence and to urge quiescence upon the atheists and Christians and Jews — the cattle. But in the end it does not help us to do so: we are evading the point.