Patrick Sookhdeo

Will London burn too?

Patrick Sookhdeo on the Islamic doctrine of sacred space

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has warned recently of ‘sleepwalking our way to segregation’. Although he was not speaking principally about Muslims, they have become perhaps the most dominant group in British society. Divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, Muslims are nevertheless united by their creed, their law and the powerful concept of the umma, the totality of Muslims worldwide.

The process of migrating and establishing a Muslim community in a non-Muslim context has an important place in Islamic theology. The word hijra is used to describe such a migration, in particular the migration of Mohammed and his followers in ad 622 from Mecca, where they were persecuted, to Medina where they established the first Islamic state. Eight years earlier another hijra occurred when Muslim refugees found freedom of worship in the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia.

Muslims see the establishment of a Muslim community in the UK as a contemporary hijra. But an important question concerns which 7th-century hijra they compare it to: the hijra to Abyssinia in which the Muslims became contented and loyal subjects of a Christian king, or the hijra to Medina where they seized political and military power.

While the Muslim scholar Imtiaz Ahmed Hussain has indicated that he looks to the Abyssinian model, many other Muslims seem to look to the Medinan model. A book published in 1980 by the Islamic Council of Europe gives instructions for how Muslim minorities are to work towards achieving domination of European countries through a policy of concentration in geographical areas.

The Muslim writer Amir Taheri, tackling the question of ‘Why Paris is Burning’, described how France’s policy of assimilation began to fail when (Muslim) immigrants grouped themselves in concentrated areas. The resulting alienation, says Taheri, opens the way for radical Islamists to promote religious and cultural apartheid.

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