The funeral of British suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer was
held in absentia in his familys ancestral village, near
Lahore, Pakistan. Thousands of people attended, as they did
again the following day when a qul ceremony was held for Tanweer.
During qul, the Koran is recited to speed the deceaseds
journey to paradise, though in Tanweers case this was
hardly necessary. Being a shahid (martyr), he is deemed to
have gone straight to paradise. The 22-year-old from Leeds,
whose bomb at Aldgate station killed seven people, was hailed
by the crowd as a hero of Islam.
Some in Britain cannot conceive that a suicide bomber could
be a hero of Islam. Since 7/7 many have made statements to
attempt to explain what seems to them a contradiction in terms.
Since the violence cannot be denied, their only course is
to argue that the connection with Islam is invalid. The deputy
assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Brian Paddick,
said that Islam and terrorists are two words that do
not go together. His boss, the Commissioner Sir Ian
Blair, asserted that there is nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist
But surely we should give enough respect to those who voluntarily
lay down their lives to accept what they themselves say about
their motives. If they say they do it in the name of Islam,
we must believe them. Is it not the height of illiberalism
and arrogance to deny them the right to define themselves?
On 8 July the London-based Muslim Weekly unblushingly published
a lengthy opinion article by Abid Ullah Jan entitled Islam,
Faith and Power. The gist of the article is that Muslims
should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims,
that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic
state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established
throughout the world. All is supported with quotations from
the Koran. It concludes with a veiled threat to Britain. The
bombings the previous day were a perfect illustration of what
Jan was advocating, and the editor evidently felt no need
to withdraw the article or to apologise for it. His newspaper
is widely read and distributed across the UK.
By far the majority of Muslims today live their lives without
recourse to violence, for the Koran is like a pick-and-mix
selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses.
If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find
verses which permit only defensive jihad, or you can find
verses to justify offensive jihad.
You can even find texts which specifically command terrorism,
the classic one being Q8:59-60, which urges Muslims to prepare
themselves to fight non-Muslims, Against them make ready
your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds
of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies
(A. Yusuf Alis translation). Pakistani Brigadier S.K.
Maliks book The Quranic Concept of War is widely used
by the military of various Muslim countries. Malik explains
Koranic teaching on strategy: In war our main objective
is the opponents heart or soul, our main weapon of offence
against this objective is the strength of our own souls, and
to launch such an attack, we have to keep terror away from
our own hearts.... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies
is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition
of terror into the opponents heart is obtained, hardly
anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the
means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of
imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish
to impose on him.
If you permit yourself a little judicious cutting, the range
of choice in Koranic teaching is even wider. A verse one often
hears quoted as part of the Islam is peace litany
allegedly runs along the lines: If you kill one soul
it is as if you have killed all mankind. But the full
and unexpurgated version of Q5:32 states: If anyone
slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading
mischief in the land it would be as if he slew the
whole people. The very next verse lists a selection
of savage punishments for those who fight the Muslims and
create mischief (or in some English translations
corruption) in the land, punishments which include
execution, crucifixion or amputation. What kind of mischief
in the land could merit such a reaction? Could it be
interpreted as secularism, democracy and other non-Islamic
values in a land? Could the murder be the killing
of Muslims in Iraq? Just as importantly, do the Muslims who
keep quoting this verse realise what a deception they are
imposing on their listeners?
It is probably true that in every faith ordinary people will
pick the parts they like best and practise those, while the
scholars will work out an official version. In Islam the scholars
had a particularly challenging task, given the mass of contradictory
texts within the Koran. To meet this challenge they developed
the rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions
are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one.
To elucidate further the original intention of Mohammed, they
referred to traditions (hadith) recording what he himself
had said and done. Sadly for the rest of the world, both these
methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. For the
peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating
from Mohammeds time in Mecca, while those which advocate
war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his
flight to Medina. Though jihad has a variety of meanings,
including a spiritual struggle against sin, Mohammeds
own example shows clearly that he frequently interpreted jihad
as literal warfare and himself ordered massacre, assassination
and torture. From these sources the Islamic scholars developed
a detailed theology dividing the world into two parts, Dar
al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, with Muslims required to change
Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam either through warfare or dawa
So the mantra Islam is peace is almost 1,400 years
out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was
peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly
aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence,
particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of
war was not dominant. For todays radical Muslims
just as for the mediaeval jurists who developed classical
Islam it would be truer to say Islam is war.
One of the most radical Islamic groups in Britain, al-Ghurabaa,
stated in the wake of the two London bombings, Any Muslim
that denies that terror is a part of Islam is kafir.
A kafir is an unbeliever (i.e., a non-Muslim), a term of gross
In the words of Mundir Badr Haloum, a liberal Muslim who
lectures at a Syrian university, Ignominious terrorism
exists, and one cannot but acknowledge its being Islamic.
While many individual Muslims choose to live their personal
lives only by the (now abrogated) peaceable verses of the
Koran, it is vain to deny the pro-war and pro-terrorism doctrines
within their religion.
Could it be that the young men who committed suicide were
neither on the fringes of Muslim society in Britain, nor following
an eccentric and extremist interpretation of their faith,
but rather that they came from the very core of the Muslim
community and were motivated by a mainstream interpretation
Muslims who migrated to the UK came initially for economic
reasons, seeking employment. But over the last 50 years their
communities have evolved away from assimilation with the British
majority towards the creation of separate and distinct entities,
mimicking the communalism of the British Raj. As a Pakistani
friend of mine who lives in London said recently, The
British gave us all we ever asked for; why should we complain?
British Muslims now have Sharia in areas of finance and mortgages;
halal food in schools, hospitals and prisons; faith schools
funded by the state; prayer rooms in every police station
in London; and much more. This process has been assisted by
the British government through its philosophy of multiculturalism,
which has allowed some Muslims to consolidate and create a
parallel society in the UK.
The Muslim community now inhabits principally the urban centres
of England as well as some parts of Scotland and Wales. It
forms a spine running down the centre of England from Bradford
to London, with ribs extending east and west. It is said that
within 10 to 15 years most British cities in these areas will
have Muslim-majority populations, and will be under local
Islamic political control, with the Muslim community living
What happens after this stage depends on which of the two
main religious traditions among Pakistani-background British
Muslims gains the ascendancy. The Barelwi majority believe
in a slow evolution, gradually consolidating their Muslim
societies, and finally achieving an Islamic state. The Deobandi
minority argue for a quicker process using politics and violence
to achieve the same result. Ultimately, both believe in the
goal of an Islamic state in Britain where Muslims will govern
their own affairs and, as the finishing touch, everyone elses
affairs as well. Islamism is now the dominant voice in contemporary
Islam, and has become the seedbed of the radical movements.
It is this that Sir Ian Blair has not grasped. For some time
now the British government has been quoting a figure of 1.6
million for the Muslim population. Muslims themselves claim
around 3 million, and this is likely to be far nearer to the
truth. The growth of the Muslim community comes from their
high birth-rate, primary immigration, and asylum-seekers both
official and unofficial. There are also conversions to Islam.
The violence which is endemic in Muslim societies such as
Pakistan is increasingly present in Britains Muslim
community. Already we have violence by Pakistani Muslims against
Kurdish Muslims, by Muslims against non-Muslims living among
them (Caribbean people in the West Midlands, for example),
a rapid growth in honour killings, and now suicide bombings.
It is worth noting that many conflicts around the world are
not internal to the Muslim community but external, as Muslims
seek to gain territorial control, for example, in south Thailand,
the southern Philippines, Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine.
Is it possible that a conflict of this nature could occur
Muslims must stop this self-deception. They must with honesty
recognise the violence that has existed in their history in
the same way that Christians have had to do, for Christianity
has a very dark past. Some Muslims have, with great courage,
begun to do this.
Secondly, they must look at the reinterpretation of their
texts, the Koran, hadith and Sharia, and the reformation of
their faith. Mundir Badr Haloum has described this as exorcising
the terrorism from Islam. Mahmud Muhammad Taha argued for
a distinction to be drawn between the Meccan and the Medinan
sections of the Koran. He advocated a return to peaceable
Meccan Islam, which he argued is applicable to today, whereas
the bellicose Medinan teachings should be consigned to history.
For taking this position he was tried for apostasy, found
guilty and executed by the Sudanese government in 1985. Another
modernist reformer was the Pakistani Fazlur Rahman, who advocated
the double movement; i.e., understanding Koranic
verses in their context, their ratio legis, and then using
the philosophy of the Koran to interpret that in a modern,
social and moral sense. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, an Egyptian professor
who argued similarly that the Koran and hadith should be interpreted
according to the context in which they originated, was charged
with apostasy, found guilty in June 1995 and ordered to separate
from his wife.
The US-based Free Muslims Coalition, which was set up after
9/11 to promote a modern and secular version of Islam, has
proposed the following:
1. A re-interpretation of Islam for the 21st century, where
terrorism is not justified under any circumstances.
2. Separation of religion and state.
3. Democracy as the best form of government.
4. Secularism in all forms of political activity.
5. Equality for women.
6. Religion to be a personal relationship between the individual
and his or her God, not to be forced on anyone.
This tempting vision of an Islam reformed along such lines
is unlikely to be achieved except by a long and painful process
of small steps. What might these be and how can we make a
start? One step would be, as urged by the Prince of Wales,
that every Muslim should condemn these atrocities [the
London bombings] and root out those among them who preach
and practise such hatred and bitterness. Universal condemnation
of suicide bombers instead of acclamation as heroes would
indeed be an excellent start.
Mansoor Ijaz has suggested a practical three-point action
1. Forbid radical hate-filled preaching in British mosques.
Deport imams who fail to comply.
2. Scrutinise British Islamic charities to identify those
that fund terrorism. Prevent them receiving more than 10 per
cent of their income from overseas.
3. Form community-watch groups comprising Muslim citizens
to contribute useful information on fanatical Muslims to the
To this could be added Muslim acceptance of a secular society
as the basis for their religious existence, an oath of allegiance
to the Crown which would override their allegiance to their
co-religionists overseas, and deliberate steps to move out
of their ghetto-style existence both physically and psychologically.
For the government, the time has come to accept Trevor Phillipss
statement that multiculturalism is dead. We need to rediscover
and affirm a common British identity. This would impinge heavily
on the future development of faith schools, which should now
Given the fate of some earlier would-be reformers, perhaps
King Abdullah of Jordan or a leader of his stature might have
the best chance of initiating a process of modernist reform.
The day before the bombings he was presiding over a conference
of senior scholars from eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence,
and, amazingly, they issued a statement endorsing fatwas forbidding
any Muslim from those eight schools to be declared an apostate.
So reform is possible. The only problem with this particular
action is that it may have protected Muslim leaders from being
killed by dissident Muslims, but it negated a very helpful
fatwa which had been issued in March by the Spanish Islamic
scholars declaring Osama bin Laden an apostate. Could not
the King re-convene his conference and ask them to issue a
fatwa banning violence against non-Muslims also? This would
extend the self-preservation of the Muslim community to the
whole non-Muslim world.
Such reform the changing of certain fairly central
theological principles will not be easy to achieve.
It will be a long, hard road for Islam to get its house in
order so that it can co-exist peacefully with the rest of
society in the 21st century.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is Director of the Institute for the
Study of Islam and Christianity.