Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Reaction of Revulsion

In recent days I have read a great deal in the media about the average Muslim's response to ISIS, and listened with interest to a number of Islamic scholars explaining why they reject the 'Caliphate'. Their response to the excesses of the psychopaths of ISIS/ISIL/IS and one or two other fundamentalist groups is interesting. In fact it suggests, strongly, that the many followers of Islam are getting tired of the agenda being set by those on the extreme conservative end of their Faith. One item which leaped out at me this morning provides a case in point.

A Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Leicester (which is one of the 100 or so branches experimentally using 'Halaal' chicken) had banned its staff from issuing alcohol based finger wipes on the grounds this 'might offend their Muslim customers'. Islamic scholars there have reacted strongly, pointing out that their faith does NOT forbid the use of alcohol as a disinfectant, in medical preparations and one or two other applications. They were quite upset that someone, presumably not themselves a Muslim, would make that decision as it simply lends fuel to the fires of anti-Islamic feeling in many quarters. Unfortunately, they are the victims of Politically Correct attempts to meet what outsiders perceive as 'requirements' of their faith. The same thing happens again and again with health and safety matters, and with the same result. All such pettiness does, is stir up antipathy toward what is perceived as a 'killjoy' problem.

Returning to the subject of the response to ISIS, I have noted with considerable interest the assertion of an Oxford based Imam, who points out that the Qu'ran actually forbids forced conversion. Chapter 2 verse 256 is quite specific on this, and is reinforced in Chapter 109 verse 6 which makes clear that everyone should be free to worship as they please. Chapter 22 goes further, and states that Christian and Jewish 'Places of Worship' must be respected and honoured. According to Dr Taj Hargey, the Qu'ran actually forbids killing 'unbelievers' and provides only two reasons a Muslim may take up arms to defend themselves. These are, to 'resist religious persecution' and because they are being driven from their homes. Since no western country 'persecutes' Muslims for their faith, their 'jihad' against the West is rendered invalid.

The Council of Muslim Scholars in the UK has recently issued a 'fatwa' - essentially a 'legal opinion' in Sharia Law - which is echoed by similar declaration from Grand Muftis in several other countries (the Grand Mufti of a country is the senior 'law' expert in Sharia Law) and condemns the beheadings and the war on other Muslims and faiths.

I note too, that there are many younger Muslims commenting in 'social media' that they do not think they should have to continually 'apologise' for their religion, yet that is, in itself, a reaction to the excesses of the extremists. A case of 'they are not acting in my name, therefore I should not be associated with them'. In one way, this is an encouraging sign, but it should also flag up the fact that many in the west do make that association, and think that every Muslim is an extremist. Let's be clear, the vast majority of decent, law abiding, Muslims are not potential terrorists, just as the vast majority of those who belong to and practice the Christian Faith, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion are likely to become militant terrorists because of their beliefs.

In an excellent article in The Guardian, entitled The myth of religious violence, the author, Karen Armstrong, traces the rise of the present trend in Muslim communities to adopt a 'puritan' style in dress, eating and so on, is a reaction against attempts to push religion out of the public domain by secularists. She mentions Kemal Ataturk's 'secularisation' of Turkey, with his bans on headscarves, burkhas, face veils and so on, citing these as one reason there is now a reactionary swing to the opposite extreme. Western 'imperial' powers fell into the same trap in Muslim lands they occupied, often imposing western models and ideals on cultures completely at odds with them - and no we reap the backlash. You cannot 'impose' change - you have to persuade a populace, and often that takes a lot longer than the 'modernisers' like. So they impose their ideas, riding roughshod over traditions, heritage and cultural issues - and are then surprised when the meet resistance, or outright rejection.

In Ms Armstrong's view, the attempts to impose westernism and liberal secularism in Iran (Persia), Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, gave the fundamentalists the opening they needed to seize the 'moral high ground' from the moderate voices within their faith. ISIS is the ultimate extreme of that.

The one ray of hope in this is that their extreme behaviour, their blatant use of murder, rape and torture to achieve their ends is turning more and more of their coreligionists away from such behaviour and belief. No, we will not see the collapse of Islam as a world faith as a result of this, but we may, just, have reached what Sir Winston Churchill would have described as 'the end of the beginning'. More and more I see Muslim Scholars sticking their heads above the parapet and denouncing violence, denouncing some of the more fundamentalist utterances and preaching against such actions. Among those who practice that religion there are wider debates beginning to take place as well. Among them many of the practices that have developed under the umbrella of Islam in places such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and others.

Among the things that caught my eye this morning in the article concerning 'alcohol' in Islam, is the fact that many Muslim scholars argue that the Qu'ran does not forbid drinking alcohol - it forbids drunkenness. Many people will not know that until the late 1950s, alcoholic beverages were freely available in almost every Muslim country. Indeed, wine lovers will be familiar with the wonderful flavour of wine made from the Shiraz grape - and Persia was one of the largest wine producing countries in the Middle East. Much of the beautiful poetry of the great 12th Century Persian poet, Umar Khayyam, celebrates wine and the pleasure of drinking it.

If the opening of this and other debates is anything to go by, we may well be seeing the first tentative budding of a refutation of Salafism, Wahabi-ism and other brands of fundamentalist Islam. All I can say, is thank the Lord!

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