Islam, Socialism, Racism, Islamaphobia and Civility

Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi

Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi is the Media Representative for MAC ( )



An Explanation of the aims and activities of the Muslim Action Committee (MAC)

The reactions of many left wing commentators to the demonstration organized by the Muslim Action Committee (MAC) on the 18th February to the Danish Cartoons have reflected a lack of understanding of our aims and methodology, which in turn highlights their lack of understanding of Muslims and the Islamic religion. The themes are consistent, they believe we oppose working with non-Muslims, they don’t understand why we see this as an attack on our religion rather than primarily as racism. They don’t understand who we are or what we stand for. There is also an element of attempting to dismiss us and play down our significance in favour of other Muslim organizations that are active in the Stop the War Coalition and Respect party such as MAB (Muslim Association of Britain).

Whilst Socialists understandably regard the recent crisis as an issue of European Muslims reacting against Racism and Islamaphobia (which is the Socialist lexicon means being racist against Muslims), the majority of Muslims worldwide see a different picture. It is noteworthy that Muslims all over the world turned out to protest their anger at these cartoons. Although Socialist writers try and split these protestors into those manipulated by right wing Islamic leaders intent on retaining control of the masses and the European Muslims who are an oppressed minority protesting against oppression, it is clear to Muslims that this is an expression of an idea central to the heart of our faith. The belief of a Muslim is that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) should be more beloved to him or her than his or her own life. Muslims have been under constant attack and demonisation as a religious community worldwide for some time now, however it took an insult against the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to trigger the global protests we have seen.

Another point which seems to be lost on the Socialists is that Muslims are not a homogenous racial group and many of us are ethnically western European. I myself am a direct descendant of Edward III. If I and many others like me gave up our Islam tomorrow, we would not then be subject to any form of racism from those orchestrating these offences.

Interestingly many Socialists are having issues about defending Muslims and have managed to find a neat way to justify their stance. They claim they are defending Muslims against the racism of the oppressor in this case, but on the other hand they would defend Salman Rushdie as he is an apostate from within the Muslim community and his poisonous book the Satanic Verses reflected his personal investigation of his religion. What is most problematic about the Socialist diagnosis of defending oppressed Muslims rights whilst simultaneously defending the right to attack their religion is that they have unwittingly placed themselves on the same page as Nick Griffin on this issue. Mr Griffin’s defence in court a few weeks ago and his party line is that he is not against Muslims but he is against Islam, which he describes as a monster.

For the Muslim Action Committee and the 700 or so Mosques and Islamic organizations Nationwide which we represent on this issue, this is not primarily a racist or even political issue but an attack on our faith. If this was merely a racist attack then the cartoonists would have contented themselves with caricatures of Muslims in general, there would be no need for a direct attack on our Prophet (peace be upon him). There has been since the time of the inception of Islam and the coming of our Prophet (peace be upon him) opposition to his message and attacks on Islam and the Prophet (peace be upon him) for ideological reasons. It will be interesting for Socialists to note that much of the opposition to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Mecca was due to the fact he said there was only one God which was perceived as an ideological threat to the pagan Meccans who feared they would lose trade because people came to worship the many different gods of Mecca and bring their own on pilgrimage.

Many Muslims are attracted to left wing politics because many aspects of it reflect Islamic teachings such as emphasizes on justice, tolerance, helping the poor, needy and oppressed. It is also true that the left has been responsible for some of the most admirable of the features of modern Britain such as the NHS and National schooling. However in terms of social values Muslims are conservative with a small ‘c’. There used to be a saying popular amongst Muslims “Not East, not West, Islam is the best,” an updated version would be “Not Left, not Right, Islam is the Light.”

Islam is a complete way of life; everything is sacred in Islam including the political. Ideas of left and right wing politics are anathema to the Muslim mind, his goal is to submit himself to the will of almighty Allah by following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at all times, in all situations. For us to align ourselves as a religious community with any sector of secular politics would be disastrous. This doesn’t mean we cannot have alliances with non-Muslims. Many left wing politicians asked to speak at our rally but we decided against their participation because we did not want this issue to be viewed as a vehicle for left wing politics. For us an offence against the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is an attack on our faith which cannot be dealt with by secular politicians especially those with no faith of their own.

However we did not have a principled stand about uniting with non-Muslims on this issue and for that matter neither did the Hizb-ut-Tahrir one of our supporting organizations which have been blamed for us following that alleged policy. In fact we sent many leaflets out directly targeted at non-Muslims to come out and support us in protesting about the double standards applied in the usage of “freedom of speech”. Also Vanessa Redgrave was invited by us to speak. The reasons behind both of these moves can be explained by our Campaign for Global Civility.

The Campaign and Proclamation of Global Civility is aimed at dealing with the current debate over free speech. Alan Thornett as others have misunderstood the point of Muslims when we hold placards saying “Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Insult”. We are not seeking to ban free speech or make it illegal to criticize or debate about our religion. Although some over zealous Muslims may have articulated such sentiments it goes against the Islamic ethos. While the Church was slaughtering anyone who did testify that Jesus (peace be upon him) was the son of God, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was debating with Jews and Christians in Arabia and in the third generation of Islam the Sunni Imam Abu Hanifah openly debated with Atheists and Fire Worshippers with no fear of recrimination falling on anyone for voicing divergent beliefs because the right to hold them was defended under Islamic Law and upheld by the Caliph. So Islam is not against free speech.

However what Islam does teach is that with freedom of conscience and speech is the responsibility not to abuse other’s beliefs or persons. This is called adab translated as good manners or civility, the concept of discussing and debating within a framework of acceptable etiquettes and language. This is not the same as mutual respect, for example I may not accept a Gay activists’ arguments about the genetic causes of his sexual preferences but that doesn’t mean when I debate or criticize him on the subject I have to verbally abuse him. Similarly if someone wants to engage in an intellectual discussion and debate with me about Islam they don’t need to abuse my Prophet (peace be upon him) to disagree with aspects or even his entire message (which includes his own personal conduct).

For someone to assert that Islam is a terrorist religion and then bring out certain verses from the Qur’aan and certain aspects of the life story of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to back up his position will no doubt offend me but if it is delivered in the atmosphere of a civilized discussion and debate than I can rebut him with counter-proofs and the debate can continue. If however I started insulting his mother because I was so incensed by his arguments, this would simply be abuse and the debate would collapse. The chance for mutual understanding and resolution of differences would be lost.

This is why we the Muslim Action Committee have been campaigning to get MPs, Councillors, Community leaders and in fact anyone and everyone to sign up to the Proclamation of Global Civility. The cartoons in our view were abusive to the person (peace be upon him) we hold most dear, not a satire or intellectual point. If the concept of civility which we believe is apolitical is revived it will facilitate healthier and more robust intellectual debate and freedom of speech. It will even allow protagonists to take stances on subjects which are currently taboo because they fall outside the liberal consensus, to be discussed without protagonists fearing demonisation. It would even resolve the Socialists dilemma about defending Muslims. It would in fact lead to a widening of freedom of speech in many ways, with the loss of freedom to abuse being a minor drawback. Even so far as this goes, we are not campaigning for legislation on this, we are rather asking people to adopt these principles on a voluntary self-regulating basis.

In fact the only legislation that we have asked to be amended are the Race Relations laws which at present uphold the rights of other religious minority communities who are not racially homogenous: Sikhs and Jews. We would like that to be extended to the Muslim community so that we are treated on an equal footing with the rest of Britain’s citizens. This would close the door to the question or religious incitement legislation, which is problematic in theory and in practice.

Alan Thornett’s criticisms of Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi’s proposals to amend the Press Complaints Code as being an attempt to extend the blasphemy laws, reflects his misunderstanding or perhaps ignorance of our campaign. Shaykh Faiz’s proposals are aimed at getting a voluntary self-regulating commission made up of newspapers to essentially amend their code in accordance with the precepts of civility which is totally in line with the aims and methodology of our campaign, as was Vanessa Redgrave’s speech about the true concept of patriotism being the patriotism of mankind based on the concepts of respecting mankind’s rights and responsibilities.

I believe Mr Thornett and others on the left are more upset about the fact that many of their big names were not allowed to speak at our demonstration and because we have refused to involve ourselves in the Anti-War coalition. The latter decision was taken for a number of reasons: firstly we have a mandate from our supporters to deal with the issues of the attacks on the person of the Prophet (peace be upon him) it would be unfair to drag them in another direction while the issue remained unresolved. Secondly the Anti-War coalition is already well established and widely supported and has the involvement of prominent Muslim groups such as MAB; there is no need for us to divert our organizational efforts to another front. We support anyone who is against this uncivilized and unjust war, but we believe our organization needs to focus our efforts elsewhere. There is no need for us to place all our eggs in one basket.

The left wing may remain baffled by this choice of direction by such a large section of the Muslim community in Britain when it seemingly faces so many political challenges. However it is because we are committed to the message of our Master Muhammad (peace be upon him), that we are seeking to promote the values he taught. We believe that if the message of Islam is allowed to be discussed and debated in an intellectual and open manner rather than it just being the target for mud slinging and degradation, that the hatred and animosity that lies behind these cartoons will be replaced by love and admiration.

Be proactive not reactive is the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and to misquote a popular expression it is better to lead the way in lighting a candle than be a follower in cursing the darkness.



March 2006

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