Being Muslim in Britain: home truths for Abdul Wahid

About the author
Huda Jawad works for the charity Forward Thinking in London.

A month after the July bombings in London, as the immediate panic and fear subside, many British Muslims and those who work in community relations are preparing for a full-on assault from the political class. It is on this battleground that we will have to wage a war against ever-growing restrictions on our freedoms and rights of expression as Britons. So I share with Abdul Wahid a mistrust of “easy talk of freedom of speech, tolerance, human rights and democracy that falls from the lips of powerful men”.

Huda Jawad is responding to an article by Abdul Wahid, a representative of Hizb-ut-Tahrir

Also in openDemocracy on British Muslims in the aftermath of 7/7:

Mohammed Sajid, “The gap between us”

Maruf Khwaja, “Muslims in Britain: generations, experiences, futures”

“What happened? What changed? What now?” – a transcript of the 21 July meeting in London co-hosted by openDemocracy and Q-News

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The measures proposed by the British government to ban the Islamist groups Hizb-ut Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun and to make glorification of violence or terror a criminal offence are extremely counter-productive. But to be frank, in light of what has been happening in the political Islamist scene in Britain, they are not at all unexpected. It was only a matter of time before the chickens came home to roost for those radical and fringe groups – themselves full of “powerful men” – that irresponsibly took for granted the precious space of “freedom of speech, tolerance, human rights and democracy”. Those of us in Muslim communities across Britain also have to take responsibility for failing to “wake up and smell the coffee.”

I do not know much about the members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir or the details of their political theory. What I do have is personal experience of witnessing their “representatives” on university campuses and – unlike Abdul Wahid, who I had the pleasure of meeting briefly – I can tell you that many of them lack his gentle and thoughtful demeanour.

Those with whom I have interacted (and not out of choice I might add) were young men who thought that the answer to achieving Islamic nirvana was to grow a beard, pepper their talk with Muslim-Arabic phrases (assalamu alaikum, haram, kilafa…) and go out of their way to offend and aggressively illustrate to the “misguided” sister how she is contributing to the genocide of her fellow Muslims by choosing to wear trousers, make-up and, heaven forbid, have non-Muslim male friends! If this is the expressed way to enlightenment then I truly believe we are in serious trouble. Such a strategy works to alienate the very people it claims to represent.

I am not suggesting that groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir are undertaking a systematic campaign to offend and force Muslims to see “the error of their ways”; but stories of friends and colleagues who have encountered such activists reinforce my own sense of frustration and fatigue. The characteristic experience is to face a continuous monologue of “how I am right and the rest of the world is wrong”, or even worse, the use of exclusivist, unsophisticated questions such as asking fellow Muslims “are you Muslim first, or British”? This approach is topped by the accusation that participating in the political system of a kafir society is a proscribed and even criminal act; that God’s law is the only law.

Quite frankly, life doesn’t work like that. I wish it were that simple, but it is not. I do not wake up in the morning and ask myself: am I a woman first or a Muslim? I do not believe that the Prophet Mohammed, praise be upon him, and his successors did not engage and work with non-Muslim governments, bodies or people, particularly since Islam was revealed in a deeply traditional, pagan, Bedouin Arabia.

I do not know which interpretation of sharia (a man-made interpretation of God’s law) Hizb-ut-Tahrir wishes to establish in Muslim countries. Nor do I know how I, as a Muslim, will fit into this system, as my interpretation of Islamic texts and sources might differ from the Hanbali or Hanafi schools of thought.

Though I feel disdain for the political hypocrisy,and particularly the foreign policy, of Europe and America and am moved and hurt by the agony of fellow Muslims worldwide, I feel that one of the crucial ways of improving my world is to start at home. I would prefer the likes of Hizb-ut-Tahrir to talk about and tell me its strategies for dealing with the many forms of malaise that afflict our Muslim communities: the destructive and tragic epidemic of drug use; the effects of crime; the devastating effect of poverty; poor housing and economic disenfranchisement; tackling domestic violence; the phenomena of honour killings; and an increasing divorce rate. Perhaps such causes are not attractive and exotic enough; they cannot be easily incorporated into charismatic speeches about how sharia is the answer to all social ills.

It seems that no one is willing to talk about the issues that matter to people like me, who are, amongst other things, devout Muslims wanting to live in a way that pleases Allah without causing harm or alienation to others. Thousands of British Muslims feel caught between the ignorant and reactive policies of the establishment and Islamist groups who seem to find issues affecting Muslims in the Muslim world more worthy of their time and energy. Will anyone ever speak for them?