By A. Faizur Rahman for NewAgeIslam.com
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech against “Islamist extremism” delivered recently at a security conference in Munich sparked an unnecessary controversy in the U.K., particularly among Muslims. Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth group, described it as an attempt to "score cheap political points" in a way that would "rip communities apart." And as the speech coincidentally came on the same day the right-wing English Defense League (EDL) demonstrated against the Muslims in Luton, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, a prominent Muslim MP, joined the chorus of protests to accuse Mr. Cameron of "writing propaganda material for the EDL.” Mr. Cameron on his part stood by his statements saying a “whole new way of thinking is needed.” He certainly has a point.
It would appear from the rather obtuse fulminations of Muslim leaders in Britain that they have either not heard Mr. Cameron’s speech fully or misunderstood it completely. Their reaction was perhaps based on newspaper reports which sensationalised the issue – maybe to capture the attention of Western audiences - by saying that Mr. Cameron wanted Muslims to adopt British values. A dispassionate reading of the full text of the Munich speech (http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-the-west/the-ideology-of-extremism-is-the-problem;-islam-emphatically-is-not--david-cameron/d/4098) would reveal that Mr. Cameron, although he said his views were drawn from the “British experience”, spoke in terms of “universal rights” such as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law and equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. There was nothing in his speech that extolled the supremacy of Western values over Islamic values. On the contrary, Mr. Cameron censured the Islamophobes on the “hard right” for propagandising that Islam and the West were irreconcilable and expressed his firm belief, citing the example of the ongoing democratic protests in Tunisia and Egypt, that “Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible.”
One can hardly disagree with Mr. Cameron as the values mentioned by him have a lot in common with Islam. For instance, Quranic concepts such as lakum deenukum waliyadeen (to you your religion, to me mine), laa ikraaha fiddeen (there can be no compulsion in religion), laa taghlu fee deenikum (do not resort to extremism in religion), walahunna mislul lazee alaihinna bil ma’roof (women have rights similar those against them in a just manner) and kaanan naasu ummatan waahida (mankind is a single nation) were the basis of Islamic thought long before European nations came out of their dark ages and adopted them as their values. Therefore, if a handful of monomaniacal “Islamist” ideologues are trying to subvert these Quranic values now, and if a world leader points this out and advises the Muslims to remedy the situation from within it does not amount to scoring cheap political points
To be fair to Mr. Cameron he took pains to distinguish “Islamist extremism” from Islam which he called a peaceful religion. And he attacked European “right-wing fascist” parties saying that they were fuelling Islamophobia by seeking the forcible expatriation of Muslims and a ban on their mosques. No wonder Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi slammed Sadiq Khan’s accusation as outrageous. The Muslims would do well to realise that the motives of the British Prime Minister is a non- issue when compared to the threat of extremism in Muslim societies which is real. And Mr. Cameron is not the only person talking about it.
Two important conclaves of top Islamic scholars held in March 2010 in the historic cities of Mardin (Turkey) and Medina discussed this issue in detail. The subject of the Mardin meeting was the controversial “Mardin fatwa” issued by the 14th century Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiyyah which proclaimed jihad against the Mongols despite their conversion to Islam on the grounds that they could not be true Muslims because they followed the “man-made” Yasa code instead of the shariah. Over the centuries this fatwa had been misused by Muslim extremists to justify violence against other Muslims by declaring them kafirs (apostates) at the slightest difference of opinion. The Mardin symposium was an attempt to neutralise this. Its New Mardin Declaration inter alia condemned the moral vigilantism of radicals and called upon Muslim scholars to analyse and assess “ideas that breed extremism, takfir (labelling fellow Muslims as unbelievers) and violence in the name of Islam.”
The Medina conference, sponsored by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, and entitled “Terrorism: between Extremism of Thought and Thoughts of Extremism,” urged the Muslims to “adopt a moderate understanding of Islam” and reject false interpretations of the religion. It recommended that Muslim families bring up their children on a “culture of dialogue and acceptance of others”, and guard them against “bad company.” And this is what Mr. Cameron was echoing when he talked about educating people “in elements of common culture and curriculum” to engender a feeling of belonging which he said was “the key to achieving true cohesion.”
It is time we Muslims recognised the commonality of this message with the universal teachings of Islam and realised that to live in a permanent state of being upset with those who point out our shortcomings would be an unhappy augury for our future.
(The author is the Secretary-General of Chennai-based Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Though among Muslims. He may be reached at email@example.com).