I was kicking myself for not being able to attend one of the most landmark Islamic events in my diary so far. Firstly as a Muslim and secondly as a journalist, I missed the opportunity to see a diverse selection of scholars, leaders and speakers united on a issue facing Muslims in Britain today, writes Dilly Hussain.
The event titled “Freedom of Speech – Are Muslims Excluded?” was organised by non-profit organisation ENGAGE who work to help empower and encourage British Muslims within local communities to be more actively involved in media and politics.
When I read the line-up of guest speakers my initial feeling was happiness and the first word I uttered was “Alhamdulillah” – praise be to God that He brought together qualified scholars, genuine community leaders and veteran speakers on Islam to share a panel on such a pivotal subject – does freedom of speech apply to Muslims?
I knew that some of the guest speakers didn’t agree on everything, be it political or religious, but what did matter was that they did agree on this troubling reality which Muslims are faced with not only in Britain, but the West in general, and the dire need to tackle it.
The line up
The event was chaired by Yusuf Chambers and Azad Ali of Islam Channel. Guest speakers were:
Sheikh Abdul Raheem Green – Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA)
Sheikh Shams Ad Duha – Ebrahim College
Sheikh Shakeel Begg – Imam of Lewisham Mosque, and Kent Islamic Centre, and a Muslim Chaplin at Goldsmiths University.
Sheikh Haitham al Haddad – Islamic Shariah Council of Britain and Muslim Research Development Foundation (MRDF).
Dr Abdul Wahid – Chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Britain.
Omar Ali – President of Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS).
Abdullah al Andalusi – Founder of Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI).
Islam’s message of unity and activism
There were numerous perspectives given by the speakers on the topic of freedom of speech, some delivered their message as a political reality, others highlighting examples from history and the Islamic obligation to be active in society.
Here are some of the quotes from the speakers:
“This society does not accept freedom of political allegiance. If someone sides with the enemy that is restricted by anti-terror legislation. Freedom of speech is restricted. We believe the restrictions of the Creator are in the best position to restrict freedom. You can insult God but not the Queen. We believe in freedom to speak but not to insult. Will they restrict it to such an extent that to say “A’uthoobillah – I seek refuge from Shaitan” will be seen an insult (perhaps to satanism)?” Haitham al Haddad.
“I tell my wife and children sleep the night with the expectation that my door will be smashed in by the police. This is the pressure on me as an imam. Sadly, every bad action that a Muslim does is attached to the masjid he or she attends. Why? When a person of another faith commits a crime, do they go to his church, temple or synagogue?” Imam Shakeel Begg.
“Unrestricted freedom brings harm to society. The freedom to insult undermines and harms society.Do not allow our values and standards to be changed. Carry Islam as an invitation.We face a global attack on Islam to change the values that we hold.” Dr Abdul Wahid.
“The amount of pressure we are getting should not stop us from self-censoring. We speak about Islam but we need to speak with wisdom. We have a large student block – we need to start using that power.” Omar Ali
“Khilafah, Shariah, hudood, inheritance laws are all a part of Islam. We believe in all of those things yet we are not extremists. Our context is a context of dawah. But live Islam. Don’t make your dawah a PR stunt. We need to unite upon a commitment to call to the way of Allah with good words, wisdom in a manner that is best. We must resist any attempts to reform our deen. Our deen’s sources are Quran, Sunnah, Ijmaa and Qiyaas.” Shaykh Shams Ad Duha.
“We are here for such a short period of time. We are attacked for our deen and what we believe. We have this brief moment. Let’s utilise it in the best possible way. I ask Allah to motivate us to translate what we have been told to do, into action.” Abdul Raheem Green
“It’s time we fought back against these divide and rule policies. We welcome our beliefs to be challenged but we cannot accept this underhand attack on Muslim speakers. Mufti Menk was attacked for old statements he made on homosexuality but when Boris Jonson attacked gay marriage in the past and referenced animals it is not treated the same way.” Azad Ali
“A hundred years ago this society would not recognise what this society today regards as British values. They say Muslims should stop calling for Khilafah. I can imagine the Quilliam Foundation going back in time and saying to the Sahabah, you have an extremism problem and then creating the ‘Ibrahim Foundation’. To you your deen to us our deen.” Abdullah Al Andalusi
You could say I wrote this article as some meagre form of redemption cocktailed with guilt that even after a friend of mine from ENGAGE registered me on the list, I wasn’t able to attend.
But the real reason why I’m gutted for missing yesterday’s event is because the hypocrisy of freedom of speech which exists in the West is something that has been affecting Muslims for some years now, and a genuine unified effort by our leaders hasn’t properly been made prior to this event.
Whether it’s insults against our beloved Prophet (saw), the niqab or hijab, the beard, the Islamic stance on homosexuality or polygamy, attacking Islam is constantly justified under the façade of “freedom of speech” and pressure to conform to liberal secular values like Christianity and Judaism has.
In addition, there is a formidable effort by the media, government-funded think tanks and politicians to change core principles of Islam to suit the Western secular model. Millions of pounds and dollars are being pumped to water down and even eradicate concepts such as the holistic application of Shariah, working for the establishment of Khilafah in the Muslim world, unified Ummah, jihad and so forth. As many of the speakers highlighted, when the tables are turned and Muslims speak about those concepts and show support for it, the usual labels are applied and freedom of speech goes out of the window.
I want to say a special thank you to Zillur Rahman and Yusuf Patel of SREIslamic for keeping everyone updated on Twitter and Facebook, making up for those who missed this event.
From the 5Pillarz editorial board to the organisers of the event, ENGAGE and all the guest speakers, may Allah (swt) reward you all for your efforts, keep you steadfast in upholding the truth at a time of immense difficulty and most importantly, following up yesterday’s gathering with increased activism and sincerity fearing none but Allah!
Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “There will come a time when holding on to your Iman (belief) will be like holding on to hot coals.” (Tirmidhi)