Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr Siema Iqbal shares her thoughts on the Normative Islam Report findings.
Despite Islam being the fastest growing and second largest religion in the UK, with over 2.7 million Muslims spread across the country, the labelling of Muslims by journalists and politicians as “moderates”, “liberals”, “reformists”, “extremists” and “Islamists” etc has created an atmosphere of confusion, which has subsequently fuelled the discussion that each Muslim follows a different version and interpretation of Islam, with very few agreeing on any basic principles due to theological and sectarian differences.
This confusion has in turn been used to justify the Islamic beliefs and practises like the Niqab, Sharia courts and gender segregation being brought into the public arena by people who are lacking in sufficient knowledge about Islam, and as a result erroneous judgements continue to be made on the acceptability of these concepts into so-called “British values”.
It has also become increasingly apparent over the past 15 years that certain Islamic words such as “Jihad” and “Ummah” have evolved from being words used in everyday conversations when discussing Islam, to now being demonised and unacceptable terms, only to be voiced in discussions around counter terrorism by non-Muslim politicians and journalists.
At times even I wonder, is there really no consensus amongst Muslims about a “normative Islam”?
Well, according to a recent research commissioned by British Muslim news site 5Pillars on the religious beliefs of 150 “influential British Muslims”, found that, perhaps surprisingly, a consensus does exist.
According to the “Normative Islam Report”, it appears that it is actually possible for a varied cross section of Muslims to agree not only on the fundamentals of Islam such as “God is the sole creator and Prophet Muhammad is the last messenger”, but also on other areas of Islam which include: “Forced marriages are forbidden in Islam”, “Islam does not discriminate or differentiate between people based on race nationality or the colour of their skin”, and “There is no compulsion in religion. No-one can be forced to become a Muslim”.
In fact, one could argue that these basic tenants of the Islamic faith empower and encourage “democracy, individual liberty, respect for the rule of law and mutual tolerance” . As a mother, I would much rather my child learnt these values through the teachings of their religion, which will ultimately shape their way of life than a lesson at school on British Values.
Some may counter this assessment by stating that it is easy to agree on the “fundamentals” of the faith but divisions will always remain in the more contentious areas of Islam, such as legitimacy of wearing the Niqab, or the segregation of men and women being recommended in closed events. Yet, the Normative Islam Report revealed that even on these statements which attracted the lowest levels of strong agreement, were still “extremely high”.
This research seems to reinforce the message that regardless of the sectarian or theological differences that exist between Muslims, there are fundamental principles that adherents have and will always will believe in, according to the way of life that they willingly transcribe to.
So yes, it is reassuring to know that there is a consensus on the most important tenants of Islam, transcending above and beyond newly-created labels and divisions, by those who may be influencing the way my children think or understand Islam in the future, as no doubt they may turn to key figures in the community and social media to build upon the foundations already established.