Can scholars justify their role in today’s “countering violent extremism” initiatives?

Shaukat Warraich of Faith Associates (left) and Shaykh bin Bayyah (right) [Source: Imams Online]

Quratulayn Haamidah questions the moral and religious justification of Islamic scholars being involved in modern-day countering violent extremism initiatives like the Prevent strategy.

In the first part of this article, I discussed the draconian nature of the post 9/11 countering-violent extremism (CVE) agenda, which is underpinned by the ideological reformation of Islam to a subservient secular liberal mindset. Specifically, I addressed the government-backed organisation Faith Associates and their Imams Online initiative that organised a summit in conjunction with Google earlier this month.

Well, the plot thickened when the Middle East Eye recently exposed Imams Online for possessing “close links to the Home Office’s secretive Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU)”.

It revealed that Imams Online’s website contained content which had been produced by Breakthrough Media, an agency tasked by RICU to covertly disseminate “counter-extremism” propaganda under the Prevent strategy.

 

The report further added that Breakthrough Media employees Googled theological points and produced religious material, contradicting claims made by Imams Online that it was produced by “senior scholars”.

In simple terms, according to the Middle East Eye, Imams Online has operated as an instrument for government propaganda, which has clearly made the Muslim community its target.

Google and the “Reformation of Islam” 

Faith Associates’ attestation that Google had supported the summit is perhaps among the biggest admissions that it is linked to CVE and consequently efforts to “reform” Islam through Silicon Valley tech companies and their questionable affiliates.

Asim Qureshi’s Facebook response to Adam Kelwick is apt here. Qureshi highlighted that “Google Ideas” (re-named “Jigsaw”) have previously partnered with the Quilliam Foundation “which enunciate Prevent speak”, and have been managed by the Institute for Strategy Dialogue, which has “worrying links to prominent US neo-conservatives linked to the ‘Islamophobia Network’”.

The director of Jigsaw is Jared Cohen, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

In 2011, Google convened its first “summit” called SAVE, or Summit Against Violent Extremism, in conjunction with the neo-conservative organisations stated in Qureshi’s post. Sessions were held with a number of Quilliam-linked individuals: Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, Ed Husain and Noman Benotman.

Also present was the chief executive of JIMAS, Manwar “Abu Muntasir” Ali, a known Prevent cheerleader, and the endorser of a book published by the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society authored by Rashad Ali, and Mubin Shaikh, a “former cocaine addict, police informant, and convicted criminal”.

Cohen and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, co-authored a 2013 book called New Digital Age.  In the chapter on terrorism, they authoritatively cite Maajid Nawaz as “a former leader in Hizb ut-Tahrir —a global extremist group” on how “Islamist groups” have tried to “infiltrate mobile and Internet companies”. The chapter, which interchangeably uses “extremism” with “terrorism” without defining either, disturbingly highlights “deeply religious populations with distinct radicalized elements” as being “fertile ground” for terrorist recruitment.

Unfortunately, the problems for Imams Online do not end here.

Twitter and the “Reformation of Islam”

Nick Pickles, head of UK Public Policy for Twitter also presented at the Digital Summit. Twitter is supporting the think-tank “New Horizons in British Islam” and it’s 2017 British Islam Conference. New Horizons’ declared mandate is to work for “reform in Muslim thought and practice” and to develop a “British Islam”. The type of reform being advocated by New Horizons is the effective Christianisation of Islam.

Putting aside the categorical prohibition within the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence regarding women publicly singing, last month, New Horizons commissioned and disseminated the singing of the Christian poem “Silent Night” by two Muslim women. The poem contains an affirmation of Prophet Jesus being the son of God.

The “reformation” being sought by New Horizons not only beggars belief, it is disbelief! Furthermore, the keynote speaker for a conference on British Islam is Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun who later adopted a liberal version of Christianity.

The technology companies moonlighting with Imams Online as “supporters” and contributors are also those courting (or being courted by) individuals and organisations whom actively work against mainstream Islam and the Muslim community. Is this still a conspiracy theory?

Scholars

It is no secret that CVE and their local variants like Prevent are seek to reform Islam. This is based on neo-conservative and secular liberal reformist narratives that Islam itself is intrinsically violent, and therefore in need of “civilising” through the creation of a “moderate Islam”, where “good” liberal Muslims act as antidotes to “bad” extreme Muslims – categories which constantly spiral downwards to the “reformist Muslim” endpoint.

Elaborating this point further, Professor Arun Kundnani says “official thinking on extremism” that, a domestic ideological threat of Muslim extremism “is usually understood in terms of a reformist narrative that distinguishes between good Muslims and bad Muslims—the former defined by their embrace of American values, the latter by their support for an extremist ideology that causes terrorism.”

Professor Arun Kundnani

Fleshing out the idea of the good or “moderate Muslim” from the perspective of reformists, Professor Kundnani explains, that, “…they must forget what they know about Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan and instead align themselves with the fantasies of the war on terror; they are expected to constrain their religion to the private sphere but also to speak out publicly against extremists’ misinterpretations of Islam; they are supposed to see themselves as liberal individuals but also declare an allegiance to the national collective; they are meant to put their capacity for reason above blind faith but not let it lead to criticisms of the West; and they have to publicly condemn using violence to achieve political ends—except when their own governments do so.”

Should Islamic scholars and Muslims generally be seen to be attending or contributing to events under the façade of “engagement”, which are firmly embedded within the frameworks and ideas that are distinctly at odds with normative Islam and Muslim interests? One only needs a cursory glance at Imams Online’s Twitter timeline to see how mere presence is being used to legitimise their projects:

https://twitter.com/ImamsOnline/status/820243476742832128

https://twitter.com/ImamsOnline/status/819130396109639680

https://twitter.com/ImamsOnline/status/819134470762758144

https://twitter.com/ImamsOnline/status/819142171777495041

https://twitter.com/Woolf_Institute/status/819278446203432961

The community needs further guidance. What is the ruling on financially benefiting from, working for, and advocating CVE strategies like Prevent that ultimately seeks to reform Islam, indiscriminately targets Muslims, and is tangibly linked to Muslim parents having their children forcibly taken away from them due to “safeguarding” measures?

Should scholars instead be engaged in empowering Muslims and the wider society to comprehensively condemn and oppose such policies by kick-starting the process of rolling them back?

In the US, Imams, like the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, have taken a principled position against CVE strategies, with a narrative unshackled by the CVE framework. Imam Walid commenting on CVE concludes that the issue is not of disengagement but of “protecting our sacred tradition, community integrity while also helping to keep our country and our community safe on our own terms.”

Scholars in Islam are a mercy for the Muslim Ummah because they are the inheritors of the Prophets, and therefore like the Prophets, they stand between Allah and the people. It would be a catastrophe if such possessors of a noble station would stand between government and its dangerous policies, not as guardians of Islam and Muslims, but as conscripted instruments legitimising (unknowingly or otherwise) such policies and operating as “eyes and ears” of the government.

Quratulayn is a student of knowledge in the Hanafi school of law. She has studied law, works professionally and takes a keen interest in Muslim public affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of 5Pillars.

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