Dr Abdul Wahid is the chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain. You can follow him on Twitter @abdulwahidht
Dr Abdul Wahid writes an open letter to imams, scholars and activists regarding the issuing of reactionary joint statements and how it can propel the reforming Islam agenda.
Respected Ulema, Imams and those active in the Muslim community
As-salâm ‘alaykum wa rahmatuAllâhi wa barakâtuhu
Some weeks ago prominent Imams, scholars and activists signed their name to a letter declining to lead Janazah prayers for those responsible for the London Bridge attacks. At the time, supporters of the letter argued that there was a precedent in the Sunnah where the Messenger of Allah declined in similar circumstances, and that there was value in demonstrating to non-Muslims that Muslims abhor such killings. Others opposed the statement – though also abhorred the killings – having other concerns including the implied acceptance of collective blame.
Now emotions have cooled a little, I would like to share a serious concern that many of us (including some of those who signed the statement) may share.
Islam and ‘Reform’
As more of us become aware of the external pressure to ‘reform’ Islam – i.e. to change this Deen such that it conforms to secular liberal norms and policies of the political establishment, it is interesting to consider how religious reformations have occurred in the past. Orthodoxies were not re-evaluated in a political vacuum. Rather change was encouraged in the context of political pressure. The most famous example in British history is that of Henry VIII when he put pressure on clerics to find a religious solution to his failure to produce a male heir with his first wife, allowing him to remarry. Some of the clerics, faced with political pressure, searched for a legitimate solution within the Papal Law of that time – an annulment. The Pope rejected this – also for political reasons – to avoid a rift with Spain – leading to the wholesale change of the Church in England. In subsequent years, both under Protestant and Catholic monarchs, the opposing factions were pressured to make doctrinal concessions in order to prove their political loyalty, or else face suspicion, persecution or execution.
Of course, analogies have limitations and I am not offering this one except to make the point that political pressure has often driven theological change.
Bringing pressure to bear
Today, political pressure is usually applied at a time when Muslims feel at their most vulnerable. Following the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, Woolwich, Manchester and London Bridge, responsibility is placed on the Muslim community, deliberately and collectively, through a variety of political messages carried by the corporate media – varying from explicit statements of the type Blair and Cameron used to make, to the implied blame from politicians and commentators expecting Muslims to ‘do more’ to deal with the issues at hand.
We have become used to calls for Muslims to ‘condemn’ such attacks and ‘endorse’ a variety of policy initiatives in their aftermath.
However, condemning acts of murder is not sufficient – one is expected to condemn the ‘ideology’ supposedly associated with it – including the very idea of Jihad, the institution of Khilafah, and a number of other matters. Moreover, condemnation must be reserved for individual acts by Muslims and never state-sponsored acts of politically motivated violence – more bloody and terrifying by many degrees.
Uncritical endorsement is expected, for government policies supposedly related to preventing violence – but which can be extremely oppressive, targeting activities such as browsing the Internet and writing poems. We are expected to endorse the government’s use of ill-defined words like ‘extremism’ and their explanations for the causes. We are expected to endorse the idea that Muslims can and should do more to stop such attacks; and displays of loyalty that call for us to celebrate the armed forces that have been complicit in violence in Muslim countries.
The mutation of Islamic doctrine
These pressures are aimed to demonise authentic Islamic opinions about Jihad; Khilafah; relations between men and women; same-sex relationships; opposition to the occupation of Palestine; opposition to western foreign policy and military ventures; and opposition to the regimes in the Muslim world.
We then start to see theological justifications for a changed position – not because they were considered theologically strong, but because they conform to political and ideological pressures around us. The theological justifications often start, like Henry’s annulment, applying a legitimate principle but then extending it beyond its original context just to meet political pressures; or exceptional circumstances become generalised to being normal practice.
My concerns after the Janazah statement
For me, the statement about refusing to lead the Janazah prayers of these attackers rang alarm bells – not because it was baseless, but because it was drafted at an extremely emotive time (and hence a point of maximal political pressure), and arguably took the matter beyond the original Sunnah precedent. Yes, the Messenger of Allah declined to honour certain people with the blessing of his Imamah at their funerals, instead telling one of his noble companions to lead the prayer. But to gather dozens of names, announce the matter publicly with a press release, and to call for others not to lead the prayer – exceeds his noble example by some measure. It also puts any Imam who decided to read the funeral prayer, for example to help a traumatised family, at risk of being labelled an ‘extremist’.
Upholding Islamic precepts
Aside from the social and political implications of such messaging, what is needed at this time is for Imams, scholars and Muslims who are active in their communities to actively engage in understanding and then explaining the relevant issues as they are, not as the government or extreme secularists would like them to be. In that way we would be true to our Deen, explaining it clearly to our community and not falling into the reformation traps laid for us.
Advocates of reform argue that there is no obligation of Khilafah; no Jihad like the ghazawaat of the Messenger ; no problem with joining armies that will attack Muslims; no problem with Riba-based contracts; no problem with man legislating and ruling by other than what Allah has revealed; no problems with joining or supporting secular political movements; no problem with un-Islamic sexual relationships; no problem with nation state constructs taking precedence over Islamic loyalties; and no problem with a national ‘tribal’ identity taking precedence over an Islamic identity. These are all positions that some of the same people would have shunned only a few years ago without today’s political pressures. Yet consistent pressure has forced a change in their views.
Our role is not merely to resist the pressures to reform, but to actively uphold and explain authentic precepts that are demonised – not fearing the blame of the Blamers. It is to resist the temptation to look for exceptions to general rules, without teaching the general rule first and restricting the exceptions to their appropriate context. It is to guard against using examples out of their context. It is to be aware that pressures are applied in order to force Muslims to change.
Muslims who have validated the institution of Khilafah have been denounced as ‘extreme’, not just because ISIS have soiled it but because reformists argue it isn’t an obligation any more, as modern political constructs are acceptable. Yet many remain silent on the reformist argument and allow the misinformation to go unchallenged.
Muslims who uphold the idea of Jihad in all its forms are denounced as ‘extreme’, not just because some individuals exceed limits set by Allah in taking innocent life, but because reformists argue the only Jihad is jihad-al-nafs. Those of us who know both positions are flawed, rarely educate the community about what Jihad really means.
So, as to my question – can such joint statements become a vehicle for reformation? Not always. But several by the ‘usual suspects’ leading the reform agenda have – and I am concerned that this most recent statement shared some of those aspects I have highlighted in this open letter – and it is for this reason that I offer this nasiha, which I pray is clear for those who read it, and accepted by our Lord, Allah .