The legal efforts by a Muslim father to force a Buckinghamshire school to permit his 12-year old daughter to wear the niqab, which is essentially a class-based pre-Islamic custom, should be resisted by sensible integrated British Muslims. This misguided judicial action, if successful, will not only set a deplorable precedent for Muslim exceptionalism, but will also exacerbate frayed tensions between a (largely) self-segregating Muslim community and an antagonistic general public. This legal test case is so critical as to serve as a defining moment in the on-going battle for the hearts and mind of Muslims in this country.
The dubious decision by a father supposedly to protect the ‘human rights’ of his young daughter by insisting that she wears the full-face mask in school should not be seen in isolation. It is at the root of a frightening theological convulsion that is underway in the Islamic world. Driven by a toxic combination of Wahhabi-Salafi-Ikhwani-Deobandi religious extremists, this militant movement seeks to resurrect the Muslim caliphate not only in the heartlands of Islam itself, but elsewhere as well. This restoration is constructed around a sexist and medieval interpretation of an inflexible man-made shari’ah (Muslim legal code). Neglecting the liberating and logical teachings of the transcendent Qur’an, the bulk of the Muslim ecclesiastical hierarchy (ulama), including those in Britain, refer tosecondary and supplemental juristic sources stemming from the sayings and habits of Islam’s founder. But in the process, the original uplifting principles of the faith are distorted and subverted.
Although Muslims regard the Qur’an as the primary and inviolable foundation for Islamic legislation, fundamentalist preachers from a variety of denominations here and abroad persist in propagating a radical millenarian vision of the religion that is not predicated upon the sacred scripture, but is founded on the reputed sayings (ahadith) of the Prophet Muhammad. Compiled some 250 years after the prophet’s death, these subordinate and subsidiary pronouncements and practices usurp the overarching authority of the Qur’an, particularly when the intervening centuries provided sufficient opportunity for forgery and fabrication. The extremist Muslim priesthood and their following have elevated an unthinking dependency upon the Prophet’s sayings by creating an exclusively hadith-reliant Islam, instead of an absolutely Qur’an-reliant Islam. Most, if not all of the contemporary ‘Islamic’ tendencies and innovations like female head and face coverings, the wearing of unkempt beards, strict sexual apartheid (including no opposite gender hand-shaking) female inferiority, philosophical conformity, ideological rigidity and interfaith intolerance are the inevitable products of a masculine clerical consensus. These ‘rulings’ have no legitimacy whatsoever in the immutable Qur’anic text.
In contrast to a blind acceptance of specific seventh century tribal Arab dress norms, which do not have eternal scriptural endorsement (as believers are required only to be modest), modern Muslims should revive the Islamic principle of ijtihad (independent reasoning) to study and interpret the faith for themselves, rather than relying uncritically on a misogynistic and retrogressive clergy. Muslims in the United Kingdom should therefore follow a creed that is rooted in and relevant to 21st century Britain. They do this by re-establishing the primacy of reason and logic to their faith and by abandoning outmoded pre-Islamic cultural habits (like the niqab) and other antiquated tribal norms, which have no mandate in the transcendent text.
Islam here in Britain, as in other parts of the world, has to become indigenised to the society and times that it finds itself in. Indeed, this was the successful template that underpinned its rapid expansion around the globe. It is incumbent on rational and forward-looking Muslims not only to defeat this un-Qur’anic foreign-inspired theology that demands that a school girl should conceal her entire face, but they also need to be in the forefront of a great intellectual struggle which will eventually witness the emergence of British Islam, a tolerant and pluralistic Islam that remains loyal to the universal precepts and pillars of the religion, while assuming the nuances of adistinctive indigenous contribution to the British socio-religious mosaic. It is this British Islam that will ultimately revitalise the faith’s pristine and progressive character.
MECO‘s stand on this topic was also praised in an article by Christine Odone in The Daily Telegraph and in an article by James Orr in Guardian Education on 6 February 2007.
Click here to read the article by Christine Odone from The Daily Telegraph’s own web site
Click here to read the article by James Orr from The Guardian’s own web site
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This MECO Media Statement was pubished in the Oxford Mail on 1 February 2007 and in the Daily Telegraph on 5 February 2007