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     Islam and the State

 

 

There has been much ado about the need for an Islamic State, and little thought on how to bring it about. Moreover, whilst the arguments for the benefits of a proper Islamic system within its own territory have a great deal in their favour, excessive talk about that model provides no answers to the problems Muslims face here in the West as a religious, and disunited, minority governed by a secular state with little sympathy for Islam. 

The mirage of a state of our own, therefore, becomes a detractor, keeping us away from what we should be doing: re-defining our role within the society in which we live and examine the opportunities open to us to change this society for the better.

Those who dream that the Islamic State would fall from the sky and who prefer verbal radicalism to real hard and pragmatic work would very quickly consider this approach as a foul compromise with the forces of disbelief. The truth, however, is that to denounce the world around us does not shift it one iota, and unless we interact with those whom we might well differ with, we shall simply be forced into a self-imposed ghetto of delusion.

The Islamic Party of Britain has consistently argued that all the strong-talk about a theoretical Islamic State is of little use whilst we remain ignorant of the real power constellations and the means by which they manipulate our existence. A Khilafat whose economy remains dominated by the World Bank and the IMF, or for that matter by so-called Islamic banking institutions playing their part for them, will be no different from the numerous Islamic nation states we already have where Islam cannot be implemented. It is a sad fact of history that the structure of political Islam in the world was broken down by the Zionist movement led by Theodor Herzl in their endeavour to establish the Jewish State, and that once lost, this structure has to be rebuilt slowly from the bottom up. One can repair an existing instrument no longer once it has been dismantled and dis-assembled into its constituent parts.

When the Muslims who entered countries ruled by others were backed by a strong Islamic State, it did not take them long to establish themselves and dominate the societies which they conquered. This encounter was not always peaceful, but it was never prolonged, because they were armed with a truth that had been put into practice and was thus convincing to all who could be made to see it in action. Now Islam, on the political level, is far from being a reality, even though it remains a very real life experience for Muslims in their private spheres. Therefore those called to accept Islam can easily dismiss it out of hand as a nice theory that is unfortunately not practicable by asking us to point them to an Islamic country where things are precisely as we say they should be. Muslim communities in the West have in the past neglected the political and the economic dimensions of Islam, reducing Islam to a merely cultural expression. Thus they could sustain the paradox of wanting to make their new environment resemble their home countries as closely as possible, when they had voluntarily left those countries for political or economic reasons. If they preferred the way things were done back home, why did they abandon their homes in the first place? This contradiction can only be explained by the attachment to a cultural expression of Islam in countries where the political and economic power had already been surrendered to the colonial forces occupying the Muslim lands. To look for salvation in the very countries of the West that had taken away their sovereignty indicates that they never understood the workings of an Islamic state system. To have the same people call for the establishment of an Islamic State smacks of ignorance or hypocrisy, or possibly both.

The younger generation of Muslims born in the West without choice of their own are not going to benefit much from such rhetoric, nor are their interests served by an attempt to withdraw into self-styled safe havens, like the folly of advocating a separate Muslim parliament with no powers, a talking shop playing on the feel-good factor but achieving no more than the marginalisation of Islam. Muslims in Britain today need to figure out where it is appropriate to have their own institutions and where it is appropriate to integrate without running the risk of assimilation. Those advocating the hard line that we should not have anything to do with the Kufr-system are usually students aspiring to gain a qualification issued by that very system, knowing too well that if they got together to form their own study circles, the certificates issued by such an all-Muslim institute of learning would benefit them little in their career ambitions. Inevitably we have to make use of institutions that are not run by ourselves, but we need to define how we interact with them and how we gain a measure of influence over those decisions that affect us. Organisations of our own can often help in achieving this aim more efficiently.

There is no blueprint we can follow. The books of Islam do not contain a chapter ?what to do when you come to Britain. We can only learn from our own successes and failures, as well as from the experiences of others in a similar situation, namely Muslims in the rest of Europe, in the United States of America and in South Africa, as well as the more limited experiences of Muslim minorities in other parts of the world. When looking at those examples, it needs to be born in mind that nowhere has there been a concerted and planned effort to introduce Islam, but that there were diverse Islamic activities which out of necessity developed models to serve their purposes. We do not start from a clean slate, but carry a lot of unhelpful baggage from past encounters with the society around us. We, the Muslims, have often become the greatest obstacle to establishing Islam.

When dealing with secular, post-Christian, state administrations, Muslims traditionally behaved as a typical minority, seeking to redress the disadvantages of their minority status by demanding equal access to positions of influence on the one hand, and special allowances or minority rights on the other. This situation is prone to create resentment in main stream society, as the term positive discrimination, which was coined to justify competing on privileged terms in an attempt to compensate for previous inequality, shows. The quota system which allocates positions to members of particular communities simply by virtue of belonging to them, irrespective of other qualifications, will set up communities against each othe. Its introduction in the Yugoslavia of Tito, for example, laid the foundation for a great deal of the hatred to surface later in the Balkans. What has hindered our ability to take society by storm with the truth of Islam is that, unlike the Muslims in the very early days of Islam, we hardly spare a thought of what we could give to society by way of contribution, whilst concentrating instead on the question of what else we could want from them. There are no Muslim charities serving the needs of the wider community, beyond the immediate belonging of our own, whereas many Muslims depend on hand-outs from the state and from non-Muslim charities. The practical message we send is of a tribalist Islam, a far cry from the universal message we preach.

Even in countries where the fight for minority rights has been much more successful than here in Britain, these limitations still hold true. In Austria, because of the historic connections of the Habsburg Dynasty with the Turkish Caliphate, the Muslims are a recognised religious community, with state funded Muslim teachers in schools and even a regular TV programme. In Spain (an experience which is particularly interesting because of Muslims in their desire to gain recognition having linked up with a regional non-Muslim independence movement in Andalous to further their aim) a newly founded representative body of Muslims has entered into a contract with the state which details their mutual rights and obligations. It seems that here in Britain the Action Committee on Islamic Affairs which so badly handled the Rushdie Affair for us, tries to go down the same route, re-packaged as the Muslim Council of Britain. The question, when bargaining for concessions from the non-Muslim state, like state-funded Muslim schools, is firstly, how representative is the body presenting itself as the official negotiating partner, and secondly, are we as Muslims meant to be content with being tolerated?

Good communications make for better understanding, and the co-ordination of our activities surely makes for better efficiency and reduces the waste of resources. However, most of the attempts to pull Muslim resources and activities together were undertaken in the desire to exert control, and this in the end was their downfall, as ordinary Muslims usually resent surrendering their freedom of action to a central authority imposed upon them. The matter is further complicated by the fact that many organisations here have loyalties to sponsors abroad and cannot, therefore, merge with other organisations answerable to different ideological or paymasters. The Muslim Council of Britain is the most ambitious attempt so far at controlling Muslim affairs and becoming the official voice of Islam in Britain. It is well funded, which suggests that someone has a keen interest in getting it to succeed, and it remains to be seen what becomes of it when those who are currently being wooed to join up as members are asked to finance all its activities from their own means. Individuals funding and directing Islamic affairs have in the past done so in a very patriarchal and despotic way and feel quite uneasy about the Western concept of democracy. Yet to convince the British government of their legitimacy, they have to appear representative. This can be done by inviting all, but developing a structure where some have more say than others. The Muslim Council of Britain to be inaugurated at the end of November, for example, has a mixed set-up of delegates from national organisations and representatives of twelve regions of the UK. Nine of those regions are in England, whereas Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland count as only one region each. It is arguable whether there are as many Islamic activities in, for argument's sake, Devon as there are in the whole of Scotland, when the quality of some activities, like Radio Ramadan in Glasgow, by far outdoes what happens in the London capital.

Inequality is a very British game. The British government does not look for a representative body of British Muslims; it would be quite happy to strike a deal with a body that can simply lay claim to being representative. In the past the Home Office has nominated the Islamic Cultural Centre in London as the central mosque which speaks for all Muslims, not because the Muslims in Britain delegated those powers to it, but because its very foundation was the result of a diplomatic trade-off between Britain and Egypt. A mosque created by leave of Her Majesty's government is more likely to serve the interests of a British administration than one founded by local Muslims. If the British government is going to give concessions to an allegedly representative body of British Muslims, it is going to want something in return. The advantage of having an official Islam is that those who do not comply with the decisions taken can be considered as out of the fold of Islam, they may not necessarily be excommunicated, but they can safely be ignored as irrelevant. Since Samuel Huntingdon pronounced his theory of the clash of civilisations as an imminent confrontation between the West and Islam, the strategy of the American administration, and with that of European governments following their lead, has changed to one of differentiation between the moderate Muslim and the terrorist. Those accepting the conditions under which they are recognised will be tolerated, the remainder can then safely be hunted down.

Muslims should enter into alliances with those who share their views and beliefs in certain areas, so that jointly we can work for changing a status quo that is not acceptable to us. Muslims should not withdraw from public life, but they should be careful not to enter into an agreement with a government which thereby gains a leverage of control over Muslim affairs. If we want to change the state in which we live, we can hardly do this on the very terms this state prescribes for us. To maintain independence of thought and action, it may sometimes be necessary to forfeit certain privileges that might be desirable but are available only at a price. To enable ourselves to bring about meaningful change, we must stop viewing Islam as a possession of ours and instead offer it as a service to humanity.

Author: Islamic Party of Britain
Date Published: Author 1997

 

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