Britain’s role in Muslim extremism

As the EDL protest in London today and with attacks against the Muslim community having soared since the tragic Woolwich incident, let’s remind ourselves of the backdrop of Islamist extremism.

It’s sad to see that Islam, the religion itself, being blamed for the atrocity in Woolwich and not the political manifestations of a more fundamental problem. While many commentators have rightly brought to attention our country’s foreign policy as a key determinant in these so-called jihadist attacks, the problem in fact dates back to colonialism.

The initial reaction by Muslims to colonialism was to ask: what went wrong? According to American Muslim scholar and polymath Hamza Yusuf one of the responses that emerged was a clampdown on spirituality. Many Muslims felt that their co-religionists had become too “other-wordly” and therefore became the easy subjects of western hegemonic forces. A reactionary Islam that was a hybrid closer to Marxism subsequently emerged, with the much-criticsed Marxist ideology of the ends justifying the means being adopted.

The Wahhabi movement then gained ascendancy in the 20th century and today, is probably the greatest enemy of Islam and Muslims. Saudi Arabia is widely known as the key exporter of this twisted interpretation of Islam, a country, of course, being propped up by the British government. We, in Britain, are partly to blame for directly and indirectly supporting Wahhabism through our support of the authoritarian and undemocratic House of Saud monarchy. The Gulf state, let’s not forget, has paid British arms manufacturers £4bn in the past four years in bilateral trade deals.

In 1995, American Muslim scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller wrote about how Wahhabis were tampering with classical Islamic texts. It is probably still happening today. These texts, let’s remember, are disseminated throughout the world, many even arrive in the UK.

Human error can also be involved in terror attacks. In 2010, a conference in Turkey entitled Mardin: The Abode of Peace, was attended by many of the world’s most eminent Muslim scholars. As a result of this conference it emerged that the fatwa which Bin Laden used as a justification to kill Americans on 9/11, the same one which was used as a reason to assassinate former Egypt President Anwar al-Sadat, was based on a misprint. Yes, a misprint. The corrupted wording in the fatwa – originally written by the conservative 13th century Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah – read: “Non-Muslims living outside the authority of Islamic Law should be fought as is their due” but the original actually read “non-Muslims living outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights.”

The misprint made its first appearance over 100 years ago, in the 1909 edition of Ibn Taymiyyah’s Fatawatahat which was published by Faraj Allah al-Kindi. Another edition was then printed and published based upon the text and replicated the error.

Montasser al-Zayat, in his book al-Zawahiri as I knew Him, says that the current al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was traumatised by his imprisonment and torture in Egypt after Sadat’s assassination, which had an effect on his subsequent development and radicalisation.

Indeed, Islam in many countries is a political force as much as it is a religious one, in a way that is much more strident than in Christian-dominated countries. But certain western countries, such as the US and Britain, have often meddled in Muslim-majority countries, fostering religious anarchy and usurping democracies with despots.

In Iran, for example, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh was the democratically elected leader of Iran from 1951 to 1953 before his government was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the MI6 and the CIA. In Afghanistan, the CIA supported the Mujahideen, when they were struggling against the former Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s. After the Soviet invasion, the Mujahideen subsequently fought one another in the bloody Afghan Civil War. And it was the US administration’s lack of support for the Mujahideen following the invasion, which is often cited as a key ingredient in the bitterness Osama bin Laden felt towards the US in the lead up to 9/11.

“They [Wahabbis/Salafis in Saudi] are a form of Taliban in the Arab world. They’ve been spreading it to Europe. They also have the money to produce books, so they send their poison to Mosques in Europe to propagate their school of thought,” says Dr Mohammed Fahim, a London based Imam.

Indeed, the backdrop of Muslim terrorism is complex and nuanced, involving many socio-political factors – Muslim institutions could probably do more, too. But enlightened versions of Islam appear to have been restrained by western politicking, which, in turn, has led to a slowing down in progress for many Muslim societies but also pathological reactions by some Muslims. Islam is not to blame for recent terror attacks, that misnomer, according to Roger Hardy, an expert on Islamic affairs, is based on ignorance.

“Knowledge levels of Islam are pitiful,” Hardy says. “The Islam practised by the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Wahhabis in Saudi are taken to be the norm, they simply aren’t,” he says.

No matter how hard many try to justify their misplaced anger towards Islam, either wittingly or unwittingly through decontextualised scriptural verses, the religion is free of blame.


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  1. “Non-Muslims living outside the authority of Islamic Law should be fought as is their due” but the original actually read “non-Muslims living outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights.”

    This seems to beg the question of what those ‘rights’ are, and who decides. Does the wider context of the relevant passage in the Qu’ran expand on this question? If not, it seems to me to be ambiguous and open to a variety of interpretations, ranging from tolerant to intolerant.

    • It was based on a specific event.

      This is from the link:

      “Mardin is the region of Turkey where Ibn Taymiyah was born. His home city, Harran, is located within Mardin. The Mongols conquered and occupied Mardin when Ibn Taymiyah was seven years old, forcing him and his family to flee.
      The people of Mardin were Muslims. Ibn Taymiyah regarded the Mongol occupiers who ruled them as people who were unbelievers in Islam as well as spoilers and murderers, since the Mongols carried out numerous atrocities against the inhabitants of the region. The situation in the region was one where the general populace was Muslim but living under the dominion of non-Muslim rulers.
      Ibn Taymiyah was asked about the people of Mardin: Should the people of Mardin be considered as hypocrites? Is it obligatory on the Muslims population there to emigrate? Is Mardin still to be considered part of the Muslim world?
      His answer – known as the Mardin fatwa – addressed these points clearly:
      1. The lives and property of the people of Mardin are inviolable. Their living under the subjugation of the Mongols does not compromise any of their rights, nor can they be maligned verbally or accused of hypocrisy.
      2. As long as the inhabitants of Mardin are able to practice their religion, they are not obliged to emigrate.
      3. They should not give assistance to those who are fighting against the Muslims, even if they are forced to flatter them, be evasive, or absent themselves.
      4. The territory is neither wholly a part of the Muslim world, since it is under the domination of the Mongols, nor is it part of the non-Muslim world since its populace is Muslim. It is in fact a composite of the two. The Muslims living therein should be treated according to their rights as Muslims, while the non-Muslims living there outside of the authority of Islamic Law should be treated according to their rights.
      Ibn Taymiyah’s nuanced description of the region demonstrates something of his ingenuity in dealing with complex questions and situations.”

      • Thanks Omar for your reply. Since the UK and US have never been Muslim lands, it seems inappropriate for Bin Laden or any Muslim to have applied either version of Ibn Taymiyah’s fatwa. If the UK or US homelands were regarded as a legitimate target this is an act of vengeance for those countries intervention in Muslim-dominated homelands.

        The majority of Muslims in the UK are moderate, peaceful people who don’t seek to impose their culture or judgement on the host nation.

        Likewise, the majority of the British are also moderate and peaceful people, who don’t approve of the US led interventions in the middle east that the UK, as a close US ally, has been dragged into.

        Your thesis is that sectarian violence is mostly caused by governments, rather than by emnity between individuals from different cultures. However, individuals can become the lightning rod of internationally charged situations, and brushes with heavy handed authorities makes them conducive to radicalisation by inflammatory political ideologies proselytised by secular or clerical extremists.

        I think there is some merit in the thesis. However, aiming violence at servicemen is misplaced and should be condemned by anyone entering the debate about the appalling murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Servicemen are professionals who conduct themselves with honour, whether fighting against the religious-ideological extremism of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or protecting Muslims from the nationalistic-ideological extremism of Serbs in Bosnia-Herzogovina.

  2. Which available version of Islam do you feel people should adhere too?

  3. Asalaamualaikum brother Omar,

    I certainly agree with you on this article. An excellent summary from a variety of different sources.

    In your previous article you had mentioned the Ahmadiyya community as one such enlightened movement for change as stated here.

    As you often quote Hamza Yusuf in your articles, do you also adhere to his understanding that the Ahmadiyya Community are not Muslims?

    If your unwilling to answer this please can you elaborate on the reason why?

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