Road to Muslim
By Ghayasuddin Siddiqui
Only an internally generated intellectual revolution would provide
Muslims a place of respect under the Sun, argues Ghayasuddin Siddiqui,
leader of the Muslim Parliament in Great Britain.
Recently a friend's daughter was getting married, and our family was
invited to attend one of the pre-nuptial ceremonies: the henna night, at
which the palm of bride-to-be is stained with henna with much fanfare.
Whilst the men chatted in a separate room, the women listened to a talk
on the responsibilities of women. They were told that heaven has seven
gates and those women who look after their husbands properly would be
entitled to enter heaven through whichever gate they chose. Muslim women
are so used to listening to such garbage that they simply laugh, ignore
it and move on.
When my daughter-in-law related the story to me, other episodes came to
my mind. An acquaintance of mine when asked how his daughter was getting
on in her education responded by saying that she was staying at home to
give company to her mother. When asked whether she were ill or disabled
the reply was: the Prophet's daughter did not go to school. Then there
was the recent telephone call to our office from an 18-year-old girl
asking for details of Muslim colleges, as she has not been allowed to
attend school since she was 14.
During a debate on the subject of hijab organized by the Oxford
Studentsí Islamic Society a few months ago I made the point that the
Qur'an stresses on modesty of apparel for both men and women.
Surprisingly, the audience was reluctant to accept this idea. Scarier
was the fact that these young people of above-average intelligence
seemed more interested in securing a position in the afterlife than in
improving their own and others' lot in this one.
A couple of weeks ago, following the High Court Judgement on the Luton
jilbab controversy, I was saddened to hear a number of Muslim girls say
they would sooner leave school than abandon jilbab. Those who were
supporting Shabina Begum's case were looking not for reconciliation (the
Luton school allows for the religious and cultural preferences of its
pupils) but confrontation in order to enhance their status amongst the
youth. In that they were guilty also of double standards, for whilst
opposing democracy and human rights as "non-Islamic," they wanted the
school to accept Ms Begum's right to choose her form of dress.
Many young people seem unaware that the headscarf or hijab controversy
only became an issue as a result of the Iranian revolution, when Iranian
women had started to observe hijab as a protest against the culture of
nakedness promoted under the Shah. Now by emphasizing hijab as an
obligation, not a choice, a faction is making the outward manifestation
of dress, rather than modesty in one's heart, the measure of Muslimness.
God says He knows what is in our hearts and that is what matters. But
the new generation of Islamists is changing the goal posts. By making
hijab or jilbab a criterion of Islamic identity our clerics are taking
on the role of God by laying claim to infallibility. If Muslims are not
careful they might find themselves conniving at the introduction of a
moral police, which could entail rifts within the community based on
degrees of observance. In my view, this shift of emphasis is a
distraction from the real challenges the Muslim world faces, challenges
we prefer not to confront because that would require changing ourselves
If tomorrow all Muslim women don the jilbab and men grow beards, will
the condition of Muslims improve? More likely they will still be
despised and marginalized. Muslims must recognize that it is their
closed mind-set that has put them on the slippery slope to
insignificance. Sadly even the pro-hijab conference recently held in
London, supported by Ken Livingstone, also missed the point.
Following the collapse of the Mughal Empire in India in early 19th
century there was an intense debate over the causes of Muslim decline
One view was that whilst we were sleeping a new body of knowledge had
emerged elsewhere which now guides the destiny of mankind and without
excelling in it our future could not be secured. An alternative
hypothesis held that we declined because we abandoned the 'pure' Islam
and to reacquire former glory we should shun contact with the alien West
and return to aslaf (the practices of the forebears). Sadly, the latter
view prevailed and manifested itself in the form of opposition to
learning English. Two hundred years later, the folly of this attitude
has been repeatedly demonstrated.
Muslim orthodoxy still believes this was the right course but it denied
Muslims any influence they might have had in world affairs.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Islamic movements and
clerics were manipulated by the CIA into allowing Islam to be used to
pursue an American agenda (remember Reagan's alliance of 'God-fearing
peoplesí against godless 'Evil Empire'!). This gave rise to what is
known as the Jihad in Afghanistan. Cold War Warriors became Holy
Warriors. Using Muslims as cannon fodder, the CIA contrived to defeat
the Soviet Union. Suddenly, a bipolar world had become unipolar. The
subsequent developments made it possible for the neo-cons to set in
motion their plan for domination of the world's resources.
If reluctance to learn English put Muslims on the road to intellectual
irrelevance, the Afghan Jihad made their societies promoters of a
culture of violence. We know that some of these Holy Warriors were
trained in Scotland by the British Government during the Thatcher epoch.
While referring to the war on terror, Tony Blair recently said he knew
there were Jihadists living in Britain. He was of course right because
Britain had been actively involved in the Afghan Jihad from the very
beginning. Now as the US operation in Afghanistan falters, Britain is
again involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to find acceptable
Taliban faces to incorporate in the Karzai Government. To pursue this
goal, in March of this year, the spiritual father of the Taliban was
invited to London as the guest of the Foreign Office. Governments never
hesitate to use simple-minded groups and individuals to further their
political ends. But an open debate within the community on the Jihad in
Afghanistan and its unforeseen consequences might ensure that we begin
our next love affair with the Taliban with our eyes open. The Islamists
have destabilized the world and Muslims aught to know it.
Muslims have to do a lot of soul searching. They shall have to begin by
challenging the forces of obscurantism. They must recognize that these
forces have brought them nothing but defeat, humiliation and misery.
Unless they emerge as champions of the empowerment of humankind, they
shall neither have nor merit any place of respect in the world. The
secular man who presently dominates world affairs will accord them
grudging respect only if they beat him at his own game, which is to say,
becoming as creative as he is. It is this change that can shift the
balance of power in their favour, bringing them the dignity and
acceptability they so desperately crave.
Muslims need an internally generated intellectual revolution. Small
pockets of intellectuals already exist everywhere. What they need is a
voice and a forum for their growth and recognition. This bridge building
may ensure that there is enough pressure on the rulers in the Muslim
countries to grant basic freedoms to their own people.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is leader of the Muslim Parliament and director
of The Muslim Institute, London. He may be contacted at
The Milli Gazette, India