Sunday, August 12, 2007

Escaping Islamism

A very good piece by Shiraz Maher in the Times (London). Maher is a former member of Hizb ur-Tahrir, an Islamist (hardline) group in Britain.

First what the attraction to HT was:

Hizb was a large family in many ways: a group offering social support, comradeship, a sense of purpose and validation. At 21, it was intoxicating to me. I embraced my new Islamist identity and family with eagerness. Islamism transcends cultural norms, so it not only prompted me to reject my British identity but also my ethnic South Asian background. I was neither eastern, nor western; I was a Muslim, a part of the global ummah, where identity is defined through the fraternity of faith.
This point about the radical de-nationalized identity is so crucial. Same was seen with the ring leader of the London bombing. He wanted to choose his own (Islamic) wife, not an arranged marriage--a la Urdu Tribal Custom. Amber over red.

Further proof of the amber (blue) mythic-imperial-transnational nature:

Islamists insist this identity is not racist because Islam welcomes people of all colours, ethnicities and backgrounds. That was true, but our world view was still horribly bipolar. We didn’t distinguish on the basis of colour, but on creed. The world was simply divided into believers and nonbelievers. It was a reality that came back to haunt me last month when I realised that Bilal Abdullah and Kafeel Ahmed, the two men linked with the alleged plot to attack London and Glasgow, were among my closest friends when I studied at Cambridge University.

This world is not constructed around nationality or tribal affiliation but Islamic or non-Islamic (Dar al Islam versus Dar al Gharb).

But what is more interesting to me is his way out:

My time in Cambridge was a turning point. I was studying for a doctorate, researching the development of Islamic political thought in late colonial India, which proved to be my saviour. My research caused me to find marked points of rupture in both the historical and theological narrative of what the Hizb was having me believe. Previous generations had failed, the Hizb told me, to apply Islam to the reality of a changed and changing world in the early 20th century. What I found could not have been further from this. Throughout my thesis I was able to survey a wide range of Muslim opinion across the Indian subcontinent, among whom Abul Kalam Azad was a leading figure. He explained how Islam obliged Muslims to create a harmonious society. He was adept at offering lucid explanations from the texts of the Koran to show a secular state was validated through Islam.
Shiraz then details leaving HT, based on his own changed (transformed) theological viewpoint. He lost his social Islamist support network. But then met Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, also a former Hizb member. They are changing the terms of debate from within--a wider, more inclusive, plural, and open-minded Islam.

He writes:
The significance of this [his connection with Husain] should not be underestimated. When I first left, I emphasised that the challenges of Islamist extremism could never be overcome until the Muslim community formulated its own response. Since meeting Ed and becoming aware of the emerging network of other former members, many of them also holding a senior rank at one time, I was reassured. An influential figure still within the movement, but who is close to leaving, told me and Ed recently, “Don’t worry, your message is being heard.”
The way of modern ("orange") Islam. The key paradigm is getting back into the tradition ("return to the sources" resourcement a la Vatican II RC Theo.), getting into many many of these voices and letting them all have a place. Some will no doubt be drawn to the hardline tradition of say an al Tamiyya, but others increasingly will be drawn to the Reformist trajectories.


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