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FOCUS: "WE DON'T DO GOD, WE DO PALESTINE AND IRAQ"
by Amir Taheri
The Sunday Times
February 14, 2006

It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and flies like a duck. And yet it insists that it is not a duck. This is the image that comes to mind when watching those anti-cartoon marches in western capitals, including London, in the name of Islam.

Isn't Islam supposed to be a religion? Shouldn't it be concerned with the broader issues of human existence rather than with a set

of cartoons, a Dutch television documentary, the head-covers of French schoolgirls or a novel by a British-Indian author? Today the visible Islam, the loudest Islam, is a political movement masquerading as a religion. Many mosques in this country have been transformed into political clubs where Kashmir, Iraq and Palestine and "the misdeeds

of Anglo-Saxon imperialism" have replaced issues of religious faith as the principal theme.

Not long ago when I asked an imam in a London mosque why it was that God hardly featured in his sermons, he thought I had lost the plot. "What matters today is the suffering of our brethren under occupation," he snapped.

In other words: in our Islam we don't do God, we do Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq.

That is not all. This political Islam also has grievances about aspects of British and more broadly European domestic politics. It is unhappy that gays and lesbians are allowed to live without hindrance. It does not like the way women are allowed to "get cheeky" and even argue with their menfolk.

It is scandalised by the West's "corruption and debauchery" and that there is no "moral force" to set strict limits to individual liberties.

"We have no religious grievances in this country," said Azam Tamimi, a pro-Hamas British Muslim scholar. "Here we can practise our religion with more freedom than in any Muslim-ruled country. It is therefore natural that we should focus on political rather than religious issues."

There are at least three reasons for the excessive politicisation of Islam in the West.

The first is that Muslims in the West come from a wide variety of ethnic, sectarian and cultural backgrounds. Many have long histories of sectarian feuds in their homelands. Since those feuds cannot be continued here they tend to minimise the religious aspects of Islam and emphasise the political themes that can unite them.

For example, no Sunni Muslims could ever agree with a Qaderi or a Jaafari Muslim on key theological issues. But all three hate gay marriages and can unite in a march against Israel.

The second reason is that the public expression of Islam is controlled by political groups and parties that are often banned in the Muslim world itself.

Once again Britain and the West in general offer the only space in which all Islamic political movements can thrive. There are more than 400 Islamic associations and societies in Britain operating through some 2,000 mosques. But scratch any one of them and you will find that it is, in fact, a cover for a political movement.

Because it offers a unique freedom, Britain has become host to dozens of Islamist parties which are banned in the Muslim world. The Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), the Tunisian An-Nahda al-Islamiyah, the pan-Islamist

Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation party), the Iranian Mujaheddin Khalq (People's Holy Warriors), the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah movement and a number of other groups that could best be described as terrorist outfits have had propaganda bases and safe havens in Britain for two decades.

The third reason for the politicisation of Islam in Britain is its rapprochement with the extreme left over the past decade. Today political Islam and the British extreme left are in coalition in a number of organisations, including the anti-war alliance. Muslims provide the street muscle and the "poor masses" that the traditionally atheistic extreme left lacks. In exchange the extreme left puts its experience in militant politics at the service of political Islam. Hatred of "bourgeois democracy", anti-Americanism and opposition to Israel provide the unifying factors of this unnatural alliance.

Islam cannot have it both ways: pretend to be a religion and demand special respect while operating as a political ideology which, by definition, must be open to criticism and even denigration.

Politicised Islam's attempt at destroying individual freedoms is as much a threat to Islam as the inquisition was to Christianity.

By preaching martyrdom as the highest goal for Muslims and beating the drums of "the clash of civilisations", it is also a threat to world peace.

To protect itself, Islam needs to revive its theology with emphasis on divinity. In other words, Islam must re-become a religion.

It is a sad fact that such terms as spirituality (ruhaniyat), theology (kalam), theologian (mutukallim), and philosopher (failasuf) have disappeared from the Islamic lexicon. Excessive politicisation is killing Islam as a religion and, at the same time, destroying Muslim literature, art and culture. More importantly, as far as Britain is concerned it is also mobilising negative energies that could threaten our democracy.

This does not mean that Muslims should stay out of politics or not be concerned about Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir or any political cause.

It means they should recognise that those causes are political, not religious. Nobody prevents Muslims practising their faith in Palestine or Kashmir, let alone Iraq. These disputes are about territory, borders, statehood, form of government, not about faith.

Politicised Islam is a form of totalitarianism. Its primary victims are Muslims. In many Muslim countries it has been exposed and can no longer deceive the masses. In the West, however, it has duped media, government and academia into treating it not as a political movement, but as a religion.

Advocates of politicised Islam claim that a call for Islam to return to God, to resuscitate its dead theology and to re-become a religion is nothing but a "Zionist- imperialist plot" to divert "the rage of the Muslim masses".

More Muslims, however, are beginning to miss God, to feel His absence in their religious discourse and to long for His return where He belongs — at the heart of the faith.

 

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