ISB and the Reformation Discourse


My last article seems to have caused unsettlement amongst some quarters it seems.  I was attacked for not verifying my information before “judging” people, although, my article refutes the statements made by brother Ahtsham Ali.  Some have labelled me a “deobandit”, whilst others have called me a “wobbler”, whilst another thought it was some “brillo”.  Ironic, to say the least, considering those who have made such claims failed to verify such “labels” themselves and “judged” me.  For the record, I have defended Sufis and Salafis.  My position is simple, I will defend Muslims where the attacker is using the Muslim as a proxy to attack Islam.  Hence, I have defended Shaykh Haytham al-Haddad, spoke highly of Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa and written in defence of individuals who associate themselves with ISB and in so doing have established a track record of a non-sectarianist position.

ISB and reformation

As evident from the polished ISB website parading “British Islam” as increasingly clean-shaven jaw-bones and hijab-less heads, the Islam of ISB provides for a flavour which, in its endeavour to appeal to the masses of the British public, reduces Islam to insipidity, a shapeless gas which takes any form of its container and monochroming the Colour of Allah (al-Qur’an 2:139) which signifies Islam’s uniqueness, demarcating its own epistemological paradigm.

The platform speakers of ISB, to varying degrees, seek to deconstruct this colour, and through this deconstruction perpetuate confusion amongst people who will adopt a position more suited to their desires.  Some balked at my comparison of this with the neocon agenda to deconstruct Islam, however the reading of the RAND corporation policy in “democratising Islam”, and the creation and actions of Radical Middleway for instance, to forge as part of British policy, a dumbed down version of Islam are testimony to this reductionist Islam being propounded.

The methodology employed is through the use of not modernism, but postermodernist decontructionism; i.e. that no one can monopolise the “truth” and that traditional assumptions, however established are merely constructed meanings. As such interpretations become open (Quilliam anyone?).

A quaint philosophy except that its application to Islam ignores the fact that the process of verification based upon unshakeable foundations and principles has been occurring for over 1400 years by thousands of individuals whose piety is unparalleled today.

I do not doubt ISB’s former president, Ahtsham Ali’s sincerity in his research, lectures and propagation. However there are some serious issues which reveal this underlying issue of deconstruction in his discourses, which contain a mixture of dangerous advice and in some cases inaccurate, misleading statements. This concoction then allows for the doors for reformation of Islam to be flung open, not in minor issues, but issues which would attack the very fundamentals of Islam, as Usama Hasan (who is defended by ISB) has already done.

“Living Islam”, Promoting Confusion

As highlighted in the last blog certain snippets from Ahtsham’s talk at “Living Islam” were paraded in the media. A need to refute the claims in the media report was required as it clearly indicated to an agenda to promote confusion amongst Muslims. Latent within the headline was the undermining of mainstream Islam.  During the comments on the blog, brother Ahtsham Ali provided a link to the report and advised me with regards to verifying my facts.  Though I did not allude to this point in the article or the comments, I was aware of Ali’s positions based on earlier material.

In a “Brit Islam” e-circle entitled “The Virtues of Prayer”, Ahtsham devotes most of his time providing a refutation of the usul applied by the four Imams of the schools, as if they were somehow uninformed of Ahtsham’s arguments. He then proceeds to give his own interpretation of hadith to support his viewpoint. Again, I would like to emphasise the danger here, a point which was consistently skirted around in the comment section of the previous blog. The goal is obvious; by promoting doubt about the usul employed by the four Imams, a deconstruction of the basis of their schools pursued, opening them therefore to unrestrained abuse by reformationists and resulting in public confusion.

Ahtsham’s talk at Living Islam, gratefully provided by Ahtsham himself, is a case in point.

The introduction to the lecture is one of condescension. After complaining that no one is really applying usul al-fiqh and that it is a largely forgotten science which is “not applied”, Ahtsham proceeds to apply his usuls to the issue at hand: segregation.

Superficially, one can see the point being made; graduates of seminaries may not always make reference to usul al-fiqh.  Perhaps this is because many of the rulings within a school have been meticulously combed by leading Mujtahid scholars (those who have mastered the deduction of rulings) over 1400 years and have been established several times over. Or perhaps because one has to be on a level of a Mujtahid fil madhab (within a madhab) with mastery in ilm al-tarjih (science of preference [of opinions]) to discern the stronger opinions within a madhab (let alone across madhabs).  Whatever the case, the statement however is not entirely true; there are many scholars in the UK who are engaged in ijtihad in cutting edge issues such as genetics, chemistry in food, and finance.  Absence of experience does not mean something does not exist.

When the Patient Challenges the Doctor

One of the primary concerns from the talk was the concept of “challenging” scholars. “What is your evidence”, it should be asked of the scholar. Ahtsham encourages “everyone to immerse themselves in the evidences”. As an advice from a scholar to scholar, this statement is understandable. And it is indeed it is encouraged.

However who exactly are the addressees of his talk?  The people who attended the “Living Islam” event were not all scholars, nor students of knowledge, nor did they spend years learning the intricacies of usul ilm al-Qur’anusul al-fiqh and the many other sciences one would need to learn before being capable of being called a student of knowledge, let alone an ‘Aalim. As evidenced from many verses, hadith and statements of the classical scholars, it is mandatory for them to follow a scholar.

Instead, opinions using the tools of ijtihad are propounded upon a public and ifta is reduced to a few principles of fiqh whilst other principles (such as sadd al-dharaa’i – blocking the means to haraam), are reduced to inefficacy, the endpoint reality of which is the challenging of established positions in Islam, an example of which we will see from another ISB pseudo-intellectual further below.

Ahtsham states that the prohibition needs to be categorical and if it is not there is basically no need for us to put ourselves through the effort of staying away from it. Again, for a scholar who has a broad-based knowledge of the sciences and ilm al-tarjih, this usul can be useful in the formulation of a fatwa, but to promulgate this amongst the general public is blatantly wrong and conflicts with clear directives of the Prophet (peace be upon him):

“Leave that which causes you doubt for that which does not cause you doubt.”[1]

And he said,

“Verily, the halal is clear and the haram is clear and between them are unclear matters that many people do not know. So whoever stays clear of the unclear matters, he has safeguarded his religion and his honour.”[2]

And also,

“A slave will not be from the muttaqīn until he abandons that in which there is no harm, out of precaution against that in which there is harm.”[3]

This is like saying to a patient your GP must give you evidence for all the prescriptions he prescribes and you must employ the principles of your GP’s expert reasoning in your own mind to decide what medicine you order from the pharmacy. In other words, start writing your own prescriptions.

The disturbing manner in which the great Imams of tafsir (exegesis) are dismissed adds to the creation of an atmosphere of doubt and wild speculation.  There is a tendency to make baseless sweeping statements without any regard for accuracy.  For example Ahtsham states with a tone of authority and confidence:

“Imam Qurtubi did say this, Ibn Kathir did say it applies to all women but no where did they write why”.

This is incorrect. They in fact do provide evidences for their explanations. Ibn Kathir provides four hadith to support his view.[4] Imam al-Qurtubi under verse 33, elaborating on the principle underlying the explanation:

“The meaning of this verse is the command to remain firmly in the house. Although the address is to the wives of the Prophet (s.a.w), other women are included in it by implicationThis would be the case even if there was no evidence specifying all women. But the Shari’ah is full of [exhortations] for women to remain fixed in their homes, and avoidance of emerging from there except for dire need as has preceded in numerous places.”

It beggars beliefs that one would consider such great Imams, in addition to those I have already highlighted in my previous article, would give explanations of the Qur’an without proof or authority. It is even worse to mislead people with inaccurate information with regards to those Imams.

In proving his point, Ahtsham renders a number of hadith weak despite them not being regarded weak by many scholars. An example of this is one narration which is also found as evidence for Imam Ibn Kathir’s tafsir of verse 33:

“A woman’s prayer in her inner chamber is better than her prayer in her house and her prayer in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard.”[5]

Ibn Kathir states that it’s “chain is excellent”, whilst Al-Hakim also declares the narration authentic and Imam al-Dhahabi agrees with him. From the contemporary scholars Shaykh Shu’ayb Arnaut declares the hadith strong in his footnotes to Musnad Ahmad.

Emulation, as already covered in a previous blog comes in for clarification in the talk, however the method employed is disconcerting. In highlighting the incorrect understanding of those who adhere to habitual Sunnah, Ahtsham mocks an individual in his understanding, thus perceptively putting off anyone from adhering to such Sunan. There is no commendation or encouragement to adhere to Sunnahadah to balance his statements. One wonders whether the same approach would be taken when dealing with zeal of the numerous Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) who adhered to the behaviour of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in every aspect. He further makes the claim, which supports the Times report that,

“To wear a suit is Sunnah – he wore what the people around him wore”.

This is an incredibly far-fetched statement to make, for speech and actions are tied to the Prophet (peace be upon him), his adoption of some practices whilst shunning others in clear ahadith, and even requesting Companions to emulate his clothing, is part of the Sunnah and proof of the uniqueness of Islam, irrespective of location. Wearing a “suit” is not Sunnah. Is the definition of Sunnah applied from a fiqh perspective? Or is it based upon a definition as understood by Hadith scholars? The definition of Sunnah is being stretched through a deduction based upon a superficial observation which is ambiguous at the least and incorrect in its understanding. By Ahtsham’s logic any clothes people wear “around us” will be Sunnah which is patently absurd.

There is much more that can be said, however for the sake of brevity the above will have to suffice. The seeds of doubt-inducing rhetoric evident above is what leads to the destruction of Islam itself, which seems to be the broader strategy of ISB.

Deconstruction to Destruction

Khalid Anis reinforces my point about ISB’s direction. In one particular discussion on BBC’s Big Questions, Khalid Anis frequently teams with the neocon Haras Rafiq of the Quilliam notoriety questioning the definitiveness of the Hijab as an obligation. Taking an extreme version of Ahtsham’s deconstructionism, Anis clearly, to the nodding-dog approval of Rafiq, states that,

“We have gone from the five pillars to the Hijab, and that is the jump I struggle with. There are people who would discuss that, and we should allow that because may be in time people will- because that verse – the verse you have taken about Hijab, its interpreted, so all I am saying is jumping from five pillars where I agree with you totally, to Hijab or something else is not quite in the same bracket is it?”

The eloquent Imam neatly refutes this blatant deconstructionism by Anis who, as evident from his stuttering seems to mask what he wants to say: “people will…”, remove their hijabs perhaps?

ISB and Gaza

Perhaps it is this flavour of Islam which prevented ISB from issuing a stance on the ridiculously barbaric situation in Gaza. Even Yahya Birt took ISB to task for their inability to provide a clear position of solidarity with the Palestinians and leadership for the “Islamic society of Britain”. Members of ISB, including reformationist Dilwar Hussain are seen defending this untenable position with the usual “it’s not our remit” rubric, which is challenged by Birt as well as a founding ISB member. Other excuses are constructed on the claim that the organisation is apolitical, a grand statement considering the methodology adopted by ISB in propagating confusion in Islam is in harmony with the neocon policy to deconstruct Islam. Others (comment, 4 August at 11:28) who visited Living Islam noted the “muscular liberalism” on offer whilst the choice of “music artists” performing during the Adhaan was also criticised.

The “Brit Islam” it seems, is not one which encourages activism but fails to act on issues as extreme as Gaza.

Concluding Remarks

Is everything said in ISB lectures and statements incorrect? I don’t hold this position, however if you add a few drops of poison to a glass of milk, you can no longer point to the benefits of the milk because the contamination dominates the whole glass. In essence this is what ISB speakers and Ahtsham’s talk are doing; injecting doubt and poison into the Islamic discourse while pretending to be promoting peace, love and harmony with the British culture. It can easily be seen that the ISB brand of Islam has become toxic. What judgement will history make of it will depend on how long the organisation remains captive in the hands of its reformationists leadership and deconstruction of Islam project.


*May the Mercy of Allah be upon the scholars mentioned in the above piece.


[1] (Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Nasā’ī)دع ما يريبك إلى ما لا يريبك

[2] إن الحلال بين وإن الحرام بين وبينهما مشتبهات لايعلمهن كثير من الناس فمن اتقى الشبهات فقد استبر لدينه وعرضه

(Bukhārī, Muslim)

[3] لا يبلغ العبد أن يكون من المتقين حتى حتى يدع ما لا بأس به حذرا مما به البأس

(Sunan at-Tirmidhī, 2451)

[4] The first is, Al-Hafidh Abu Bakr al-Bazaar said from Anas radhiyAllah’anhu, he said, we came to the Messenger of Allah (sallalahu alayhi wassalam), and they said, O Messenger of Allah, the men go out for reward and jihad in the path of Allah, what is for us a deed which attains because of it a reward [like] the actions of the mujahideen in the path of Allah? Thus the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said, “the one who sits – or a word like it – from you in her home, for her is the attainment of actions [the like of] mujahideen in the path of Allah”.

 وقال الحافظ أبو بكر البزار: حدثنا حميد بن مسعدة، حدثنا أبو رجاء الكلبي روح بن المسيب ثقة، حدثنا ثابت البناني عن أنس رضي الله عنه قال: جئن النساء إِلى رسول الله، فقلن: يارسول الله ذهب الرجال بالفضل والجهاد في سبيل الله تعالى، فما لنا عمل ندرك به عمل المجاهدين في سبيل الله تعالى، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ” من قعدت ــــ أو كلمة نحوها ــــ منكن في بيتها، فإِنها تدرك عمل المجاهدين في سبيل الله تعالى ” ثم قال: لا نعلم رواه عن ثابت إِلا روح بن المسيب، وهو رجل من أهل البصرة مشهور.

وقال البزار أيضاً: حدثنا محمد بن المثنى، حدثني عمرو بن عاصم، حدثنا همام عن قتادة عن مورّق عن أبي الأحوص عن عبد الله رضي الله عنه، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: ” إِن المرأة عورة، فإِذا خرجت، استشرفها الشيطان، وأقرب ما تكون بروحة ربها، وهي في قعر بيتها ” رواه الترمذي عن بندار عن عمرو بن عاصم به نحوه. وروى البزار بإِسناده المتقدم، وأبو داوود أيضاً عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: ” صلاة المرأة في مخدعها أفضل من صلاتها في بيتها، وصلاتها في بيتها أفضل من صلاتها في حجرتها ” وهذا إِسناد جيد

[5] Abu Dawud

12 thoughts on “ISB and the Reformation Discourse

  1. Salaam, interesting article. I agree with your assertion about the goal of the neocons and their minions. They want to employ “reformists” to dilute Islam and ultimately neuter Muslims politically. I just recently read an article which distilled this well, I thought:

    But I’m not sure what you’re proposing as a counter strategy. I’m a little reluctant to pose a question here, but my curiosity has the best of me. It’s not easy for me to grasp your article first pass, because I’m not very familiar with the landscape in the UK, the organization in question, or your vantage point. For example, I haven’t the slightest notion what a “deobandit”, a “wobbler”, or a “brillo” is, so I can’t assess what critics mean by this shorthand.

    Are you saying we should not wade into the “dangerous” swamp of questioning traditional orthodoxy? Deconstruction = destruction?

    • Walaykumsalam, and thank you for taking your time out to comment on my blog.

      My apologies for the slightly jargon specific nature of the opening paragraph. The examples you have highlighted relate to sectarianist pejoratives for certain groups/schools in the UK and around the world.

      As for your question, it depends on what you mean by “questioning traditional orthodoxy” and whether you wish to ask the question from a theological point of view or a political one. The decontructionism of this nature (as highlighted in the article) is destructive, where confusion is promulgated to the masses, the authority of Ulama undermined and traditional sciences used in a selective manner to promote a view which happens to sit neatly (for instance) with David Cameron’s calls at the expense of many Muslim groups and an established view. My view is, it must be challenged and pushed back as it opens the doors for the likes of Usama Hasan and Maajid Nawaz (“who’s interpretation do we follow?”) to water-down Islam to suit their policies. These are common methods which have been used since the earliest iteration of PREVENT to undermine, and eventually demonise classical viewpoints as “extremist”, see here:

      Purely from an Islamic point of view it threatens one’s Iman as it opens the doors for DIY ijtihad, by people without legitimate credentials.

  2. Purely from an Islamic point of view it threatens one’s Iman as it opens the doors for DIY ijtihad, by people without legitimate credentials.

    Okay, I see your point. On the other hand, I’m in favor of a little DIY ijtihad. 🙂 What I mean is, while I don’t think it makes sense to simply discard scholarly opinion and make up whatever you want, I do think it’s okay for people to make their respective cases and provide evidence. Obviously someone who knows Arabic and is a trained, credentialed scholar is going to carry more weight than a layperson who has to rely on translations/interpretations. But ultimately, what argument is there, really, against letting everyone present their case, and may the best argument win?

    I think it’s easy to dismiss Maajid Nawaz, but Usama Hasan makes more plausible arguments, however misguided. I think his positions must actually be met with counter arguments. Do you not agree?

      • No, but I don’t blindly accept what doctors tell me either. If I did, I’d be on anti-depressants (needlessly) and who knows what else by now. Proper respect, but verify. Nothing wrong with that.

    • thanks once again for your comment,

      “I do think it’s okay for people to make their respective cases and provide evidence”

      I feel there are two paradigms being confused here. I believe everyone can investigate and present their views, as it is their right to do so. In this case, let it be so, may the best argument win. However this is distinctly different from the Islamic paradigm of ijtihad, in which one struggles to achieve conformity to the Will of Allah on a matter which is inextricably linked to istifta. One is an academic exercise, the other a spiritual one. Hence the concept of DIY ijtihad, “may the best man win” does not apply here, and neither does the question of shifting credentials which, for ijtihad, is not simply a case of being able to translate Arabic, but requires mastery and license in several intricate sciences, as has been the established way from the inception of the development of fiqh from the heirs of the Prophet (peace be upon him), i.e. the Ulama.

      “I think his positions must actually be met with counter arguments.”

      Yes I do agree. And I believe there are scholars who have approached him and refuted him.

      • Okay. Thank you for your replies. This is not a well-worn path for me, so I should think this over before I say anymore. But in the end, whether we agree entirely on these matters or not, we certainly agree Islam is under a concerted, relentless assault, and I respect and appreciate your efforts. Take care.

      • We most certainly can sister. I have followed your work for sometime. Keep up the excellent writing because it’s more than just refutation, it’s a service to Islam.

      • Hello again. I just wanted to say that suddenly, while trying to write an article of my own, I got your point. 🙂 I won’t bother to restate, since you already made it quite clear in your comment to me. I just had to let it cook a little and read it again, and it snapped into focus. Thank you!

  3. ok so here is a thought from me ‘another concerned Muslim’

    whilst I am by no means an Islamic scholar so I’m not even going to get into a theological debate- I believe if you are not informed in a subject don’t pretend as you do you own faith a disservice. However I can state my own opinion- therefore here goes:

    my concern with Islamic Society of Britain is that if you do not ‘conform’ to their version of Islam then there must be something wrong with you. I also find it hard to understand their silence on key issues effecting Muslims around the world.

    Are we now so afraid to speak out against injustice that we must pander to the sterile and acceptable notion of being Muslim for fear of being labelled -(I say it again every negative term for Muslim ) terrorist. My issues is not with the purposes of ISB in being a space in which Muslim in this country with the privileges they enjoy to be able to have their own voice. It is that having this privilege we do not use it to stand against injustice for all no matter where in the world.

    My other issue is when we talk about deconstructing Islam to what purpose – to whose vision – to what end. My understanding of Islam is that even in this day and time, there are new discoveries that emerge from the Quran as there are meanings abound which only come to light at the right time. Understanding of the intricacies of the human spirit , the endeavour for knowledge that even now we are only just beginning to understand.


    for me this revisioning of Islam to fit a manmade framework is a bit like trying to light a flame on a already lit candle.
    let me explain… if we as Muslims truly follow our faith , use our common sense and apply our faith within our lives to be the best of Muslims etc. then actually what we should find is that ideals of fairness , justice, charity, humanity, and the refrain from the things that make us weak as human , corruption , greed etc. is a matter of personal struggle to be better Muslim. in that struggle to dilute the essence of what it means to be a Muslim is to make our faith more palatable – but why?

    therefore this notion that we should make Islam more acceptable – but what is it that we are making more acceptable. I have issues with our culture (not religion and no they are not the same) , I have issues with people who use my faith to further their own political agenda, I have issues with those who seek to demonise my faith. what I don’t have an issue with is those who seek to question in order to seek understanding.

    sorry if I have gone on a rant but as you say the DIY’ers get on my nerves- what qualifies them to deconstruct my religion , my faith.

    An example in my recent MA I discovered that the very first Christian theological college ever setup in Britain based their constitution on the principle of madrassah’s and the Islamic concepts of Waqf and that trusteeship is based on the principle of wakif. you may wonder what this has to do with the debate .. well the point being that if others can take the best of our faith and apply it the very tenets of the structures of their society- that then inform their future laws- so why ? can we not take our understanding and reflect this back and say we do not need to deconstruct Islam to make it more palatable for you as you are already experiencing the best of Islam within the very ideals and structure you hold in such high esteem.

    when Muslims put aside their egos and seek to unite each other in a manner that requires the best of us to lead the way then and only then can we counter all those that seek to undermine us as Muslims.

    sorry if that sounds like a rant but I don’t see where at the moment Muslim can have a nuanced voice that expresses their , discussion , debate, growth and development in an enlightened manner that is more than just appeasing who they rub shoulders with.

    • Thanks for your comment and apologies for responding so late.

      “for me this revisioning of Islam to fit a manmade framework is a bit like trying to light a flame on a already lit candle.”

      I coundnt have put it better myself. The reality is that reformationist agenda is the continuation of the “control” aspect which the Western powers have been doing since the imposition of the Sykes-Picot artificiality, the results of which we are seeing in the Middle-East mayhem today. The tools used to to achieve this is post-modernist.

      Your MA example is interesting and thank you for sharing it. My comment on this point however is this: the Trojan Hoax fiasco highlighted that the problem isnt pragmatism (which may be inspired by Islam), but rather pragmatism, or practice which is connected to Islam. Thus Ofsted praised segregation in classes in a secular school in which there were no Muslim teachers or governors as “innovative”, but the same practices (though largely unfounded) was used as a marker of extremism, with the only difference being the faith of those who allegedly put this practice in place.

      As Boris Johnson, Douglas Murray, and all the other neocon extremists have highlighted, the problem in their eyes is Islam.

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