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’an, usul 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.”
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.”
“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.”
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. 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 implication. This 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.”
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 Sunnah ‘adah 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.
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.
 (Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Nasā’ī)دع ما يريبك إلى ما لا يريبك
 إن الحلال بين وإن الحرام بين وبينهما مشتبهات لايعلمهن كثير من الناس فمن اتقى الشبهات فقد استبر لدينه وعرضه
 لا يبلغ العبد أن يكون من المتقين حتى حتى يدع ما لا بأس به حذرا مما به البأس
(Sunan at-Tirmidhī, 2451)
 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
 Abu Dawud