“English Islam” and the “Wahaabi” Scapegoat


The deformation of Islam has not always had its roots in what are today clearly identifiable subversive “reform Muslims” and organisations. Traditional Ulama (Islamic scholars) have been politically exploited to provide the means by which neocons can push their agenda to deconstruct Islam.  These “moderate” scholars would provide the legitimising face behind which lurked an insidious agenda to deform Islam into what Cheryl Bernard’s RAND corporation publication would call a “democratised Islam”; a postmodernist faith devoid of substance or meaning.

The push for the creation of a “British Islam” during the late 2000s was rooted in an underlying aim to create an “institutionally approved, ‘mainstream’, and ‘moderate’ expression of Islam”, which, through state-funded Muslim organisations (like Radical Middle Way and National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group), would “engineer if not exact power” in the Muslim community. Of course, scholars that had initially given backing to such organisations have now distanced themselves from the counter-extremism policies which these initial projects engendered.

The effort to abuse Sufi Islam into courting a political agenda has seen a resurgence domestically and internationally. These trends and movements are, tellingly, monitored and advocated by Israel due to the somewhat misplaced assumption that it provides for a pliant Islam which is amenable to Western military escapades in Muslim lands.

“English Islam”

Recent reports and events demonstrate an evolution of this tired trickery.

Earlier this month a “very English Islam” event was organised by the think-tank British Future and hosted by Sayeeda Warsi.  The think-tank is touted as independent, although, Qari Muhammad Asim is listed among the trustees, raising doubts about this claim. As covered already on the blog, Qari Asim is committed to the faulty, stigmatizing the pro-Israel, neoconservative countering violent extremism (CVE) imperial agenda. He is also a senior editor for the Imams Online website, which has been exposed for being connected to CVE as well as RICU, the British government’s propaganda department tasked to project black propaganda discriminatorily toward the Muslim minority.

British Future itself has recently partnered with the deformist Dilwar Hussain’s organisation, New Horizons in British Islam (NHBI), on a project exploring Muslim contributions to World War I.  NHBI sells itself, in its own words, as “a forward-looking organisation that works for reform in Muslim thought and practice”. It hosts a plethora of neocon-linked deformists on discussions about Islam. The organisation also contributed and endorsed a dodgy paper giving flawed guidance to schools about Muslim pupils fasting during Ramadan.

It is surprising therefore to see someone like Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad not only delivering a talk organised by such a think-tank, but perpetuating confusing rhetoric which also has the potential to politically stigmatize a section within the Muslim minority.

Different Islams

Shaykh Murad in his contributing lecture highlighted “different Islams” as the basis for his assertion that it is “mandatory” to establish a local Islam:

“If there is a Javanese Islam, an Albanian Islam, and an Islam of Zanzibar, then clearly in the nature of things there ought to be an English Islam. The categories in Islamic law called urf and ada encompass and validate this: the classical Sharia manuals tell us that local custom and precedent may be incorporated into Muslim life, unless they evidently flaunt a scriptural truth.”

This statement is further buttressed with evidence that when mono-clothed pilgrims return to their homeland, they adopt their “national dress”. This affirmation of their “diversity in unity”, the Shaykh argues, is “necessarily Islam”.

There is a degree of ambiguity in the above articulation and with it comes the perception of conflation between Islam – the religion, creed and theology – and human culture. Human culture (language, art, food, dress) will no doubt vary from place to place and from time to time. Islam does not put any strict limitations on these aspects of culture when they do not conflict with Shar’i guidelines. Many classical scholars however, do regard it as encouraged to imitate the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) and his early community (may Allah be pleased with them) even in these apparently “mundane” aspects of culture – including Imam al-Ghazali. [1]

Pertinently, it is Islam and its legal theories which permit, through intricate regulation, the allowances for the maintenance of culture, in stark contrast with assimilationist models we are now witnessing in Europe and which the Muslim world experienced through colonialism. It is not culture which is producing territorialised “Islams”. It is Islam that is catering for the needs of each community. Acceptance of diversity of culture and its accomodation, in other words, cannot translate into an acceptance of diverse “Islams”. This clarification is significant especially in light of Sayeeda Warsi’s comments, which are discussed further below.

Scapegoating “Wahhabism”

Worrying still is Shaykh Murad’s brazen scapegoating of a section of the Muslim minority.  Referring to cultural diversity, Shaykh Murad makes the following statement:

Only fundamentalism of the Wahhabi type discounts this Muslim normativity. In his book Nawaqid al-Islam, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab castigates any form of inculturation with the ways of disbelievers, or any hint of loyalty to their polities.”

Firstly, many classical scholars, including al-Ghazali,[2] and not just “Wahhabis”, regard resemblance with non-Muslims and people of heresy or immoral practice in matters which have become distinctive to them to be impermissible. This is based on, inter alia, the hadith, “Whoever resembles a people is from them”. So if a particular style of dress or a particular practice, in itself permissible in Shari’ah, has come to be distinctive of a specific group that are irreligious, one should not adopt that dress or engage in that practice.

Secondly, the “book” if one can even call it that (it is literally ten bullet points) does not even address “incultration” or “loyalty to non-Muslim polities”. Despite this, the Shaykh rather callously and irresponsibly declares that the “book is precious to puritans of the ISIS type”.  It seems Shaykh Murad has taken to the dominant populist tendency of creating a scapegoat – in this case, Wahhabism – even at the expense of academic honesty. Do “Wahhabis” really believe it is impermissible to wear a suit and tie, or to eat fish and chips, or to speak English, or any other language for that matter?! Of course they don’t. By logical extension, classical scholars holding similar views should also be forced through the prism of the modernist aberration that is ISIS and consequently the lens of counter-terrorism. The claim castigates and ostracises a group of Muslims that are constitutive of the Muslim minority in Britain, by indirectly associating them with a statutorily banned organisation. This is scapegoating at its worst.

In creating this scapegoat, Shaykh Murad contradicts wisdom he has eloquently articulated in the past:

“Its true of course that this thing we call “Islamic fundamentalism” this is a term by the way which is an example of how we should not illegitimately import foreign vocabulary into Islamic discourse, it is a journalistic term which scholars do tend to avoid”.

Through references to “fundamentalism of the Wahhabi type” and “fundamentalist enclaves inspired by Saudi zealotry”, the Shaykh completely co-opts a term which he once advised caution against. It goes without saying that both “fundamentalist” and “Wahhabi” are among the most politically exploited terms. Historically, “Wahhabi” was a label assigned by British colonialists to those Muslims, ironically belonging to the Hanafi School of jurisprudence, that were resisting imperial designs. At that same time, the “anti-Western Wahhabism” was so toxic that its closest allies and supporters in Hijaz were the House of Saud, funded and armed, according to David Fromkin, by the British. Till this day the British maintain a cordial relationship with the country, cemented further by multi-billion pound arms deals. Presently, in Western states, “Wahhabism” serves as politically expedient conceptual haven for all those aspects of Islam which neoconservatives and their allies among pseudo-liberals, politicians and media producers seek to excise from the Muslim conscious and jettison from history.

Shaykh Murad, who one assumes is conversant with the present geopolitical climate and the ideological nature of counter-terrorism policies, has contributed to this damaging exploitation through his questionable critique of “Wahhabis”, targeting positions in Islam that are in fact classically held views.

Sayeeda Warsi’s Contaminated River and the Colour of Allah

Warsi’s statements have piggy-backed off the “English Islam” discourse. The Telegraph reported on the event with the title “How church choirs could hold secret to reinventing Islam as ‘English’ faith”, demonstrating its own desired agenda to “reinvent” Islam through Christianisation. Warsi, it reported, was leading this reinvention effort by encouraging the drawing of inspiration from church choirs, and building mosques without minarets to make them “quintessentially English”.

The premise of her various efforts and calls can be found in her speech at the Woking event. She stated,

“I’ve always described Islam as like a river, which takes its colour from the bed over which it flows – and my Islam flows over Yorkshire and over England, Therefore it’s quite right that over time, as Islam takes the colour of the space in which it finds itself, it will start to reflect a very clear Englishness.”

The discussion of culture, as expected, is inverted.  Islamic principles which interact with culture are confused with culture itself, resulting in the claim that the “river of Islam” is “coloured” by the “riverbed” and insinuating that Islam itself changes over time.

The paradigm of the Qur’an is completely at odds with this.  Allah in His Noble Book describes Islam as the Colour of Allah (al-Qur’an 2:138). Indeed, its deeper meaning likens the visibility of the signs of Islam that permeate through the consciousness, manners and habits of a Muslim, to the way dye colours a garment.

Imam Tabarani in his Tafsir Kabir states,[3]

“Sibghatullah (the colour of Allah) means Allah’s religion and His creation (i.e. the inherent nature on which He made creation), because the religion of Islam impacts the religious in terms of purification, prayer, dignity and all salient features of Islam, just like dye on a garment.”

Similarly, in Tafsir Baghawi:[4]

“[The religion of Allah] is termed sibgha (colour) because the effect of religion appears on the religious just like the effect of dye on a garment.”

Indeed, if one claims that culture can change Islam, the door for deformists to contort Islam into whatever agenda their neocon financiers demand is opened.

Concluding Remarks

One cannot help but notice the timing of these interventions on Islam and Muslims. It is recalled that this discourse is born in a pressured climate of coerced “integration” and assimilation.  Louise Casey’s government-sanctioned review on “boosting integration” is set to be released later this month. Reports already indicate that it is yet another blatantly neoconservative screed for justifying a culturalist assault on Islam and greater intrusions in the beliefs and practices of the Muslim minority. Casey has concluded that “only” through promoting British culture and traditions in “every ethnic community” will “extremism” be defeated – a distinctly colonialist strategy saturated with hubris.

This coercive political climate follows the media-spun propaganda vis-à-vis Trevor Phillips’ documentary titled “What British Muslims really think”. In the documentary, he controversially described the Muslim minority as forming a “nation within a nation” – a description  used against Jews in pre-Nazi Germany.

Given this context, it seems an Islam is being devised to dovetail these narratives.

Whilst Shaykh Murad’s hymns, for instance, are most certainly not an issue, the corresponding discourse hosted by an organisation clearly supportive of the deformist project, on “reinventing” and contaminating the Colour of Islam to produce a “range of British Islams” lays the foundation for deconstructing the faith. Also disconcerting is the sectarian exclusion of the followers of “Wahhabism” and the reckless association with ISIS on the most dubious of grounds.

Efforts to highlight similarities between Islam and particular cultures are certainly to be lauded, especially to deconstruct the mythical clash of civilisations thesis advocated by neocons. However, the Muslim minority must also take stock of history. Warsi may feel she is doing a service to Muslims in Britain. History, though, provides for an inconvenient reminder regarding the strategy she has adopted.  It is pertinent to note that Jews, as part of the Berlin Haskalah project, began to adopt Christian practices in their Synagogues, including choirsThe catastrophic trajectory of that particular effort and the eventual Holocaust is evidence enough that such efforts, particularly exerted to placate political designs aimed at stripping Muslims of their faith practices, is a lost cause.

Muslims should also be vigilante that historically, such efforts are exploited in a manner which helps form a state template to determine “acceptable” and “unacceptable” Muslims.  Close to a decade ago, the permissibility of music (and other issues) in Islam was once “debated” in events organised by the likes of the PREVENT-funded Radical Middle Way in the context of determining a “British Islam”.  Today, regarding musical instruments prohibited is categorised as extremist by those in charge of (quasi) public bodies.

What does the next decade hold for Muslims?  Will a rejection of hymns sung in mosques constitute a rejection of English tradition? Will preference to the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in manner and appearance translate as opposition to English cultural norms? Does this form the new criteria to separate the “extremists” from “normalcy” in society?

Pertinently, these strategies have failed in the past.  They will no doubt flounder and fall once more.

May the mercy of Allah be upon the righteous scholars.


[1] Imam al-Ghazali in his al-Arbaun fi Usul al-Din

  اعلم أن مفتاح السعادة اتباع السنة والاقتداء برسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في جميع مصادره وموارده، وحركاته وسكناته، حتى في هيئة أكله وقيامه ونومه وكلامه، لست أقول ذلك في آدابه فى العبادات فقط لأنه لا وجه لإهمال السنن الواردة فيها، بل ذلك في جميع أمور العادات

[2] Imam al-Ghazali in his Ihya:

 فمن رؤى على تلك الهيئة تعين اجتنابه ولا يكون ذلك من سوء الظن لأنه الذي جنى على نفسه إذ تزيا بزيهم ومساواة الزي تدل على مساواة القلب ولا يتجانن إلا مجنون ولا يتشبه بالفساق إلا فاسق نعم الفاسق قد يلتبس بأهل الصلاح فأما الصالح فليس له أن يتشبه بأهل الفساد لان ذلك تكثير لسوادهم وإنما نزل قوله تعالى إن الذين توفاهم الملائكة ظالمي أنفسهم في قوم من المسلمين كانوا يكثرون جماعة المشركين بالمخالطة وقد روي أن الله تعالى أوحى إلى يوشع ابن نون إني مهلك من قومك أربعين ألفاً من خيارهم وستين ألفاً من شرارهم فقال ما بال الأخيار قال إنهم لا يغضبون لغضبي فكانوا يؤاكلونهم ويشاربونهم

 الثالثة الاجتماع عليها لما أن صار من عادة أهل الفسق فيمنع من التشبه بهم لأن من تشبه بقوم فهو منهم

وبهذه العلة نقول بترك السنة مهما صارت شعاراً لأهل البدعة خوفاً من التشبه بهم

وبهذه العلة يحرم ضرب الكوبة وهو طبل مستطيل دقيق الوسط واسع الطرفين وضربها عادة المخنثين ولولا ما فيه من التشبه لكان مثل طبل الحجيج والغزو وبهذه العلة نقول لو اجتمع جماعة وزينوا مجلساً وأحضروا آلات الشرب وأقداحه وصبوا فيها السكنجبين ونصبوا ساقياً يدور عليهم ويسقيهم فيأخذون من الساقي ويشربون ويحيي بعضهم بعضاً بكلماتهم المعتادة بينهم حرم ذلك عليهم وإن كان المشروب مباحاً في نفسه لأن في هذا تشبهاً بأهل الفساد بل لهذا ينهى عن لبس القباء وعن ترك الشعر على الرأس قزعاً في بلاد صار القباء فيها من لباس أهل الفساد ولا ينهى عن ذلك فيما وراء النهر لاعتياد أهل الصلاح ذلك فيهم

[3] Tafsir Kabir:

صِبْغَةَ ٱللَّهِ }؛ أي دينَ اللهِ وفِطْرَتَهُ؛ لأن دينَ الإسلامِ يؤثرُ في الْمُتَدَيِّنِ مِن الطهور والصلاةِ والوَقَار وسائرِشعائر الإسلامِ كالصَّبغ الذي يكونُ في الثوب

[4] Tafsir Baghawi:

 وإنما سماه صبغة لأنه يظهر أثر الدين على المتدين كما يظهر أثر الصبغ على الثوب

4 thoughts on ““English Islam” and the “Wahaabi” Scapegoat

  1. I should remind you, that it you were to carry out some research there is a clip which I saw many years ago, where Sayeeda Warsi was surrounded by, guess who?? Very mean and evil people. If u remember correctly, there were about 4 persons. They were not Sufis, but Salafis/wahabis!! They started arguing with her, one even said extremely rudely and arrogantly “what do you know about Quran and Hadith?!’. More sadly, she got an egg thrown at her. This is all in the archives for all to see.

    This salafi/wahabis cult is such a disgrace. Has paradise been made for them only? Is everyone else a deviant? Is everybody else a grave worshipper? These guys need to seriously get a life.

    May Allah give barakah in the life of Shaykh Murad.

    • Assalam alaykum,
      Jazakumullah khayr for taking your time out to comment.
      Thank you for your reminder. Your comment has completely ignored the thrust of the article.
      Relating one incident and extrapolating to all “salafis/wahabis” is precisely what Muslims complain of when a someone decides to perpetuate a crime in the name of Islam.
      Also the attitude you relate is prevalent amongst Sufi groups too – I need not go into specifities (recent events are enough), but if you are acquainted with groups claiming to be sufi, you will know how sectarian and takfiri these groups are. And to some extent your smearing of whole groups and treating them as a monolith is indicative of this mentality too. Regardless of which group it is, it does not justify scapegoating whole sections of communities by linking them to ISIS and subsuming them into the neoconservative paradigm of counter-terrorism on specious grounds.
      This article is not a defence of “Wahabis/Salafis” – its (partly) an exposition of how a particular group is being used as a proxy to undermine to Islam in the dominant political discourse. The comments made by the respected Shaykh, perhaps inadvertently, reinforces this political discourse which creates Salafis as a proxy to undermine and deconstruct Islam – the point you missed.
      Indeed, may Allah place increased barakah in the life of Shaykh Murad, and all ulama working to defend the deen in this turbulent time. Ameen.

      • With due respect, may I add, any group becomes a proxy when it has certain defects that are inherently part of their setup or they come over some time after their setup. We all as individuals have good and bad forces affecting us and trying to pull us one way or another. This is what Shaytan has intended from the beginning of being an outcast.

        If these defects or time bound decay is not checked, then proxy they become.

  2. “I’ve always described Islam as like a river, which takes its colour from the bed over which it flows – and my Islam flows over Yorkshire and over England, Therefore it’s quite right that over time, as Islam takes the colour of the space in which it finds itself, it will start to reflect a very clear Englishness.”…………………
    It could be argued that the Islam of Prophet Muhammad similarly flowed over the deserts of Arabia for over a thousand years and now reflects a very clear Arabianness.

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