Islamic voice: Why is it not heard in the West?

Twenty out of 23 children chose to name their class teddy bear Muhammad. A rather sweet gesture, I think. But no. In ultra-sensitive Sudan, parents and a staff member decided to complain against what they saw as a white, female, infidel British teacher insulting their religion. What was an innocent classroom gesture was, yet again, hijacked by extremists to threats of floggings and demands of shooting after Friday prayers in Khartoum last week.

Last year, it was the Danish cartoons. This year it is a teddy bear. What next? And why this repeated madness? For me, it is not about the possible offence taken at perceived negative portrayals of Islamic symbols, but the repeated calls for death, lashings and stoning. The medieval, literalist mindset that fails to comprehend the inhumane nature of these brutal and barbaric acts, often carried out against the defenceless, is the crux of the matter.

The Western media are right to hold a mirror to educated Muslims by highlighting these outdated practices. Only a week ago, a young Saudi gang rape victim, rather than being counselled and loved, was sentenced to 200 lashes. If the young lady had been a wealthy Saudi with powerful connections, she would have escaped her punishment.If Gillian Gibson had not been British, there would not have been an outcry. When Muslims want to appear sanctimonious about newspaper cartoons or a teddy bear, I ask where are the mass protests against the Saudi Wahhabite destruction of the birthplace of Muhammad in Mecca?

Or systematic annihilation of Muslim heritage in Medina? Or the organised desecration of the Prophet’s family’s tombs across Saudi Arabia? We should not be hypocritical in our choice of protest. Mainstream Muslims cannot remain silent as our faith is destroyed by extremists from within, and mocked by agenda-driven, habitual Islam-haters from without. We must have the courage to stand and reclaim our faith.

I write these lines from an international conference in Madrid, a city, like my home, London, that has suffered immensely from the Islamist-jihadist rage. The ubiquitous question here has been: where is the voice of the Muslim majority? Part of the answer is that it is buried in fear of extremist reprisals and concern at breaking ranks with fellow Muslims only to be attacked by fundamentalist atheists for not going far enough.

Last week, I faced former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who levelled exactly that criticism at me. How could I possibly believe? Another British liberal called Islam ‘gobbledegook’. Despite being caught between two extremes, I believe in a Muslim tradition that can bring harmony between Islam and the West and thereby rescue millions from misery, rigidity and oppression.If anything, the modern West stems from a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic heritage. More than ever, Western Muslims need to stop viewing the world through bipolarised lenses and assert our Western belonging.

Long before Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, a Spanish Muslim jurist, Imam Shatibi, who died in 1388, articulated the aims of the shariah as preservation of life, honour, property, religion and reason. Leading Muslim scholars in the Arab world today compound this classical Islamic approach. That’s not to hide the reality of religious scripture, compiled in a world radically different from ours. Just as in Leviticus we find references to stoning sinners, in Muslim scripture, there are some unpalatable references.

Just as scriptural references to stoning and flogging are cited by countries such as Saudi Arabia as justification for their horrid practices, in these same texts, we find that the Prophet Muhammad reprimanded his followers for stoning a person who attempted to flee. He also condemned those who killed innocent people. By drawing on these lessons, mainstream Muslims must illustrate that compassion, humanity and sense should override scriptural rigidity understood with anger and revenge.

More than any other Muslim community , those of us who were born, raised and educated in the west have access to both cultures. It is my generation that can bridge the gap between what seem like warring parties. Our arguments carry greater weight in the Muslim East. Western Muslims have a duty to continue developing what is a nascent phenomenon: Western Islam. We have no choice but to find common ground between our faith and our culture, Islam and the West, and then offer an alternative path to our brethren in the Muslim East.

The presence of millions of Muslims in the West is an asset with which we can bring civilisational harmony. But Western Muslims must, in the words of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, ‘build our home together’ with fellow citizens of all and no faith. It is our common bond which comes first. The Koran repeatedly calls us to contemplate and reflect. For how much longer will we be the laughing stock of the world? And all over a teddy bear. —The Guardian