Saturday, 30 August 2008

Progressive Scottish Muslims will not be hijacked and caged by the Scottish Islamic Foundation!

I read with interest the views of the Scottish Islamic Foundation in the Sunday Herald (31st August) on how they hope to ‘modernise’ Islam in Scotland by establishing a mosque run by under 35s and giving women more voice in the Mosque by allowing them to set up committees to help their own affairs. In what way is this progressive? Mosques have always been male dominated with little to no voice for women and I don’t see that changing any time soon. By instating a committee with women on it for their own affairs may seem a modern idea in the world of the Scottish Islamic Foundation but it is not progressive. I call for something much more radical. Spirituality, submission and subservience to God is beyond gender and Mosques need to realise this and allow women to take the highest office in Mosques. I welcome the news that SIF will distribute sacrificial meat commemorating Ramadhan to the needy in Scotland this year, well done on this.

Talking about Mosques, I saw a list of Muslims and Muslim organisations that support the work of the Scottish Islamic Foundation and laughed. Is this truly a unanimous endorsement of SIF that gives them the right to speak in the name of the ‘Muslim community’ in Scotland? Absolutely NOT! There is only ONE Mosque which has endorsed SIF and let us be clear that there are around 13-14 Mosques in Glasgow alone. I’m sorry to say that ‘one of the most respected Imams in Scotland’ really means one of the most respected Imams by SIF! I have nothing against Imam Mustaqeem but please don’t patronise my faith and identity by parading your own stock as mine. Does the Scottish Islamic Foundation represent the Ismaillis, Ahmediyyas and the Shi’ias too? Why is it that all of these ‘supporters’ are strongly inclined to views and understandings of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’? Where are the diverse voices which are a true indication of the reality of the Muslim communities, yes, communities! There are too many voices that are overlooked in this debate and this is the true travesty of justice that the Scottish Government is committing. Muslims cannot be accepted as a monolith. I call for Progressive Scottish Muslims to raise their voices but not to the detriment of all the other voices that say they are ‘Muslim’ voices too for who gives anyone the right to endorse or dismiss Muslim voices?

And finally, an ill-informed statement by a Scottish Government spokesperson,

“The Scottish government is so firmly behind the SIF's work, particularly the expo idea, that it has donated £200,000 towards it. A spokeswoman said: "We believe that it is right to celebrate the diversity that exists in Scotland through events like this. In supporting it we will also be able to build links between communities and dispel the myths which undermine community cohesion."

What diversity does SIF show Mr Spokesperson? In what way do they endorse a cross section of the Muslim communities? In what way do they show the bare bones of a political Islam that is both presentable and palatable by our Scottish Government?

The crux of the matter is that SIF may do an excellent job in providing moderate (or modern) views to the Scottish Government and those wanting to hear the usual ‘Islam is a religion of peace and tollerance’ but what we must accept is that change and the rise in progressive Scottish Islam will be far from the hands of political Islamists. I smell worry in the words and actions of the political Islamists who want to cage and control the sentiments of the true progressive Scottish Muslims but this new wave will emerge in full force, slowly but surely by the grace of God. I read a delightful letter in the Scotsman the other day which hit the note perfectly, she wrote,

End the silence over Islam

Am I alone in my disquiet about our government's courtship of the Scottish Islamic Foundation?
In the 1970s, young women like me embraced multiculturalism; we were engaging with our oppressed sisters everywhere around the world. Or so it seemed at the time.

Where are we now? And why are we so effectively silenced? Why do we have nothing to say about a sharia credit card? Have we really forgotten what sharia law means for women? While English clerics debate the pros and cons of introducing an element of sharia law into their legal system, where are our voices in this debate? Do we seriously think it won't happen in Scotland? Look at their website. It's happening already.

What do we think about the headline "Muslim sprinter wins Olympic sprint dressed head to toe in hijab" (from the Scottish Islamic Foundation website)? Or of Al Jazeera talking to Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, about a " Scottish division" of their TV station. Why on earth would they want a Scottish division? I need to know. I am not opposed, in principle, to any of these, but I am opposed to the suffocating, politically correct silence that now surrounds any criticism of organisations such as the Scottish Islamic Foundation.

We need to bring this debate into the open. I don't fear the debate; I fear the silence.

Anne Marie Keenan
Lochailort, Inverness-shire

Here is my response:

You are not alone Anne, thank the Lord that there are many many Muslims and non-Muslims in Scotland who are not quiet about this courtship. SIF are not representative of Muslims in Scotland yet seem to be creating their own mandate through $£ of doing as such which time will show is ill-informed and a disaster waiting to unravel. However, SIF have a right to voice their opinions and say what they have to say in the same way that I feel the progressive Scottish Muslim voices also need to be given a platform. Silence is unacceptable from all. The picture of Shar’ia law has been tarnished into some big bogey man which is against the fundamental tenets of why it was established. Sadly, Shar’ia has become a means of social control and muzzling voices, hence it is an excellent tool for political Islamists.

The progressive Scottish Muslim voices will emerge and hopefully then we will begin to accept that there really is that diversity of voices in the ‘Muslim community’ which our dearly beloved Scottish Government spokesperson stated in the Sunday Herald till then we must continue with our questions and criticism of the status-quo over and over again!


  1. As a Scottish Shi'a Ithna Ashari, I would argue that groups like the Scottish Islamic Foundation represent the average Shi'a and Muslim for that matter more than a so called Progressive Muslim such as yourself, or any other so called Progressive Muslim Psuedo Academic.

    Osama Saeed is in far closer proximity to the community than say someone such as yourself who represents this distinct upper eschalon of Colonised Minded Academics who often are so out of touch with both the Youths in the Community and the average Muslim, that to represent Islam in any other than some abstract academic discourse would be like having Hans Kung represent Mainstream Roman Catholic Thought.

  2. If this is the state of academia in Scotland then I am extremely worried. Why do you feel the need to criticise a group of people who are working hard for your religion?

    Shame on you. No wonder Islam is in such a bad state.

  3. Note: Please excuse me if I sounded like I was ranting, I just get agitated by the "Progressive Muslim" label, as if Islam is doomed to infinite regress!

  4. Dear Yahya,
    My problem is with representation. They may well represent the people you outline but they do not represent the progressive Scottish Muslim voice, especially my voice. Silencing or dismissing is not the call for the day but accepting that everyone has a right to express themselves. This is not a personal criticism against anyone, especially Osama Saeed, who I have no malice against. If you believe that I am a 'colonised minded academic' who is out of touch then that is your view but my work is evident that you are mistaken. I have no reason or aim to censor your message on my blog but I just want you to respect my freedom to express my views.

  5. Dear Gareth,
    I have no desire to defend academia because the academic field is as such that everyone has a chance to say, critique whatever they want. If you are concerned then the doors to the university of Glasgow are always open, you can be just as challenging and critical here. The mistake is being mistaken that this is about 'Islam' this is more about politics and Islam, that for me has become a very selfish game which I have no interest in. I have no intention to 'defend Islam or God' for God is much greater than any criticism that anyone on God's earth can throw His way. My aim is to raise the questions folk dare not ask. I have every right to say what I have to say in the same way that SIF have every right to exist and say what they have to say. Why is this such a problem? Why is this shameful?

  6. salam,

    i just wanted to say that this is a great blog. love the themes you tackle, amanullah. great job!

  7. Amanullah,

    I meant no disrespect when I lumped you into "Colonialised Minded Academics" it was a term I phrased for the representatives of Muslims who despite being quite unique and distinct in their approach have generally been given a platform by the media to speak on behalf of Muslims, here I am refering to persons such as yourself, Dr. Mona Siddiqui and people like Timothy J Winters.

    I have no problem with you expressing your views.

    As a proponent of democracy, I cannot see any problem with the majority being represented by the SIF. For democracy always amounts to this and so those in a tiny minority such as yourself often find it hard to be represented, but being in the Staff of a reputable academic institution then surely you should have no complaints =)

  8. Let us be clear here that the problem is with representation. Why must we have one body to represent us? I've never said I am representative of the Muslims, all I've said is that I will continue to raise important questions. I have never heard Dr Mona Siddiqui or Tim Winters say they represent Muslims either, can you identify a time when they have said this? By airing views in the media does not make one representative of Muslims, this is a misunderstanding, a pretty serious one in my view.

    I'm intrigued that your resentment to my statements seem to have come after this blog post with no comment on what Professor Khalid Masud has said about diverse views and dissent? I disagree that SIF represents the majority of Muslims, this is simply a preposterous statement to make. I would go as far as to say that you as a Scottish Shi'a Ithna Ashari have lumped all Shi'as into your lump by saying that the 'average Shi'a and Muslim' are represented, there is no diversity in these communities? There are no differences of opinions? All Shi'as would agree with everything you say?

    I return back to my initial statement, the problem is with representation. If I am alone in this struggle to voice progressive Scottish Muslim values then so be it, the negative voices do not see much time of day so time will judge what becomes of all of our voices. If SIF are representative of the 'majority' then why was there dissent by Muslim figures featured in the news? They are also the minority?

    I'm going back to read the interview with Professor Khalid Masud once again, maybe you should do the same?