Muslims Must Fix Their Own Reputation- Islam Instructs Them to
Muslims are seemingly more out of touch with the world than ever before, and in being so are more out of touch with Islam than ever before. The divide between the Muslims and the West is documented to be centuries old, but the modern rift is not inspired by the political or economic desires of empires, but rather the lagging social development of Muslims in the world. It is time for Muslims in Britain to start catching up to the modern world, if not inspired by Islamic scripture and scholarship itself, then for the sake of alleviating the suffering which predominantly affects other Muslims.
Unfortunately, Muslims represent the most deprived segment of British society; 46% live in the 10% most deprived areas. This could be partly due to low employment, where the 25-49 age bracket of women have only a 57% employment rate, compared to the nationwide average of 80%. The nuclear family model is hailed across the Muslim world, explaining the reservations some might hold regarding working women. This however lies in contrast to the experiences of the wives of Prophet Muhammad, namely Khadija and Aisha, suggesting that women are not only allowed to work, but rather should be encouraged to. Khadija was one of the most successful merchants in the peninsula, whilst Aisha organised women to help the wounded on the battlefield, operating as what one would now consider a war nurse.
Another root cause of deprivation may be linked trend is education, which is a root cause of the deprivation - only 24% of Muslim women have a degree level or higher qualification, compared to 30% of Sikhs and 45% of Hindus. Education is a protagonist within Islam, with it being the subject of the first revelation made to the Prophet Muhammad, known as Surat-al Alaq, otherwise known Iqra, meaning “to read”. Of course, there was a time when Muslim scientists and philosophers were renowned for to their focus on education (the Islamic Golden Era) therefore it is unfortunate that, in many Muslim nations around the world, it is common place for girls to be discouraged from getting an education. There is a set mind-set which reinforces a patriarchy across the Muslim world. Often girls are married young – 1 in 5 girls across the Middle East and North Africa are married before 18 - and are either outright denied further education by their husbands or cannot do so due to the inability of juggling all the traditional roles of a Muslim housewife. Aisha, the youngest of the Prophet’s wives, was renowned for her intellect, was known as a scholar, and has been praised for her poetry and knowledge of medicine. She served the Muslim community for 44 years after the death of the Prophet. Though this does not compare to an outright education or profession, it is at least a suggestion of the role women have in Islam and its community.
A once promising nation, Pakistan, with a population of over 200 million making it the world’s second largest Muslim country after Indonesia, has a literacy rate of 44.3% for females above 15. It’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a great advocate for female empowerment stating, “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.” Pakistan has far from risen to the height of glory. Twice the nation has had a female Prime Minister, but both times, their ruling term was cut short by either a deceptive President or a military dictator hungry for power. The third time, she was killed. Benazir Bhutto was a beacon of hope for Pakistan but suffered great attacks on her person, both verbal and physical.
Another concern not only in Britain, but in the greater Muslim world, is the perception that Muslims are intolerant of others. There is truth to this: just this month, the newly formed Pakistani government forced Professor Atif Mian, a well credentialed economist, to resign from the country’s economic panel due to him being an Ahmadi, a group now used to persecution by the rest of the Muslim world. The persecution of traditional non-Muslim groups such as Hindus is nothing novel in the country either; only 20 of the original 428 Hindu temples still survive in Pakistan and in 2017, Rinkle Kumari was forced to convert to Islam and had her head shaven. To this day, 2 of the 4 main schools of belief, Hanafi and Maliki, only allow freedom of religion to non-Arab monotheists, known as Dhimmis, and polytheists more recently. This is despite the Quran stating, “no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
Reconciliation between the West and the East can only begin when the Western tenets of freedom and secularism are embraced in the East. The Quran explicitly states that “Had your Lord so willed, all those who are on the earth would have believed. Will you, then, force people into believing?” (10:99). Multiple jurists confirm that any compulsion in Islam would undermine the understanding they hold of the creation of mankind in the first place. Those who disagree with this would use other quotes from the Quran, often described as the “sword verses”, to justify their stance, yet the majority of those quotes were presented to Muhammad during a time of war or strife with other tribes, when they were in the minority, and should not be taken out of that context.
There was often inter-faith discussion in the times of the Rashidun Caliphs, and this is when science and technology began to flourish in the Islamic World. One would find that the dark ages of war and famine only began when authoritarian rulers felt threatened with free thought and interpretation and thus banned it. Jurists and scholars began following the letter of the law in Islam as explained by a few accepted schools of thoughts, rather than thinking for themselves and seeking meaning whilst employing reason. This era of exploration and freedom of thought died, as with it, progression and development. This trend has continued today. So, when Muslim nations and their people today do not tolerate other faiths, do not encourage inter-faith dialogue, enclose themselves into smaller communities within cities in non-Muslim nations; when they only follow a few schools of thoughts fed to them in unchecked fundamentalist mosques, when they do not allow themselves to expand their scope of life and understanding as the once prospering Caliphates did- not only do they promote a wrongful perception of Islam, but their communities become breeding grounds for ghettoization and deprivation where radicalisation can take root.
The tenants of Islam should stay steadfast under the scrutiny they receive so often nowadays – having a particular belief is not always something we should hurry to condemn. According to a survey by Ipsos MORI, over 50% of British Muslims do not agree with the legalisation of homosexuality. They are well within their rights to hold this belief. However, hate crimes cannot be tolerated. Rather, they must promote conversation on this matter in Muslim forums and mosques. This way the tragic trend of honour killings can also be addressed directly. Whilst this is not a problem solely found in the Muslim world, the vast majority of cases are; for example, with 297 cases per year in Pakistan. In the UK, it is estimated there are 12 honour killings every year, again most linked to the Muslim community. Certainly, the majority of Muslims in this country would condemn such a despicable, barbaric crime but it is also their social duty to address and attempt to solve the issue. Mosques and community centres should provide refuge for vulnerable women, and should be the first line of defence rather than a silent limb of the Muslim community.
Muslims need to refurbish their own profile. They should, once more, focus on social progression, promoting women’s rights, and education. Fundamentalist forces have to be both rejected and disproved. A balance must be achieved between respecting the tenets of the religion and adapting it, in order to move towards an equal progressive society that isn’t marred by symptoms of the dark ages.
Today, mosques must take on a better, more proactive stance in outing the wrongdoers in their communities, in promoting protection of women and conversation on key issues. They should use the stature they have to give sermons on peace and to call out those who preach otherwise; pretending that some instances of brainwashing don’t take place at mosques is perhaps a bigger part of the problem than the brainwashing itself. No one is suggesting the organisation of some 1.8 billion people, but if smaller communities started, they could be a drop that leaves a ripple moving across the surface. Not only will this help their reputation in the world, and cause great benefit to deprived communities, but it might also bring them closer to Islam.