Advice to Ulema Regarding Deoband Documentary

6th April 2015

Dear Respected Ulema,

We hope and pray you receive this letter in the best of health and Imaan.

BBC Radio 4 are currently running a two-part documentary on Deobandis in Britain. The documentary attempts to present the Deobandis as an isolationist and secretive organisation whose views help foster “extremism” and violence. Indeed, the Government has pushed a flawed narrative that violence perpetrated by a tiny minority of Muslims is the result of “non-violent extremist” organisations with this BBC programme focusing on the Deobandis/Tablighi Jamaat.

It used selective anecdotes of bad experiences such as an ex-Muslim turned Atheist and a disenchanted Muslim who grew up in a Deobandi environment. It then substantiated the claims that the Deobandis are isolationist and inhibiting the integration of Muslims.

In the next episode, it will further damage the reputation of Deobandi Mosques and Madrassas by insinuating, that they are terrorist sympathisers and a potential breeding ground for terrorism based upon its alleged support for the Taliban during the 1990s.

In light of this, we would like to make the following points for your consideration;

  1. The documentary was produced and aired in a political environment in which all Muslims and Islamic organisations are being scrutinised in the context of the war on terror. The argument is that the Muslim community is not only “silently” condoning “extremist ideology”, in the words of David Cameron himself, but also creating the fertile environment which results in some isolated individuals committing acts of violence. That some Mosques and Madrassas are fostering an environment of “hate”, preaching “extremist” ideas and not doing enough to promote “British Values”. This form of “non-violent extremism” then leads to a conveyor belt to terrorism and hence to stop terrorism we must target the ideology (mainly legally held ideas) that breeds it. The Deobandis are thus part of this community of “non-violent extremists” that are teaching young people radical views, isolating them from British society and inculcating them with a “strict, conservative” form of Islam.This theory of radicalisation has been unequivocally refuted by various academics who have proved through intellectual research that the radicalisation theory is a myth. Take for example John Horgan, a terrorism expert, who said that “The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research … [First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don’t necessarily hold radical beliefs.”. The link between ideology and violence is therefore tenuous. In fact, a report by the Mi5 found that a strong religious identity protects people from terrorism.
  2. Terms such as “extremism”, “non violent extremism” or “radicalisation” are vaguely defined terms which often becomes confused with observant religious practices and general Islamic values. Therefore, adhering to gender separation in religious functions, the wearing of the hijab/jilbab and Islamic clothing, believing homosexuality is a sin and the general adherence to the Shari’ah are labeled “extreme”. Indeed, even the identification of a newly practicing Muslim is viewed with suspicion as the narrative is painted that the more Islamic and/or conservative a Muslim becomes the more likely he/she is to commit acts of terrorism. This is a wholely flawed thesis that makes lawful adherence to views and practices a precursor to illegal and criminal activity like terrorism.
  3. The documentary also comes at a time when the British Government are currently attempting to register “out-of-school settings” which many, including senior politicians, believe is an attempt to target Mosques and Madrassas. Thus with this proposed legislation, they will attempt to monitor our institutions and control the type of Islamic ideas that are allowed to be taught while enforcing “British values” – a euphemism for muscular liberalism. This means Ofsted type inspectors can enter any mosque/madrassa and demand to see the curricula being taught while monitoring classes for signs of radicalisation/extremism. We have seen with the Trojan horse hoax how inspectors would question primary school children on their views of homosexuality to see if they held “progressive” secular views of acceptance of such a lifestyle choice. There is no doubt that a documentary on Deobandis who manage over 40% of Mosques and Madrassas in this country was aptly timed for the proposed legislation to register “out-of-school settings”. It should be noted that this registration and inspection will not only affect Deobandis but all mosques irrespective of their theological persuasions.
  4. By observing the Government’s narrative towards the Muslim community in recent years, we clearly see an agenda to reform Islam so that it is palatable to the British secular liberal values. It is not simply sufficient to be law abiding, taxpaying citizens rather the Government is trying to Christianise the Muslim community. Not that they wish to make us Christians but rather, to see Islam undergo a reformation just as Christianity did in the 16th/17th century CE. An Islam that accepts fundamental changes to the Shari’ah such that it loses all relevancy to life’s affairs. Indeed, this government policy is a result of the global revival taking place in the Muslim World, in which there is a growing call for Islam to play a central role in governance. Such an atmosphere is viewed as an existential threat to Capitalism and Western geopolitical interests, who have been able to impose their political hegemony over the Muslim World since the dismantling of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Therefore, the focus of Muslims domestically helps to build a narrative that Islam and the Muslims are a potential threat to their national interests and as such forms a major justification to interfere in the Muslim world with an aggressive foreign policy.
  5. This is the reason why it is not only Deobandis but any Muslim who embraces Islam as a complete way of life will be viewed with suspicion. Documentaries such as the BBC Radio 4 only reinforces such perceptions of Muslims which helps brew public opinion so that the British Government is able to pass draconian legislation, such as registering Mosques and Madrassas (something that is expected from dictatorships in the Muslim World and authoritarian states such as Russia and China.) Therefore, as a Muslim community we should not think this documentary is simply targeting Deobandis and their institutions, rather it is designed to silence the Muslim community and compromise their adherence to Islam. By being aware of this danger, we as a community must stand united and prevent our future generations losing the core values of the Deen such that their adherence to Islam is to basic rituals as we see with the wider Christian community today.
  6. We must intellectually challenge such attacks and continue to present the sublime values of Islam to Muslims and the wider society. The reality is that in a morally decadent society in which the family unit is eroding, where racism flourishes at the highest political levels, where sexual abuse, theft and major crimes are common, where the corporate exploitation of wealth has created unseen levels of wealth inequality and the general rise of discontent for the system, the British people are looking for alternatives. More Islamic values are needed, not less. We must showcase our beautiful Islamic values to the wider society and challenge the intellectual propaganda against Islam. The mosques/madrassas are in the best place to help raise strong Muslim communities that can rise to this challenge.

Allah SWT is indeed testing the Muslims in Britain as He SWT is testing Muslims around the world, and we must never give into the pressure and attempts to reform Islam, such that it is no longer recognisable to the future generations of Muslims. We must build on the strengths of our decades of collective good practise and experience in running our institution’s and rectify our weaknesses. Remembering that the Muslim community we have today was built with the intention of our forefathers to protect the Islamic identity in this country. Thus any attempts to move away from this trajectory will leave the efforts of those behind us in vein.

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You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient. [Surah Al-Imran:110]