My entire career as a reporter for a leading daily newspaper in Mumbai was governed by a maxim from Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief of India Today, the country’s most respected news magazine. Purie would tell his reporters: ‘Somewhere, someone is out to hide the truth. Find that. That is news. All the rest is merely advertisement.’
Mishal Husain’s two-part series this week on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme is what Purie would describe as ‘merely advertisement’. Husain presents a form of British Islam so domesticated and sanitised that it glitters like gold. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, a well-seasoned proverb reminds us.
Somewhere, someone is out to hide the truth and the quintessential technique of hiding the truth is by not reporting it. The cleverest form of fake news is not falsifying the truth. It’s too obvious. The best fake news is by omission. What Husain is not telling you is more important than what she is telling you.
Husain cherry-picks a few shining stars from the great British Islamic galaxy consisting of three million Muslims. She damns the alternatives – not a single Muslim who is critical of current disturbing Islamic trends is invited.
Husain takes the listener on a Muslim magical mystery tour beginning with a mosque in Woking, Surrey. Like an estate agent on Location, Location, Location she tells us how the Shah Jahan Mosque, built in 1889 by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, was the first to be built in Britain.
Husain doesn’t tell us there isn’t a single woman on the mosque’s nine-member management committee. She doesn’t tell us that Dr Leitner, an Orientalist, was a bald-faced apologist for Islam, who sanitised concepts of slavery and jihad in the Islamic texts and dismissed Western responses to Islam as ‘misconceptions’ and ‘a great libel on that religion’. I’m comparing Dr Leitner’s article on jihad from the Asiatic Quarterly Review of October 1886 with Dr Patrick Sookhdeo’s magisterial tome Global Jihad: The Future in the Face of Militant Islam and I know whom to trust as an authoritative source on jihad.
Husain and her interviewees spin a fairytale world of Muslim multiculturalism. The mosque representative informs listeners that Dr Leitner was a Jew and the architect William Chambers was a Christian. I’m waiting for Husain to lead us in a round of ‘Hip hip hooray’ or ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ and for the programme to end with the words ‘And the Abrahamic faiths lived in Britain happily ever after’.
Why doesn’t Husain drop in for a cuppa and chat at one of the nearly 600 mosques in Britain influenced by the radical Deobandi Sect, characterised by its total rejection of western values, which calls on Muslims to ‘shed blood for Allah’?
Husain then throws her lasso around Professor Ron Geaves, my former colleague at Liverpool Hope University. Geaves feeds us with some titbits about the British Raj and Islam – male Muslims were mostly seamen and female Muslims were nannies or ayahs of the Raj, he says. I wish Husain had asked Geaves a little more about Quilliam. Geaves is an authority on William Henry Quilliam, who was a cultural Christian before converting to Islam. Husain rambles on about Quilliam and Pickthall – white British converts to Islam – but doesn’t tell us the whole truth.
Geaves can tell you lots of ‘naughty’ things about Quilliam. The convert was a pioneer of using aggressive tactics to negotiate with the British Raj. He was known as an anti-imperial agitator and was unashamedly pro-Ottoman and a supporter of the Emirate of Afghanistan. He questioned the virtue of Muslim imperial subjects fighting on behalf of the Empire against their fellow brethren in the Sudan. He also wrote tracts supporting jihad and called on British Muslims to demonstrate solidarity with the Muslim umma in defence of the caliphate.
‘Islam has done more for civilization than Christianity,’ wrote Quilliam. ‘The strictly regulated polygamy of Moslem lands is infinitely less degrading to women and less injurious to men than the promiscuous polyandry which is the curse of Christian cities, and which is absolutely unknown in Islam. The polyandrous English are not entitled to cast stones at polygamous Moslems,’ he claimed in his book The Faith of Islam.
Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, the famous translator of the Koran, was also seen as a security risk in official circles. Husain doesn’t tell us any of this stuff.
So, asks Husain, what attracted these men to Islam? They travelled extensively and met Muslims from other cultures, says Geaves. He also points out how Christianity was beginning to be challenged by Darwin and scholarly biblical criticism.
Which brings us to Tim Winter, another British Muslim convert, who teaches Islam at the University of Cambridge. I remember Dr Winter from my Cambridge student days – a nice chap who believes nice things about Islam. Husain leads the conversation to education and teaching Muslims how to interpret the Koran, etc.
But why does she not point out that Muslims are forbidden from using textual criticism that is taught at Cambridge and other universities and is so freely used on the Bible? When I taught Islam, I would preface my lectures by apologising to students and telling them how Islamic scholarship is light years behind biblical scholarship. If you address the issue of variant readings you are questioning the authenticity and authority of the Koran and you can be sure of a visit from the Islamic goon squad. Some of my Islamic scholar friends have had such visits!
Seventeen of Britain’s 26 Islamic seminaries are run by Deobandis, producing 80 per cent of clerics trained in Britain. Husain fails to educate us on the merits of this ‘noble’ tradition in British Islam.
In the second part of the programme Husain talks about how much Muslims give to charity. She interviews Zac Hussain from Muslim Aid who tells us that Muslims gave over £100million to charity in 2016. ‘Our focus is providing for the needy, regardless . . .’ he claims. Husain doesn’t tells us that zakat is not usually given to non-Muslims except those people whose hearts are leaning toward Islam and are thus in the category of ‘those whose hearts are to be reconciled’.
Listeners are also taken to an animal welfare halal farm in Oxfordshire that a uses a ‘minimal stun’ on poultry and to Zeena Qureshi, a ‘millennial Muslim’ developing a Living Quran app so you can read and interpret the Koran on your Smartphone! Then the radicals can’t get you because it will be the real Islam! It is not often I can endure a whole hour of commercials on Islam.
By the end I am feeling like Alice Through The Looking Glass and saying ‘one can’t believe impossible things’. I hear Mishal Husain say to me in the words of the White Queen: ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. That’s why I’m a presenter on the BBC.’