LABOUR MP Stella Creasy, referring to the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, claimed that ‘this is not Islam’. I am not so sure it is that simple.
I was being driven through Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a few years ago with a UK-educated engineer and Saudi national. His sister, one of my former PhD students, had invited me there to deliver some lectures. I asked him if the prominent brand of Islam adhered to in the kingdom was Sunni or Shia. He reminded me that it was the former, but went on to explain that, while they seemed divided, mainly for political reasons, they were ‘all one’. I pushed him on this and asked him if they were all one with Islamist terrorists such as Al Qaeda. He did not say ‘yes’ directly.
Instead, he pointed to a woman by the side of the road clothed in black from the top of her head to the tips of her fingers; some women wear black gloves and have no visible slit for vision, being completely covered. He said that she was not Saudi, probably an immigrant and represented a much stricter version of Islam than the one to which he adhered. But, still, they were all one. Islam was not like Christianity with its denominations. It was all one; it was ‘a continuum’. I took this as an indirect ‘yes’ to my question about Al Qaeda.
Some of my best friends, colleagues and students are British, Pakistani, Jordanian and Saudi Muslims. All are horrified at Islamist terror groups. They completely disown them. But the words of my driver in Jeddah have stuck with me. Moreover, they have become more relevant as the murderous, maiming and raping hordes of the Taliban are poised to return Afghanistan to a fundamentalist Islamic hell hole with strict Sharia law and no place for women except in bed or in the kitchen.
The problem with Islam is that it is indisputably a religion of the sword, as made abundantly clear in the national flags and symbols of most Middle Eastern Arabic Islamic states. That includes the beautiful, tolerant and peace-loving state of Oman.
Justin Marozzi’s excellent and pro-Islamic book Islamic Empires describes how the Prophet Muhammed came to prominence. He led an army of 10,000 men into Mecca, the city of his birth, went on a spree of executions and established it as the capital of the Islamic faith.
Christianity is not a religion of the sword. The Old Testament is replete with stories of war and slaughter, but the New Testament represents a distinct departure from the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy of its predecessor. Of course, as covered by Marozzi and Bettany Hughes in her detailed Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities, we Christians have meted out a great deal of Old Testament-type vengeance on Muslims.
Purportedly, the Crusaders were ‘up to their knees in blood’ during some campaigns. Quite a feat, given that they were on horseback. The claim is undoubtedly false, but surely reflects the ferocity of the fighting. With reference to the Crusades it is hard to avoid the playground accusation that the others ‘started it’; but they did. It is often overlooked, for example, that the Iberian Peninsula was under Muslim rule for nearly 800 years.
We should not lose sight of the notion of the ‘continuum’ referred to by my friend in Jeddah. The precepts of Islam and strict Sharia law, for example death to converts from Islam to Christianity, remain. In fact, in Islam generally the bar is set quite low for punishment by death as exemplified by the weekly public slaughter by beheading and removal of other body parts in the major cities of Saudi Arabia. We are lucky to live in a country where our Muslim compatriots largely take these precepts more figuratively.
We are unlikely to see the Taliban marching down The Mall. Nevertheless, the recent stabbing of Christian convert Hatun Tash and events at Batley Grammar School suggest that a sliding scale of belief in Sharia Law exists within our British Muslim communities. We need to be vigilant.