Breaking stereotypes


Who truly represents Muslims?

“The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends,” President George W Bush declared soon after the 9/11 attacks. Mr Bush’s statement set the tone for the tumultuous decade to come: the invasion of two Muslim countries, the Arab Spring and a global ‘war on terror’. Unsurprisingly then, the debate about who speaks for today’s Islam in the West festers in the minds of government advisers and politicians. There are hundreds of Muslim organisations in the UK, each one desperate to pull in market share. But is it all about ownership? It shouldn’t be. Is it all about portraying a better image of Muslims? I doubt it. Or about monopolising the Muslim voice to push their own agendas? That seems much likelier.

By refusing to steadfastly denounce honour killings, the Taliban’s attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, Al-Qaeda’s war on minorities’ rights across the Muslim world and jihad against those very Western societies in which they live, many of these organisations do great disservice to Muslims and Islam. They promote negative stereotypes whilst conveniently sidestepping the real issues within their own communities. Even many ex-Muslims still carry the faith card to avoid demonisation, ostracisation (and sometimes retaliation) from within their communities.

So where are the voices of your average nominal, cultural and largely irreligious Muslims? They are more numerate than you might think, but too afraid to speak out. The fact that over 90 percent of Muslims are unaffiliated to any of the many Islamic organisations which claim to speak for them should speak volumes. This alone should make us sceptical of some claims made by groups like MCB, MAB and their US counterparts CAIR and ISNA.

A report by Professor Bagby revealed that of the six million Muslims in the United States, only 350,000 attend the communal Friday midday prayers, let alone practise the five daily compulsory ones.

In my experience, most Muslims are generally secular, religiously unobservant or irreligious but strongly identify with Muslim culture due to family background, and the social and cultural environment in which they grew up. Yet at the same time they also push for the most potent and progressive causes of our times; rationalism, humanism, democracy, equality, secularism, modernism and science. What the West fails to understand is that a Muslim born to a Muslim father usually takes on their paternal confessional identity without necessarily consciously subscribing to the beliefs and practices associated with the faith. Similar to the Jews, who describe themselves Jewish without observing the Halacha, or the 59 percent of British who ticked the Christian box in the recent referendum despite a nervous affliction with the Church.

What I propose is that this silent majority of Muslims should unite and push these separatist Islamic organisations for a new resolution in 2013. They must preach to fellow Muslims on how to lead a more fulfilling life with a spirit of togetherness where we all learn from each other, instead of a divisive one which pulls us apart. Hooked like an addict on regression and victimhood, they must ditch the preaching of negative narratives. A life for a Muslim should be a life without complex, stigmatisation and vindictive legalism; liberated from negativity, segregation, alienation and contempt for joy. None of which are endorsed by modern liberal interpretations of Islam, but are used by Sharia-bound Islamists to push their own regressive narrative. It is well known that Quran (2:256) asserts ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’.

During Muhammad’s hijra, or ‘migration’ from Mecca to Medina, the Prophet sent a message of cohabitation. He drew up the famous Charter of Medina, encouraging assimilation, and opening its mosque doors to homeless wayfarers from any creed. As Irshad Manji says, “Translations of any scripture are human, as are interpretations including literal ones.”

Muslim organisations in Britain should stop bleating time elapsed rhetoric and engaging in fear mongering. Rather than to respond to every criticism with the shrill of ‘Islamaphobia’, it’s high time they began to celebrate our positive differences and similarities. After all, if Islam is dominated by its most violent and illiberal elements, and questioning these forces is deemed by intellectual elites to be a form of Islamophobia or racism, then reform-minded Muslims really stand no chance. But the Western media also has a duty. Whilst many of the traditional Islamic organisations in the West may have been hijacked by Islamists, news editors are always hungry to broadcast their rabid soundbites and ratchet up these degrees of separation. Egged on by a small cabal of xenophobes, they like to portray the notorious one-eyed hook handed Abu Hamza or as some other scimitar brandishing Philistine as representative of Muslims. But how close is this to the truth?

Unfortunately, the majority is neither visible in the media nor recognised by Western politicians and policymakers. They owe a certain responsibility to regular Muslims, rather than vilifying them for crimes done by others. Like it or not, they are now an essential fabric of our societies. We don’t blame Germans for the crimes of Hitler, so why point fingers at regular Muslims for the crimes of bin Laden? It only serves to magnify their dissonance, alienate them further and leave them as cannon fodder for Islamists.

It’s now 2013 and little has changed. Even in educated circles Muslims still largely disregard established science like evolution. Dawkins did a televised documentary at a school in Leicester and the science teacher told him (and worse still her pupils) that she didn’t believe in evolution and the earth was only 6,000 years old. Last year, we had medical students storm out of their evolution classes at UCL. And this year an Islamic conference intending merely to discuss the topic was rescheduled after firm opposition from its host university’s student society. Enough is enough. The time has come to stop blaming Western leaders and Eastern extremists for our problems. It is time to bleach out the rot from within. The time has come for secular liberal Muslims in the West finally to come forward as a collective and form new voices against the ongoing Islamism gnawing away at the roots of ordinary and innocent Muslim lives.

Remember, fewer than five percent of Muslims fit the stereotype of bearded angry men with tailed thobes clutched by obedient burka-blanketed wives in tow. The rest are just like you. They worry about bills, plan their holidays and, especially in the UK, love to complain about the weather.

Saif Rahman is a strategic consultant, founder of Cultural Muslim and Humanist Association and author of The Islamist Delusion.


  1. Nice article, with a refreshing take on the problem. As far as evolution is concerned within Islam, it clearly refutes the story of Adam as laid down in the Quran and ahadith. If you take evolution as true being a muslim, you are negating Quranic verses and traditions pointing towards his being the first human, and as having descended upon earth from heaven. This is the dilemma that Muslims, like knowledgeable Christians, face, to put it simply. Just stating the fact 🙂

  2. Wow, Saif, you put it very well, as usual. Unfortunately, there will always be followers for irrational ideas. In fact, sine there is little effort required in subscribing to such ideas, it is natural that they will enjoy a greater following. In addition, crass human negative traits of jealousy, aggression, possessiveness, exclusivist thinking, i.e. I/we are the chosen people of some deity, etc. How does one undo that. It can take millenia.

  3. saif, you are on the right track. Keep it up but it needs to be discussed more freely by the more liberal and well read Muslims. This could lead to the evolution of the New Islam, or the Liberal Islam.

    elleX0 aka A. Muhd

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