Mansoor, our Head Teacher, was late for work one Thursday morning.
“I heard there’s an electrical fault on the Underground, some sort of power surge,” said sister Noura, the secretary. “He’s probably been delayed.”
“You mean more than usual,” I joked. An hour later, he still hadn’t arrived. I tried phoning him on my mobile, but it wouldn’t connect. At playtime we heard reports that there had been explosions at several tube stations. My heart sank and Mansoor’s lateness now seemed ominous. As the morning progressed, the full horror of what had happened became clear. Three underground trains and a London bus – packed with commuters – had been blown up. I had hoped against hope that something like this wouldn’t happen here in the UK, but in all honesty I had been expecting it. It was no secret that the Jihadis regarded the UK as a prime target.
What astonished everyone was that the bombers were British. Their leader, Mohammad Siddique Khan, appeared to be a well adjusted and integrated young man. School friends pointed out that he had both white and Asian friends and seemed friendly, polite and considerate – a nice guy. But none of these things astonished me. I recognised the possibility of being both a genuinely good person and yet a person capable of shockingly bigoted views. This is the power of some extreme forms of faith: it can make a good person say and do things he wouldn’t even dream of otherwise. I also recognised the bombers’ crisis of identity, the appearance of normality, and the storm of confusion within. Being a devout Muslim in the West creates an inner conflict that is hard to resolve. This is because – for the devout Muslim – Islam is a complete way of life, a “Divine Code of Life”. It guides every aspect of one’s personal and public life, from the brushing of one’s teeth to Social, Political and Economic issues such as laws governing trade practises and punishments for adultery. Living in the UK, or any modern Western society, presents Muslims with the day-to-day reality of a competing world-view that challenges traditional Islamic values. Ideas such as Democracy, Freedom, Equality and Pluralism and issues such as Human Rights, Sexuality and the relationship between men and women create a dilemma for Muslims. How should they react to these issues and still remain faithful to the ideal of Islam as a perfect and unchanging ‘Divine Code of life?’ Do these things undermine Islamic values? Can Muslims selectively incorporate what some may regard as the good ideas and reject the bad? Can Muslims apply human reasoning to find new interpretations of Islam that embrace these ideas? Or have all the various permutations of Islam been comprehensively detailed by the Scholars of the past? Should Muslims stick resolutely to the classical model of Islamic Law and the Islamic State? The result is a crisis and confusion amongst Muslims.
When faced with such a conflict between a perfect ‘Divine Code’ and the modern western world, Muslims have no choice but to conclude that it is the modern world, dominated by non-Muslim philosophies and values, that is the source of the problem. Islam by its very nature compels Muslims to look back to the past for the perfect model for society and to be suspicious of anything new. No matter what group, party or sect you ask, whether extremist, moderate or esoteric, they are all bound to accept that the example set by Muhammad 1400 years ago is the example they must follow. So though almost every Muslim today feels this conflict, few can admit that Islam needs to change because that is tantamount to saying God got it wrong the first time!
So Muslim apologists do their best to put a modernistic gloss on problematic issues, while claiming that the ‘perfect’ and ‘ideal’ Islamic State would resolve everything. Of course when one points to places where Shari’ah has been tried, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, almost every Muslim you meet will say, “Oh, they are not doing it properly!” or “That country is not really Islamic,” adding, “But if we were to return to true Islam everything would be fine.” This is of course a very convenient way of avoiding the implications of applying Islamic Law in our day and age.
It is this confusion amongst contemporary Muslims that extremist preachers following the Jihadi ideology exploit to gain support for their violent tactics. They represent arguably the most obvious and simplistic response to the conflict Muslims feel. Back to basics! Cut away all the accumulated debris of 1400 years of innovations and return to the ‘pure’ Islam, precisely as it was practised at the time of the prophet. The main vehicle for achieving this is Jihad (Struggle) against the Kuffar and the setting up of the Khilafah (Islamic State). They see the failure and weakness of Muslims as being due to their having strayed far away from the ‘pure’ Islam of the prophet and having abandoned the essential duty of Jihad.
This simplistic, black and white literalist version of Islam provides an irresistible solution to disaffected and alienated young Muslims. They see the Muslim leaders in the UK and even their families as only paying ‘lip service’ to the Islamic ideals they claim to follow. These young Muslims compare the glory and supremacy that the Islamic State had during its ‘Golden Age’ and the abject weakness, ignorance and poverty of the Muslim people today and conclude that the decline of Muslims is due to the fact that they are not following the ‘true’ Islamic teachings. So these young Muslims join the Jihad to re-establish the ‘true’ teachings through whatever means they see fit.
Having accepted this approach they see every setback and failure to defeat the enemies of Islam as a result of not following Islam ‘properly.’ They are drawn ever deeper into extremism, applying every minute detail of Qur’an and Sunnah ever more rigorously and harshly, to the extent that Islam loses it’s moral and spiritual dimension entirely and becomes merely a mechanical exercise of applying a bewildering and complicated set of rules, where human reasoning plays no part. It is simply a matter of following the ‘evidence’ (daleel) from the Qur’an and Sunna ‘literally’. As a result the extremists have no moral dilemma over the fact that this perfect ‘Islamic State’ amounts to little more than a brutal system of punishments or that this glorious Jihad boils down to indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians on an underground train.
Of course the vast majority of Muslims are strongly opposed the violent actions of suicide bombers who take the lives of innocents, but as yet they have been unable to conclusively invalidate the arguments of the extremists. There are plenty of apologists who explain that ‘Islam is a religion of Peace’ and that ‘Islam is against terrorism.’ But such slogans are for the Western media and carry no authority at all with the extremists who only accept arguments based on Qur’an and Sunnah. Even those Moderate scholars who do use Islamic arguments are yet to win the battle against the extremists.
Muhammad Siddique Khan said in his Martydom Video:
“Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam – obedience to the one true God, Allah, and following the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Muhammad. This is how our ethical stances are dictated.”
Anyone who truly wishes to understand the motivation of the Jihadis should pay very close attention to these words: “This is how our ethical stances are dictated.” Regardless of how most moderate Muslims wish to interpret Islam, the fact is that there are Muslims who find clear and compelling justification in the religion of Islam to slaughter innocent people travelling to work on an underground train. The excuse that these people are twisting the peaceful religion of Islam is simply not good enough. The reality is that there persists to be a significant militant minority who stubbornly refuse to see it that way. If one Islamic Scholar produces evidence that killing innocent people is prohibited, another will produce evidence that in certain circumstances it is permissible. If one scholar produces evidence that suicide bombing is Haram, another will produce evidence that it is the highest form of Martyrdom. The result is that the majority of Muslims are confused and caught within a dilemma of conscience. Either they concede that the extremists have a point and end up trying to defend acts that are indefensible or they do their best to quote the peaceful parts of the Qur’an and Hadith and hope that the person they are speaking to doesn’t know too much about Islam.
Mansoor finally turned up in a taxi, to everyone’s great relief. He explained he’d been re-directed to Kings Cross, just as some of the first victims were emerging, and stayed on the scene to help. He looked shaken and dishevelled.
“There were people coming out, coughing, covered in soot; no-one knew what was going on; everyone tried to help. Then the police and ambulance crews took over. There was one man who had blood all over him; his clothes were black and in shreds; they put him on a stretcher.”
“Did they say whether it was terrorists?”
“No, I heard someone say it was a bomb,” he said. “I don’t know what happened, but it looks really bad, Hassan, really bad.”
In the days and weeks that followed the London attacks, there were the usual denials and conspiracy theories.
“They were tricked into it,” said Saeeda, the lady who served the dinner in the kitchens.
“Tricked into carrying bombs and blowing themselves and the passengers up?”
“Yes, didn’t you hear that they bought return tickets. Why would they do that?”
“Perhaps so that they wouldn’t arouse suspicion.”
“And on the morning of the attack there was a simulated attack going on as part of a training exercise – now don’t tell me that is coincidence.”
“I’m not sure what that proves.”
“It proves it was all planned by the secret services.”
The Muslims around me seemed to be so deep in denial it felt hopeless.