It was a catharsis that failed. Whole classes and provinces turned out to say a tearful farewell to their “Rose without Thorns”, splashing out on carnations, inscribing their names in black-edged tomes, and filling Hyde Park beyond its capacity, yet it was clear that this was a wound that only time could deal with. Spectacularly displayed as they were, the nation’s rituals of bereavement, some official, others hesitant and impromptu, seemed obscurely unsatisfying.
The funeral itself was thankfully restrained. The dreadful “celebration of the life of” type of exhibitionism was ruled out, no doubt to the sorrow of many members of Di’s partytime generation. Some of the old must have winced as the Abbey echoed to the mawkish croonings of Reg from Pinner, the homosexual divorcee. But a genuine reminiscence of what was once the sober and dignified Anglican rite for the dead was preserved. A few prayers were said, not enough of course; but the Church knows that the new Britain is ill at ease when the Almighty is mentioned. Still, the prayers were there, sounding above the din.
And yet the diffuse anthology of performances: Verdi’s histrionics, Pachelbel’s splendid Canon, and the réchauffé medievalism of Taverner, hinted at a profound disjuncture between rite and audience. Embedded in these cameos attentive listeners could detect muffled residues of outlandish beliefs that had echoed down the centuries from Chalcedon through Cranmer, only to fade away before reaching the ears of the tragic queen who never was. Archbishop Carey stood as a lonely, defiant figure, speaking of his triune God, and assuring the deceased that God Himself had been crucified for her sins. Few of the assembled young can have registered his beliefs with anything but discomfort and a sense of strangeness.
The archbishop knows well enough that the Sloane species, and indeed the rest of the restless Princess Feelgood generation, is not in tune with Trinities, Vicarious Atonements, or Dual Natures. The Britain which displayed its mourning so conspicuously was declaring its preference for the very different worldview which Diana, and in his alternate, more introverted fashion, her ex-husband, were palpably and sometimes controversially seeking. The rituals at the Abbey were a posthumous bid to claim the Dionysiac, indulgent, tarot-card Princess for an older and more Christian generation; yet the presence of the crowds outside mutely affirmed her modernity. Simple beliefs, simple goodness, and simple spirituality were the values she was believed to have upheld, in opposition to the now largely uncomprehended complexities of Trinitarian ritual and belief.
Rooted in Roman mortuary custom, the Christian obsequies which enshrine these notions are protracted and often agonising. Grieving relatives must display themselves, and be scrutinised by the prurient public eye during a lengthy and deliberately tear-jerking ceremony. Other religions, almost without exception, regard this dirgelike and spun-out style of valediction as disturbingly lacking in compassion, and also as morbidly insistent on the physical presence of the deceased. In Muslim communities, things are done fast: the body is washed by relations, as a moving physical sign of farewell; and is then prayed over in the mosque in a ceremony which requires no more than two minutes. The deceased, carried in turn by members of the family and by friends and wellwishers, is then walked to the cemetery. The voyage from death to dust takes less than a day, after which the family can retreat into private grief and prayers, unburdened by plans for the coming week. The healing is supplied by the confidence that “nothing will befall us save what God has inscribed”, and by the balm of the Revelation, with its soaring, dignified cadences which remind all humans that their mortality in this world is as sure as their immortality in the next.
The princess’s companion, the Fayed heir, thus endured less, and his family could begin to reconstruct their lives quickly, privately, and with less distraction. Yet although tradition parted them in death, the affianced pair perished together, blood conmingled, in a poignant union of love and death which Orientals are already prizing as a latter-day romance of Layla and Majnun, or Ferhad and Shirin. The British public will not accept this motif, of course, since the blonde princess’s lover was an Arab, and the gossip-columnists who had shaken their heads over Dodi’s “unsuitability” were transparently and by public consent alluding to his race and religion. The disclosure that her suitor had given her a ring hours before their death, and reports of her own joyous proclamations of having been happier in his company than ever before in her life, must needs be passed over in puzzled silence by White England. The idea of the nation’s Rose surrendering to the embraces of a brown, Arab, non-Christian Egyptian, of contemplating a future as Mrs Diana Al-Fayed, will forever be too much for our country to contemplate. There can be no doubt that had Dodi been of approved genetic and spiritual inheritance, Di’s funeral would have been as romantic as her wedding.
But our England will have none of this, and they lie apart in the very different worlds of Woking and the island in the Spencer estate near Northampton. Dodi, the public has concluded, was simply a confusing annoyance, a walk-on part. He is written out of this Shakespearian tragedy whose audience will tolerate no subplots, and only one moral to the story, now that the grand denouement has been written.
But the morals of this story are legion, and they cut to the core of our modern anxieties. The millions who followed her funeral were not just mourning a posh odalisque, they were propelled onto the streets by a mute desire for answers to deep and frightening questions. Confronted by the sudden, irrevocable extinction of the world’s best-known woman, who had revelled in her role as an incarnation of thezeitgeist, the masses were unpleasantly faced with their own mortality. If Diana is not divine, then, perhaps, neither are we. We are all tagging along after her cortege, and all our ambitions, disappointments and pleasures will end up in a muddy hole. “Wherever you may be, death with catch you up, even if you be in lofty citadels,” insists the Book; for “every soul will taste of death.” The Grand Leveller who is insistently and so successfully veiled by a modern generation which has no time to reflect, still awaits us all, not, as we vaguely assume, as a distant liberator from senescence, but as an ever-threatening extinguisher of all our pleasures.
The crowds sensed something else. Just as Diana was mortal, so too are the institutions she did so much both to represent and to injure. The Union Flag flapping uncomfortably at half-mast over the Palace seemed like the augury of a dynasty’s future. The tabloids, obsequiously voicing the inchoate passions of the masses, demanded that the thunderstruck Royals perform in public, and in the same clipped, hectoring sentences promised to respect their privacy more fully. Even reigning monarchs cannot now transcend the empire of the media: their worth for the ephemeral politicians who can decide their fate is measured not by the tables in Debretts but by the opinion polls; and now that their lives are not clearly distinguished in the popular consciousness from the melodramas of Brookside, the House of Windsor may be abolished altogether with a simple collective click on the TV switch. Thus the Prince’s remarriage prospects, already complicated by religious strictures, now seem hopeless, his dignified or floundering responses to a soundbite age send his popularity plummeting ever further; and England may well surrender to the mediocrity of republicanism before it has another queen, or even a princess consort.
Diana incarnated for the masses their confusion about the Royal Family, but also held up a mirror to their nervousness about modern family life in a more general way. She had inflicted much damage on her own marriage through her erratic craving for self-esteem which, as the Morton revelations documented, made her manipulative enough to set her own happiness firmly before that of her family and the constitutional security of the nation. Part of the blame for this must be carried by feminism, which has diminished the self-esteem available to wives seeking fulfilment in traditional roles. But there is another culprit to be fingered. Traumatised at six by a mother who ran off with another man, Diana revealed to the public a fact it suppresses and yearns to deny: the depth and permanence of the wound that divorce inflicts. “Divorce shakes the throne of God”, a hadith affirms, and Diana showed how it could shake temporal thrones just as thoroughly. Her own divorce, adding to the tide of misery now flooding through the courts each year, seemed to personify the public fear that the most basic of all our institutions is under threat.
The princess also captured the public’s imagination in her pursuit of the traditional noblesse oblige charity work expected of women in her position. She was not exceptional in this, despite the media hype: Princess Alexandra and Queen Mary had been no less indefatigable in their support for good causes. But Diana’s chosen charities showed how intimately she shared the nervousness of the world beyond the palace gates: homelessness, AIDS, toddlers maimed by British landmines, modern casualties of every sort were embraced by Diana, and the public embraced them through her arms, as though to dissipate some fraction of its guilt.
Diana hence becomes a true icon of modernity. The cultish reactions to her death well define the quality of our contemporary mood, which cannot imagine a saint who negates self, and can only venerate those who fall prey to vice, and who then publicly, for our entertainment and vicarious delectation, wrestle with the consequences. Yet she knew, as do we all, that the new sanctity does not liberate. Every time she hurled herself down an Adams staircase, or starved herself almost to death, she discovered the child’s bitter lesson that the relief and attention brought by crying never lasts. But her world failed to teach her the alternative, which is to be noticed not by mortals but by God, and to draw strength and consolation from private prayer. Her mother-in-law no doubt tried to explain this to her, but the babble of the age drowned out all such counsels. The tristesse which follows each brief bout of enjoyment demands either penitence, or further indulgence. In the end, her commitment to the latter, Dionysiac choice of her world made her a martyr to the modern jet-set trinity of cognac, cars and recurrent priapic consolations. King Priapus, tirelessly working to unseat the House of Windsor, and busy too in Washington, usually wins in the end. The only enemy that has ever chained him is religion, and religion is old here, and has grown feeble.
Diana was her own victim, certainly. More self-restraint and wifely acquiescence in her husband would have ensured that she would now be at Balmoral with her children. But hers was not an independent mind, she merely followed the instincts of her class, and those instincts are ultimately self-destructive. Ill-prepared for life amid the staid but genuinely self-abnegating Windsors, she threw herself downstairs. She was not pushed.
As for the nation’s mourning, this can only be interpreted as guilt. We are responsible for the ethos that killed the Princess. We did not shout with disgust at her adulteries; we sniggered, and asked for more pictures. We did not express our misgivings at her involvement with the airheaded and abjectly materialistic international set. She heard our lack of protests, and pressed on to destruction. We are all instrumental in her demise; hence the raw sharpness of the nation’s grief, and the disturbing failure of its rituals. The orgiastic and shallow world that we have shaped in defiance of God has claimed another soul – and each one of us will be judged.
© Abdal-Hakim Murad, 1997
Our silence in the face of evil differs from that of secular people. For traditional theists, the sense of loss which evil conveys, of the fearful presence of a void, comes with a personal face: that of the devil. But the devil, being, in the Qur’an’s language, weak at plotting, carries in himself the seeds of his own downfall. The very fact that we can name him is consoling, since understanding is itself a consolation. The cruellest aspect of secularity is that its refusal to name the devil elevates him to something more than a mere personalised absence. The solace of religion, no less consoling for being painful, is that it insists that when we find no words to communicate our sense that evil has come and triumphed, our silence is one of bewilderment, not despair; of hope, not of finality.
The world is at present in the grip of fear. We fear an unknown absence that hides behind the mundanity of our experience; perhaps ubiquitous and confident, perhaps broken and at an end. Symbols of human communication such as the internet and the airlines have suddenly acquired a double meaning as the scene for a radical failure of communication. Above all, the fear is that of the unprecedented, as the world enters an age drastically unlike its predecessors, an age in which the religions are fragmenting into countless islands of opinion at a time when their members – and the world – are most insistently in need of their serene and consistent guidance.
At a time such as the present, a furqan, a discernment, between true and false religion breaks surface. Despite the endless, often superbly fruitful, differences between the great world religions, the pressure of secularity has threatened each religion with a comparable confiscation of timeless certainties, and their replacement by the single certainty of change. Many now feel that they are not living in a culture, but in a kind of process, as abiding canons of beauty are replaced with styles and idioms the only expectation we can have of which is that they will briefly gratify our own sense of stylishness, then to be replaced by something no less brilliantly shallow. Postmodernity, anticipated here by Warhol, is occasionalistic, a series of ruptured images, hostile to nothing but the claim that we have inherited the past and that language is truly meaningful.
In such conditions, the timeless certainties of religious faith must work hard to preserve not only their consistent sense of self, but the very vocabularies with which they express their claims. The American philosopher Richard Rorty offers this account of the secularisation process:
Europe did not decide to accept the idiom of Romantic poetry, or of socialist politics, or of Galilean mechanics. That sort of shift was no more an act of will than it was a result of argument. Rather, Europe gradually lost the habit of using certain words and gradually acquired the habit of using certain others. 
What has happened over the past century, in a steadily accelerating fashion, is that the series of mutations in values, often grounded in popular perceptions of scientific paradigm shifts, has placed the traditional vocabularies of religion under unprecedented stress. Against this background, we can see three large possibilities amidst the diversity of the world faiths. Firstly, the ‘time-capsule’ option, often embedded in local ethnic particularities, which seeks to preserve the lexicon of faith from any redefinition which might subvert the tradition’s essence. The risk of anachronism or irrelevance is seen as worth running in order to preserve ancient verities for later generations that might, in some hoped-for time of penitence, return to them. Secondly, there are movements, usually called ‘liberal’, which adopt the secular world’s reductionist vocabulary for the understanding of religion, whether this be psychological, philosophical, or sociological, and try to show how faith, or part of it, might be recoverable even if we use these terms. In the Christian context this is an established move, and has become secure enough to be popularised by such writers as John Robinson and Don Cupitt. In Islam, the marginality of Muhammad Shahrur and Farid Esack shows that for the present a thoroughgoing theological liberalism remains a friendless elite option, despite the de facto popularity of attenuated and sentimental forms of Muslimness.
The third possibility is to redefine the language of religion to allow it to support identity politics. Religion has, of course, always had the marking of collective and individual identity as one of its functions. However, in reaction against the threat of late modernity and postmodernity to identity, and in tacit acknowledgement of the associated problematizing of metaphysics and morality, this dimension has in all the world religions been allowed to expand beyond its natural scope and limits. Increasingly, religionists seem to define themselves sociologically, rather than theologically. The Durkheimian maxim that ‘the idea of society is the soul of religion’  is not so far from the preoccupations of activists who are more eager to establish institutes for Islamic social sciences than to build seminaries.
The result has often been a magnification of traditional polarities between the self and the other, enabled by the steady draining-away of religiously-inspired assumptions concerning the universality of notions of honour and decency. Examples are many and diverse. Who could have thought that Buddhism, apparently the most pacific of religions, could have provided space for a movement such as Aum Shinrikyo, thousands of whose acolytes have been interrogated in connection with terrorist outrages against innocent civilians? Central to the cult’s appeal, it seems, has been a redefinition of Buddhism as a movement for the preservation of East Asian identity. 
In India, a vegetarian creed such as Hinduism, in Gandhi’s province of Gujarat, has now generated religious identity movements which, to the horror of more traditional practitioners, appear to recommend the expulsion, forced conversion, or massacre, of non-Hindu minorities. The process of the ‘saffronising’ of India , descending on the Ayodhya flashpoint, is seemingly well-advanced, and the prospects for regional peace and conviviality have seldom seemed less hopeful. 
In the universe of Islam, the same transposition of the vocabulary of faith into the vocabulary of identity is well underway. What would Averroes have made of the common modern practice of defining the Hajj as the ‘annual conference of the Muslims’? Why do social scientists increasingly interpret the phenomenon of veiling in terms of the affirmation of identity? Why does congregational prayer sometimes suggest a political gesture to what is behind the worshippers, rather than to what lies beyond the qibla wall?
The instrumentality of religion has changed, in important segments of the world faiths. God is not denied by the sloganeers of identity; rather He is enlisted as a party member. No such revivalist can entertain the suggestion that the new liberation being recommended is a group liberation in the world that marginalises the more fundamental project of an individual liberation from the world; but his vocabulary nonetheless steadily betrays him. In the Qur’an, the word iman (usually translated as ‘faith’) appears twenty times as frequently as the word islam. In the sermons of the identity merchants, the ratio usually seems to be reversed.
Neither does the instrumentality of identity advocate a return to the indigenous and the particular. Were it to do so, it would necessarily require a respectful engagement with the art, spirituality, and intellectuality of the religion’s cultural provinces. And it is a shared feature of all identity politicking in world religions today that whereas religious revivals in the great ages of faith invariably generated artistic and literary florescence, the revivalists seem to produce only impoverishment. Beauty must wait; because da‘wa, the Mission, is more urgent; an odd logic to premodern believers, who assumed that every summons to the Real must be beautiful, and that nothing transforms a society or an individual soul more deeply than a great work of art, a building, a poem, or the serenity of a saint.
Perhaps we could even invoke this as the nearest approximation we will find to an objective yardstick against which to judge the spiritual authenticity (asala ruhiyya) of religious revivals. Truth, as Plato taught, ineluctably produces beauty. The illuminated soul shines, and cannot confine the light within its own self. Whatever is done, or made, or said, or written, by such a soul, is great art, and this is part of our caliphal participation and responsibility in creation. As Abd al-Rahman Jami puts it:
Every beauty and perfection manifested in the theatre of the diverse grades of beings is a ray of His perfect beauty reflected therein. It is from these rays that exalted souls have received their impress of beauty and their quality of perfection. 
If we apply this measure, how much authenticity may we really attribute to the soi-disant Islamic revivalism of today? ‘Say: who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen?’ (7:32) Who indeed?
The modern Muslim instrumentality of identity, then, does not seem to be about the affirmation of a culturally embedded self. The young radical activist does not really want to be a Pakistani, or an Algerian, or an American. Such a person requires what one might call a negative identity. He or she desperately desires not to be someone. The medievals knew God by listing all the things that God could not be; this is the strategy known as negative theology, richly deployed in both Muslim and Christian metaphysics. The moderns, it seems, being more interested in religion than in God, define religion by listing all the things that it cannot be. Hence Islam, we are loudly told, is a list of prohibitions. Everywhere we turn there is something we must not believe, and certainly must not do. The list of ideas entailing shirk or bid‘a grows ever-longer; and no-one any longer takes pleasure and joy even in the diminishing list of things which are still allowed.
Islam, then, is about not being and doing things. What is left is one’s identity. Because the list of prohibitions is so desperately extended, and embraces most if not all the beloved practices of the village or the urban district, one is no longer allowably Sylheti, or Sarajevin. This is a questing for identity that denies real, embedded identity. As such, it often betrays its twentieth-century tributaries:
The type and forms of cultural valuations employed by the new fundamentalist movements cannot be explained by an analysis of the tradition of Islamic religion and history; it has to be seen as an effect of inter-cultural exchange, which is fundamentally based on a Western understanding of Islam as the culture of the Other. 
Long ago, the ever-insightful Hourani was no less frank in noticing the Western etiology of ‘movement Islam’:
Much has been written in recent years about modern movements in Islam, and the origins and direction of some of them are by now well-known: a new emphasis on virtuous activity, justified in terms of certain traditional sayings, but derived in fact from the European ‘scientific’ thought of the 19th century, and tending sometimes towards a revolutionary nihilism. 
Other, more psychological tributaries might also be cited. The shift to a culturally disembedded radicalism is often malignantly driven by a desire to wreak revenge on one’s traditionalist parents or one’s community for frustrations suffered at their hands. Again, it appears as a Western social phenomenon, rather than as traditional tawba. Often, too, it is perversely responsive to a global discourse that may despise those countries or their diaspora ethnicities. It is, in short, a way of legitimising self-hatred; a religio-legal justification of an inferiority complex.
What, then, remains? Once the son of Pakistani migrants has stripped himself of his shalvar, his pir, his qawwalis, his gulab jamon, his entire sense of living as the product of a great civilisation that produced the Taj Mahal and the ghazals of Ghalib, what does he have left? Again, the negative theology option will define his identity as what-is-left-over; a religion of the gaps, a kind of void. That void he understands as the Sunna. The Sunna, that is, as figured negatively, as a list of denials, of wrenchings from disturbing memories, as a justification for the abandonment of techniques of spirituality that obstruct rather than reassure the ego.
Is this, then, a failure of religion? Is the young zealot so overwhelmed by his alienation, his humiliation, and sense of rootlessness, that the Sunna which is what-is-left-over cannot restore his spirit? Surely the scriptures insist that a turn to the Sunna must heal him, and help him to come to terms with his history and the trials of his life?
Actions, however, are by intentions. According to tradition, people tend to have the rulers they deserve, and the forces that rule the human soul are also in every case the appropriate ones for that person. The Sunna is a model of sacred humanity. That is to say, humanity bathed in sakina, the peaceable ‘habitation’ of God’s presence. ‘He is the one who sent down the sakina upon the believers’ hearts, that they might grow in faith.’ (48:4) This is in Sura al-Fath, which unveils to the believing community the nature of the test that they have just passed through, and which endured for several long years. The triumph at Mecca came about not through anger, anxiety, fear, and rage at the difficult, sometimes desperate situation of the Muslims, a small island of monotheists in a pagan sea. It came about through their serenity, their sakina, which, Ibn Juzayy tells us, means stillness (sukun), contentment (tuma’nina), and also mercy (rahma).  These are the gifts of reliance on Allah’s promise amidst apparent misfortune. The alternative is to be of those who are described as az-zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’: ‘Those who think ill thoughts of Allah’, which, the commentators explain, means the suspicion that He will let the believers down.
The monotheistic God, of course, does not let the believers down. ‘Weaken not; nor grieve. You are the uppermost, if you have iman’ (3:139): the verse revealed in the aftermath of the shock of Uhud.
So the young zealot, driven half out of his mind by his sense of alienation and despair, reads the Sunna with the wrong dictionary. His view of the history of his community is one of khidhlan – that God has effectively abandoned it. Only a tiny, almost infinitesimal fraction of the scholars of historic Islam were even believers. The Ottomans, the Moguls, the Uzbek khanates, the Seljuks, the Malay states, the Hausa princedoms; all of these were lands of pure shirk and innovation; deserts with no oases of faith. And this conviction has to make him one of az-zannina bi’Llah zanna’s-saw – those who think ill thoughts of Allah. Their contention is that Islamic civilisation has been an atrocious, monumental, desperate failure; and the consequences of this conviction, for their religious faith, and for their ability to feel sakina, are no less disastrous. A God that has allowed the final religion to go astray so calamitously cannot, ultimately, be trusted. His policy seems usually to have been one of khidhlan, of the betrayal of the believers. Religion itself becomes, in Durkheim’s language, entirely ‘piacular’, it is an attempt at cathartic, ritualised breast-beating, a rite of atonement and mourning, that seeks to channel one’s fear of the uncontrollable and apparently blind forces which punish and threaten one’s tribe. A cathartic component of religion has here become co-extensive with faith itself.
What it feels like to worship such a God is hard to imagine. But today, in Islam, as at the fringes of other religions, there are indeed people who worship him. No peace can come of such worship, only a growing sense of being trapped inside a logic that leads only to fear and despair, unrelieved by anything more than the faintest glimmer of hope. Perhaps, the activist feels, worshipping his God, if we are pure enough, and angry enough, God will relent towards us; and we can anticipate the Second Coming by defying time itself, and creating a utopia for the pure somewhere on this earth. The piacular thus accumulates into an apocalypse.
Long ago, Toynbee saw that such projects invariably end in misery. In the end, even Herod serves the oppressed community better than does Bar Kochva. Toynbee wrote of
‘Zealotism’: a psychological state – as unmistakeably pathological as it is unmistakeably exaggerated – which is one of the two possible alternative reactions of the passive party in a collision between two civilizations. 
The zealot, Toynbee’s ‘barbarian saviour-archaist’, cannot imagine that faith might require the wisdom to recognise the capacities of individual human beings in different ages. Invoking a ferocious definition of amr bi’l-ma‘ruf, ‘Commanding the Good’, at a time when most people are weak and struggle even to honour the basic demands of religion, betrays an abject and disastrous lack of common sense.  ‘Forcing religion down people’s throats’ will induce many of them to vomit it up again; such is the resilience or perversity of human nature. States which impose severe moral codes in public will find that they cannot deal with the proliferation of private vice, which almost masquerades as virtue in a political context where religion has identified itself with a piacular rite of repression. States which behave in such a way as to be excluded from global trade will languish in poverty, further fostering disenchantment and exporting streams of refugees.
The sunna, brandished as a weapon of revenge against the sources of one’s humiliation, will not allow itself to be used in this way. The sunna, as pure form, as a structure of life, cannot be itself if the inward reality of sakina is absent. The Law is merciful when interpreted and applied by those who believe that God’s practice towards His people has been merciful. In the hands of the zealot, it may become the most persuasive of all arguments against religion.
Actions, then, are by intentions, and the interpretation of scripture is the proof of this. Scripture is a holy place; and we need to calm ourselves before entering it. If we march in, hearts blazing with fury, viewing the world with suspiciousness about the divine intention, then we violate that holy place. In earlier times, only the pure of heart, and those with decades of humbling scholarship behind them, were allowed to cross the threshhold into that space. Now the doors have been kicked open, and a crowd of furious, hungry, desperate men, stands quarrelling around the text.
* * *
I would like to move on now. Much of what I have said has been dismal; but religion is surely about facing reality. Too many of us today live amid delusions, no doubt because we find the reality of our times too disturbing to contemplate. Conspiracy theories, paranoia, fantasies about the past or the future; these abound in religious conferences; not just among Muslims, but among religionists everywhere. Religion, however, invites us to ‘get real’ – to use a very Muslim Americanism. Because we believe in God and an afterlife, and in the ultimate restitution for injustice, we should have souls great enough to look reality in the face without flinching.
My experience of the world of faith which we all inherit is, despite all that I have said about the sickness of identity mania, a positive one. I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture that there are three religious paths commonly taken today: the time-capsule, the liberal, and that of identity politics dressed up as scripturalism. The liberal option, despite the shallow purchase of its theology, is in practice widely followed among Muslims: these are the millions of individuals who may cherish the memory of a pious aunt, or perhaps a moment of religious insight earlier in their lives, or some vague sense of belonging to an inherited religious culture, but who seldom attend the mosque.
For most religiously-active Muslims, the conservative option, with a variety of variations, is the most commonly pursued. Almost all senior ulema in Sunni countries adhere to some form of conservatism, entailing adherence to one of the four Sunni madhhabs and to either the Ash‘ari or the Maturidi theology. Often, too, they will be actively involved in Sufism. This is a reality of which the West is largely unaware, given that it constructs its images of Muslim action from media images which inevitably focus on the frantic and the dangerous. 
What is needed, then, is for mainstream Islam to reassert its possession of tafsir. It remains in a strong position to do this. The zealots are everywhere a very small percentage of the total of believers. The masses are either too traditional or too religiously weak to want to follow them. Never will extremism triumph for long, simply because normal people do not want it. Already we find a growing sense around the Muslim world that zealotry damages only Islam, and serves its rivals. ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger’, as Nietszche observes.
A further reason why extremism has an uncertain future is that human beings are naturally religious. Secularisation theories are now everywhere in confusion; and religion prospers mightily in most countries of the world. Belief in the transcendent is, it seems, hard-wired into our species, and what most human beings crave is not a megaphone for their frustrations, but a voice for justice which also serves as a source of peace and serenity in a stressful world. Any religion that fails to supply this will soon be replaced by something else. There has never been an exception to this in human history. Christianity succeeded because pagan Roman religion failed to provide a sense of spiritual upliftment. Islam succeeded because the Eastern churches were spiritually debilitated by centuries of bitter polemic. New religious movements in the West succeed by offering techniques of meditation and alternative therapies which seem absent from established religions as they are presently formulated. Islam, wherever it degenerates into a primal scream of panic about one’s situation in the world, will certainly be replaced by any other religion that offers sakina.
The mainstream, then, must reclaim the initiative, and expel the zealots from the sacred place. It should not find it difficult to do this. It has, after all, a great civilisation behind it, which extremism cannot claim. It has, too, a rich tradition of spirituality, still vibrant in many countries, which, where made available to Westerners, can seem hard to resist. This was recently made plain to me by the director of the Swedish Islamic Academy. He told me that consistently, during his quarter-century as a Muslim in Stockholm, whenever he mentions that he is a Sufi, people lean forward to learn more. When he mentions Islam, they lean back, alarmed. Is this merely the expression of prejudice? Perhaps. But Muslims should also consider the possibility that educated Western people may be sincerely, rather than cynically, horrified by expressions of Islamic identity politics; and may be sincerely, rather than superficially, impressed by the literature and practice of traditional spiritual Islam. No-one who wishes to practice da‘wa in the West, or among Westernised Muslims, can afford to bypass that reality.
Once the sakina has been found again, once religion becomes a matter of the love of God rather than the hatred of our political and social situation, we can begin to extract our communities from the hole which we have dug for ourselves. Let us take, as a topical example, the question of suicide bombing. Historians might well wonder how this form of warfare could take root in any of the Abrahamic religions. One thinks of the kamikaze pilots of Shinto Japan, whose religious rituals, coupled with a final message read before a camera, provoked such horror and alienation in 1940s America . One thinks, too, of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war. The religious motivation behind many Tamil terrorists, rooted in a Buddhist South Asian culture, also springs to mind. Such a mentality is possible only for those who do not fully believe in a personal God, and hence have no notion of the human body as made, in some sense in God’s image. For Sunni Islam, however, in which even tattooing is a forbidden practice, such an activity is historically without precedent. Coupled with the policy of targeting the enemy’s civilians virtually at random, it is clearly the symptom of a deep-rooted sickness. It recalls the collectivist ethos (‘asabiyya) of the pre-Islamic Arabs, whose code of revenge (tha’r) authorised the taking of any life from a rival tribe to compensate for the loss of one of one’s own, a system decisively abrogated by the Qur’an’s ‘no soul shall bear the burden of another’ (6:164).  It is also, we may speculate, connected with the phenomenon of radical religion as a form of self-hatred of which I spoke earlier. The piacular believer is so alienated from his self that he can contemplate its physical destruction, thus replicating, in Toynbee’s words, ‘the melodramatic suicide of the Zealots who faced hopeless military odds’. 
This desperation is unworthy of the umma of Islam. Entirely traditional scholars speak out against it in the strongest terms, as a bid‘a in the most necessary sense of the term. But we need also to re-engage with the principle of rahma, of mercy, which flows from sakina. Why exactly do the hadith suggest that Muslims must not ‘destroy anyone with fire’?  Why are believers commanded so strongly to avoid taking the lives of civilians? One reason is because if we do this, we damage the lives of others whom we will probably never even meet. ‘Whosoever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it will be as if he had killed all mankind.’ (5:32) Many suffer when one is killed. Orphans, widows, relations, friends, neighbours; all these are the victims of the single crime. Crime is never against an individual; it never has a single victim. War in the valid shari‘a sense targets only combatants, whose relatives recognise that such was their status. The targeting of civilians, however, is part of the barbarism of modern Western, Clausewitzian conflict, inflicting a deeper sense of loss and alienation; and it is entirely foreign to our heritage.
During the Second World War, my grandfather worked as a firefighter in the London Blitz. After the war, his behaviour grew erratic, and his marriage ended painfully, inflicting shock-waves on children and a wider world of relatives. Years afterwards the reason for it became clear. One night, after an air-raid, he had pulled from the rubble of a building the body of a small girl who looked exactly like his own daughter. The trauma of that moment never left him until he died, fifty years later. That trauma lives on, subtly, in the lives of all his descendants.
Those who take the lives of women and children, indiscriminately, and simply because they live on the other side of a frontier, should remember that they are inflicting wounds on other lives as well that can never properly be healed.
What is required, then, is an act of repentance, tawba. Our communities need to turn away from the utilitarian ethic that justifies even the worst and most inhuman barbarities as expedient means, and turn back to the authentic religious teaching that it is better to pray patiently than to descend into a tit-for-tat moral relativism that recalls the worst practices of the Jahiliyya. Religious patience, moreover, never runs out, because it knows that it will one day be crowned with glory. ‘True patience’, the Muslim proverb runs, ‘is never exhausted.’ And in the Qur’an: ‘the patient shall be given their full reward without reckoning.’ (39:10) The phrasing is superb. Yuwaffa suggests that they will be given a full, fair, proportionate reckoning; and then the phrase bi-ghayri hisab – it is to be without any reckoning at all. Patience, one of the supreme Qur’anic virtues, which led to the success of the peaceful entry into Mecca, is rewarded also in the next life, infinitely.
Here, then, is another possible yardstick against which to measure the authenticity of our Islam. Impatience is impiety, it is the way of the zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’. And those who cannot restrain themselves will be smacked down. Worse, they will bring misfortunes upon their communities. ‘Beware of a tribulation which will certainly not afflict only the wrongdoers amongst you,’ the Qur’an warns us. (8:25) To act impatiently on grounds of ‘asabiyya, and to defy fundamental religious teachings about the sanctity of life, and to harbour ill thoughts about God’s providence – all these sins must lead, in the traditional Muslim understanding, to divine punishment. Those who regard them as a shortcut to a world in which their self-image will be healed are likely to be disappointed.
That disappointment is now palpable in the world of Islamic identity-politics. It is time that the great majority stopped being a silent majority, and raised its voice courageously. The sunna must be reclaimed as a via positiva. This is not, I believe, a heroic option; it is a fundamental religious duty. To uphold the honour of Islam, as a great world religion, and to defy the voices that would turn it into little more than a resentful sect, is a fard ‘ayn – an individual obligation.
We need institutions and faces that can believably do this. A few of our mosques and Islamic centres are in the grip of a small minority of worshippers who care nothing for peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens, and whose hearts and minds are overseas. Most Muslims here, however, wish to be accepted as full and respected partners in the project of building a just and prosperous society, and do not wish their places of worship to be directed by the representatives of other governments or zealot political movements. Neither are they at ease with the reinvention of religion as a ritual of distress. This majority must now speak out. Sullenness, jealousy, lack of tawakkul, lack of optimism, all these are vices which must be transcended. And that transcending can only take place where religion is once again centred on the love and fear of God, not on attempts to heal a wounded pride.
I am very optimistic that this will take place. As I have already indicated, the extremists remain numerically and intellectually on the extremes. Islam is, despite the headlines, a success story. Most Muslims prefer the spiritual to the frantic; patience to the primal scream. We must now make it clear to our institutions of learning, and to those who would help us from abroad, that the principle of shura demands that the extremes be excluded, and that the voice of majoritarian Islam be allowed its natural place.
* * *
This optimism must, however, be tempered with an awareness of the immediate tactical situation. Despite the alarmism of a few intransigent voices such as Daniel Pipes and Lamin Sanneh,  few if any of us respect the Middle Eastern mass-murderers who are currently inviting the world to regard Islam as the great political and moral failure of the new century. Nonetheless, we breathe the air that they have poisoned. And the poison exists here, as elsewhere, because of the aggression of a small minority of zealots.
Again, it is time to speak out in favour of normalcy. The message is a positive one: Islam is not intrinsically committed to violent reaction against the global consensus. Most scholars do not teach that globalisation obliges us to make hijra to a neighbouring planet. Of course we have our own distinctive assurances on moral matters, and a deep scepticism about the ability of a consumer society to increase human fulfilment and to protect the integrity of creation. But Muslims are not committed to jumping ship. In British India, a political context far less egalitarian than the one we inhabit here, there were few who chose the option of hijra to Afghanistan . The ulema overwhelmingly stayed in place, and were not prominent during the Mutiny. ‘Some scholars,’ as a historian of the period notes, ‘held that a country remained daru’l-Islam as long as a single provision of the Law was kept in force.  Once the bitterness of the Mutiny had subsided, the Muslims were a peaceful presence who contributed much to the deeply flawed but stable global enterprise that was the British Empire. Those Pathans who fought and died at Monte Cassino, the Hausas of the Nigeria Regiment who fought with the Chindits in Burma; the Bengali Lascars who died in the Battle of the Atlantic, were not conscripts, they were volunteers. Fighting against a common totalitarian enemy they were engaged, in the broad understanding of the term, in a jihad. One cannot deplore too strongly the attempt by a few Muslims, such as Ataullah Kopanski, to present Nazism as a potential ally for Islam.  Clearly, had National Socialism triumphed, its scientists would have aimed at the elimination or reduction to servile status of all the non-white races of the world, not excepting the followers of Islam. To fight for the Allies was unquestionably a jihad.
More recently, the struggle against communism effectively united Muslims and Christendom, a long alliance which both sides seem to have forgotten with astonishing speed and completeness.
English law, with its partial legal privileging of Anglican faith, is dimly theocratic, but does not make the totalising claims which the radicals make for their own various imams. Muslims in the United Kingdom are not being offered a choice between God’s law and man’s. God’s law, for the mainstream fuqaha’, is an ideal for whose realisation we cherish a firm and ultimate hope. But it also includes the duty to act, out of maslaha, within the framework of laws drafted by majoritarian non-Muslim legislatures. This is, no doubt, why the tale of the prophet Joseph was so popular in pre-modern Muslim minority contexts. Some of the greatest Muslim poetical works written in Spain after the reconquista were based on the story of the monotheist prophet who accepted a senior post in a non-believing political order. The story is no less popular in the villages of Tatarstan, of Muslim Siberia, and of China .
Islam, therefore, supplies arguments for loyalty. Not because it regards the present state of affairs as ideal (a view commended by no-one) but because it recognises that it is the point from which one needs to begin working towards the ideal, an ideal which will itself be reshaped by the powerful instruments of ijtihad. The fundamental objects, maqasid, of the Shari‘a are the right to life, mind, religion, lineage, and honour; and these are respected in the legal codes of the contemporary West. We may even venture to note that they appear to be better maintained here than in the hamfisted attempts at creating Shari‘a states that we see in several corners of the Muslim world. Muslims may be unhappy with the asylum laws here, but would one wish to claim asylum in any Muslim country that currently springs to mind? We may not approve of all the local rules of evidence, but if we are honest, we will surely hesitate to claim that a murder investigation is better pursued in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia , than in English jurisdiction.
The radicals in our inner cities, of course, will at this point revert to their primal scream. They know full well that their movements have failed, and that despite decades of effort by them there is no Shari‘a order in the world. They intuit that they are engaged in acts of collective religious suicide. Yet they protest and rail against the established political order, because for them religion has become nothing but the piacular rite of protest. Shouting at rallies and denouncing the mainstream are for them the most satisfying acts of worship. Were they to be denied these practices, they would be forced back on their own spiritual resources, and they are well-aware of how much they will find there.
Loyalty, then, is to the balanced, middle way, the wasat, which is the Sunna. Islam is a wisdom tradition that has seldom if ever generated extremes that have had a permanent impact. The current wave of zealotry will, I make no doubt, pass away as rapidly as it came, perhaps after some climacteric Masada. Some souls will have been damaged by it; the name of the religion will have been damaged by it, and the historians will note, with a regretful curiosity, how Islam was for a few years associated with terrorism. But the extremism will disappear, because no-one who has a future really desires it.
Can we accelerate this healing process? We are, I think, obliged to try. We have the advantage of knowing how to speak, and to whom to speak. The radical has to shout for a long time before anyone outside the Muslim community notices him. But the traditionally-committed Muslim who is part of society at large already possesses the network. He can claim membership in one of the world’s great traditions of art and literature, one that has already attracted many cultivated people in the West. Although the central mosques in most Western capitals are controlled by Saudis with no affection for the society around them, and no ability to speak to it, Islam’s non-hierarchical nature means that such people can simply be circumvented. Their cultural maladroitness will always work to the mainstream’s advantage. Alternative mosques and institutions of learning need to be established as matrices for the proclamation of authentic, mainstream, spiritual, moral Islam. There are strong reasons why this must succeed. Firstly, because everyone who has an interest in social cohesion wants it to succeed. Secondly, because unlike the Islam of those who distrust the divine purposes in history, traditional Islam is optimistic and brings sakina to the human soul. And finally, and most momentously, because this version of faith happens to be true.
6. Mona Abaza and Georg Stauth, ‘Occidental Reason, Orientalism, Islamic fundamentalism: a critique’, in Martin Albrow and Elizabeth King (eds.), Globalization, Knowledge and Society (London etc., 1990), p.223. Carrell’s influence on Sayyid Qutb is frequently cited in this connection.
10. Here the question has been posed of the present-day appropriateness of Imam al-Ghazali’s strongly ‘jihadist’ stance. In his fiqh works, such as the Wasit, Ghazali suggests no more than a mainstream Shafi‘i understanding of the believer’s relationship to war and peace; but the Ihya’ shows that jihad is integrated into the very centre of his understanding of Prophetic emulation (see for instance Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Cairo, 1347; = K. Adab al-ma‘isha, bayan shuja‘atih), 338-9: ‘no-one was more vehement in war than him’, ‘he was always the first to exchange blows with the enemy’, etc. Reflecting on the Ihya’s ‘jihadist’ aspects, Michael Cook has shown that in comparison with the majority of ulema, Ghazali’s views on amr bi’l-ma‘ruf are ‘marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism … Ghazali is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands.’ (Michael Cook, Commanding the Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000), p.456.) Modern Arab activists, even of the mainstream ‘Islamist’ variety, have frequently been embarrassed by Ghazali’s emphatic ‘jihadism’; and Cook shows (p.527) how several modern summaries of the Ihya’ remove Ghazali’s remarks on changing evil ‘with the hand’. More radical writers, however, applaud Ghazali: the Algerian revolutionary Ali Belhajj ‘quotes Ghazali’s passage on armed bands with obvious relish’ (p.528). The response to such implicit accusations should surely be that Imam al-Ghazali adopted a stance within his own lifetime that he would not necessarily counsel for our own complex and fitna-ridden age and circumstances, in which the use of armed force against heavy odds is typically denounced by the ulema as an action against Muslim interests (masalih).
11. Blaming the West for this is sometimes, but not invariably fair; the newsmedia cannot be expected to focus on the pacific or the spiritual. Perhaps we need to be more frank in blaming our own Muslim communities for failing to engage in more successful and sophisticated public relations. My own encounters with television and newspaper journalists have confirmed that the mass media are only too happy to take articles from Muslims, or broadcast films made by Muslims; but that they cannot see where to find the contributions. In the United Kingdom , there is only one Muslim film production company, but several hundred cable and satellite TV channels. Major mosques and organisations have little or no public relations expertise. To accuse the West of misrepresentation is sometimes proper, but all too often reflects a hermeneutic of suspicion rooted in zealot attitudes to the Other.
12. For pre-Islamic Arab ‘pride’ suicide, see Mustafa Jawad, ‘Al-Muntahirun fi’l-Jahiliyya wa’l-Islam’, in Al-Hilal, 42 (1934), 475-9. For Islam’s understanding of suicide as an ‘Indian foolishness’ see Baydawi, Tafsir (Istanbul, 1329), 109 (to Qur’an, 4:29). It is presumably not without significance that the deaths of Saul and Samson do not figure in the Muslim scriptures.
15. Lamin Sanneh, ‘Sacred and Secular in Islam’, ISIM Newsletter 10 (July, 2002), 6, makes the following incendiary claim about the September 11 attacks: ‘The West […] has sought comfort in the convenient thought that it is only a renegade breakaway group of Muslim fundamentalists who have struck out in violence. Most Muslims do not share that view.’
Is American Islam inevitable? Until recently we scarcely asked the question. We assumed that the demography of the East, and the expanding economies of the West, made nothing so certain as continued Muslim immigration to the United States, and the progressive entrenchment of Muslim believers in the diverse American socio-economic reality.
The rise of Al-Qa‘ida has now placed that assurance in question. An ever-increasing number of scholars and politicians in the West are voicing their doubts about the Muslim presence. Citing the Yale academic Lamin Sanneh, the right-wing English journalist Melanie Phillips suggests that the time has come to think again about Muslim immigration to the West.[i] Sanneh, whose views on Islam’s reluctance to adjust to the claims of citizenship in non-Muslim states seem very congenial to right-wing theorists, is here being used to reinforce the agenda that is increasingly recommended on the far right across Europe, with electrifying effects on the polls.
Cooler heads, such as John Esposito and James Morris, reject the alarmism of Sanneh and Phillips. Contrary to stereotypes, they insist, Islam has usually been good at accommodating itself to minority status. The story of Islam in traditional China, where it served the emperors so faithfully that it was recognised as one of the semi-official religions of the Chinese state, was the norm rather than the exception. Minority status is nothing new for Islam, and around the boundaries of the Islamic world, Muslims have consistently shown themselves to be good citizens in contexts a good deal less multiculturalist than our own.[ii] The Hanafi school of Islamic law is particularly insistent on the sacrosanct nature of the covenant of aman (safe-conduct) which Muslim minorities enter into with non-Muslim governments. It is forbidden, even in times of war, for Muslims living under those governments to commit crimes against non-Muslims, even when those powers are at war with Muslim states.[iii] The jurists note that Ja‘far, the Prophet’s cousin, had no objection to serving in the army of a Christian king.[iv]
The anti-Dreyfusard charge against the Muslim presence, knows nothing of this. In consequence, where a hundred years ago the cultivated Western public problematized Jews, it is now Muslims who are feeling the pressure. Antisemites once baited the Jews as an alien, Oriental intrusion into white, Christian lands, a Semitic people whose loyalty to its own Law would always render its loyalty to King and Country dubious. Christianity, on this Victorian view, recognised a due division between religion and state; while the Semitic Other could not. There was little wonder in this. The Christian, as heir to the Hellenic vision of St Paul, was free in the spirit. The Semitic Jew was bound to the Law. He could hence never progress or become reconciled to the value of Gentile compatriots. Ultimately, his aim was to subvert, dominate, and possess.[v]
Few in the West seem to have spotted this similarity. One of the great ironies of the present crisis is that many of the most outspoken defenders of the State of Israel are implicitly affirming antisemitic categories in the way they deny the value of Islam. Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch anti-immigration politician who proposed the closure of all of Holland’s mosques, published his book Against the Islamisation of our Culture to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of Israel. Yet his book is filled with characterisations of the new Muslim presence that fit perfectly the categories of antisemitism. The Muslim Other is irrational. He mistreats his women. He follows primitive dietary laws. He is driven by the Law, not the Spirit. He must, therefore, be always the same, a single phenomenon, incapable of reform. His intentions are not to enrich his country of adoption, but to overcome it for the sake of a transnational religious enterprise of domination and contempt. [vi]
We are, in a sense, the New Jews. An odd transposition has taken place, with one religious community ducking from beneath a Christian yoke, which then found Muslim shoulders to rest on.[vii] We have little time or inclination to contemplate the irony of this strange alteration, however; since we cannot forget the fate of the prejudice’s earlier victims, and its current prospects. The road from Auschwitz to Srebrenica was not such a crooked one; and the new rightist politicians in the West are surely positioned somewhere along that road.
Given that Al-Qa‘ida, or its surrogates, have massively reinforced this new chauvinism, it is depressing that its roots and possible entailments have yet to be assessed by most Muslim advocates in the West. But we need to look it in the eyes. We are hated by very many people; and cannot discount the possibility that this hatred will spill over into immigration filters, mosque closures, the prohibition of hijab in schools, and a generalised demonising of Muslims that makes the risk of rioting or state repression against us uncomfortably great. Liberalism, as the Weimar Republic discovered, can be a fragile ideology.
Nevertheless, the charge requires a frank response. Was our immigration purely economic? Or did we arrive to take tactical advantage of liberal press laws in order to launch a subversive internationalist agenda that will be profoundly damaging to our hosts? Are we Americans, or Canadians, or Britons, simply by virtue of holding a passport and finding employment? Or is this our emotional home?
Traditional Islam has been expert in adoption and adaptation. The new antisemitism makes not the slightest headway against it. It is also manifestly the case that moderate reformists have produced many American Muslim communities that are sincerely American, and speak frankly against extremism. Yet it needs also to be recognised that a growing number of scriptural-literalist community leaders, particularly those funded by Middle Eastern states where the language of sermons is violently anti-American, are sceptical of the kind of versatility offered by traditional Islam or by the reformers. For them, we will always be a kind of diaspora, with roots in an Arab elsewhere.
An inference needs to be squarely faced. Those whose belongingness to their adopted countries is only about economics cannot blame the host societies for regarding them with dislike and suspicion. For if we are suspicious of non-Muslims in Muslim majority countries who fail to acclimatise themselves to the ambient values and sense of collective purpose of their countries of citizenship, then it is unreasonable that we should demand that they behave differently when it is we who are the minority. A country that accepts migrants, however conspicuously economic their primary motives, has the right to expect that they engage in some form of cultural migration as well. No Muslim would deny that multiculturalism must always have some limits.
It is time to realise that if we are here purely to enhance our earning power, then our sojourn may prove short-lived. It is annoying that the new kind of sermonizers who are loudest in their demonizing of Western countries are often the slowest to grasp that those countries might turn out not to tolerate them after all. The greatest irony of our situation might just be that our radicals end up on the road to the airport, astonished at the discovery that their low opinion of the West turned out to be correct.
A major shift in our self-definition is therefore urgently required. This may be hard for the older generation, most of which is embedded either in regional folklorisms which have no clear future here, or in a Movement Islam of various hues. But we need some deep rethinking among the new generation, that minority which has survived assimilation in the schools, and knows enough of the virtues and vices of Western secular society to take stock of where we stand, and decide on the best course of action for our community. It is this new generation that is called upon to demonstrate Islam’s ability to extend its traditional capacities for courteous acculturation to the new context of the West, and to reject the radical Manichean agenda, supported by the extremists on both sides, which presents Muslim minorities as nothing more than resentful, scheming archipelagos of Middle Eastern difference.
Like all ‘hyphenated Americans’, US Muslims should be alert to the longstanding ambiguity of a country which used Ellis Island not only to welcome immigrants, but also to deport them when they proved ideologically unsuitable.[viii] Current Islamophobic hostilities are not so different from the popular American response to events as distant as the 1886 Haymarket bomb outrage,[ix] or the assassination of President McKinley by ‘a ragged, unwashed, long-haired, wild-eyed fiend’.[x] The resident alien, and the naturalised American with the foreign accent and appearance who was implicitly in solidarity with murky European comrades, furnished for much of American history the lightning-rod for a host of suspicions. Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, culminating in the Red Scare of 1919, quickly triggered a host of restrictive laws and inquisitorial procedures, including summary deportation of aliens and the denial of access to legal counsel until a very late stage of the judicial process. Two years after McKinley’s assassination, the 1903 Immigration Act applied ideological filters to immigration applicants for the first time. For their part, radicals such as the socialist leader William Haywood made matters worse by insisting that ‘no Socialist can be a law-abiding citizen’, and refusing to condemn violent action against governmental or plutocratic targets.[xi] In 1906, a new Naturalization Act obliged candidates to swear that they were not anarchists, while the Bureau of Naturalization pronounced that ‘As long as the advocates of these malignant and un-American doctrines remain aliens, they may be deported and their gospels may be overthrown at their inception, but once they succeed in obtaining their citizenship, this method of purging our country becomes more difficult, if not impossible.’[xii] The ‘treasonable ingrates’ defended themselves on habeas corpus grounds, only to be thwarted by the use of military rather than civil detention.[xiii] In 1917, over a thousand were rounded up and deported to a remote stockade in New Mexico.[xiv]
Anarcho-syndicalism lost its edge, but the underlying energies of American nativism were undiminished. The Ku Klux Klan continued to demand a white, Protestant normalcy in the Southern states, occasionally targeting Arabs as well as Jews, Catholics and African-Americans.[xv] And the same New Deal bureaucrats who had resolved many of the resentments of the labour movement were soon rounding up the Japanese-American population amid the confusion and xenophobia that followed Pearl Harbor. Long before the war, the mayor of San Francisco had announced that ‘the Chinese and Japanese are not bona fide citizens. They are not the stuff of which American citizens can be made […] They will not assimilate with us and their social life is different to ours.’[xvi] The bank accounts of American citizens of Japanese descent were frozen, and detention camps were set up, with anomalous legal procedures ensuring that appeals against the sentencing were held long after the incarceration began. Replying to liberal protests against the FBI’s draconian methods, Chief Justice Harlan Stone explained that ‘because racial discriminations are in most circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited, it by no means follows that, in dealing with the perils of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly prohibited from taking into account those facts […] which may in fact place citizens of one ancestry in a different category.’[xvii]
After the war, the nativist inquisition again exhausted itself, only to be revived by the anti-Communist mood of the 1950s. The Emergency Detention Act of 1950 was deliberately modeled on Roosevelt’s anti-Japanese measures, taking advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court had already ruled that these had not infringed the Constitution.[xviii] Again, the nation watched the establishment of detention camps, and the reactivation of the principle of holding hearings after, rather then prior to, incarceration.
What Richard Freeland describes as ‘cycles of repression in American history’[xix] surfaced again at the end of the 1970s, with the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East and nervousness about naturalized and alien individuals of Middle Eastern origin within the United States. Although the Emergency Detention Act had been shamefacedly repealed in 1971, and official contrition for the Japanese-American detentions was now longstanding, the Carter administration considered interning Iranians as a result of the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis.[xx]
The events of 11 September placed Islamic alienation under a spotlight. Shortly before, one observer had predicted that ‘an event of catastrophic terrorism will bring with it the danger of precipitous action that is detrimental to other social values, such as civil liberties.’[xxi] The immediately resulting legislation, including the Patriot Act and the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, empowered by a remarkably broad definition of domestic terrorism which may be invoked by FBI investigators armed with new powers of search and surveillance, has been built on genuine fear of further ‘Islamic’ acts of terrorism. Not far away, however, are much older themes in American nativism, including biblically-based denunciations of ‘foreign’ creeds, racial insecurities, and polemics against the allegedly high birthrates of the suspect population. As a result, in the words of the Center for Constitutional Rights,
In the weeks after September 11th, hundreds or perhaps thousands of individuals were rounded up as suspected terrorists […] They were held without criminal charges, and often with no access to an attorney. […] The ordeal many endured was harrowing and counterproductive. There have been numerous reports of beatings, and many more of less serious mistreatment.[xxii]
Faced with this incipient inquisition, the community must face the realisation that the future of Islam in an instinctively nativist land will be a genuinely American future, if it is to happen at all. As the ‘war against terrorism’, with all its clumsy, pixellated violence, and cultural simplifications, gathers momentum, it is likely that there will be further events and atrocities which will render the current social and psychological marginality of the community still more precarious. Unless American Muslims can locate for themselves, and populate, a spiritual and cultural space which can meaningfully be called American, and develop theological and social tools for identifying and thwarting local extremism, they will be increasingly in the firing line. Only a few of the ultras in the mosques would welcome such a showdown; most would be appalled.
Regrettably – and this is one of its most telling failures – our community leadership has invested much energy in Islamic education, but has spent little time studying American culture to locate the multiple elements within it which are worthy of Muslim respect. Too many of the extremists activists dismiss their new compatriots as promiscuous drunkards, or as fundamentalist fanatics. Movement Islam, with its often vehement dislike of the West on grounds that often in practice seem more tribal than spiritual, and rooted in various utopian projects that seldom seem to work even on their own terms, often seems little better. All too frequently it provides ammunition to chauvinists allied to the stance of Daniel Pipes, for whom all ‘Islamists’ are a fifth column to be viewed with unblinking, baleful suspicion.
The new generation will be well-advised to take some courageous steps. Firstly, it needs to acknowledge that furiously anti-Western readings of Islam are unlikely to serve Muslims in the dangerous context of modern America. It is already clear to many that Mawdudi and Qutb were not writing for 21st century Muslim minorities in the West, but for a mid-twentieth century struggle against secular repression and corruption in majority Muslim lands. They themselves would probably be startled to learn that their books were being pressed on utterly different communities, fifty years on. Yet our tradition has been diverse in its response to the scriptures, and other, less ideological readings of our tradition are readily available. As Sachiko Murata notes:
The fact that so many interpretations of Islam have now been narrowed down to fit into ideological frameworks is simply a reflection of modern Muslims’ ignorance of the Islamic tradition and their sense of impotence in the face of the impersonal forces of modernity. It says nothing about the rich resources of the tradition itself.[xxiii]
As well as ‘de-ideologising’ Islam, we need to turn again to the founding story of Islam for guidance on the correct conduct of guests. An insulting guest will not be tolerated indefinitely even by the most courteous of hosts; and pulpit broadsides against Western culture have to be seen as at best discourteous. A measured, concerned critique of social dissolution, unacceptable beliefs, or destructive foreign policies will always be a required component of Muslim discourse, but wild denunciations of Great Satans or global Crusader Conspiracies are, for Muslims here, not only dangerous, but are also discourteous – scarcely a lesser sin. This must be made absolutely clear to organisations who visit communities with a view to offering funding from totalitarian states.
Imam al-Ghazali provides us with some precious lessons on the conduct of the courteous guest. He cites the saying that ‘part of humility before God is to be satisfied with an inferior sitting-place.’ The guest should greet those he is sitting beside, even if he should privately be uncomfortable with them. He should not dominate the conversation, or loudly criticise others at the feast, or allow himself to be untidy. Ghazali also tells us that he should not keep looking at the kitchen door, which would imply that he is primarily present for the food. It is hard to avoid thinking of this when one contemplates the loud demands of many Muslims, particularly in Europe, for financial payouts from the state. If we wish to be tolerated and respected, one of our first responsibilities is surely to seek employment, and avoid reliance on the charity of our hosts. Reliance on affirmative-action policies, or outright sloth, are likely to provoke a backlash.[xxiv]
Some hardline scholars of the Hanbali persuasion took a narrow view of the duty of guests. Imam Ahmad himself said that if a guest sees a kohl-stick with a silver handle, he should leave the house at once, on the grounds that it is a place of luxurious indulgence. Yet for Imam al-Ghazali, and for the great majority of scholars, one should always give one’s host the benefit of the doubt.[xxv] And in the West, our neighbours usually fall into the category of ahl al-kitab, for whom certain things are permissible that we would condemn among Muslims. Resentment, contempt, hypercriticism, all these vices are discourteous and inappropriate, particularly when used to disguise one’s dissatisfaction with oneself, or with one’s own community’s position in the world.
The refugee, or migrant, is therefore subject to the high standards that Islam, with its Arabian roots, demands of the guest. Discourtesy is dishonour. And nowhere in the Prophetic biography do we find this principle more nobly expressed than in the episode of the First Hijra. Here, the first Muslim asylum-seekers stand before the Emperor of Abyssinia to explain why they should be allowed to stay. Among them were Uthman and Ruqaiyya, and Ja‘far and Asma’, all young people famous for their physical beauty. Umm Salama, another eyewitness, narrates the respect with which the Muslims attended upon the Christian king. They would not compromise their faith, but they were reverent and respectful to the beliefs of an earlier dispensation. Their choice of the annunciation story from the Qur’an was inspired, showing the Christians present that the Muslim scripture itself is not utterly alien, but is beautiful, dignified, and contains much in common with Christian belief. Stressing what they held in common with their hosts, they made a hugely favourable impression, and their security in the land was assured.[xxvi]
Today, we seem less inclined to use the Chapter of Mary as the basis for our self-presentation to the host community. Instead, we create lobby groups that adopt provocatively loud criticisms of American policy, thereby closing the door to any possibility that they might be heard. Many of our sermons pay little attention to the positive qualities in our neighbours, but instead recite dire warnings of the consequences to our souls of becoming ‘like Americans’. Again, the danger is that the cumulative image given by angry American Muslims will result in our being treated as cuckoos in the nest, stripped of rights, and even ejected altogether. In the long term, the choice is between deportment, and deportation.
Faced with this new nativist inquisition, American Muslim communities need a new agenda. This need not be defined as an Islamic liberalism. Liberalism in religion has a habit of leading to the attenuation of faith. Instead, the surest option seems to be a return to the spirit of our tradition, and quarry it for resources that will enable us to regain the Companions’ capacity for courteous conviviality.
One step forward will be the realisation that Islamic civilisation was a providential success story. Salafist and modernist agendas which present medieval Islam either as obscurantism or as deviation from scripture will leave us orphaned from the evolving and magnificent story of Muslim civilisation. If we accept that classical Islam was a deviant reading of our scriptures, we surrender to the claims of a certain type of Christian evangelical Orientalism, which claims that the glories of Muslim civilisation arose despite, not because of, the Qur’an. We are called to be the continuation of a magnificent story, not a footnote to its first chapter.
A recovery of our sense of pride in Islam’s cultural achievements will allow us to reactivate a principle that has hardly been touched by most Muslim communities in the West, namely the obligation of witnessing. It is evident that da‘wa is our primary duty as a Muslim minority; indeed, al-Mawardi considered it a valid reason for taking up residence outside the House of Islam;[xxvii] and it is no less evident that this is impossible if we abandon tradition in order to insist on rigorist and narrow readings of the Shari‘a. Our neighbours will not heed our invitation unless we can show that there is some common ground, that we have something worth having, and, even more significantly, that we are worth joining. Radical and literalist Islamic agendas frequently seem to be advocated by unsmiling zealots, whose tension, arrogance and misery are all too legible on their faces. Few reasonable people will consider the religious claims made by individuals who seem to have been made miserable and desperate by those claims. More usually, they will be repelled, and retreat into negative chauvinism.
The believer’s greatest argument is his face. True religion lights up the face; false religion fills it with insecurity, rage and suspicion. This is perceptible not only to insiders, but to anyone who maintains some connection with unsullied primordial human nature in his heart. The early conversions to Islam often took place among populations that had no access to the language of the Muslims who now lived among them; but they were no less profound in consequence. Religion is ultimately a matter of personal transformation, and no amount of missionary work will persuade people – with the occasional exception of the disturbed and the desperate – unless our own transformation is complete enough to be able to transform others.[xxviii]
Rigorism, discourtesy and narrow-mindedness, the tedious recourse of the spiritually inadequate and the culturally outgunned, end up reinforcing the negative attitudes that they claim to repudiate. Conversely, a reactivation of the Prophetic virtue of rifq, of gentleness, which the hadith tells us ‘never enters a thing without adorning it’,[xxix] will make us welcome rather than suspected, loved and admired rather than despised as a community of resentful failures.
Again, the story of the Migration to Abyssinia provides the key. This was the plea of the first Muslim asylum-seekers to be faced with deportation:
[Our Prophet] commanded us to speak the truth, be faithful to our engagements, mindful of the ties of kinship and kindly hospitality, and to refrain from crimes and bloodshed. He forbade us to commit abominations and to speak lies, and to devour the property of orphans, to vilify chaste women. […] Thereupon our people attacked us, treated us harshly […] When they got the better of us, treated us unjustly and circumscribed our lives, and came between us and our religion, we came to your country, having chosen you above all others. Here we have been happy in your protection, and we hope that we shall not be treated unjustly while we are with you, O King.’ […] Then the Negus said: ‘Of a truth, this and what Jesus brought have come from the same niche. You two may go, for by God, I will never give them up to them, and they shall not be betrayed.’[xxx]
The early Muslims spoke well of the Christians of Abyssinia. More generally, we look in vain in the scriptures for a polemic against Christian life. While unimpressed by Byzantine rule, the Companions refused to demonise their citizenry. In one account, ‘Amr ibn al-As describes them as follows:
They have four qualities. They are the most forbearing of people during tribulations. They are the swiftest to recover after a disaster. They are the best at returning to the fray after having fled. And they are the best to paupers, orphans and the weak.[xxxi]
Such charity deserves to be emulated, to replace the self-indulgence of hatred and self-exculpation. It will not come easily until we reconnect with the religion’s history of spirituality. No other religious community in history has produced the number and calibre of saints generated by Islam. Jalal al-Din Rumi has now become America’s best-selling poet,[xxxii] an extraordinary victory for Islamic civilisation and the integrity of its spiritual life which our communities are scarcely aware of. Our spirituality is the crowning glory of our history, and the guarantor of the transformative power of our art, literature, and personal conduct. Once we have relearned the traditional Islamic science of the spirit, we can hope to produce, as great Muslim souls did in the past, enduring monuments of literature, art and architecture which will proclaim to our neighbours the quality of our souls, and our ability to enrich America.
The task may seem daunting; but the new generation produces more and more Muslims eager to reinvigorate Islam in a way that will make it the great religious success story of modern America, rather than the plaintive sick man of the religious milieu that it currently seems to be. Increasingly our young people want passionately to be Muslims and to celebrate their uniquely rich heritage, but in a way that does not link them to the desperate radical agendas now being marketed in a growing minority of the mosques. As those young people assume positions of leadership in their communities, and proclaim a form of Islam that is culturally rich and full of confidence in divine providence, Islam will surely take its place as a respected feature on America’s religious landscape, and begin the process of integration here that it has so successfully accomplished in countless other cultures throughout its history, and which is a condition for its continuing existence in a potentially hostile place.
[i] Melanie Phillips, ‘How the West was lost’, The Spectator, 11 May 2002. Speaking to an Anglican conference in New Zealand, Sanneh remarked: ‘It is only a thin secular wall that prevents the Islamic tide from sweeping over the west […] Islam might be called a religion that has almost no questions and no answers […] That revelation is externalised and fossilized. Islam is a set of immutable divine laws […] Islam is a religious imperialism […, but] God delights in our freedom and not in our enslavement.’ (www.latimer.org.nz, accessed on 3 April 2003.) The replication of traditional antisemitic language is striking, and it is unsurprising that it should find echoes in the thinking of the new Right. Modern studies of European Fascism increasingly identify classical readings of St Paul as one strand in its composition. For Nazi enthusiasm for Paul, see for instance Frank Thielman, From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (Leiden, 1989), 6-7, 8-9. For the still inadequately addressed question of Lutheran theological support for Nazism, see Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emmanuel Hirsch (New Haven, 1985); p.67 for the Jews’ ‘rigid legalism’; p.68 for the universalism of Christianity as opposed to the text-based particularism of the Semite; p.163 for ‘Christianity as the only religion based upon a free, personal, individual relationship to God;’ p.165 for the separation of faith from politics; etc. Cf. also Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel (eds.), Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (Minneapolis, 1999), for instance p.16, where the ‘religion of the heart’ is contrasted with ‘the religion of the Pharisees’ which ‘consisted almost exclusively in observances’. The work of Thielman, Longenecker, Parkes and others has done much to blunt this traditional polarisation; as yet, however, the old categorisations are still regularly applied to the ‘other Semites,’ with serious political consequences.
[ii] John Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 3rd ed (New York, 1999), 233-40. ; ‘The Unique Opportunities & Challenges Facing American Muslims in the New Century,’ The American Muslim, vol. 12 (2002), 17-26. For Chinese Muslim integration see Sachiko Murata, Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light: Wai-Tai-yü’s Great Learning of the Pure and Real and Liu Chih’s Displaying the Concealment of the Real Realm (Albany, 2000); P.D. Buell, ‘Saiyid Ajall (1211-1279)’, in E. de Rachewiltz, Hok-lam Chan, Hsiao Ch’i-ch’ing, and P.W. Geier (eds), In the service of the Khan: eminent personalities of the early Mongol-Yüan period (1200-1300) (Wiesbaden, 1993), pp.466-79. For the theory see Tim Winter, ‘Some thoughts on the formation of British Muslim identity’, Encounters 8 (2002), 3-26; Khaled Abou el-Fadl, ‘Striking a Balance: Islamic Legal Discourses on Muslim Minorities’, in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito (eds.), Muslims on the Americanization Path? (Oxford, 2000).
[iii] Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, al-Mabsut (Cairo, 1324 AH), X, 88; cf. Abou el-Fadl, 59.
[iv] Sarakhsi, X, 98.
[v] Rosemary Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (London, 1975), 241 and passim; compare the views of Serbian nationalist scholars of Islam as ‘totalitarian’: Michael Sells, The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (Berkeley and London, 1996), 202, to which Sells comments: ‘If the term “totalitarian” is to be applied to Islam because the religion is not restricted to private life, then it must also be applied to Halakhic Judaism’.
[vi] For Fortuyn, see Angus Roxburgh, Preachers of Hate: The Rise of the Far Right (London, 2002), 158-78; Andrew Osborn in The Guardian, 9 July 2002.
[vii] Cf. Nick Ryan, Homeland: Into a World of Hate (Edinburgh, 2003), 294: ‘“Is Islam a greater threat than international Judaism – especially after 11 September?” […] “The enemy is changing,” he says.’ (Interview with Christian Worch, German neo-Nazi leader.)
[viii] Preston, 190.
[ix] Malwyn A. Jones, The Limits of Liberty: American History 1607-1992 (Oxford and New York, second edition 1995), 323.
[x] William Preston Jr., Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals 1903-1933 (Cambridge MA, 1963), 26.
[xi] Preston, 49.
[xii] Preston, 64.
[xiii] 106. The restrictions against Communist immigration were not finally lifted until 1990 (Jones, 628).
[xv] See David M. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan (Durham, 1987), 71, for the expulsions of Syrians and Lebanese from a town in Georgia in the 1920s.
[xvi] Roger Daniels, Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (New York, 1993), 9.
[xvii] Daniels, 60.
[xviii] Daniels, 110.
[xix] Richard M. Freeland, The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism: Foreign Policy, Domestic Politics, and Internal Security, 1946-1948 (New York, 1972), 4.
[xx] Daniels,. 112.
[xxi] Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington, 1999), 156.
[xxii] Center for Constitutional Rights Fact Sheet: Beyond September 11th: balancing security and liberty interests (New York, 2002).
[xxiii] Murata, 7.
[xxiv] The recent revival in KKK fortunes may be partly the consequence of affirmative action policies (Chalmers, 435).
[xxv] Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Cairo, 1347 AH), II, 11-15.
[xxvi] See e.g., Ibn Ishaq, Sira, tr. A. Guillaume as The Life of Muhammad (Oxford, 1955), 146-154; the annunciation is described in Qur’an, chapter 19.
[xxvii] Abou el-Fadl, 49.
[xxviii] For the continuity between classical and modern patterns of conversion to Islam, see my ‘Conversion as Nostalgia: Some Experiences of Islam,’ in Martyn Percy (ed.), Previous Convictions: Conversion in the Real World (London, 2000), 93-111.
[xxix] Muslim, Birr, 78; cf. Qur’an, 3:159: ‘Had you been harsh and hard of heart they would have scattered from around you.’
[xxx] Ibn Ishaq (Guillaume), 151-2.
[xxxi] Muslim, Fitan, 10.
[xxxii] Alexandra Marks, Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1997.
(Based on a lecture given to a conference of British converts on September 17 1997)
It is said that the 19th century French poet Mallarmé can only be fully understood by those who are not French, because they read him more slowly. Converts to Islam, the subject of this essay, can perhaps claim the same ambiguous advantage in their reading of the Islamic narrative. Several consequent questions impose themselves: can the clarity of vision brought by novelty outweigh the absence of a Muslim upbringing? Is adoption a more culturally fertile condition than simple sonship? Has the dynamism of Islamic culture after the initial Arab era owed everything to the energy of recent converts, with their own ethnic genius: the Persians, and then, pre-eminently, the Turks; and if so, might the appearance of converts in the West presage a larger revival of the fortunes of an aged and tired Islamic umma?
I hope to return to these interesting queries at a later date. Here, I shall confine myself to the issue that presents itself most sharply to those British people who, like myself, have boarded the lifeboat of Islam. The issue is the question of British Muslim identity.
Who is a British Muslim is an easy question: it is anyone who follows Islam and holds a U.K. passport. This is at once the easiest and probably the only workable definition. The more teasing question, which I wish to raise in this article is: what is a British Muslim? The query raises two problems related to belonging. What does it mean to be a British person who belongs to Islam? And, what does it mean to be a Muslim person who belongs to Britain? How do we map the overlap zone in a way that makes sense, and is legitimate, in terms of the co-ordinates of both of these terms?
Clearly, by virtue of the first definition, the British Muslim population, all 1.5 million of it, divides into three groups. Firstly, and least problematically, there are men and women whose cultural formation was not British, but who have migrated to this country. This essay will not touch centrally on their own particular struggle for self-definition, which is quite different to that addressed by converts.
Secondly, there are the children of the first group, and occasionally now their grandchildren. These people are usually seen to be torn between two worlds, but in reality, the British world has shaped their souls far more profoundly then they often recognise. Modern schooling is designed for a culture that puts an increasing share of acculturation and upbringing, as opposed to the simple inculcation of facts, on the shoulders of schoolteachers rather than of parents. Muslims who have moved to this country have done so at precisely the time when British education is also going into the business of parenting; most Muslim parents do not recognise the fact, but Muslim children in this country always have a third parent: the Education Secretary. Even those second-generation Muslims here who claim to have angrily rejected Britishness are in fact doing so in terms of types of radicalism which are deeply influenced by Western styles of dissent. Most noticeably, they locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centred religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.
Thirdly, we have the smallest group of all: the convert or so-called ‘revert’ community. This group is highly disparate, and it is not clear that one can make any meaningful generalisations about it at all. Almost by definition, a British person who is guided to Islam is an eccentric of some kind: one of the virtues, perhaps, of the British is that eccentrics have always been nurtured or at least more or less tolerated here. But the overall pattern is confusing. One can offer certain sociological generalisations about British people who become Buddhists, or evangelical Christians, or Marxists. But the present writer’s experience with new Muslims is that no discernable patterns exist which might shed light on the routes by which people awaken to the truth of Islam. This failure to discern patterns can only be described as lamentable, for were we to discern such patterns, they could immediately be exploited for da‘wa purposes. The most we can say is that a clear majority of converts to Islam in Britain are from Catholic rather than Protestant or Jewish backgrounds. Within this group, in my experience the only clergy that convert are Jesuits; I am not aware of a single member of another religious order that has become Muslim.
Other than this very general and not terribly helpful observation, few patterns are discernable, and our missionary efforts, never very coordinated, flounder accordingly.
But whatever the processes, and we may be wise to accept traditional invocations of divine providence and guidance which transcend and make irrelevant any sociological pattern-finding, this third group among British Muslims confronts certain sharp problems of self-definition. Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Indian Muslims becoming British do so slowly, perhaps over two or three generations. The identity problems can be sharp: in particular, there can be painful challenges to the hopes and expectations of parents. But the process is gentle in comparison with the abrupt jolt, which typically welcomes the convert. The signposts of the universe are not adjusted slowly, but all at once.
The initial and quite understandable response of many newcomers is to become an absolutist. Everything going on among pious Muslims is angelic; everything outside the circle of the faith is demonic. The appeal of this outlook lies in its simplicity. The newly rearranged landscape upon which the convert looks is seen in satisfying black and white terms of Them versus Us, good against evil.
This mindset is sometimes called ‘convertitis’. It is a common illness, which can make those who have caught it rather difficult to deal with. Fortunately, it almost always wears off. The only exceptions are those weak souls who imagine that the buzz of excitement caused by their absolutist, Manichean division of the world was a necessary part of Islamic piety, or even that it has some spiritual significance. Such people are often condemned to wander from faction to faction, always joining something new, in an attempt to regain the initial excitement engendered by their conversion.
Most new Muslims, however, soon see through this. A majority of people come to Islam for real spiritual or intellectual reasons, and will continue with their quest once they are inside Islam. Becoming Muslim is, after all, only the first step to felicity. Those individuals who adopt Islam because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority.
But actions are by intentions. A hundred years ago the founder of the Anglo-Muslim movement, Imam Abdallah Quilliam in Liverpool, was writing that those British people who convert for Allah and His Messenger, will, by the grace of God, be rightly guided. Those who convert for any other reason are in serious spiritual trouble. Just as the namaz [salaat] prayer is invisibly invalidated if the niyya [intention] at its outset is not correct, similarly, Islam will not work for us unless we have entered it in faith, out of a sincere questing for God’s good pleasure. If things are not going right for us, if we find no delight in our prayers, if Ramadan simply makes us hungry, if we cannot seem to find the right mosque or the right company to take us forward, then we would do well to start by examining our intentions. Did we become Muslims only, and purely, to bring our souls to God? Other reasons: solidarity with the oppressed, admiration for Muslims we know, desire to join a group, the love of a woman – none of these are adequate foundations for our lives as Muslims deserving of Allah’s grace and guidance. Imam al-Qushayri says that spiritual aspirants ‘are only deprived of attainment when they neglect the foundations.’ So we need to look within, and if necessary, renew our faith, following the Prophetic sunna. ‘Renew your iman’, a celebrated hadith enjoins.
So what are we? Statistically, perhaps fifty thousand people. But once we have taken the plunge, and enjoyed the feel of Islam, and come to know through experience, rather than through reading books, that Islam is a way of sobriety, dignity, poise and rewarding spirituality, what exactly is our self-definition? When we meet family and friends who are not Muslim, how do we carry ourselves? Do we treat Islam as a great secret? A discreet eccentricity that we hope people will not be so crude as to mention? Or, on the contrary, something we wear on our sleeves, feeling that it is our duty constantly to steer the conversation back into sacred quarters, confronting people with Islam, that they might have no argument against us at the Resurrection?
More generally, what is our view of the wider world of unbelief, which, despite the breathless predictions of some of our co-religionists, continues to grow more powerful and more prosperous? How much of it can we affirm, and how much of it must we publicly or privately disown?
We can, of course, take the easy way out, and avoid engaging with these questions, by retreating from the mainstream of society, and consorting only with Muslims. But this is not so easy. We need to be employed, since this is pleasing to God; and we need to maintain good ties with our relations, since this is also enjoined in the Sunna. Wa-sahibhuma fi’l-dunya ma‘rufan – ‘Keep company with them both in the world in keeping with good custom’, says the Qur’an to converts who have unbelieving parents. And the Sunna explains that non-Muslim parents have significant rights over their Muslim children.
But more significantly even than this, to solve the problems thrown at us and at our identity by the real world outside the mosque gates, we need to engage regularly with non-Muslim society. But for this, there would be no effective da‘wa. People do not hear the word of Islam, generally, by being shouted at by some demagogue at Speakers Corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims. And this takes place, overwhelmingly, at the workplace. Other social contexts are closed to us: the pub, the beach, the office party. But work is a prime environment for being noticed, and judged, as Muslims.
There is nothing remotely new in this. Islam has always spread primarily through social interactions connected with work. The early Muslims who conquered half the world did not set up soapboxes in the town squares of Alexandria, Cordoba or Fez, in the hope that Christians would flock to them and hear their preaching. They did business with the Christians; and their nobility and integrity of conduct won the Christians over. That is the model followed by Muslims, particularly the Sufis, down the ages; and it is the one that we must retain today, by interacting honourably and respectfully with non-Muslims in our places of work, as much as we can.
If this is clear, then my initial question still begs a response. What is a British Muslim? What manner of creature is he, or she? The public consensus has clear ideas about other British identities: British Anglican, British Jew, British Asian Muslim or Hindu: all these are recognised categories and a certain community of expected response governs interactions between the majority and these groups. The Anglo-Muslim, however, is not a generally recognised type.
My own belief is that the future prosperity of the Anglo-Muslim movement will be determined largely by our ability to answer this question of identity. It is a question mainly for converts, but which many of whose dimensions will come to apply also to second-generation immigrant Muslims here, who have their own questions to ask themselves and this culture about what, exactly, they are.
To frame a response, I think it is useful to step back a little, and consider the larger picture of Islamic history of which we form a very small part. I mentioned earlier that Islam usually spread through the utilisation of commercial opportunities as opportunities for da‘wa. That picture is one of the most extraordinary success stories in religious history. Compare, for instance, the way in which the Muslim world was Islamised to the way in which the Americas were Christianised. Islamisation proceeded with remarkable gentleness, at the hands of Sufis and merchants. Christianisation used mass extermination of the native Americans, the baptism of uncomprehending survivors, and the baleful scrutiny by the Inquisition of any signs of backsliding. A more extreme contrast would be impossible to find.
Perhaps no less extraordinary than this contrast is its interesting concomitant: Christianisation brought Europeanisation. Islamisation did not bring Arabisation. The churches built by the Puritans or the Conquistadors in the New World were deliberate replicas of churches in Europe. The mosques constructed in the areas gradually won for Islam are endlessly diverse, and reflect and indeed celebrate local particularities. Christianity is a universal religion that has historically sought to impose a universal metropolitan culture. Islam is a universal religion that has consistently nurtured a particularist provincial culture. A church in Mexico City resembles a church in Salamanca. A mosque in Nigeria, or Istanbul, or Djakarta, resembles in key respects the patterns, now purified and uplifted by monotheism, of the indigenous regional patrimony.
No less remarkable is the ability of the Muslim liberators to accommodate those aspects of local, pre-Islamic tradition which did not clash absolutely with the truths of revelation. In entering new lands, Muslims were armed with the generous Qur’anic doctrine of Universal Apostleship; as the Qur’an says, ‘To every nation there has been sent a guide’. This conflicts sharply with the classical Christian view of salvation as hinging uniquely on one historical intervention of the divine in history: the salvific sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Non-Christian religions were, in classical Christianity, seen as demonic and under the sign of original sin. But classical Islam has always been able and willing to see at least fragments of an authentic divine message in the faiths and cultures of non-Muslim peoples. If God has assured us that every nation has received divine guidance, then we can look with some favour on the Other. Hence, for instance, we find popular Muslim poets in India, such as Sayid Sultan, writing poems about Krishna as a Prophet. There is no final theological proof that he was one, but the assumption is nonetheless not in violation of the Qur’an.
Even among Muslim ulema who had not been to India, we find interestingly positive appraisals of Hinduism. For instance, the great Baghdad theologian al-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religions and Sects, had access to enough reliable information about India to develop a very sophisticated theological reaction to Indian religion. He accepts that the higher forms of Hinduism are not polytheistic. He notes that that although the Hindus have no notion of prophecy, they do have what he calls ashab al-ruhaniyat: quasi-divine beings who call mankind to love the Real and to practice the virtues. He names Vishnu and Shiva as examples, and speaks positively of them. He focuses particularly on the veneration of celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planets. The reason why he fixes on these practices is that they seem to situate Hinduism within a recognisably Qur’anic paradigm. The Qur’an mentions quite favourably a group known as the Sabeans, who were by the second century identified with various star-worshipping but still vaguely monotheistic sects in Mesopotamia. The Sabeans are tolerated in Islamic law, although they are less privileged than the Jews and Christians, a position reflected in the ruling in Shari‘a that a Muslim may not marry their women or eat their meat.
Shahrastani explicitly assimilates many Hindus to this category of Sabeans. They are to be tolerated as believers in One God; and will only be punished by God if, having been properly exposed to Islam, they reject it.
Another example is supplied by the great Muslim epic in China. Those who believe that Muslim communities can only flourish if they ghettoise themselves and refuse to interact with majority communities would do well to look at Chinese history. Many of the leading mandarins of Ming China were in fact Muslims. Wang Dai-Yu, for instance, who died in 1660, was a Muslim scholar who received the title of ‘Master of the Four Religions’ because of his complete knowledge of China’s four religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many of the leading admirals in the navy of the Ming Empire were practising Muslims.
In China, mosques look very like traditional Chinese garden-temples, except that there is a prayer hall without idols, and the calligraphy is Qur’anic. In some of the most beautiful, you will find, as you enter, the following words in Chinese inscribed on a tablet:
Sages have one mind and the same truth. In all parts of the world, sages arise who possess this uniformity of mind and truth. Muhammad, the Great Sage of the West, lived in Arabia long after Confucius, the Sage of China. Though separated by ages and countries, they had the same mind and Truth.
In these examples from India and China, we see a practical confirmation of Islam’s proclamation of itself as the final, and hence universal, message from God. In a hadith we learn: ‘Other prophets were sent only to their own peoples, while I am sent to all mankind.’ It is not that the Qur’anic worldview affirms other religions as fully adequate paths to salvation. In fact, it clearly does not. But it allows the Muslim, as he encounters new worlds, to sift the wheat from the chaff in non-Muslim cultures, rejecting some things, to be sure, but maintaining others. In Islamic law, too, we find that shara‘i man qablana, the revealed laws of those who came before us, can under certain conditions be accepted as valid legal precedent, if they are not demonstrably abrogated by an Islamic revealed source. And Islamic law also recognises the authority of urf, local customary law, so that a law or custom is acceptable, and may be carried over into an Islamic culture or jurisdiction, if no Islamic revealed principle is thereby violated. Hence, we find the administration of Islamic law varying from country to country. If a wife complains of receiving insufficient dower from her husband, the qadi [judge] will make reference to what is considered normal in their culture and social group, and adjudge accordingly.
All of these historical observations have, I hope, served to make quite a simple point: Islam, as a universal religion, in fact as the only legitimately universal religion, also makes room for the particularities of the peoples who come into it. The traditional Muslim world is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures, all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation. Put differently, Revelation supplies parameters, hudud, rather than a complete blueprint for the details of cultural life. Local mindsets are Islamised, but remain distinct.
This point is obvious to anyone who has studied Islamic thought or Islamic history. I reiterate it today only because some Muslims nowadays reject it fiercely. Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.
These young people, who haunt our mosques and shout at any sign of disagreement, are either ignorant of Muslim history, or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake. For them, the grace and rahma of Allah has for some reason been withheld from all but a tiny fraction of the Umma. These people are the elect; and all disagreement with them is a blasphemy against God.
We cannot hope easily to cure such people. Simple proofs from our history or our scholarship will not suffice. What they need is a sense of security, and that, given the deteriorating conditions of both the Muslim world and of the ghettos in Western cities, may not come readily. For now, it is best to ignore their shouts and their melodramatic but always ill-fated activities. Our psychic problems are not theirs; and theirs can never be ours.
Islam is, and will continue to be, even amid the miserable globalisation of modern culture, a faith that celebrates diversity. Our thinking about our own position as British Muslims should focus on that fact, and quietly but firmly ignore the protests both of the totalitarian fringe, and of the importers of other regional cultures, such as that of Pakistan, which they regard as the only legitimate Islamic ideal.
So far, however, we have been too busy restating the initial question with which this chapter opened, and defending its legitimacy, to propose any substantive answer. It is time now to attempt a brief sketch of what I construe our cultural position and prospects to be.
As I have tried to emphasise, Islam’s presence in Britain is not an Islamic problem. Islam is universal, and can operate everywhere. It is not an Islamic problem, but it may be a British problem. Europe, alone among the continents, does not have a longstanding tradition of plurality. In medieval Asia or Africa, in China or the Songhai Empire, or Egypt, or almost everywhere, one could usually practice one’s own religion in peace, whatever it happened to be. Only in Europe was there a consistent policy of enforcing religious uniformity. The reason for this lay of course in the Church’s theology: unless you had some part in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, you were in the grip of original sin, and hence were an instrument of the devil. Medieval Catholics were even expected to believe that unbaptised infants would be tormented in Hell forever. Given that absolute view, it was only natural that Europe constantly strove for religious uniformity.
Britain, as part of the European world, has traditionally suffered the same totalitarian entailments in its history. Hence, although it has always been possible to be a Christian in a Muslim country, it was against the law to be a Muslim in Britain until 1812, with the passage through parliament of the Trinitarian Act. Nonetheless, three centuries before that, with Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, England cut itself off from formal submission to Vatican doctrines; and from that time a type of religious diversity has been, within severe constraints, at least a possibility. In fact, Britain was the first major European country to break with the medieval European tradition of absolute religious conformity. Perhaps it is because of this fact that exclusivist and xenophobic political manifestations are less common in Britain today than in most Continental countries. The National Front is a lunatic fringe party in the U.K., whereas its equivalents regularly scoop twenty percent of the votes in some regions of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Austria.
When England threw off the Papist yoke, opportunities arose for questioning ancient errors of understanding which had been introduced into Christianity by the Church Fathers. These opportunities, however, were not properly grasped. The English Reformation was an attempt not to extirpate bid‘a in the Muslim sense, and return to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which had been distorted by the Church on the basis of the Hellenising agendas of the anonymous gospel authors, but to reform the doctrines and liturgy of the medieval church. Hence the reformers did not attempt to return to the simple monotheistic worship of the Apostles, but, in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, created a new vernacular liturgy based largely on medieval trinitarian and incarnationist precedents.
This English willingness to challenge tradition, however, was to have immense repercussions. Despite the lack of awareness of the instability of the gospel texts, as revealed by 20th century scholarship, for the first time Europeans, and notably Britons, were questioning the innovations of the Church magisterium, and attempting to grope back towards the faith revealed by God to His prophet Jesus, upon whom be peace.
One repercussion of the Reformation on our ancestors was the revival of a mystical tradition, whose most obvious manifestation was the Cambridge Platonists. English mysticism has usually been of a moderate type: one thinks of the Cloud of Unknowing, or Julian of Norwich. Extreme feats of asceticism, or extravagant and obsessive preoccupations with visions and miraculous happenings, have never been part of the English style of spirituality. The Cambridge Platonists drew on this moderate mysticism, but insisted that mystical inspiration must work hand in hand with rational judgement, and with sound doctrine derived from the Scriptures. This position, which influenced John Locke in particular, again evinces the English style of religion: profound but not verbose, rational but not rationalistic, and scriptural but not literalistic.
This very English approach to religion in due course led to serious questions being asked about the centrepiece of medieval Christian dogma: the Trinity. Milton, and later John Locke himself, are known to have held discreetly Unitarian beliefs, having been unable to find convincing justification for trinitarian and incarnationist views in the Scriptures. Locke’s close friend Newton was even more frank, writing
of the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity … Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part, I can make none.
The period around the Civil War threw up many Englishmen who were likewise concerned about the distortion of the teachings of Jesus by the Church; and the term Unitarian comes into being sometime during this period. But side by side with this tradition of dissent, and in often obscure ways interacting with it, went an even more revolutionary change: improved information about the Blessed Prophet of Islam.
The medievals chose to remain in ignorance about Islam. For them, Muslims were summa culpabilis: the sum of everything blameworthy. Knights from Britain had been at the forefront of the Crusades. The sack of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But the same quest for simplicity and honesty which made the Reformation possible, also made of England the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam could be challenged.
To an extent which we cannot now determine, largely because an excess of sympathy with either Islam or Unitarianism could result in the dissenter being hung, drawn and quartered, new perspectives on Islam informed and reinforced the discreet Unitarian movement. This is implied by the title of Humphrey Prideaux’s hate-filled book of 1697, which he called, The true nature of Imposture, fully displayed in the life of Mahomet … offered to the consideration of the Deists of the present age.
Prideaux is clearly implying that some radical Dissenters were being drawn towards Islam, and he is writing his polemic to hold back that tide. But a far clearer insight into this process is supplied by another author, a certain Henry Stubbe.
Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. In fact, he writes so favourably that we can only conclude that he had thrown off the heritage of Christianity, and privately adopted it. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as ‘the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.’ He died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.
Stubbe was a child of the Civil War, and the spiritual chaos of the Interregnum prompted him to question the official tenets of his inherited Anglicanism. He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible. Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.’
The book begins with a chapter demonstrating how the message of Jesus Christ has been perverted by the Church. He stresses the fact that Jesus, upon him be peace, had remained faithful to the Mosaic Law, and would have been horrified by the idea that later generations might use his name to justify the eating of pork, for instance. He says, of the Disciples:
They did never believe Christ to be the natural Son of God, by eternal Generation, or any tenet depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of persons in one Deity … The whole constitution of the primitive Church Government relates to the Jewish Synagogue, not to the Hierarchy. The presbyters were not Priests, but Laymen set apart to their office by imposition of hands . . . Nor was the name of Priest then ever heard of’.
He concludes that the sacraments of the Church, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, are pagan rituals introduced into Christianity several decades after Christ’s death.
Stubbe then provides a chapter on ‘a brief History of Arabia and the Saracens’, followed by four on the Prophet. Chapter Eight is a vindication of the Prophet; chapter 9 is a vindication of Islam, and chapter 10 explains the moral necessity of the doctrine of Jihad.
His polemical intentions throughout are clear: he constantly shows Islam to be a purer and more rational form of religion than Christianity. Here is Stubbe, for instance, summarising the Prophet’s teaching:
This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man.
And a little further on he adds:
Let us now lay aside our prejudices … Their Articles of Faith are few and plain, whereby they are preserved from Schisms and Heresies, for altho’ they have great diversity of opinions in the explication of their Law, yet, agreeing in the fundamentals, their differences in opinion do not reach to that breach of Charity so common among the Christians, who thereby become a scandal to all other Religions in the world. Their Notions of God are great and noble, their opinions of the Future State are consonant to those of the Jews and Christians. As to the moral part of their Religion . . . we shall see that it is not inferior to that of the Christians. And lastly, their religious Duties are plainly laid down, which is the cause that they are duly observed, and are in themselves very rational.
He allocates an entire chapter to show the moral significance of the Jihad. This chapter is perhaps the most remarkable in the entire book, since it had long been a Christian idée fixe that Islam could only spread by the sword. He goes to some length, quoting travellers to the Ottoman Empire, to show that Christian minorities are usually protected better under Muslim rule than under the rule of their fellow Christians. He observes, for instance:
It is manifest that the Mahometans did propagate their Empire, but not their Religion, by force of arms . . . Christians and other Religions might peaceably subsist under their Protection . . . it is an assured truth, that the vulgar Greeks live in a better Condition under the Turk at present then they did under their own Emperors, when there were perpetual murders practised on their Princes, and tyranny over the People; but they are now secure from Injury if they pay their Taxes. And it is indeed more the Interest of the Princes & Nobles, than of the People, which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.
Having sung Islam’s praises in these terms, Stubbe could hardly expect to publish his book. He published several others, but this one languished discreetly in manuscript form until 1911, when a group of Ottoman Muslims in London rescued it from obscurity and published it.
At least six manuscripts did, however, circulate in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism. Some historians have suggested also that Gibbon was familiar with the work. For instance, Stubbe observes:
When Christianity became generally received, it introduced with it a general inundation of Barbarism and Ignorance, which over-run all places where it prevailed.
And Gibbon, several decades later, closes his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the words: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’ Gibbon himself was known for his private scepticism about Trinitarian dogma.
Stubbe’s book, as I have said, is the work of a brave pioneer. But it is also a considered reflection upon the religious instabilities of the interregnum period which generated it. It shows a sensitive and immensely cultivated English mind shaking off the complications of old dogma, using modern scholarship to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of something exotic, we see here a very English kind of religion expressing itself. Stubbe is spiritual, but not superstitious. He likes simplicity: the blank, Puritan wall of the mosque rather than the elaborate stone metaphors of Catholicism or of the dizzyingly high Anglicanism of Charles. He values wholesome morality that is pragmatic rather than irresponsibly idealistic: so he commends polygamy, and shows the moral dangers of legally imposed monogamy. He regards with distaste traditional Christian strictures on ‘the flesh’ – a century beforehand, Englishmen had rejected the arguments for a celibate clergy and had firmly quashed monkery as both unnatural and parasitic. For Stubbe, the Prophet’s approach was in accord with nature: the love of woman is as natural as the love of God. The Prophet, like the great Hebrew patriarchs, showed that sacred and profane love can and indeed must go together.
A generation earlier, John Donne had suffered passions for both woman and for God; and found his religion finally unable to reconcile the two. His early poems are among some of the most touching, and also sensual, love poems in the English language. Later, as Dean of St Paul’s, he realised that he must renounce the flesh as the instrument of the Fall and the perpetrator of original sin. Hence his agonising, tragic spiritual career, renouncing the flesh to serve God, composing poems wrapped in his winding sheet: Donne’s great Muslim soul caught in the flawed dialectic of a theology that regarded spirit and body as eternally at war.
Stubbe is also drawing on a particularly English pragmatism in his treatment of the Jihad. Far from regarding the Islamic institution of the just war as a reproach, he extols it, contrasting it with what he regarded as the insipid and irresponsible pacifism of the unknown New Testament authors. Stubbe is an English gentleman of a generation that had known war, and knew that there are some injustices in the world that cannot be dissolved through passive suffering, through turning the other cheek. He had sided with Parliament during the civil war, holding, with Cromwell, that the righteous man may sometimes justly bear the burden of the sword. An admirer of Cromwell, he became an admirer of the Prophet. For him, the Prophet was not a foreign, exotic figure: his genial vision of human life under God exactly conformed to what a civilised Englishman of the seventeenth century thought necessary and proper. In Stubbe’s work, in other words, we find a vindication of Muhammad as an English prophet.
There is more that can be said about the convergence of Islamic moderation and good sense with the English temper. Tragically, the rise of Dissent in England coincided also with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, which reached its intoxicating heights with the empire of Queen Victoria and the Edwardians. Under such Anglocentric and frankly racist banners, sympathy with Islam became once more a receding possibility. But there were exceptions. Perhaps the most celebrated was that most English of intellectuals, Carlyle. Carlyle, like Stubbe two centuries before, was a free spirit, unhampered either by obsessions with Trinity, or modern delusions about the ability of material progress to secure human happiness.
On May the 8th 1840, in a stuffy lecture room in Portman Square, London’s intellectual elite were hearing Carlyle speak about the Prophet. They had anticipated the usual invective; and they were astonished to watch him holding up the Prophet as a heroic, adventurous figure, whose sacrifices had brought a natural theism to his people, and had much to teach a materialistic Victorian England. The climax came when the lecturer cried:
Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam-engine . . . if you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it is not Mahomet.
Stung to the quick, John Stuart Mill leaped to his feet, and cried out: ‘No!’
Carlyle was lecturing on ‘The Hero as Prophet’; and again we see the English realism towards the use of force, which had made possible the creation of the British Empire, inspiring a more positive appreciation of the Prophet of Islam. The great Christian blindness towards Islam has always been the belief that there can be only one type of perfection, namely the pacifist Jesus, who taught men to turn the other cheek, and who said, ‘Resist not him that is evil.’ For minds nurtured on such an image, the hero-Prophet is a difficult figure to comprehend. In the Far East, of course, there is no such mental block. Spirituality and the cultivation of the martial arts there went hand in hand. The love of women was also seen as a necessary part of this ethos. The samurai tradition in particular, of the righteous swordsman, a meditator who was also a great lover of women, ensures that a Japanese, for instance, will have few difficulties with the specific genius and greatness of the Prophet of Islam. But for Christians, there is no such model, although knightly ethics in the early Middle Ages, learned from Muslims in Spain and Palestine, dimly suggested it. But even for the Crusader knights, the ideal of celibacy was often accepted: the Knights Templar, for instance, a monastic warrior order, who were influenced enough by Islam to comprehend the importance of a sacred warriorhood, but who never quite got the point about celibacy.
With Carlyle, the Hero as Prophet, or the Prophet as Hero, reveals itself as a credible type for the English mind. And Carlyle’s insistence on the moral exaltation of the Prophet who transcended pacifism to take up arms to fight for his people was understood by at least one later British writer: George Bernard Shaw. For Shaw, as for Carlyle, there was no doubt about the correct answer to Hamlet’s question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.
Edmund Burke had already pointed out that ‘for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing.’ Shaw, like Carlyle, recognised that this principle calls into question the Gospel ethic of passivity in the face of suffering and injustice. Let me read to you a few words from Hesketh Pearson’s biography of the generally post-Christian Shaw:
For many years (this was 1927), Shaw had been meditating a play on a prophet. The militant saint was a type more congenial to his nature than any other, a type he thoroughly sympathised with and could therefore portray with unfailing insight. In all history the one person who exactly answered his requirements, who would have made the perfect Shavian hero, was Mahomet.
In his diary for 1913, Shaw himself wrote: ‘I had long desired to dramatise the life of Mahomet. But the possibility of a protest from the Turkish Ambassador – or the fear of it – causing the Lord Chamberlain to refuse to license such a play, deterred me.’ And so, as Pearson records, he wrote Saint Joan instead.
Perhaps we can close this brief parenthetic summary of the convergence between British martial theory and traditions and Islam, with a final insight; this time offered by Colin Morris, former head of the BBC in Northern Ireland: ‘The false prophet is a moralist, he tells the world how things ought to be; the real prophet is a realist, he tells the world how things really are.’
Let us try to sum up the above arguments. Firstly, Islam is a universal religion. Despite its origins in 7th century Arabia, it works everywhere, and this is itself a sign of its miraculous and divine origin. Secondly, the British Isles have for several hundred years been the home of individuals whose religious and moral temper is very close to that of Islam. To move from Christianity to Islam is hence, for an English man or woman, not the giant leap that outsiders might assume. It is, rather, simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people. Christianity, formerly a Greek mystery religion advocating a moral code against the natural law, is in fact foreign to our national temperament. It is an exotic creed, and it is now fatally compromised by its positive view of secular modernity. Islam, once we have become familiar with it, and settled into it comfortably, is the most suitable faith for the British. Its values are our values. Its moderate, undemonstrative style of piety, still waters running deep; its insistence on modesty and a certain reserve, and its insistence on common sense and on pragmatism, combine to furnish the most natural and easy religious option for our people.
I should close by saying that nothing in what I have said is intended in a jingoistic sense. That the British have a convergence with Islam is to the credit of our people, certainly. But I am not commending any smug ethnocentrism; precisely because Islam itself came to abolish a tribal mentality. Islam is the true consanguinity of believers in the One True God, the common bond of those who seek to remain focussed on the divine Source of our being in this diffuse, ignorant and tragic age. But it is generous and inclusive. It allows us to celebrate our particularity, the genius of our heritage; within, rather than in tension with, the greater and more lasting fellowship of faith.
Were they pirates, or were they warriors for Islam? For centuries, historians have debated the significance of one of the most stirring episodes in the history of Britain ’s Muslim minority. Men such as Captain John Ward of Kent astounded their compatriots by proudly adopting Islam to fight the Inquisition and the expansionist powers of Europe. Contemporaries called such men ‘corsairs’; they themselves considered themselves mujahidin. Some were among the most pious Muslims this country has yet produced. Others were famous drunkards and lechers.
Ward and his likes were described by the adventurer John Smith. Later to be Disneyfied thanks to his romance with Princess Pocahontas, Smith was one English traveller who saw these Muslims at first hand, having spent some years in the Ottoman army before sailing to New England. He wrote a book, the True Travels and Adventures, to describe the European Muslims who were fighting for the Crescent against the Cross. Leading the list were men of Holland and England, who, disgusted by religious wars in their own countries, and unpersuaded by Trinities and Vicarious Atonements, ‘took the Turbant of the Turke’. ‘Because they grew hateful to all Christian princes,’ Smith observed, ‘they retired to Barbary.’
Smith was firmly of the opinion that the pirating lifestyle was introduced to the Barbary States by these Europeans, ‘who first taught the Moors to be men of war.’ His compatriots were well aware of the names of the seaborne mujahidin, particularly Captain Danseker and Captain Ward, among the most skilled seamen in the annals of English history, who placed their gifts at the disposal of emirs and sultans, and whose swashbuckling exploits Smith was able to retell in hair-raising detail.
Until the arrival of these European adventurers, the coastal ports of North Africa had been unused to war. They had, however, found new prosperity as the home of Spanish Muslims expelled by King Phillip III in 1610, an event that was perhaps the greatest act of racial brutality seen in Europe prior to the Nazi Holocaust. Most Moors knew little of the sea, and still less of the infernal arts of gunpowder; but they welcomed Muslims from the Mediterranean lands, and from the seafaring nations of the North, who were willing to accept Islam in exchange for military service with the Spanish exiles. By the middle of the sixteenth century, English Muslims were at the forefront of this movement, ranging the seas to capture first Spanish, and then any Christian ship, enslaving the crew, and selling the cargo as spoils of war.
Horrified priests regularly emerged from the churches of Algiers, Tunis and Sale, to witness the regular conversion celebrations in the streets. They report that slaves who converted would accept Islam in a simple ceremony in a mosque; but free men and women would do so at the tomb of a local saint, to which they would be led in a great public procession, preceded by a military band. Riding a horse, and holding an arrow in his hand to symbolise commitment to the Jihad, a newly-circumcised Englishman would then learn the basics of the Qur’an, and apply himself to his new vocation. Only a minority took to the sea; others are known to have made a living as tailors, or butchers, or even as imams of mosques. To this day there is a building in the Moroccan town of Sale known as the ‘Englishman’s Mosque.’
Most of these individuals took the secret of their lives with them to the grave. Thanks to the Spanish Inquisition, however, historians have access to information about a good number of them. Those who returned to a seafaring life ran the risk of recapture and interrogation by the Inquisition’s priests, and it is from the Inquisition’s meticulously-kept records that we know the details of their conversion, and, often, their tragic fate.
One Inquisition court, in the year 1610, investigated no fewer than thirty-nine Britons. Twelve of them were from the ports of the West Country. Ten were Londoners; six were from Plymouth, and others originated in Middlesbrough, Lyme, and the Channel Islands. In 1631, the Inquisition in the Spanish city of Murcia tried one Alexander Harris, who as Reis Murad had become a prominent Muslim seafarer. He was convicted, forced to convert to Catholicism, and sentenced to seven years as a galley-slave. Another unfortunate Englishman was Francis Barnes, who admitted to the inquisitors that he had faithfully prayed and fasted ‘in the Mahometan manner’ while working as a ship’s pilot at Tunis, where he was captured by Spanish raiders. In 1626, Robin Locar of Plymouth, also known as Ibrahim, was captured by Tuscan galleys and convicted of practising Islam. Captain Jonas of Dartmouth, known as Mami al-Inglizi, was yet another victim of these dreaded Spanish raiders.
An interrogation by the Inquisition was meant to be terrifying. One survivor, the Plymouth Muslim Lewis Crew, described how the priests, after using various forms of torture, would ask the Muslim captive whether they would accept papal teaching on six issues. Firstly came the Trinity, as the main point at issue between Islam and Christianity. Second was the perpetual virginity of Mary. Third was the Immaculate Conception. Fourthly, questions would be asked about the doctrine of Purgatory. Fifthly, the accused would be required to demonstrate his orthodoxy on the doctrine of papal supremacy. Finally, the Sacraments of the Catholic Church would be the subject of a complex investigation, which no doubt confused the simple sailors who made up the majority of the Inquisition’s convicts. Like many others, Crew had steeled himself for a religious debate of the kind held in public between converts and Christians in Algiers; he found, however, that the Inquisition was interested only in enforcing orthodoxy, not in justifying it.
The Inquisition’s writ counted for nothing in Protestant England; but even here, those Muslim sailors who returned to their homes could face interrogation and martyrdom. Sir Walter Raleigh, commenting on the gravity of the problem, recorded that ‘Renegadoes, that turn Turke, are impaled’, and this seems to have been the usual punishment for such men. Three English martyrs are known in the year 1620, while in 1671, a Welshman was put to death by impalement after refusing to reconvert to Christianity. Archbishop Laud was so concerned by the Muslim presence that he instituted a miniature English version of the Inquisition. His ‘Form of Penance’, enforced in 1637, laid down strict rules to ensure the sincerity of reconversions to Christianity, including the use of penitential robes and white wands borrowed directly from Catholic practice.
Despite the best efforts of the inquisitors, the corsair cities continued to thrive. By the end of the sixteenth century, the number of Englishmen and other Europeans who had joined this adventure had become enormous. Diego de Haedo, a Benedictine priest, estimated that by 1600, half of the population of Algiers was made up of European converts and their descendents. Later, Voltaire was to remark on ‘the singular fact that there are so many Spanish, French and English renegades, whom one may find in all the cities of Morocco .’
Most of the corsairs were of humble origins. A few, however, were well-known in their own lands. One such was Sir Francis Verney (1584-1615), who ‘turned Turk in Tunneis’, and was later captured and served for two years as a galley slave as a punishment for his conversion.
But perhaps the two best-known English corsairs were the celebrated sea-dogs John Ward and Simon Danseker. A seventeenth-century ballad heard throughout the taverns of England sang that
All the world about has heard
Of Danseker and Captain Ward
And of their proud adventures every day.
Ward, in particular, rose in the public eye until he became the best-known English pirate since Sir Francis Drake. Born at Faversham, he spent his teenage years working the fisheries. Late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth he joined the Navy, where his rebellious temperament impelled him to the unofficial capture of a ship rumoured to be carrying the treasure of Catholic refugees. The ship turned out to be empty of treasure, but the enterprising Ward used her to capture a much larger French ship off the south coast of Ireland , and to vanish from the Navy for good.
It was in this ship, which he called the Little John to drive home his image as a kind of latter-day Robin Hood, that he sailed to Tunis, hoping to join the campaign against the Catholic nations of the Mediterranean. He found favour with Kara Osman, the commander of the local janissary garrison, and at some point joined Islam.
His maritime prowess soon put him, according to a French report of 1606, in command of over five hundred Muslim and Christian volunteers. Among these were Captain Samson, in charge of prizes, Richard Bishop of Yarmouth (Ward’s first lieutenant), and James Procter of Southampton, who served as his gunner. Perhaps his greatest seaborne achievement was the capture of the Venetian galleon Reinera e Soderina, displacing 1500 tons, whose treasure amounted to over two million ducats.
By the second decade of the seventeenth century, Ward was master of the central Mediterranean. Another ballad has him send the following message to James I:
Go tell the King of England, go tell him this from me,
If he reign king of all the land, I will reign king at sea.
Life in Tunis, as in the Muslim world generally, was more refined and comfortable than its equivalent in Europe, and despite several offers, Ward showed no sign of yearning for his home shores. He built a palace, described by William Lithgow, the Scottish raconteur who passed through Tunis in 1616, as ‘a fair palace beautified with rich marble and alabaster stones. With whom I found domestics, some fifteen circumcised English renegades, whose lives and countenances were both alike. Old Ward their master was placable and diverse times in my ten days staying there I dined and supped with him.’ Another visitor, Edward Coxere, reported that Ward ‘always had a Turkish habit on, he was to drink water and no wine, and wore little irons under his Turk’s shoes like horseshoes’.
When Ward died of the plague in 1622, England seemed to be in two minds about him. There were many who hailed him as the scourge of the Papist navies, or as a man of humble origins who rose to humble the rich and powerful. Others found it harder to accept him, because of his voluntary conversion to Islam, and his adoption of Turkish ways and values. He was ‘the great English pirate … it is said that he was the first that put the Turks in a way to turn pirates at sea like himself’. But he was not soon forgotten. Later generations of English Muslims, both at home and in North Africa, admired him as a superb mariner, fearless in battle, and a doughty warrior for the Crescent against those who expelled the Moriscos, and sought to impose their implacable and cruel customs on the free lands of the South, where church, mosque and synagogue coexisted for centuries, and where humble birth was no barrier to glory.
This article also appeared in Seasons, the Zaytuna Journal.
First Annual Altaf Gauhar Memorial Lecture
Islamabad, 23 December 2002
Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, may I express my warm gratitude to you all for paying me the compliment of attending today? It is particularly gratifying to me to attend an event in this country, the only state established in recent history specifically as a homeland for Muslims. It is also a privilege to be associated with the name of the late and revered Altaf Gauhar, whose translations from the Qur’an certainly formed, back in the late 1970s, part of my own personal journey towards Islam.
I want to talk about religion – our religion – and address the question of what exactly is going on when we speak about the prospects of a mutually helpful engagement between Islam and Western modernity. I propose to tackle this rather large question by invoking what I take to be the underlying issue in all religious talk, which is its ability both to propose and to resolve paradoxes.
We might begin by saying that theology is the most ambitious and fruitful of disciplines because it is all about the successful squaring of circles. Most obviously, it seeks to capture, in the limited net of human language, something of the mystery of an infinite God. Most taxingly, it seeks to demonstrate that an omnipotent God is also absolutely just, and that an apparently infinite reward or chastisement can attend upon finite human behaviour. Most scandalously, it holds that we are more than natural philosophy can describe or know, and that we can achieve states of being in what we call the soul that are as movingly palpable as they are inexplicable. The Spirit, as the scriptures tell us, ‘is of the command of our Lord, and of knowledge you have been given but little.’ (17:85)
So we have a list of imponderables. But to this list the specifically Islamic form of monotheism adds several additional items. The first of these items is what we call universalism, that is to say, that Islam does not limit itself to the upliftment of any given section of humanity, but rather announces a desire to transform the entire human family. This is, if you like, its Ishmaelite uniqueness: the religions that spring from Isaac (a.s.), are, in our understanding, an extension of Hebrew and Occidental particularity, while Islam is universal. Hagar, unlike Sarah, is half-Egyptian, half-Gentile, and it is she who goes forth into the Gentile world. Rembrandt’s famous picture of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael has Sarah mockingly peering out of a window. She is old, and stays at home; while Hagar is young, and looks, with her son, towards limitless horizons.
In the hadith, we learn that ‘Every prophet was sent to his own people; but I am sent to all mankind’ (bu‘ithtu li’l-nasi kaffa).  This will demand the squaring of a circle – in fact of many circles – in a way that is characteristically Islamic. Despite its Arabian origins, Islam is to be not merely for the nations, but of the nations. No pre-modern civilisation embraced more cultures than that of Islam – in fact, it was Muslims who invented globalisation. The many-coloured fabric of the traditional Umma is not merely part of the glory of the Blessed Prophet, of whom it is said: ‘Truly your adversary is the one cut off’. (108:3) It also demonstrates the divine purpose that this Ishmaelite covenant is to bring a monotheism that uplifts, rather than devastates cultures. Islam brought immense fertility to the Indian subcontinent, upgrading architecture, cuisine, music, and languages. Nothing could be more unfair than the Indian chauvinistic thesis, given its most articulate and insidious voice by V.S. Naipaul, that Islam is a travelling parochialism, an ‘Arab imperialism’. 
That, then, has been another circle successfully squared – the bringing to the very different genius of the Subcontinent an uncompromising monotheism which fertilised, and brought to the region its highest artistic and literary moments. Mother India was never more fecund than when she welcomed the virility of Islam. Remember the words of Allama Iqbal:
Behold and see! In Ind’s domain
Thou shalt not find the like again,
That, though a Brahman’s son I be,
Tabriz and Rum stand wide to me. 
It is our confidence, moreover, that this triumphant demonstration of Islam’s universalism has not come to an end. Perhaps the greatest single issue exercising the world today is the following: is the engagement of Islamic monotheism with the new capitalist global reality a challenge that even Islam, with its proven ability to square circles, cannot manage?
As Muslims, of course, we believe that every culture, including the culture of modern consumer liberalism, stands accountable before the claims of revelation. There must, therefore, be a mode of behaviour that modernity can adopt that can be meaningfully termed Islamic, without entailing its transformation into a monochrome Arabness. This is a consequence of our universalist assumptions, but it is also an extension of our triumphalism, and our belief that the divine purposes can be read in history. Wa-kalimatu’Llahi hiya’l-‘ulya – God’s word is uppermost. (9:40) The current agreement between zealots on both sides – Islamic and unbelieving – that Islam and Western modernity can have no conversation, and cannot inhabit each other, seems difficult given traditional Islamic assurances about the universal potential of revelation. The increasing number of individuals who identify themselves as entirely Western, and entirely Muslim, demonstrate that the arguments against the continued ability of Islam to be inclusively universal are simply false.
Yet the question, the big new Eastern Question, will not go away this easily. Palpably, there are millions of Muslims who are at ease somewhere within the spectrum of the diverse possibilities of Westernness. We need, however, a theory to match this practice. Is the accommodation real? What is the theological or fiqh status of this claim to an overlap? Can Islam really square this biggest of all historical circles, or must it now fail, and retreat into impoverished and hostile marginality, as history passes it by?
Let us refine this question by asking what, exactly, is the case against Islam’s contemporary claim to universal relevance? Some of the most frank arguments have come from right-wing European politicians, as part of their campaign to reduce Muslim immigration to Europe. This has, of course, become a prime political issue in the European Union, a local extension of a currently global argument.
Sometimes one hears the claim that Muslims cannot inhabit the West, or – as successful participants – the Western-dominated global reality, because Islam has not passed through a reformation. This is a tiresome and absent-minded claim that I have heard from senior diplomats who simply cannot be troubled to read their own history, let alone the history of Islam. A reformation, that is to say, a bypass operation which avoids the clogged arteries of medieval history and seeks to refresh us with the lifeblood of the scriptures themselves, is precisely what is today underway among those movements and in those places which the West finds most intimidating. The Islamic world is now in the throes of its own reformation, and our Calvins and Cromwells are proving no more tolerant and flexible than their European predecessors. 
A reformation, then, is a bad thing to ask us for, if you would like us to be more pliant. But there is an apparently more intelligible demand, which is that we must pass through an Enlightenment. Take, for instance, the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. In his book Against the Islamisation of our Culture, he writes: ‘Christianity and Judaism have gone through the laundromat of humanism and enlightenment, but that is not the case with Islam.’ 
Fortuyn is not a marginal voice. His funeral at Rotterdam Cathedral, reverently covered by Dutch television, attracted a vast crowd of mourners. As his coffin passed down the city’s main street, the Coolsingel, so many flowers were thrown that the vehicle itself almost disappeared from sight, recalling, to many, the scenes attending the funeral of Princess Diana. The election performance of his party a week later was a posthumous triumph, as his associate Hilbrand Nawijn was appointed minister for asylum and immigration. Fortuyn’s desire to close all Holland’s mosques was not put into effect, but a number of new, highly-restrictive, policies have been implemented. Asylum seekers now have to pay a seven thousand Euro deposit for compulsory Dutch language and citizenship lessons. A 90 percent cut in the budget of asylum seeker centres has been approved. An official government enquiry into the Dutch Muslim community was ordered by the new parliament in July 2002. 
I take the case of the Netherlands because it was, until very recently, a model of liberalism and multiculturalism. Indeed, modern conceptions of religious toleration may be said to have originated among Dutch intellectuals. Without wishing to sound the alarm, it is evident that if Holland can adopt an implicitly inquisitorial attitude to Islam, there is no reason why other states should not do likewise.
But again, the question has not been answered. Fortuyn, a highly-educated and liberal Islamophobe, was convinced that Islam cannot square the circle. He would say that the past genius of Islam in adapting itself to cultures from Senegal to Sumatra cannot be extended into our era, because the rules of that game no longer apply. Success today demands membership of a global reality, which means signing up to the terms of its philosophy. The alternative is poverty, failure, and – just possibly – the B52s.
How should Islam answer this charge? The answer is, of course, that ‘Islam’ can’t. The religion’s strength stems in large degree from its internal diversity. Different readings of the scriptures attract different species of humanity. There will be no unified Islamic voice answering Fortuyn’s interrogation. The more useful question is: who should answer the charge? What sort of Muslim is best equipped to speak for us, and to defeat his logic?
Fortuyn’s error was to impose a Christian squint on Islam. As a practising Catholic, he imported assumptions about the nature of religious authority that ignore the multi-centred reality of Islam. On doctrine, we try to be united – but he is not interested in our doctrine. On fiqh, we are substantially diverse. Even in the medieval period, one of the great moral and methodological triumphs of the Muslim mind was the confidence that a variety of madhhabs could conflict formally, but could all be acceptable to God. In fact, we could propose as the key distinction between a great religion and a sect the ability of the former to accommodate and respect substantial diversity. Fortuyn, and other European politicians, seek to build a new Iron Curtain between Islam and Christendom, on the assumption that Islam is an ideology functionally akin to communism, or to the traditional churches of Europe.
The great tragedy is that some of our brethren would agree with him. There are many Muslims who are happy to describe Islam as an ideology. One suspects that they have not troubled to look the term up, and locate its totalitarian and positivistic undercurrents. It is impossible to deny that certain formulations of Islam in the twentieth century resembled European ideologies, with their obsession with the latest certainties of science, their regimented cellular structure, their utopianism, and their implicit but primary self-definition as advocates of communalism rather than of metaphysical responsibility. The emergence of ‘ideological Islam’ was, particularly in the mid-twentieth century, entirely predictable. Everything at that time was ideology. Spirituality seemed to have ended, and postmodernism was not yet a twinkle in a Parisian eye. In fact, the British historian John Gray goes so far as to describe the process which Washington describes as the ‘war on terror’ as an internal Western argument which has nothing to do with traditional Islam. As he puts it: ‘The ideologues of political Islam are western voices, no less than Marx or Hayek. The struggle with radical Islam is yet another western family quarrel.’ 
There are, of course, significant oversimplications in this analysis. There are some individuals in the new movements who do have a substantial grounding in Islamic studies. And the juxtaposition of ‘political’ and ‘Islam’ will always be redundant, given that the Islamic, Ishmaelite message is inherently liberative, and hence militantly opposed to oppression.
Nonetheless, the irony remains. We are represented by the unrepresentative, and the West sees in us a mirror image of its less attractive potentialities. Western Muslim theologians such as myself frequently point out that the movements which seek to represent Islam globally, or in Western minority situations, are typically movements which arose as reactions against Western political hegemony that themselves internalised substantial aspects of Western political method. In Europe, Muslim community leaders who are called upon to justify Islam in the face of recent terrorist activities are ironically often individuals who subscribe to ideologised forms of Islam which adopt dimensions of Western modernity in order to secure an anti-Western profile. It is no surprise that such leaders arouse the suspicion of the likes of Pim Fortuyn, or, indeed, a remarkably wide spectrum of commentators across the political spectrum.
Islam’s universalism, however, is not well-represented by the advocates of movement Islam. Islamic universalism is represented by the great bulk of ordinary mosque-going Muslims who around the world live out different degrees of accommodation with the local and global reality. One could argue, against Fortuyn, that Muslim communities are far more open to the West than vice-versa, and know far more about it. Muslims return from the mosques in Cairo in time for the latest American soaps. There is no equivalent desire in the West to learn from and integrate into other cultures. On the ground, the West is keener to export than to import, to shape, rather than be shaped. As such, its universalism can seem imperial and hierarchical, driven by corporations and strategic imperatives that owe nothing whatsoever to non-Western cultures, and acknowledge their existence only where they might turn out to be obstacles. Likewise, Westerners, when they settle outside their cultural area, almost never assimilate to the culture which newly surrounds them. Islam, we will therefore insist, is more flexible than the West. Where they are intelligently applied, our laws and customs, mediated through the due instruments of ijtihad, have been reshaped substantially by encounter with the Western juggernaut, through faculties such as the concern for public interest, or urf – customary legislation. Western law and society, by contrast, have not admitted significant emendation at the hands of another culture for many centuries.
From our perspective, then, it can seem that it is the West, not the Islamic world, which stands in need of reform in a more pluralistic direction. It claims to be open, while we are closed, but in reality, on the ground, seems closed, while we have been open.
* * *
I think there is force to this defence. But does it help us answer the insistent question of Mr Fortuyn? Do we have to pass through his laundromat to be made internally white, as it were, to have an authentic and honoured place of belonging at the table of the modern reality?
Historians would probably argue that since history cannot repeat itself, the demand that Islam experience an Enlightenment is strange, and that if the task be attempted, it cannot remotely guarantee an outcome analogous to that experienced by Europe. If honest and erudite enough, they may also recognise that the Enlightenment possibilities in Europe were themselves the consequence of a Renaissance humanism which was triggered not by an internal European or Christian logic, but by the encounter with Islamic thought, and particularly the Islamised version of Aristotle which, via Ibn Rushd, took fourteenth-century Italy by storm. The stress on the individual, the reluctance to establish clerical hierarchies which hold sway over earthly kingdoms, the generalised dislike of superstition, the slowness to persecute for the sake of credal difference: all these may well be European transformations that were eased, or even enabled, by the transfusion of a certain kind of Muslim wisdom from Spain.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the Christian and Jewish Enlightenments of the eighteenth century did not move Europe in a religious, still less an Islamic direction. Instead, they moved outside the Moorish paradigm to produce a disenchantment, a desacralising of the world which opened the gates for two enormous transformations in human experience. One of these has been the subjugation of nature to the will (or more usually the lower desires) of man. The consequences for the environment, and even for the sustainable habitability of our planet, are looking increasingly disturbing. There is certainly an oddness about the Western desire to convert the Third World to a high-consumption market economy, when it is certain that if the world were to reach American levels of fossil-fuel consumption, global warming would soon render the planet entirely uninhabitable.
The second dangerous consequence of ‘Enlightenment’, as Muslims see it, is the replacement of religious autocracy and sacred kingship with either a totalitarian political order, or with a democratic liberal arrangement that has no fail-safe resistance to moving in a totalitarian direction. Take, for instance, the American Jewish philosopher Peter Ochs, for whom the Enlightenment did away with Jewish faith in God, while the Holocaust did away with Jewish faith in humanity. As he writes:
They lost faith in a utopian humanism that promised: ‘Give up your superstitions! Abandon the ethnic and religious traditions that separate us one from the other! Subject all aspects of life to rational scrutiny and the disciplines of science! This is how we will be saved.’ It didn’t work. Not that science and rationality are unworthy; what failed was the effort to abstract these from their setting in the ethics and wisdoms of received tradition. 
Here is another voice from deep in the American Jewish intellectual tradition that many in the Muslim world assume provides the staunchest advocates of the Enlightenment. This time it is Irving Greenberg:
The humanistic revolt for the ‘liberation’ of humankind from centuries of dependence upon God and nature has been shown to sustain a capacity for demonic evil. Twentieth-century European civilization, in part the product of the Enlightenment and liberal culture, was a Frankenstein that authored the German monster’s being. […] Moreover, the Holocaust and the failure to confront it make a repetition more likely – a limit was broken, a control or awe is gone – and the murder procedure is now better laid out and understood. 
The West is loath to refer to this possibility in its makeup, as it urges, in Messianic fashion, its pattern of life upon the world. It believes that Srebrenica, or Mr Fortuyn, are aberrations, not a recurrent possibility. Muslims, however, surely have the right to express deep unease about the demand to submit to an Enlightenment project that seems to have produced so much darkness as well as light. Iqbal, identifying himself with the character Zinda-Rud in his Javid-name, declaims, to consummate the final moment of his own version of the Mi‘raj: Inghelab-i Rus u Alman dide am: ‘I have seen the revolutions of Russia and of Germany!’  This in a great, final crying-out to God.
We European Muslims, born already amid the ambiguities of the Enlightenment, have also wrestled with this legacy. Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian president, has discussed the relationship in his book Between East and West. A lesser-known voice has been that of the Swedish theologian Tage Lindbom, who died three years ago. Lindbom is particularly important to European Muslim thought because of his own personal journey. A founder member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and one of the major theorists of the Swedish welfare state, Lindbom experienced an almost Ghazalian crisis of doubt, and repented of his Enlightenment ideology in favour of a kind of Islamic traditionalism. In 1962 he published his book The Windmills of Sancho Panza, which generated enough of a scandal to force him from his job, and he composed the remainder of his twenty-odd books in retirement. For Lindbom, the liberation promised by the Enlightenment did not only lead to the explicit totalitarianisms which ruined most of Europe for much of the twentieth century, but also to an implicit, hidden totalitarianism, which is hardly less dangerous to human freedom. We are now increasingly slaves to the self, via the market, and the endlessly proliferating desires and lifestyles which we take to be the result of our free choice are in fact designed for us by corporation executives and media moguls.
There can be no brotherhood among human beings, Lindbom insists, unless there is a God under whom we may be brothers. As he writes: ‘The perennial question is always whether we humans are to understand our presence on this earth as a vice-regency or trusteeship under the mandate of Heaven, or whether we must strive to emancipate ourselves from any higher dominion, with human supremacy as our ultimate aim.’ 
He goes on as follows:
Secularization increasingly becomes identified with two motives: the reduction of human intelligence to rationalism, and sensual desire; the one is grafted onto the vertebral nervous system, and the other is a function of the involuntary and subconscious elements of man’s composite nature. Rationalism and sensualism will prove to be the mental currents and the two forms of consciousness whereby secularization floods the Western world. Human pride, superbia, the first and greatest of the seven deadly sins, grows unceasingly; and it is during the eighteenth century that man begins to formulate the notion that he is discovering himself as the earthly agent of power. 
Lindbom’s works have provoked sharp discussion among Western Muslims in the universities. Enlightenment leads to sensualism and to rationality. Walter Benjamin has already seen that it cannot guarantee that these principles will secure a moral consensus, or protect the weak. It also – and here Lindbom has less to say – yields its own destruction. Western intellectuals now speak of post-modernism as an end of Enlightenment reason. Hence the new Muslim question becomes: why jump into the laundromat if European thinkers have themselves turned it off? Is the Third World to be brought to heel by importing only Europe’s yesterdays? 
These are troubled waters, and perhaps will carry us too far from our purpose in this lecture. Let me, however, offer a few reflections on what our prospects might look like if we excuse ourselves the duty of spinning in Mr Fortuyn’s machine.
Islam, as I rather conventionally observed a few minutes ago, speaks with many voices. Fortuyn, and the new groundswell of educated Western Islamophobia, have heard only a few of them, hearkening as they do to the totalitarian and the extreme. Iqbal, I would suggest, and Altaf Gauhar, represent a very different tradition. It is a tradition which insists that Islam is only itself when it recognises that authenticity arises from recognising the versatility of classical Islam, rather than taking any single reading of the scriptures as uniquely true. Ijtihad, after all, is scarcely a modern invention.
Iqbal puts it this way:
The ultimate spiritual basis of all life, as conceived by Islam, is eternal and reveals itself in variety and change. A society based on such a conception of Reality must reconcile in its life the categories of permanence and change. 
In other words, to use my own idiom, it must square the circle to be dynamic. The immutable Law, to be alive, even to be itself, must engage with the mill-wheel of the transient.
One of Altaf Gauhar’s intellectual associates, Allahbakhsh Brohi, used the following metaphor:
We need a bi-focal vision: we must have an eye on the eternal principles sanctioned by the Qur’anic view of man’s place in the scheme of things, and also have the eye firmly fixed on the ever-changing concourse of economic-political situation which confronts man from time to time. 
We do indeed need a bi-focal ability. It is, after all, a quality of the Antichrist that he sees with only one eye. An age of decadence, whether or not framed by an Enlightenment, is an age of extremes, and the twentieth century was, in Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, precisely that. Islam has been Westernised enough, it sometimes appears, to have joined that logic. We are either neutralised by a supposedly benign Islamic liberalism that in practice allows nothing distinctively Islamic to leave the home or the mosque – an Enlightenment-style privatisation of religion that abandons the world to the morality of the market leaders and the demagogues. Or we fall back into the sensual embrace of extremism, justifying our refusal to deal with the real world by dismissing it as absolute evil, as kufr, unworthy of serious attention, which will disappear if we curse it enough.
Traditional Islam, as is scripturally evident, cannot sanction either policy. Extremism, however, has been probably the more damaging of the two. Al-Bukhari and Muslim both narrate from A’isha, (r.a.), the hadith that runs: ‘Allah loves kindness is all matters.’ Imam Muslim also narrates from Ibn Mas‘ud, (r.a.), that the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) said: ‘Extremists shall perish’ (halaka’l-mutanatti‘un). Commenting on this, Imam al-Nawawi defines extremists as ‘fanatical zealots’ (al-muta‘ammiqun al-ghalun), who are simply ‘too intense’ (al-mushaddidun).
Revelation, as always, requires the middle way. Extremism, in any case, never succeeds even on its own terms. It usually repels more people from religion than it holds within it. Attempts to reject all of global modernity simply cannot succeed, and have not succeeded anywhere. A more sane policy, albeit a more courageous, complex and nuanced one, has to be the introduction of Islam as a prophetic, dissenting witness within the reality of the modern world.
It should not be hard to see where we naturally fit. The gaping hole in the Enlightenment, pointed out by the postmodern theologians and by more sceptical but still anxious minds, was the Enlightenment’s inability to form a stable and persuasive ground for virtue and hence for what it has called ‘citizenship’. David Hume expressed the problem as follows:
If the reason be asked of that obedience which we are bound to pay to government, I readily answer: Because society could not otherwise subsist; and this answer is clear and intelligible to all mankind. Your answer is, Because we should keep our word. But besides that, nobody, till trained in a philosophical system, can either comprehend or relish this answer; besides this, say, you find yourself embarrassed when it is asked, Why we are bound to keep our word? Nor can you give any answer but what would immediately, without any circuit, have accounted for our obligation to allegiance. 
But why are we bound to keep our word? Why need we respect the moral law? Religion seems to answer this far more convincingly than any secular ethic. In spite of all stereotypes, the degree of violence in the Muslim world remains far less than that of Western lands governed by the hope of a persuasive secular social contract.  Perhaps this is inevitable: the Enlightenment was, after all, nothing but the end of the Delphic principle that to know the world we must know and refine and uplift ourselves. Before Descartes, Locke and Hume, all the world had taken spirituality to be the precondition of philosophical knowing. Without love, self-discipline, and care for others, that is to say, without a transformation of the human subject, there could be no knowledge at all. The Enlightenment, however, as Descartes foresaw, would propose that the mind is already self-sufficient and that moral and spiritual growth are not preconditions for intellectual eminence, so that they might function to shape the nature of its influence upon society. Not only is the precondition of the transformation of the subject repudiated, but the classical idea, shared by the religions and the Greeks, that access to truth itself brings about a personal transformation, is dethroned just as insistently.  Relationality is disposable, and the laundromat turns out to be a centrifuge.
Religion offers a solution to this fatal weakness. Applied with wisdom, it provides a fully adequate reason for virtue and an ability to produce cultural and political leaders who embody it themselves. Of course, it is all too often applied improperly, and there is something of the Promethean arrogance and hubris of the philosophes in the radical insistence that the human subject be enthroned in authority over scriptural interpretation, without a due prelude of initiation, love, and self-naughting. Yet the failure of the Enlightenment paradigm, as invoked by the secular elites in the Muslim world, to deliver moral and efficient government and cultural guidance, indicates that the solution must be religious. Religious aberrations do not discredit the principle they aberrantly affirm.
What manner of Islam may most safely undertake this task? It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of Western Muslim thinkers, including Lindbom himself, have been drawn into the religion by the appeal of Sufism. To us, the ideological redefinitions of Islam are hardly more impressive than they are to the many European xenophobes who take them as normative. We need a form of religion that elegantly and persuasively squares the circle, rather than insisting on a conflictual model that is unlikely to damage the West as much as Islam. A purely non-spiritual reading of Islam, lacking the vertical dimension, tends to produce only liberals or zealots; and both have proved irrelevant to our needs.
* * *
The most recurrent theme of Islamic architecture has been the dome surmounting the cube. Between the two there are complex arrangements of arabesques and pendentives. Religion is worth having because, drawing on the infinite and miraculous power of God, it can turn a circle into a square in a way that delights the eye. Through logic and definition the theologian seeks to show how the infinite engages with the finite. Imam al-Ghazali, and our tradition generally, came to the conclusion that the Sufi does the job more elegantly, while not putting the theologian out of a job. But Sufism also, as Iqbal and the consensus of Muslim theologians in the West have seen, demonstrates other virtues. Because it has been the instrument whereby Islam has been embedded in the divergent cultures of the rainbow that is the traditional Islamic world, we may suppose that it represents the best instrument available for attempting a ‘dissenting’ Muslim embedding within today’s inexorable global reality. It insists on the acquisition of compassion and wisdom as a precondition for the exercise of ijtihad, or of any other mode of knowing. Its emphasis on the potential grandeur of man’s condition, of the one who was ‘taught all the Names’, makes it more humane than any secular humanism. In short, its recognition of the limitations of rational attempts to square the circle of speaking of the metaphysical and in justifying virtue, can bring us to real, rather than illusory, enlightenment, to a true ishraq. This is because there is only one ‘Light of the heavens and the earth.’ (24:35) Seeking truth in the many, while ignoring the One, is the cardinal, Luciferian error. Its consequences for recent human history have already been tragic. Its prospects, as it yields more and more methods of destruction, and fewer and fewer arguments for a universal morality, are surely unnerving. Genetic engineering now threatens to redefine our very humanity, precisely that principle which the Enlightenment found to be the basis of truth. In such a world, religion, for all its failings, is likely to be the only force which can genuinely reconnect us with our humanity, and with our fellow men.
1. Bukhari, Tayammum, 1.
2. The view is expounded most forcefully in his recent Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples (London, 1998). For a refutation see T.J. Winter, ‘Some thoughts on the formation of British Muslim identity’, Encounters 8:1 (2002), 3-26.
3. Persian Psalms (Zabur-i ‘Ajam), translated into English verse from the Persian of the late Sir Muhammad Iqbal by Arthur J. Arberry. (Lahore, 1948), 8.
4. The defining demand of the Reformation was the return to the most literal meaning of Scripture. Hence Calvin: ‘Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and simple one, and let us embrace and hold it resolutely. Let us not merely neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions which lead us away from the literal sense.’ (John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Edinburgh, 1965), 84-5. Is this what the West is demanding of us? That a Muslim state should, in consequence, be a ‘city of glass’, like Calvin’s terrified Geneva?
5. Cited in Angus Roxburgh, Preachers of Hate: The Rise of the Far Right. (London, 2002), 163.
6. Roxburgh, 160, 169, 174.
7. The Independent July 28, 2002.
8. Peter Ochs, ‘The God of Jews and Christians’, in Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al., Christianity in Jewish Terms (Boulder and Oxford, 2000), 54.
9. Irving Greenberg, ‘Judaism, Christianity and Partnership after the Twentieth Century’, in Frymer-Kensky, op. cit., 26.
10. Iqbal, Javid-Nama, translated from the Persian with introduction and notes, by Arthur J. Arberry (London, 1966), 140.
11. Tage Lindbom, The Myth of Democracy (Grand Rapids, 1996), 18.
12. Ibid., 22.
13. The implications of the collapse of Enlightenment reason for theology have been sketched out by George Lindbeck in his The Nature of Doctrine: religion and theology in a postliberal age (London, 1984), and (for a more Islamic turn, because explicitly resistant to those Renaissance-Aristotelian confidences of Suarez which took Thomism so far from kalam) in the several works of Jean-Luc Marion. The Ash‘arite resonances are clear enough: discourse is self-referential unless penetrated by the Word.
14. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, cited in Allahbakhsh Brohi, Iqbal and the Concept of Islamic Socialism (Lahore, 1967), 7.
15. Brohi, op. cit., 7.
16. David Hume, Essays (Oxford, 1963), 469.
17. For example, the 2002 World Health Organisation document World Report on Violence and Health, shows the murder rate in the Eastern Mediterranean region to be less than half the rate for the Americas. See http://www5.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/download.cfm?id=0000000559, page 7.
18. This has been discussed with particular clarity by Michel Foucault, L’Hermeneutique du sujet: Cours au College de France (1981-2) (Paris, 2001), pp.16-17. Foucault’s pessimism might be further reinforced by considering the corrosive implications of the new biology, with its anti-egalitarian potential, for secular reasons for conviviality and mutual respect. Cf. W.D. Hamilton, Narrow Roads of Gene Land, vol. II (Oxford, 2001), for whom evolutionary theories ‘have the unfortunate property of being solvents of a vital societal glue.’
Hedley Churchward the first British Muslim to carry out the rites of Hajj
History has not recorded the name of the first British Muslim to carry out the rites of Hajj. Rumours abound of converted Crusaders who made the trip in medieval times, and of British Muslims in Ottoman naval service who visited the hallowed precincts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But the first detailed account of the Hajj by an English Muslim had to wait until the Edwardian era, when the artist Hedley Churchward became the first recorded British ‘Guest of God.’
Like many Anglo-Muslims of his day, Churchward was the conservative, gentlemanly scion of an ancient family; indeed, his ancestors possessed the second oldest house in Britain. His father ran a successful business in Aldershot, and was well-received in regimental circles, enabling the young Churchward to meet Queen Victoria and the philanthropist Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Showing an early artistic talent, Churchward studied art and became a recognised painter, specialising in the then highly prestigious field of theatrical scene painting. A familiar figure in London’s West End in the 1880s, he worked closely with celebrities as varied as Tennyson, Millais, Lord Leighton, and the most famous of all Victorian ‘supermodels’, Lily Langtry.
A leisurely trip through Spain opened the young scene-painter’s eyes to the glories of Moorish architecture, and he was tempted to venture across the Straits to Morocco. Here, in a world still untouched by Western influence, he quickly fell in love with the gentle and beautiful lifestyle of Islam. After several visits, he gravely announced to his startled family that he had become a Muslim.
Churchward travelled on to Cairo, where he studied for several years at Al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s highest seat of learning. His scholarship developed apace, enabling him to preach Friday sermons at a small mosque, and even landing him an appointment to the prestigious post of lecturer in Sira (the Prophet’s biography) at the Qadis’ Academy – no small achievement for a convert.
In need of more lucrative work, Churchward then sailed for South Africa, where his art and his elegant drawing-room manner soon won him the favour of Cecil Rhodes, who made him the gift of a rare pink diamond. Moving effortlessly between the Muslim community and the Transvaal’s white elite, it was thanks to Churchward’s earnest intercession that President Paul Kruger granted permission for the erection of the first mosque in the Witwatersrand goldfields.
On his return to Cairo, Mahmoud Churchward married the daughter of a prominent Shafi‘i jurist of Al-Azhar, and continued his Arabic lecturing. But both his head and his heart told him that his Islam was not yet complete: the magnetic pull of the Fifth Pillar was becoming impossible to resist. As he later recorded: ‘One evening, as I strode along the looming Pyramid in the sunset, and saw the jagged skyline of Cairo behind the dreamy African dusk, I decided to carry through what I had intended to do ever since I turned a Moslem – I would go to the Kaaba at Mecca.’
As an Englishman he realised that this ambition might prove hard to fulfil: there was a danger that the Caliphal authorities at Jeddah might distrust the sincerity of his claims to be a Muslim, and unceremoniously turn him away. He therefore petitioned the senior Ulema for a letter of recommendation. In the awe-inspiring presence of the Chief Qadi of Egypt, together with Shaykh al-Islam Mehmet Jemaluddin Efendi (the Ottoman Empire’s highest religious authority, who happened to be on a visit to Cairo), he submitted to a three-hour examination on difficult points of faith. Passing with flying colours, he received a beautifully-calligraphed testimonial signed by the scholars present. This religious passport was to serve him well in overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles which lay ahead.
In 1910, after a further year in South Africa, the would-be Hajji packed his trunks and set out from Johannesburg for the Holy Land. Steamers in those days were slow, and Churchward faced the added impediment of having to travel via Bombay, where he spent weeks in frustrating negotiations with shipping-clerks, officials, and an urbane Lebanese Christian who was the Ottoman consul. At last he found an elderly pilgrim ship, the SS Islamic, and this vessel, captained by an irascible Scotsman and armed with cannon against the threat of pirates, chugged slowly across the shimmering heat of the Indian Ocean, visiting the poverty-stricken Arabian Gulf before wending its leisurely way up the Red Sea.
The days passed slowly, and the time for Hajj was fast approaching. Steaming at six knots, halting at small ports to deliver sacks of mail, which had to be handed over with six-foot tongs because of the fear of plague, there was little to do except watch the dolphins, eat curry, and pray on deck with the Indian pilgrims.
Landing briefly at the Sudanese port of Suakin, Churchward dropped in on the British Consul, who airily told him that his plans to visit Makka were doomed. ‘My dear chap,’ he told him, sipping an iced drink on the Consular veranda, ‘to begin with you will not be allowed to land at Jeddah.’
But two days later, the Islamic steamed into the roadstead of the Arabian port. ‘On the Indian deck,’ he recorded, ‘there started a great packing of pots, portable stoves, babies and sacks of rice.’ It proved necessary to row ashore in a small dinghy, plunging through the hot spray past a Turkish battleship that had been moored for so long that the coral had grown up around it, immobilising it forever. Once his little boat was beached on the sands, a short conversation with the Ottoman officials established that all was well, and Churchward went into the town to make contact with the local representative (wakil) of Sharifa Zain Wali, a rich businesswoman of Makka who ran a large organisation of ‘mutawwifs’ – pilgrim guides. Naturally, she could not attend him here in person – as Churchward later observed: ‘Owing to the immense numbers of pilgrims, hundreds of thousands, who reach Jeddah each year, it is as impossible for these much-respected dignitaries to escort their customers personally as it would be for Mr. Thomas Cook to chaperone every Cockney globe-trotter through Europe. Like all her colleagues, she employed a considerable staff, who saw that the Hajis carried through the ritual prescribed by the Prophet.’
The Wakil took Churchward to his beautiful Arab house, and explained how to don his Ihram clothing before letting him settle down for the night. ‘Finding a level place on the irregular stones I lay down anew’, he wrote. ‘This time a thousand million mosquitoes hovered over me.’ The following day, he telegraphed most of his money through to Makka, and entrusted, as was the custom, the remainder of his funds to the Mutawwif. That evening, ‘while the lamps of Jeddah glowed in a tropic sunset, two donkeys arrived.’ The road beyond Jeddah was little more than a camel track, but the Wakil confidently led the small party towards the nocturnal east, with Halley’s Comet hanging splendidly among the stars above. ‘Against the stars I saw rock faces; we seemed to be trotting through a kind of canyon. Saving the fall of our donkeys’ feet there was nothing to be heard, not even a jackal. … Bang! Explosions suddenly rang from some place high in the dark hills. No mistake, those were rifle shots … The growing brightness showed a very picturesque old building, a kind of tower several hundred feet above the road. From the steep path serving the structure some fez-adorned figures ran down. They wore uniforms and held guns in their hands.’
An Ottoman officer came up, and politely explained that his men had successfully chased off a band of robbers. In those days, attacks by desert Arabs on pilgrims were distressingly common; but Churchward and his party rode on, trusting in Allah. In the oven-like heat of the early afternoon, after several stops at roadside coffee-houses, they passed the stone pillars which indicated the beginning of the sacred territory into which no non-Muslim may intrude.
‘On entering here my guide signed to me that we should say the proper prayer. Touching his heart and forehead he muttered the Fatiha and held his hands together as if to receive Heaven’s blessing. Then he said, Hena al-Haram (Here is the Holy Ground).’
‘Some pigeons, wild doves and other birds were the first specimens of desert fauna I came on. They appeared perfectly tame, and fluttered a few inches from our faces. Some sat on the hard stones and allowed the donkeys to go right upon them. Very carefully the Wakeel led his beast around the little creatures, for no man will dare to kill a living thing here.’
In the Holy City at last, after almost two days on the road, Churchward and his companions entered the tall mansion-cum-hotel of the Sharifa. This pious and aristocratic lady, a direct descendent of the Holy Prophet, had family connections in Cape Town, where her company of pilgrim guides had been recommended to Churchward. Unpacking his goods, he sent her a gift of a Gouda cheese, which was borne up to her unseen presence by excited servants. The Sharifa herself shortly called to him from behind a wooden mashrabiya screen: ‘Mubarak! Welcome to my house.’ ‘I replied that I felt proud to live in her house, whereat she answered that she was proud of me. ‘The Kafirs make good cheese,’ declared the lady, ‘they must have many cows.’’
The English pilgrim struggled up seven flights of stairs, bathed, and slept on the roof. He was awoken before dawn by the strange lilting sound of Ottoman bugles, and after prayers and a breakfast of melons he set off behind the Mutawwif towards the Sacred Mosque. Taking care to scuff their feet disdainfully on some well-worn flagstones, which the Mutawwif declared were some former idols of Quraish which had been cast down there by the Prophet to be humiliated, Churchward and his companion finally entered the House of God. The first stage of a five-month journey had finally come to an end.
The Anglo-Muslim community has produced many stormy petrels over the centuries. Religious dissidents, adventurers, romancers, scholar-pilgrims – all have enriched the diverse and colourful story that is British Islam. Peter Lyall, the Scotsman who became an admiral in the Ottoman navy; Abdullah Quilliam, the Liverpool solicitor who founded a mosque and orphanage in which Christian waifs were raised as Muslims; Benjamin Bishop, His Majesty’s consul in Cairo who turned Muslim and mysteriously disappeared; Lord Headley the peer; Lady Evelyn Cobbold the explorer and pilgrim to Mecca; Mubarak Churchward, the stage-painter and friend of Lily Langtry; the anonymous Scotsman who became governor of Madina; and many more. Few, however, lived such adventurous lives as the celebrated Hajji Abdullah Fadhil al-Zubayr, born William Williamson, remembered even today in the Gulf and Iraq, where his many descendants still retell his exploits.
Williamson was born in Bristol in 1872, and when still a boy demonstrated a rebellious nature that sat easily with a passionate hatred of injustice. While a pupil at Clifton School he repeatedly courted both danger and the ire of headmasters by climbing the famous Clifton suspension bridge which soars over the Avon gorge. Beaten regularly by his father, he was overjoyed when an uncle found him a place on a tea-clipper bound for Australia. The family’s hope was that the rigours of shipboard life would soon cause the thirteen-year old to pine for the comparative comforts of a boarding school. But although the new ship’s boy was flogged and regularly ‘mastheaded’ for his lubber’s clumsiness in Biscay gales, he resolved never to return.
The barque landed its cargo in New South Wales, and set course for Bristol via San Diego. Ashore in the Californian port, the ship’s mates scattered in the traditional quest for beer and beauty. Williamson, however, clutching two dollars, took ‘French leave’, and ran inland, praying that he would not be spotted by his shipmates, who were likely to force him back on board. He found work on a farm just south of Los Angeles, and then worked for his Aunt Amy, who had married a local homesteader. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, she would regularly dress in white robes and sing on nearby hilltops; but she came to admire her nephew, who soon mastered all the usual cowboy skills, including gunslinging and bronco-breaking, but refused to accompany the other ranch-hands on their regular ‘busts’ in the vice-dens of neighbouring towns. Receptive to California’s natural beauty, he had developed a strong belief in God, and a dislike for throwing away what slender financial means he possessed.
Although gifted with a natural aptitude for the cowboy life, Williamson’s imagination was soon fired by tales of gold; and once he had acquired an old mule, an even older Mexican shotgun, and a handful of dollars, he joined another cowboy, Jim Cook, and took the gold trail to the Nevadas. They had covered only a hundred miles before they were robbed while sleeping innocently beneath the stars. The silent thieves had taken their mule, the money in their pockets, and even their shoes. Cook turned back, disheartened, but the barefoot Williamson was not beaten so easily. He pressed on, pausing to work for a while as assistant to a quack doctor in a ten-gallon hat. At last he reached the Nevadas, where he staked a claim to a mine which, unlike many of its neighbours, seemed to contain only limestone, quartz, and an inexhaustible supply of Californian mud.
This new setback drove Williamson back to San Francisco, where he enlisted on a cargo ship bound for Bordeaux. A disastrous and near-lethal passage via the Horn did nothing to dampen his love of adventure, and after touching briefly in France, he joined an Irish fire-fighter who planned to work on the construction of the Panama Canal. Fifty men a day were dying of malaria in this first, ill-fated attempt to cut a channel across the Isthmus, and wages were high; but the fire-fighter’s wife was soon convinced that Panama was ‘no country for a white man’, and the threesome, afflicted with the malaria that was to dog Williamson for the rest of his life, travelled on to California. The bankruptcy of the railroad company that took them on left them penniless; but under Williamson’s direction they formed a travelling theatrical troupe, barnstorming out-of-the-way settlements with a vaudeville act whose highlight was Williamson’s unusual gift for juggling. A severe winter trapped the party in the Nevadas, but they reached the coast safely on skis made for them by a sympathetic Swede. Here Williamson struck out alone yet again, this time trying his luck as an amateur boxer. He won his first three bouts in the San Francisco championships, but his career as a pugilist was cut short when he accepted a beer laced with opium in the city’s red light district (the ‘Sodom of the Pacific’, and, in the view of local preachers, the probable cause of the 1906 earthquake). He awoke with a hangover, in the fo’c’sle of a ship, and realised that he had been ‘crimped’ – his senseless form sold to a short-handed and unscrupulous captain.
The Sitka Brave turned out to be a whaler. Crewed mainly by shanghai’d landsmen, the large, square-rigged brig welcomed Williamson as a seasoned mariner, and he soon became fourth mate on a journey which scoured the ironbound coasts of the Bering Straits. While the captain was ashore, wearing a wig to charm the Eskimo ladies of easy virtue who eked out a living in the Alaska settlements, the brig was often left in Williamson’s charge. Eight months later the Sitka Brave returned to ’Frisco for a long-overdue refit, but Williamson chose to remain with her for a second tour of the frozen Northern waters. After this, another visit to inland California ended with a fruitless search for work with his Aunt Amy, who was now somewhere in the high hills, awaiting the Second Coming. He returned to San Francisco, where he signed up with the former captain of the Sitka Brave, now the proud owner of a schooner, for a trading voyage to the South Seas. He was eighteen years old.
Williamson now set up as a small trader in the Caroline Islands, specialising in the sea-cucumbers which are a delicacy for the Chinese palate the world over. He soon acquired considerable expertise in the harvesting and storage of the creatures; but again, as so often before, his fortunes were suddenly overturned. Arrested in his outrigger canoe by the Spanish colonial authorities, he was accused of selling rifles to rebel tribesmen, and thrown into a Manila jail.
Conditions in the prison were appalling, and Williamson later recalled this period behind Spanish bars as the worst in his life. Detainees lived in constant fear of beating, interrogation, or death by garrotting. On one occasion Williamson was punished by being placed in a metal tank which gradually filled with water, and he could only save himself from drowning by desperately working a pump, a torment which was prolonged for several hours. After this ordeal he was forced to work in a chain gang, hobbling to work in the docks each morning holding an iron ball.
Famously, the Englishman’s instinct in a prison is to attempt to escape. Williamson managed to bribe a guard to leave his shackles unlocked, and then, judging his moment, raced past the guards and down an alley. Shots rang out all around him, but he reached his destination, the United States consulate, unharmed. ‘Help me!’ he cried, as he raced in, and the employees rushed to bolt the door behind him. On the other side, the Spanish soldiers were shouting and banging at the door.
The consul who now coolly surveyed the desperate and ragged escapee was Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916), later to win fame as one of America’s leading converts to Islam. Having heard his story, Webb contacted the British consulate, only to learn that the British authorities were so anxious to avoid association with a possible rebel that they would not lift a finger to help. But a visit by the American consul to the docks turned up the English captain of a tramp steamer. Disguised as a drunken sailor, Williamson lurched down to the docks, and was hidden on board until the ship was warped from the quay, and laid a course for the British colony of Hong Kong.
Williamson’s nautical skills were by now sufficiently developed to land him the position of quartermaster on a crack liner, the SS Chusan, heading for Singapore and India. In Bombay he was paid off, and found work in the P and O offices. His spare time was spent wandering the streets of the Gateway to India, where he contemplated, as thousands of others have done before and since, the extremes of the human condition which the city displays to passers-by. All the religions of the world were present, their conspicuous performers side-by-side with hawkers, beggars, scorpion-eaters, and prostitutes in cages. Temples, churches and mosques offered havens of peace, and everywhere there was the mingling of sanctity, destitution and indulgence for which India is famous. The spiritual yearning kindled during his solitary wanderings in the Californian sierra broke surface again, and he took to wondering when God would send him a sign. He was still a teenager, but he had seen much of the world and of humanity. Which of the many roads should he take? Which would lead him most surely towards the Maker of such marvels?
The sign he was praying for came during his next sea-crossing. On the SS Siam, en route to Aden, Williamson found in the small ship’s library a book by Imam Abdullah Quilliam, then the Shaykh al-Islam of the British Isles. He read it again and again, fascinated. Here, it seemed, was the answer to the questions which had been raised in his mind during years of spectacular experience, energised by the earnestness of which the teenage mind is so often capable. Here was a monotheism far closer to his practical, English outlook than the mysteries of Trinity, reinforced by a no-nonsense set of clear rules for worship and the conduct of his life. This was no religion for dreamers or nancy-boys. It was a faith for tough, single-minded men of independent spirit.
On landing at Aden his luck suddenly began to change. An Arab runner brought him a request to pay a visit to the Assistant Resident. The official turned out to be an old friend of his father, and immediately offered him a position with the Aden Constabulary. Discreetly adding two years to his official age, Williamson accepted with alacrity. Here was a chance to earn good money, which at the same time afforded the opportunity to live among Muslims and to see how their faith worked in practice. The work was dangerous, particularly in the harbour district, but Williamson’s skill with his fists and his Service revolver, acquired in the hard school of the Wild West, soon made him an exemplary policeman in the eyes of the authorities.
Less satisfactory was the youth’s inexplicable desire to associate with the natives. Aden was administered from British India, and a stern social apartheid dictated how burra sahibs might behave in the presence of the local population. Williamson visited the mosque and the tomb of Imam Abu Bakr al-Aydarus, as well as making the acquaintance of the sayyids and other religious notables of the Arabian port. Although the ulema advised him to take his time and not rush into an ill-considered conversion, the colonial authorities came to the opinion that the brawny Bristol policeman was Not Quite The Thing. A crisis flared when another constable who had publicly converted and announced that he had memorised much of the Qur’an even before joining the Faith, was deported to India. Williamson was summoned to the Assistant Resident, and to various Army padres, and was given a good talking-to about the Christian duties of all white servants of the Raj. If he did not pull his socks up, he might be deported like his predecessor.
He paid no attention. After a year of study under the courteous and patient ulema of Aden, Williamson wrote passionate letters to his father and his Aunt Amy, inviting them to the truth of Islam. He then travelled to the court of the Sultan of the neighbouring town of Lahj, where he made his formal shahada, and was circumcised using the wire-and-egg method familiar to many converts of the time. Henceforth he was Abdullah Fadhil, a fact which, on his return to Aden, he lost no time in proclaiming to the local European community.
The reaction of the colonial authorities was swift. The Muslim constable was packed off to India, and it was put about that he was suffering from ‘a touch of the sun’. In Bombay, his request to be released from the police was granted, and he was offered a free passage back to England. This he refused, since his heart was set on returning to the Middle East. However he soon found that invisible hands obstructed his plans. No shipmaster heading for Arabia would take him on, thanks to the determined efficiency of the Raj authorities. Yet he eluded official scrutiny by buying the ticket of a Basra-bound horse-dealer, and soon found himself in the great Ottoman city, exploring its bazaars and mosques, and improving his Arabic with every hour that passed.
At the time, Basra was a centre of Protestant missionary activity. This had made no discernable impression on the Muslim population, but had made significant inroads among the local Ottoman Christians. Abdullah Fadhil soon found himself at the centre of religious controversies, with the local Arabs recognising him as their natural spokesman when confronted with Westerners. One of these debates took place in the house of a Basran notable, who had invited Sunnis, Shi‘a, Jews, Sabians and two American missionaries to celebrate a feast day under his roof. One of the Americans turned out to be Samuel Zwemer, probably the best-known missionary in the Middle East in those days. Zwemer demanded a debate, and although the missionary’s fluent Arabic placed him on the linguistic high ground, Abdullah defended, without much difficulty, the Qur’anic doctrine of the absolute Unity of God against Zwemer’s insistence that within God there are three distinct persons. A further point to which Hajji Abdullah adverted was the unity which characterised the Muslim world. Southern Iraq contained both Shi‘i and Sunni Muslims, who rarely intermarried, but who treated one another as brother Muslims; in stark contrast to the deep divisions separating the Christians of Basra, who were divided between Protestant, Jesuit and Chaldean churches, between whom there lurked a bitter and sometimes fatal rivalry.
The new convert was safe from the Christians religiously, but he soon discovered that the long arm of the Raj could reach him even in Ottoman lands. The British Consul ordered him to report to the consulate, with a view to returning him to England, and even managed to pressurise the Ottoman governor into accepting this situation. But the former cowboy and gold-panner was not so easily corralled. He apologised to his hosts, and vanished into the Arabian night.
For the next two years, Abdullah studied Arabic and Islam under the ulema of Kuweit. He also spent time travelling through the flat immensities of the northern Arabian deserts, where he learned to love the camel and the Arabian horse. Buying and selling these animals brought him a modest income, with which he was able to contemplate the next great turning-point of his life: joining the Hajj caravan of 1894.
The point of departure was to be the walled city of Zubair, from which three thousand pilgrims would set out through the territories of the Rashid family, hereditary rulers of Najd. In the hajjis’ bazaar of Zubair he bought seven pack camels, and loaded them with a tent, rugs, cooking pots, coffee, rice, flour, ghee and sugar, enough, he hoped, for the first weeks of the journey, which would bring him to the city of Hail.
The caravan assembled in the month of Shawwal. Iranian and Indian pilgrims had joined the Arabs of Iraq, following the bayraq (caliphal banner) carried by the Amir al-Hajj. This spectacular flag would accompany them throughout the pilgrimage. By day it took the form of a nine-foot red and green banner adorned with the crescent and star and the Shahada. At night it was topped by a great lantern. So long as this great symbol was visible, those lost in crowds during the Hajj, or in the northern wilderness of Arabia, could always make their way back to the Amir’s side.
Discipline on the caravan was strict and efficient. Outriders went ahead to check the road for obstacles or Bedouin raiders, while a second group followed up the rear to gather any items of value left behind by the great mass of humanity as it lumbered slowly across the dry terrain. In the evening, scholars would preach, recite the Qur’an, and sing the praises of the Blessed Prophet.
Abdullah had bought a delul, a swift riding camel, and would often ride up to the standard bearer and the drummer who headed the procession, to chat with the Amir’s entourage. He would then rest and watch in fascination as, for a whole hour, the great caravan moved past. Different languages, sects, and genders were united in fellowship as they travelled along the ancient Darb Zubayda, the road fortified and supplied with wells by the great and pious Abbasid princess a thousand years before.
In the month of Dhu al-Qa‘da the pilgrims reached Hail. In a customary act of hospitality, the local Amir, Muhammad al-Rashid, slaughtered enough camels to feed every member of the caravan. The English pilgrim watched as entire camels were tipped into great cauldrons, and as vast hills of rice were served out to the hungry guests. An even greater feast ensued the following day when the Baghdad caravan arrived, punctual to the hour.
Two weeks later the united procession sighted the magnificent city walls of Madina. The spectacle of the well-tended market gardens, filled with melons, oranges and date palms, was a delight to the tired eyes of the English pilgrim. He left his camel at the Manakha, the caravan-plaza between the Mosque and the Ottoman barracks at al-Anbariyya, found a small top-floor apartment in an ancient house, and then, having performed wudu from an earthenware jug, entered the Mosque.
Inside, past the Bab al-Salam, all was peace. The Garden of Fatima, the doves, the rows of quiet pillars, each with its name and venerable associations, formed a fitting environment for the rites of visitation to the presence of the Holy Prophet. All around, too, were scholars; for in those times the mosques of Mecca and Madina were great universities, and pilgrims sojourning in the holy cities were able not only to worship, but to attend classes on every subject of law, doctrine, and scriptural interpretation. Few indeed were the ulema who did not hope to retire to Madina; and those who did, including many of the greatest Ottoman scholars, found corners in the capacious mosque where they would expound the classical texts to an immense variety of students and pilgrims who had come from every land of Islam.
The time for Hajj was fast approaching; and the young Abdullah was soon obliged to tear himself away from the solemn, pious circles of sages, in order to learn the secrets of the ihram garment, which was all that would protect him from the blazing sun and bitter nights for the next few weeks. His caravan took the road past Quba’ and Dhu al-Hulayfa, towards the desert city in the south. From the basalt hills that crowded around the Mecca road now resounded the ancient cry, Labbayk, Allahumma, labbayk!
The suburb of Kudayy, then the City itself. The great mosque of those days had almost no exterior, with houses being built up against its walls, and the effect of entering was that of leaving narrow shaded streets and bazaars suddenly to be dazzled by the sun which blazed down upon the Ka‘ba itself. Marble paths led to the House through the gravel, around which were Sinan’s famous arcades and the ancient ashlar minarets. Following his mutawwif, Abdullah made the seven rounds, and then prayed at the maqams of Ibrahim, Isma‘il, and Muhammad, invoking peace upon all of them. He entered the Pavilion of Zamzam, and watched as amphorae were lowered by ropes into the cool depths by busy attendants. Finally came the rite of Sa‘y, the sevenfold procession along the open street, flanked with clothiers and bookshops, that stretched in a straight line between the little hills of Safa and Marwa.
Abdullah was performing the Qiran type of pilgrimage, and after this first Umra he left with his comrades for Mina, pausing to pay his respects at the tomb of Sayyida Khadija. The Day of Tarwiya was spent in the great city of tents at Mina. Before the advent of motor transport this was a beehive of the recitation of the Qur’an and religious poetry, with each tent resonating with the sonorities proper to some corner of the Islamic domains. But after the Fajr prayer, the multitudes left for Arafat, some with pack-animals, while others struggled along with sacks, babies and other baggage. The traditional Namira sermon was delivered in the Caliph’s name, and the hajjis held out their hands in prayer, until the voice of a cannon and the burst of fireworks overhead announced that the sun had set and the multitudes could make their way towards Muzdalifa. Abdullah himself, with typical tenacity, had insisted on spending the day at the summit of the Mount of Mercy beside the great white pillar, and he spent some anxious minutes trying to locate his Mutawwif’s flag in the huge crowds when he descended once more to the plain, which was packed with praying, weeping, jostling pilgrims. Not far away, equal to the other pilgrims in their white ihram, and seemingly unprotected by guards, rode the Sherif of Mecca and the Turkish governor.
The pebbles of Muzdalifa were flung at the Devil’s Pillars, animals were sacrificed, and another tawaf and procession along the Street of Running brought Abdullah the pilgrim’s crown. Twice again, in 1898 and 1936, would he repeat the rites of Hajj, each visit bringing a new range of experiences and reflections; but it was his first stay in the grand and ancient City which supplied the most profound and extraordinary memories of his life, which he would cherish and revisit in his old age.
Old age lay far ahead, however; and the return to Zubair provided the Hajji with ample time to consider his next move. He realised that his aspirations had been more radically changed by the pilgrimage than by the experience of conversion itself. Before his Hajj he had cherished the hope of returning to America and resuming the cowboy’s life he had once loved so passionately. Grown to man’s estate, he had felt confident that his vigour and independence would allow him to carve out a substantial ranch, where he could employ cowboys of his own. But the visit to the Ka‘ba seemed to have instilled a different set of priorities. He decided to settle down in the East, trusting to Allah to provide. And in due course, He did.
Hajji Abdullah became a trader along the Kuwait coastline, up the mighty Shatt al-Arab and into the Iraqi hinterland. On occasion he would take prime Arab horses to Bombay, to be sold to the British cavalry. His growing business connections allowed him access to European goods never before seen in Iraq. His arrival in the marketplace of Zubair on a penny-farthing provoked a riot, as terrified Arabs prayed for deliverance from the ‘Jinn of the Big and Little Wheel’, while others drew their daggers and attempted to pounce on the young man in Arab robes who was riding about on it, and must certainly be Shaytan himself. On another occasion he brought consternation to a desert encampment when he produced a phonograph and played a Qur’anic recording which he had made with a mullah of Zubair – possibly the first recording ever made in Iraq. An evening’s explanation of the box’s nature and purpose could not persuade the sons of the desert that the box was not filled with jinn, who had been trapped inside by some magical process.
He spent a total of twelve years trading in horses, amassing a small financial competence which allowed him to acquire a medium-sized dhow. Never able to ignore the salt in his veins, he embarked on a series of expeditions ranging from Bushehr to the Trucial Coast (now known as the United Arab Emirates), and, inevitably, he came once again to the attention of the British authorities. An official report described him as ‘one William Richard Williamson professing to be Haji Abdullah Fadhil, a Moslem Arab’. But imperial suspiciousness had faded; and the British Muslim mariner enjoyed generally cordial relations with the British gunboats which periodically stopped and searched local vessels, looking for rifles, slaves, and other contraband.
It was during this period that the Hajji traded in his camelhair tent for a comfortable house in Basra, and his mind slowly turned to thoughts of matrimony. Until that time he had always brushed the subject aside with the laughing observation that ‘a day’s hunting with the hawk is worth many women’, but he now sought out the hand of a young Zubair girl, breaking with local custom by insisting on seeing her face before agreeing to the match. Married life suited him well, and he later acquired a wife in Baghdad as well, together with a large brood of children.
The Gulf was at the time one of the world’s most productive pearl-fisheries. Modern Arabian absentmindedness about pollution, reinforced by the depredations of a giant starfish, have drastically reduced the oyster population of those waters; but in the Hajji’s time it was a perennial temptation for a man blessed with a good dhow and a willing crew to hire a team of divers and head for the pearl banks, hoping and praying for a fortune.
The favoured season was known as al-Ghaws al-Kabir, the ‘Great Dive’, extending from May until mid-September. It is a time of sandy winds and intense heat; indeed, to this day the waters of the Bahr al-Banat off Qatar register the highest sea temperatures recorded anywhere in the world. The pearl banks, which were informally allocated to the tribes of neighbouring coasts, were at their most fruitful off Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial Coast. Halhul Island, sixty miles east of Qatar, is surrounded by beds which, in their heyday, gave birth to pearls which came to adorn the crowns of many Indian and European monarchs.
In Hajji Abdullah’s time the Great Dive would involve approximately four thousand vessels. The excitement was enhanced by the knowledge that the whole enterprise was, in essence, a form of gambling. Many were the ships which returned to port empty-handed; but the discovery of a large pink or white pearl would bring riches to the entire crew, from the nakhooda (captain) to the lowliest cook on board. To Abdullah, it was all reminiscent of his gold-panning days, and he joined in the preparations with relish.
Thus did the English Hajji set sail in his forty-ton dhow, the Fath al-Khayr. He had laid in ample stores, although he knew that the pearling ships could remain at sea indefinitely. Food could be obtained from the sea itself, given that the waters of the Gulf teem with delicious fish; and water could be had by sending divers down to fill skins from the numerous underwater freshwater springs whose locations had been known for generations.
The dive would begin each day at dawn, after prayers. The divers would rhythmically fill and empty their lungs, utter a short prayer, close their noses with ivory pegs, expel their remaining breath, and then, clutching a lead weight and a basket, jump into the sea. The best could work at a depth of twenty fathoms, filling the basket with oysters before being pulled to the surface after a couple of busy minutes beneath the waves, always on the alert for sharks, barracudas, or venomous sea-snakes. The work would continue all day, until, after the Maghrib prayers the crew would eat, and then prise open the oysters in search of the gleaming pearls.
The Hajji never struck it rich on the pearl-beds. Accepting the decree of Allah, he instead travelled to Damascus, where he spent two precious years in the city’s madrasas improving his knowledge of Islam. On his return, he sold his dhow and found work with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which needed qualified guides for its prospecting activities, once it was rumoured that there was some possibility of oil being present in the region. In 1935, he led the company’s negotiations with the ruler of Abu Dhabi, thereby heralding the arrival of the oil industry. His advice was also sought out by Imperial Airways, which needed to survey the coast for emergency landing areas suitable for the flying boats which then plied its England-India route.
The Hajji left the oil business in 1937, and retired to a small house in the village of Kut al-Hajjaj near Basra. Here he raised children and grandchildren, amazing them with tales of his remarkable life. For fifteen years thereafter, until his health failed him, he was a regular sight at the Ashar Mosque in Basra, and seldom missed the opportunity of attending a well-delivered class on religion. Back at home, he would sit with his amber and black prayer beads, his collection of religious books, and – a lifetime indulgence – a set of penny-Westerns with titles like Two-Gun Pete and Mayhem in Dodge City. Nothng could be more remote from the quiet desk-bound career which his father had planned for him on a distant Victorian afternoon; but the Hajji, whose path through life demonstrated so colourfully the universal appeal of Islam and the resilience of his native temper, would not have had it any other way. Loved by his large and vigorous family, he passed into the mercy of his Lord with a heart as serene as it was full of years.
This article also appeared in Seasons, the Zaytuna Journal.
Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, writing as Professor H. M. Léon, M.A., D.C.L., F.S.P., etc. (1916)
In the Numismatical department of the British Museum there is preserved a curious and interesting gold coin, over twelve hundred and thirty years old, on which is inscribed in unmistakable Arabic characters the declaration that ‘There is no Deity but Allah, The One, Without Equal, and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah,’ and the further declaration, engraved around the margin of the coin, ‘Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, Who sent him (Muhammad) with the doctrine and the true faith to prevail over every other religion.’
This coin was engraved, struck and issued by Offa, King of Mercia, or ‘Middle England’ (an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, which extended on both sides of the River Trent from the North Sea to Wales), from 757 to 796. The name, originally restricted to the district around Tamworth and Lichfield and the Upper Trent valley, refers to a ‘march,’ a moorland, or frontier, which had to be defended against hostile neighbours; in this case such ‘alien enemies’ being the Welsh, the ‘Ancient Britons,’ who for centuries contended with the Anglo-Saxon invaders for supremacy in that region.
A number of smaller states were gradually incorporated with Mercia, the first settlements being probably made during the second half of the sixth century of the Christian era. The kingdom was, however, of but little importance until the accession of Penda in 626 (C.D.), who rapidly, by his vigorous policy and equitable rule, attained a supremacy over the other kingdoms, particularly after his victory at Hatfield (or Heathfield) over Edin, the powerful Deiran king, in 633. In 655, however, Penda was defeated and slain at Winwaed by Oswin, king of Northumbria,  and for the time being Mercian supremacy was terminated. Wulfhere, the nephew of Penda (659-675), pushed back the Northumbrians, and extended the boundary of the kingdom southward to the Thames. Wulfhere was the first monarch of this kingdom to renounce paganism and embrace Christianity. One of his successors, Ethelbald (716-757), further spread the boundaries of Mercia, by making large encroachments upon the territories of adjoining states. But the mightiest kings of Mercia were Offa (757-796) and Cenwulf (806-819). After the death of the latter monarch the kingdom rapidly declined, and in 828 it was merged in the realm of Egbert, king of Wessex.
King Offa, in whose reign the interesting coin we have under consideration was struck, succeeded to the throne of Mercia in 757, he being the ninth monarch of that kingdom in succession from Wybba, the father of Penda (to whom allusion has previously been made). He found the kingdom much weakened, and probably the early years of his reign were occupied by him in restoring rule and order within his territory. In 771 he began a career of conquest: he defeated the army of the King of Kent in 775, and fought successfully against the West Saxons (779) and the Welsh. As a protection against these lattter marauders he constructed a great earthwork which extended along the whole border between England and Wales, from the north coast of Flintshire, on the estuary of the Dee, through Denbigh, Montgomery, Salop, Radnor and Hereford, into Gloucestershire, where its southern termination is near the mouth of the Wye. Portions of this rampart still stand to a considerable height, though much of it has been almost obliterated by the ravages of time, the elements, and human beings. A vast amount of labour must have been expended to construct this work. Nearly parallel with it, some two miles to the eastern or English side, is an inferior rampart termed Watt’s Dyke, which was also constructed by Offa and completed about 765 (C.D.). It is conjectured that the space between the two dykes may have been a species of neutral zone for trading purposes.
Offa had cordial relations with the Roman See. Two Legates, George and Theophylact, visited Mercia, and were received by the king at a court held at Lichfield in the year 786. The report which these ecclesiastics made to Pope Adrian I, attributed to 787, is printed in Birch’s Cart. Sax., No. 250. In this document there is direct reference to the vow made by King Offa to Pope Adrian I, through the Legates to send 365 mancuses to the ‘Apostle of God’ (i.e. the Pope), ‘as many as there are days in the year, as alms for the poor, and for the manufacture of lights for the church.’
This donation by Offa appears to have been the origin of what has ever since been known as ‘Peter’s Pence,’ and won from the Pope the grant of a Mercian archbishopric.
The importance of this grant by Offa will be hereafter seen, when we come to more particularly discuss the origin of the interesting coin we have now under consideration.
The coinage of the kingdom of Mercia appears to have been the most important of all the coin-striking kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The earliest Mercian coins are those which belong to the sceat class. These were usually of silver,  and weighed from eight to twenty grains.
These early Mercian sceattae bear the names of Penda and Ethelred. The coins of the former are of purely Roman types, but those of the latter show a mixture of Roman and native design, thus pointing to a somewhat later date. The inscriptions on Penda’s coins are in Roman and Runic characters, but those of Ethelred are in Runes (the ancient alphabet of the heathen Northmen) only.  The name of the king in each instance is given on the ‘reverse’ side of the coin.
From the death of Ethelred (704) to the reign of Offa (757-796), a period of over half a century, there are no numismatic records of Mercia.
Offa did not strike any sceattae, and his coins mainly consist of the ‘penny’ class. They were of silver and weighed from eighteen to twenty grains. It is believed that Offa was the first monarch to introduce the ‘penny’ into England. The form of this coin, but not the type, was derived from thedenier of Charlemagne. 
Offa’s coins of the ‘Penny series’ are remarkable for their artistic excellence both in execution and design, and in this respect far surpass the issues of many succeeding rulers. The types are not only numerous but varied. They can be classified into two series: those bearing the bust of the king, and those in which the bust is absent. The bust, when present, is original in character, and exhibits undoubted attempts at portraiture. The designs on the reverse of the coins are decidedly ornamental, and comprise for the most part elaborately formed crosses or floral patterns. The busts upon the coins are well formed, and the head bears a life-like expression, the hair being usually arranged in close curls or plaits, but in some of the specimens it is loose and flowing. The inscriptions are generally in Roman characters, but here and there traces of Runes survive. There are no indications of mint-names, but we may conclude that the principal Mercian mint was in London. The coins themselves, however, prove that after the defeat of the King of Kent and his army in 775, at Otford (about three miles north of Sevenoaks and eight-and-a-half miles north-north-west of Tunbridge, Kent), when Kent became a fief of Mercia, Offa made use of the Canterbury mint. 
The remarkable gold coin of Offa bearing the Arabic inscription has furnished much food for reflection amongst the students of numismatics, and it is generally conceded that it is one of the rarest and most remarkable coins in the world.
Many treatises and papers have been written upon the coin and its origin, and numerous theories propounded with regard to the same.
So far back as November 25, 1841, a paper by Monsieur Adrian de Longperier, of Paris, was read before the Numismatic Society of London  upon this very coin. Mr. J. Y. Akerman, in a paper read before the same society on March 24, 1842, and printed in the Numismatic Chronicle, vol. v. pp. 122-124, also considers the raison d’être of this coin being struck. It is referred to by Mr. Herbert A. Grueber, F.S.A., in his Handbook of theCoins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum (published 1899).  The coin is fully described in Kenyon’s Gold Coins of England, 1884, pp.11, 12, and is illustrated in the frontispiece to that work, Fig. 13. It was made the subject of an exhaustive and extremely interesting article by Mr. P.W.P. Carlyon-Britton, F.S.A., President of the British Numismatic Society,  and as recently as 1914 was the subject of an excellent paper by Mr. J. Allan, M.A. (British Museum Staff, Coin Department). 
The theories put forward by the above learned gentlemen, all of them well versed in numismatical lore, and by some other individuals, whose names are not so well known to fame, may be classified under the following heads:-
(1) That Offa had become a convert to Islam, and took this means of declaring his acceptance of that Faith by stamping the Kalima, or Islamic Confession of Faith, upon his coins.
(2) That, without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, possibly merely regarding them as so much ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck off, merely adding, in order to identify himself with the same, the words ‘Offa Rex’ stamped also thereupon.
(3) That, as many pilgrims proceeded from England to the ‘Holy Land’ of Palestine, then under the dominion of the Muslims, this coin was struck, bearing this Arabic inscription in order that it might be the more readily accepted by the Muslims, and thus facilitate the journey of the pilgrims are assist them in trading (which may of them did) in those lands.
(4) That the piece was not a coin intended for general circulation, but was struck specially as a mancus and as one of the quota of 365 gold pieces which Offa had vowed to pay annually to the Pope of Rome.
Undoubtedly something can be said in support of each of these theories, but in these matters one must carefully consider all the circumstances of the time and weigh the pros and cons upon the subject. The first theory, namely that Offa had accepted Islam, appears to me to be absolutely untenable. At that time Islam was naught more to the Western world than the absolutely living embodiment of ‘Anti-Christ.’ Its tenets were not only not understood, but were wickedly misrepresented, and it was this wilful misrepresentation of ‘The Faith Most Excellent,’ and the colossal ignorance and superstition of the mob, that made the series of crusades possible. Even to-day, twelve centuries after the passing away of Offa, the most profound ignorance exists among the masses as to Islamic doctrines and ethics. Is it then at all probable that Offa, who had petitioned the Pope to grant him an Archbishop for his kingdom, and had voluntarily vowed to pay 365 golden pieces each year to that pontiff (and we know from authentic documents and records that up to his death such tribute was regularly paid by Offa), and had received with open arms and the greatest honour the legates from Rome, should become a Muslim? At that period in the world’s history for Offa to have done so would have meant for him, not merely the loss of his throne, but probably his life also.
Most of his other coins are stamped with a cross and bear his bust! That is not very Islamic.
True that the cross may have been placed upon the coins, and deeply indented therein, so as to enable the same to have been the more easily divided into halves or quarters; but the cross is there, and we cannot conceive any ‘True-Believer’ placing such an emblem upon any coin issued by him.
Furthermore, after the conquest of Kent by Offa in 775, and the adding of that territory to his kingdom, we find the Archbishops of Canterbury acknowledging Offa (and subsequently his successor Coenwulf) as their overlord. This is amply proved by one of the coins struck by the Archbishops of Canterbury (who possessed the right of minting money) at that period.
Jaenberht (766-790) is the first Archbishop of Canterbury of whom coins are known. During his episcopate Offa conquered Kent, and as Jaenberht’s coins were struck under his supremacy, they always bear that ruler’s name on the reverse. The obverse types are a star, a cross potent or pommée, or the name of the archbishop in three lines only. The reverse is always the same with one exception, namely, with Offa’s name at the end of a cruciform object.
The next archbishop was Aethelheard (793-805); he was elected to that office in 791, but did not receive the pallium until 793. During this interval he appears to have struck coins with the title of Pontifex instead of Archiepiscopus. His early coins bear the name of Offa; but those struck after 796 that of Coenwulf. Those with the name of Offa have for obverse and reverse types:- a star, a cross, the Christian monogram, etc. 
Is it likely that these archbishops, whose territory had been conquered by Offa, who had set up a rival archbishop to them in his own dominions, would have put the name of Offa on their coins if he had accepted Islam? Rather would we not have seen them denouncing him as ‘an infidel,’ and rousing the populace in revolt against him and his rule?
The first theory therefore appears to be absolutely untenable.
Let us now consider the theory that without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, and possibly regarding them as pure ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck, adding the words ‘Offa Rex’ to the original superscription.
Mons. Adrian de Longperier inclines to this view. He says:-
‘However strange this piece may appear, it is yet susceptible of explanation. The faults of orthography to be traced in the legend, which is reversed in its position with the words OFFA REX, show that it is a copy of a Mussulman dinar, by a workman unacquainted with the Arabic language, and indeed ignorant of the fact of these characters belonging to any language whatsoever. Examples of a similar description of coin were put in circulation by the French bishops of Agde and Montpellier in the thirteenth century. In the present case, we cannot see an intentional adoption of a foreign language, as on the coins of Russia, Spain, Sicily, Georgia, and even Germany. On the moneys of Vassili Dimitrivitch, of Dmitri Imamvicht, on that of the Norman princes William and Roger, and the Mozarbic dinar of Alfonsus, we find Arabic legends appropriated to the very princes by whose commands they were struck. One silver piece of Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, bears on the reverse the name of the Khalif Moktader Billah-ben-Muhammad; but this is merely the result of an association between those princes.’ 
In support of the views of Mons. A. de Longperier, it is worth noticing that in later times there were issued by Christian princes coins having inscriptions partly in Roman and partly in Arabic characters, and some were issued by Crusaders with entirely Arabic inscriptions.
In Mr Carlyon-Britton’s paper upon this coin  he quotes five specimens of this description of coin, namely:-
(1) A gold coin of Alfonzo VIII, of Castile (1158-1214, Christian date), the Arabic inscription on the obverse side whereof reads thus: El Imam al- bay’ata el mesiahyata el Baba ALF. Bismiel ab Walibu wa errooh el kaddûs Allahoo wahido mam aman wa’ tamada yekdon salminan. The translation whereof if: ‘The pontiff of the church of the Messiah, the Pope. ALF. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’
The reverse side of the coin bears an inscription in Arabic of which the following is a translation: ‘Prince of the Catholics (Amir el Katolikin), Alfonso, son of Sancho. May God help and protect him.’ Around the margin of the coin we find this legend also in Arabic characters: ‘This dinar was struck in the city of Toledo, 1235 of (the era of) Assafar.’
The era of Assafar dates from 30 B.C., that being the date of the submission of Spain to the Romans, consequently the coin in question dates from the year 1197 of the Christian era.
The other coins exhibited by Mr Carlyon-Britton are:
(2) Silver ‘staurat’ drachma struck at St. Jean d’Acre about 1251 under Louis IX (1251-1259).
(3) Gold besant struck by Crusaders at St. Jean d’Acre in 1251.
(4) Early imitation by Crusaders of dinars of El Amir (Fatimite Khaliph from 1101 to 1130 C.D. = 494 to 524 Hegira), and attributed to the regency of Bohemund I of Antioch under Tancred.
(5) Imitation of a dinar of about the time of Hisham II (Hegira 400-403), independent Amawu Caliph in Spain. Found in Spain.
Of the above five coins, three of them (1 to 3) contain Christian inscriptions written in Arabic language and character; the latter two (4 and 5) are written in corrupted Arabic. No.4 has a small Maltese cross in the centre of the reverse side.
The third suggestion, namely that the coin was coined by Offa for the use of such of his subjects as made the pilgrimage to the ‘Holy Land,’ does not seem very probable. The number of such pilgrims, of necessity, would be limited to a comparative few, and the monarchs of those days, even if they were as pious as King Offa is stated to have been, were not distinguished for any particular solicitude for the comfort of their subjects. The majority of these rulers would rather grind out from their subjects the uttermost farthing they could extort, rather than go to the expense and trouble of providing special coins for their use while on a pilgrimage.
There remains, therefore, but the fourth proposition to consider, and here we find ourselves on much surer ground. We have already seen that Offa had made a vow that he would pay 365 gold pieces every year to the Pope, and that probably, in consideration of the faithful fulfilment of that vow, the occupant of the pontifical throne had bestowed an Archbishop upon Mercia. The exact date of Offa’s vow we do not know, but it may fairly be presumed that he made it to the two papal legates, George and Theophylact, who visited him in 786.
The date upon Offa’s coin now becomes extremely important.
The coin bears the date Hegira 157, equivalent to 774 of the Christian era. This date does not, however, prove that Offa’s coin was struck in that year (twelve years prior to the visit of the legates); but as the piece is manifestly a copy of an Arabic dinar of that year (Hegira 157), made by a person who did not understand Arabic (otherwise, why did he place the words OFFA REX in an inverted position to the Arabic characters), all that the date, 157 Hegira, demonstrates is that Offa’s coin was struck in, or, what is more probable, subsequently to the year 774 of the Christian era.
What appears to us to be the most probable origin of this coin is that when Offa made his vow, the question arose as to what was to be the size and weight of each of the 365 ‘gold pieces.’ In reply to such a query on the part of the king, who would naturally desire to know the exact extent of his liability, what would be more natural for one of the legates to hand Offa a coin, and say, ‘365 gold pieces like this’?
Arabic coins were well known at Rome. Countless pilgrims from the Holy Land passed through the Eternal City on their return from Palestine, many of whom laid offerings at the foot of the papal throne. It is fair to presume that amongst such offerings so made, that Arabic gold coins, then in free circulation in Syria, would be included, and high ecclesiastics, such as the legates, would easily become possessed of the same, and might preserve them as curiosities; or it may have been that, seeing that the Arab dinar was of a known weight and quality of gold, one of those coins was especially brought to England to fix thereby the standard and quality of ‘the gold pieces’ to be paid as tribute by Offa.
If such was the case, and Offa so received a sample coin, the Mercian king, according to the almost slavish superstitions of that period, would naturally desire to scrupulously perform his vow to the very letter, and to accomplish this object he would have the sample coin faithfully imitated and struck in his own mint, and stamped in addition with his own name and title, ‘OFFA REX,’ in order that no question could thereafter arise as to the exact fulfilment of the vow in regard to the species of coin promised, or as to the identity of the sender of the contribution. That Offa did keep his promise is certain, for in the papal letter sent in 798 by Pope Leo III to Offa’s successor, King Coenwulf, requesting that monarch to continue the donation, it is distinctly so stated.  It may, therefore, be reasonably presumed that Offa’s coin was struck about 787, and was one of the 365 gold pieces sent to Rome in pursuance of his vow.
It is significant to know that this particular coin – so far as we know, the only one now extant – was purchased by a certain Duke de Blacas, an enthusiastic numismatist, in Rome, about a century ago.
No similar coin has been found in England. All this goes to show that the coin was not struck to be put into circulation in England, but was coined for a special purpose, such probably being the payment by Offa of the promised tribute to Rome.
If such be the case, then what bitter irony, unconsciously, accompanied the gift! One of the claims of the Head of the Catholic Christian is that he is the ‘Apostle of God,’ and the ‘Vice-regent of Christ upon the earth.’ Yet, here to his teeth his faithful servitor, Offa, sends as a tribute 365 golden coins, on each of which is plainly stated: There is but One Allah, the Only God, the True, and Muhammad is His Prophet!
Well might Cowper write the lines:
‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’!
 This was the period when England was divided into what was termed the Heptarchy, or seven kingdoms. These were: Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. So far as is known, only the first five kingdoms named above struck coins.
 The origin of the Runic writing has been a matter of prolonged controversy. The runes were formerly supposed to have originated out of the Phoenician or the Latin letters, but it is now generally agreed that they must have been derived, about the sixth century B.C., from an early form of the Greek alphabet which was employed by the Milesian traders and colonists of Olbia and other towns on the northern shores of the Black Sea. The Runic alphabet (the oldest of which contained 24 runes, divided into 3 families, each of 8 runes) is called the Futhorc, from the first six letters thereof, f, u, th, o, r, c. The old Norse word run originally meant ‘secret’ or magical. The oldest extant Runic records probably date from the first century of the Christian era, the latest from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century; the greater number are older than the eleventh century, when, after the conversion of the Scandinavians to Christianity, the Futhorc was superseded by the Latin alphabet.
 The letters £ s. d., which are used as abbreviations for pounds, shillings, and pence, owe their origin to certain Latin words used to denote coins. Thus £ signifies libra, a pound sterling; s signifies solidus. The Romans divided their coinage thus: one libra equaled 20 solidi, each solidus being equal to 12denarii (the denarius thus being, as the modern English penny is to-day, the 240th part of the libra or pound); d signifies denarius, a penny, a word derived from the Latin deni, ten each, from decem, ten. The denarius was the principal silver coin of ancient Rome. The earliest money of Rome was of bronze, and the standard was the as. In 269 B.C. the as was fixed by law at a low valuation, and a silver coin was introduced, with the denarius = to 10 asses, and thequinarius = to 5 asses. The penny (Anglo-Saxon, penig; German, Pfenning, Pfennig) probably derives its name from the Middle Latin word panna, itself derived from the Latina, patina, a shallow bowl. After the sceattae the penny is the most ancient of the English coins, and was the only one current among the Anglo-Saxons. It is first mentioned in the laws of Ina, King of the West Saxons, about the close of the seventh century of the Christian era. It was at that time a silver coin, and weighed about 22.5 troy grains. Halfpence and farthings were not coined in England until the reign of Edward I., but the practice previously prevailed of so deeply indenting the penny with a cross mark that the coin could be easily broken into two or four parts as was required. In 1672 an authorized copper coinage was established in England and halfpence and farthings were struck in copper. The penny was not introduced until 1797, and at the same period the coinage of two-penny pieces was begun; but these latter being found unsuitable were withdrawn. The penny of the present bronze coinage is of only half the value of the old copper coin.
 In Anglo-Saxon times mints for the coinage of money existed at London, Canterbury, and Malmesbury, and coins are extant bearing the names Dorovernis (Canterbury), Londuni(London), and Mealldenus (Malmesbury), showing the place where they were struck.
Lecture by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Effendi.
On Sunday evening last His Honour the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles (Abdullah Quilliam Effendi) delivered a lecture at the Liverpool Mosque, his subject being ‘The Jews Under Christian Rule.’ Brother J. Bokhari Jeffery presided, and there was a large attendance.
The Sheikh in the course of his lecture said:- During the Muslim occupation of Spain the Jew shared every advantage with the Mussulman, but when the Christian arms had become victorious and the Moors had retired across the Straits of Gibraltar, the Jew found he had changed masters, and certainly not to his advantage. To avoid persecution many Jews nominally professed Christianity, albeit they remained Jews at heart, and in secret clung to their ancient faith. To search out and punish these pseudo-Christians that most dreadful engine of torture and oppression, the Inquisition, was devised. The horrors of that dreadful tribunal are almost beyond human language to portray, and no human fancy could imagine more terrible persecution and instruments of torture than those devised and used by the Christian monks under Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor.
At first the situation of the Jews who had not apostatised was preferable to that of those who had professed Christianity, but the flame of fanaticism, diligently fanned by the priests, suddenly burst into a furious blaze, and in the year 1492 a decree was passed that all Jews must leave Spain. Queen Isabella was completely under priestly influence, and readily assented to the scheme, but Ferdinand, her husband, through motive of policy rather than humanity, long hesitated to put the decree in force. When at last, the dread edict had gone forth, Arbanel, a Jew of the highest position and worth, a man regarded almost as a second Daniel for his authority among his own race, and the respect he had gained from the oppressors of his nation, managed, like Esther of old, to penetrate into the presence of the sovereigns, and cast himself at their feet before the royal throne. With all the eloquence he could command, he implored that his people might not be driven forth from the land they had so long occupied, and offered a bribe of 300,000 ducats, that the decree might be recalled. Ferdinand appeared to be relenting, when suddenly into the royal presence strode the gloomy form of Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor, clothed in his monkish robe, and wearing a crucifix. Giving a contemptuous glance at the Jew, and a haughty look at the abashed rulers, he held aloft the crucifix, with its figure of Christ attached thereto. ‘Judas Iscariot,’ he said, in tones of biting sarcasm, ‘sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, but the price has gone up, and I see you are ready to sell him for 300,000. Here he is; take him and sell him.’ The appeal to religious bigotry was successful, the Jew’s offer was refused, and the stern edict against the children of Israel remained.
The story of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is one of the most touching episodes in the history of a race. The Hebrews, under Muslim rule, had come to love Spain as a second Canaan, and even after enduring years of persecution under their Christian rulers, they still loved its soil and were loath to leave it. They visited the graves where the corpses of their ancestors were mouldering in the dust, and with tears and lamentations bade them a long farewell. Sometimes they removed the tombstones, and carried them with them in their wanderings, so that the hand of the Gentile should not put them to a base use after their departure.
Along every highway which led to the coast proceeded a melancholy procession of Jewish people, with downcast eyes and heavy hearts, bearing with them such portion of their worldly wealth as they were able to carry away. Bands of Christian robbers lurked along the roads to attack them and deprive them of such gold or other valuables as they possessed, and many who had been among the richest in the land reached the seaports little better than penniless wanderers. No Christian nation would receive them, and alone among the nations of the world the Ottoman Turk welcomed them and gave them shelter and protection.
In Portugal also the Jews reaped their full measure of woe. Not only was the order given for the expulsion of the Jews, but, to add to their bitterness, their children were taken from them to be baptised and brought up as Christians, until at last the Hebrew mothers in despair cast their babes into rivers and wells, and then slew themselves.
The stories of massacres of the Jews in both Spain and Portugal seem almost incredible, but are, alas, too true. The Israelite historian Graetz, in his great work of eleven volumes, ‘Geschichte des Judenthums,’ thus portrays the sufferings of his race: ‘Spain was full of the corruption of dungeons and the crackling pyres of innocent Jews. A lamentation went through the beautiful land which might pierce bone and marrow; but the sovereigns held back the arm of the pitiful.’
‘Let the Christian, if he dare, attempt to justify such conduct,’ exclaimed the Sheikh in his peroration. ‘The garments of the Christian are red with the blood of the martyred Jew, but, praise be to God, the robes of the Muslim are spotless as the new fallen snow in this particular.’