Fight for reform as ‘Ain’t No Muslim’ trends
This weekend, a cry that a violent man ‘ain’t no Muslim’ went viral, while prominent Muslims announced their commitment to reforming their faith. Can moderates take ownership of Islam?
A pool of blood lay just inside Leytonstone underground station on Saturday night. A man had severe stab wounds to his neck; another had been stabbed in the chin.
As a perpetrator who had declared ‘this is for Syria’ and ‘all of your blood will be spilled’ lay on the floor, a bystander issued a defiant cry. ‘You ain’t no Muslim, bruv. You’re not a Muslim, bruv. You ain’t no Muslim.’ Soon, #YouAintNoMuslimBruv was trending on social media.
The day before, 14 Muslim scholars from around the world had taken a step designed to ensure his words ring true. The American Islamic Forum for Democracy had set up an initiative called the Muslim Reform Movement.
In the movement’s founding document, they declared: ‘We are Muslims who live in the 21st century. We stand for a respectful, merciful and inclusive interpretation of Islam.’ They affirmed their support for ‘universal peace, love and compassion’, ‘human rights and justice’, including equal rights for women, and ‘secular governance, democracy and liberty’. They added that they were ‘in a battle for the soul of Islam’.
Their most significant concern is the doctrine of ‘violent jihad’, practiced by groups such as Daesh, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. It is usually justified through the Wahhabi or Salafist doctrines followed by some Sunnis and promotes a holy war against perceived non-believers, mostly meaning other Muslims.
Reformers also face opposition from other Islamists. Groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir call for an Islamic caliphate, with laws based on Sharia (Islamic religious law), to overthrow democracy by peaceful means.
Islam is 1,400 years old, and the debate has led to comparisons with the Reformation which Christianity underwent in the 16th century. German theologian Martin Luther sparked a schism in the church when he proposed the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’. Over the following century, his challenge to dominant Catholic theology inspired the establishment of various forms of Protestantism.
Reformers should be optimistic, say some: Islamism’s sectarian and backward-looking ideology cannot survive contact with the modern world. Most Muslims, like anyone else, want to enjoy the benefits of a tolerant, decent world; if empowered, they will be able to defeat the sectarian and backward-looking Islamists.
Don’t be so sure, say others — the fundamentalists have a tight grip on power. Saudi Arabia exports Wahhabi theology to mosques and madrassas around the world, while their primary counter-balance is the theocracy of Iran. Talk of a ‘reformation’ is a vague, anachronistic cliché — and given the wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries, not even a welcome one.
- Do you support the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv?
- Should Islam’s reformers be optimistic?
- Write down five questions which you would like to ask the people who set up the Muslim Reform Movement.
- Write a discussion between an Islamic reformer and an Islamist. What would they disagree on? If possible, research the views of two real-life people.
Some People Say...
“Religious doctrine is unchangeable.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m not a Muslim — can I just ignore this?
- Debates within Islam affect us all, with the impact being felt around the world. The current struggles in the Middle East are contributing to the loss of life there and a refugee crisis which is driving people out of the region. That migration has the potential to change the ethnic and social make-up of society in many countries.
- Is Islam common in the UK?
- According to the 2011 census, 2.7 million British people were Muslims — around 5% of the population. One poll for Ipsos Mori in 2014 suggested that British people overestimate this figure, believing it to be 21%. Muslim populations, like those of other minority groups, tend to be quite concentrated. In Leytonstone, where Saturday’s attack took place, 22.3% of the population were Muslims in 2011.
- Jihadists killed 707 people in just three weeks last month, according to BBC monitoring. 546 of them were killed by Daesh and its affiliates; 75 by Nigerian group Boko Haram; and at least 90 by Somali group Al-Shabaab.
- David Cameron said last week the government would call Isil or Islamic State ‘Daesh’, which the BBC says is an acronym in Arabic; the group reportedly hates it because it can be taken as ‘bigots’.
- Wahhabi or Salafist
- Both based closely on the practices of the earliest followers of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, but having different origins. Wahhabism, founded in the 18th century, rejects modern innovations; 19th-century Salafism combines a belief in the earliest teachings of Muhammad with admiration for modern technology.
- According to Pew, around 87-90% of global Muslims are Sunnis. Much of the violence within majority Muslim countries has been along sectarian lines between them and the Shia.
- Other Muslims
- The US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center estimates that 82-97% of terrorism-related fatalities between 2006 and 2011 were Muslims.