Sunday, 9 March 2008

Ed Husain: It's Arabs who are showing us how to tackle extremism

[...] When I lived in Saudi Arabia, the one aspect of Saudi intolerance that irked me most was their refusal to allow people of other faiths to worship freely. There was no church for the millions of Christians in a country that is considered the West's closest ally. And yet Saudi Arabia remains free to inject millions of dollars into mosques across Europe. To date, there is no single Saudi cleric who has openly supported the cause of the largest religious minority to worship freely. Nor will the British or American governments request these basic rights for their citizens, lest they upset the House of Saud.

I met a professor of Islamic studies from Qatar University. Dr Abdul Hameed al-Ansary, without my prodding, reiterated his public position of support for churches in Qatar. Meeting an Arab Muslim scholar from a conservative Gulf state who proudly tells me that Qatar's first church building is nearly complete gives me a sense of hope that soon Saudi Arabia may follow where its neighbours lead. There are churches in Kuwait, Dubai and ancient Christian prayer halls in Yemen. The Arabian peninsula now has churches as Europe has mosques.

Meanwhile, the extreme, vacuous misinterpretation of Islam that focuses on rituals and rigidity is alive and well in Britain. Recently, I was at a sermon at Imperial College, London, where a young, radical preacher fired off a sermon about excommunicating Muslims, or takfir. It is out of such rhetoric that the jihadist mindset is born, taken from an ahistorical reading of scripture. When this is married to political grievances, pioneered by Islamist movements, we have suicide bombers.

Those who share my religion in Britain are yet to follow Qatar and publicly admit to an extremism problem in our communities. For as long as radical sermons go unchallenged, and Islamist groups adopt doublespeak in public discourse, condemning terrorism while disseminating extremist literature, British Muslim activists will be in the grip of extremism.

The older generation of immigrant Muslim leaders must move aside and give way to younger British voices. Then perhaps we, like those in Doha, can admit that social and political extremism is rife in Muslim communal discourse. Read more
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