Robbing people of their ability to make choices, robs them of their humanity. It robs them of what makes them unique. It turns them back into lifeless clay. It de-humanises them. Even if their choices are limited, they are still humans with a soul who can make choices; even a slave has a choice to live life under the slaver or to choose death.
This sort of dehumanising is evident in some discussions on Muslim women; both in those discussions about Muslim women who believe they should observe the hijab and practice a 'traditional' form of religion; and against those argue for more rights for women, and Muslim women, in particular (the, now defunct, blog SAFspace had an entry on such a view from one South African Muslim group who suggested that women who had the nerve to go out of the house to work or get an education were 'lesbians') . To a lesser degree one will find it in discussions about converts to Islam, whether they be white or black, middle-class or the dregs of society in prison (although, I've found that some tend to concentrate on ex-convicts, and especially other 'minorities' like those of Afro-Caribbean origin, i.e. the critiques have strong racial undertones).
It is also something which some Muslim apologists engage in when they try and excuse (note, explaining is different from excusing) acts of violence, brutality or angry protests demanding blood that are carried out by Muslims. In blaming every act of violence on Colonialism, Racism, Imperialism and Orientalism, Muslim apologists rob their brethren of the capacity to act, to choose and to feel, whether their choices and feelings, indeed their very thoughts, be good, bad, right or wrong. They turn them into impotent fools, merely reacting in the face of Western Omnipotence. Indeed, just as critics of the hijab turn Muslim men into individuals with with superhuman powers of persuasion and rhetoric (when they aren't, of course, engaged in acts of violence), these Muslim apologists bestow similar superhuman qualities on many (non-Muslim) Westerners: a mere scribbling of a rubbish cartoon in a (generally) obscure newspaper written in a (generally) obscure language can apparently 'cause' a Muslim youngster in Lebanon to want to burn down an embassy. In doing so these Muslim apologists rob their own brethren of the humanity that God gave them.
Notes  Note, I am quite deliberately not entering the debate about the obligation of specific forms of clothing -- I don't think Muslim women need another man lecturing them on what they should and shouldn't wear. They're more capable than me of coming to an understanding of the issues!
And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not. [Qur'an 2:030; my emphasis, Pickthall's translation]
We love to advertise converts to Islam. But we shun or decry or threaten to kill those who might turn away from Islam. The reasons for both can be complicated, but ultimately the true intentions and reasons are know only to God and the individual. My conscience demands I stand against this sort of blood lust. I'll have to answer to God one day, just as Abdul Rahman will. I don't think any Muslim can remain silent at such demands for blood. In today's world, it would be hypocritical to do so.
Looks like there's trouble afoot for people trying to defend the teaching of evolution in the US. The cause for such concern? Not the usual proponents of Intelligent Design, but avowed atheists! So says Madeleine Bunting, in today's Guardian:
A week ago it was the turn of the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, second only to Dawkins in the global ranking of contemporary Darwinians, to be similarly feted at a series of lectures and debates across the UK launching his book on religion, Breaking the Spell.
The curious thing is that among those celebrating the prominence of these two Darwinians on both sides of the Atlantic is an unexpected constituency - the American creationist/intelligent-design lobby.
Huh? Dawkins, in particular, has become their top pin-up. How so? William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: "I know that you personally don't believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!"
[However,] Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: "Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level." The nub of Ruse's argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool."
[...] Ruse put on the net an email exchange between himself and Dennett in which he accused his adversary of being an "absolute disaster" and of refusing to study Christianity seriously: "It is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil." Dennett's reply was an opaque one line: "I doubt you mean all the things you say."
All protagonists in a debate have a moral responsibility to ensure that the hot air they are expending generates light, not just heat. It's a point that escapes Dawkins. His book on religion, The God Delusion, is to be published this autumn. Dembski and the intelligent-design lobby must already be on their knees, thanking God.
Does evolution necessitate atheism and therefore violate America's wall between 'church' and 'state' (and is atheism a religious position)? Bunting also says this debate has implications for 'thousands of young Muslims studying science in Britain'. I'm not quite sure how exactly. I do know that anti-evolution polemics are very popular amongst some (how many I don't think anyone can say) technically-literate Muslims, especially those with a 'secular' education. But, unless Bunting knows something I don't, I am not aware of any urgent Muslim movement in Britain which is going to great pains to have Intelligent Design taught in the National Curriculum (even if was to be taught, the place for it should be religious studies).
The trial of the seven men, all British citizens, accused of working for al-Qa'ida and plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the UK continues today. They all deny the charges. It is alledged they also tried to purchase a 'dirty bomb' from Russia and that several locations, including synagogues, the Bluewater shoppin centre, nightclubs and mainland utility networks were mooted as possible targets. (See the list of charges against the men.)
Roger Hardy, the BBC's Islamic affairs analyst, concludes his three part series on 'angry young Muslims' in Europe. Worth reading through, even if you don't want to download and listen to the podcasts. He travels to Leeds, Paris, Amsterdam and Milan to meet young Muslims and gauge their views, and those around them.
Part 1: Roots: 'Exploring the causes of last year's London bombings and Paris riots'
A school which was told it unlawfully excluded a Muslim pupil for wearing a traditional gown has won its appeal at the House of Lords [...] The Court of Appeal had said Denbigh High School had denied Shabina Begum the right to manifest her religion in refusing to allow her to wear a jilbab [...] But in a unanimous ruling, judges at the House of Lords overturned that [...] They said the Luton school had "taken immense pains to devise a uniform policy which respected Muslim beliefs".
I would question the specious link between schools enforcing some kind of authority (which they have to) and school uniforms; I don't there is any such proven link. It seems, based on the ruling, that the Law Lords have decided that it wasn't so much a case of school interferring with her right to education based on her religious beliefs, but that the school had consulted other Muslims in the area over what was 'acceptable' and that other schools were available to accodmodate her beliefs:
[Lord Bingham of Cornhill:] The respondent criticised the school for permitting the headscarf while refusing to permit the jilbab, for refusing permission to wear the jilbab when some other schools permitted it and for adhering to their own view of what Islamic dress required. None of these criticisms can in my opinion be sustained. The headscarf was permitted in 1993, following detailed consideration of the uniform policy, in response to requests by several girls. There was no evidence that this was opposed. But there was no pressure at any time, save by the respondent, to wear the jilbab, and that has been opposed. Different schools have different uniform policies, no doubt influenced by the composition of their pupil bodies and a range of other matters. Each school has to decide what uniform, if any, will best serve its wider educational purposes. The school did not reject the respondent's request out of hand: it took advice, and was told that its existing policy conformed with the requirements of mainstream Muslim opinion.
It seems the logical conclusion of this case is that Muslim interpretations of religious obligations are fought over in English courts...
Working offshore has frazzled my brain ('more than usual' comes the cry from the back!). Looking at monitors and the constant motion of the waves is not a good combination. So I've been avoiding computers altogether since returning to terra firma a week ago (and despite sort of promising things, which I'll get around to very soon!). I've been engaging more in human company (siblings and friends), reading books I've not read yet, leafing through books in Waterstone's and Senate House, or wandering around town taking pictures of London, including those bits which aren't that famous.
Last week, one such companion was Haroon, who was in London for the week. Over (a lot of) lunch, one point was raised which we both agreed upon: the two national heroes of Pakistan are an oddity; an unexplained paradox (and further that Pakistan only has two national heroes; we mooted the possibility of Imran Khan becoming a third, but then decided he needed to pass onto the next world before he could have any chance of achieving that status, World Cup or not).
How is that two individuals like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal have become so revered by a nation which is largely considered 'conservative' in attitudes towards religious practice and belief? Titles and platitudes are heaped upon these men whose deeds, actions and works went against the grain on many occassions. Not only that, but their legacies are contested by many self-proclaimed intellectual, moral and political heirs. Consider that Jinnah was from a sect considered beyond the pale by many (?) Pakistanis; consider that Iqbal deliberately thought outside or against the paradigms on offer to his religious contemporaries, that he engaged in intellectual and moral 'pohla pahli'. And then consider that to this day, I know that at least one major library (maybe more?) in Pakistan (probably the third largest) still refuses to carry books by a Pakistani scholar, who had to flee his homeland because he said something which was either misunderstood or even objectionable by widespread religious sentiment.
The Muslim Parliament lobby group is calling for Islamic madrasa schools in Britain to adopt comprehensive policies to stop child abuse [...] The madrasas, typically attached to mosques, operate in much the same way as church Sunday schools, offering children instruction in the Koran during evening and weekend classes [...] Dr Siddiqui is anxious that "cultural sensitivities" are not allowed to interfere with enforcement of the law, and wants a national register of madrasas to ensure compliance [...] The Muslim community is in a very different position to the Catholic community, with no single over-arching body, meaning structures to protect children can vary from mosque to mosque [...] One mosque contacted by the BBC News website, Glasgow Central Mosque, seemed unsure about its child protection policy [...] A spokesman said "all sorts of checks" were done on staff and volunteers, but seemed to indicate this did not include comprehensive Criminal Records Bureau searches as teachers tended to be well-known to mosque officials [...] But another group contacted, the Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam, which administers 16 mosques in Bradford, said it did have a clear policy [...] Trustee Khadin Hussain said police checks were done on all staff and volunteers working with children, following communication from the Home Office five years ago [...] Mr Hussain said new recruits were given some training in child protection.
Also see the report by the BBC's community affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, which suggests that scandal on par with the one which the Catholic Church finds itself in, could soon engulf Muslim communities across Britain.
I've got anecdotal evidence of some incidents, and experience of attending madrassas in the UK when I was younger (which probably goes for a very large portion of other Muslims born and raised in the UK). Does anyone else have (good or bad) experiences?
Update (18:50 GMT, 22/03): I've just read something on a forum I occassionaly post to (I'm friendly with the website owners and administrators; I won't link the forum or mention the individual's name). Something which has riled me. Often when things rile me I don't respond immediately on this blog; if I do it's highly polemical, but I think you will still find me trying to see the other side of the argument. But what I've just read has annoyed me. A lot. What I've just read is a very limp defence of some in our religious learned class, on this issue of Muslim religious institutions involved in sexual and physical abuse of pupils, by an American convert,who by his own admission, is somewhere in the east of North America. More specifically, the criticism was of abuse in Pakistan and the counter-criticism was aimed at Pakistani Muslims who grew up with Islam. I sincerely hope this does not look like 'convert baiting', which I know is a past-time some desi Muslims like to engage in. But the idea that an American (adult) convert to Islam can begin hectoring those Muslims who grew up with religion in their homes and lives; those Muslims who struggled with the contradictions of 'religious' and 'secular' demands made of them when they were far less mature than those who, through being able to excerise freedom of conscience, have entered Islam later in life; those Muslims who, without access to the same quote-laden scholarly publications on offer today, somehow (by the grace of God) muddle on with the religion taught to them by their parents and the desimaulvi with the thick accent, is worthy of both extreme ridicule and severe criticism. How can someone who never, ever, faced the bearded maulana sahib and his array of tortuous punishments aimed at 'correcting' mischevous 12 year olds, begin to understand the sentiments or horror and anger that some may express when it comes to such scandals and the usual lumbering response that 'this isn't Islam' from those usual quarters? Sad fact is this sort of thing has morphed into 'Islam' in some parts of the world. And it seems perfectly acceptable to call out those who claim to (and are by and large accepted as) representative and authoritative of Islamic practice.