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June 03, 2006


sporty muslimah

As an Oldhamer, that was a good read!

sporty muslimah

Aplogies, my manners



A nice report on the debate, Thabet. Too bad you did not have an opportunity to voice some of your thoughts and questions at the time.

I obviously wasn't there myself but on the basis of your report I think one of the reasons why the discussion/debate did not seem focused was perhaps due to failing to define Liberalism as a political philosophy. In the absence of such a definition it's not surprising that the discourse was all over the place.

Rather, it seems that most people in the room were seeing Liberalism as being a set of *specific* values reducible to and comparable with another set of *specific* values engendered and propounded by the holy texts (Koran/Hadith) themselves. This, in my opinion, is a category mistake and a non-starter and both Siddiqui and Kneen evidenced this confusion.

Siddiqui seemed to be headed in the right direction when he was seeking to make a point about "common ground" in the area of "social welfare". But then he went astray with his comment about "aims of shariah", in my opinion.

Kneen was on the right track when she suggested the Enlightenment was the basis of Liberalism but then muddied the waters herself by appealing to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

What should have been expressed by somebody but wasn’t is that is that Liberalism has it true basis in its emphasis on the INDIVIDUAL. Also nobody mentioned that the Cartoon Controversy might have been one indication that Islam and Liberalism are NOT compatible with each other.

Not everyone believes that Christianity and Liberalism are necessarily compatible with each other either. One good example is Robert Kraynak, a Roman Catholic political philosopher, who believes that Christianity has been co-opted by Enlightenment Liberalism and the result is a new hybrid which he calls Kantian Christianity.

This hybrid (KC), he claims, is not the true historical Christianity of the texts and church tradition and I tend to agree with him. He says that KC is at the root of the contemporary culture of unlimited rights (i.e. rights to abortion, rights to homosexual marriage etc) and is now actually hostile to genuine Christianity. He is thus no defender of Liberalism and sees the solution in a constitutional monarchy set up on Augustine principle of the Two Cities.

Now it seems to me what would be really interesting to show is whether Islam (however it is defined either traditionally or the way people like T. Ramadan might define it) is compatible with Kantian moral imperatives and Kantian individualism.

Only after such an exercise could one conclude one way or the other on the matter of the compatibility of Islam and Liberalism.


Sporty: Thanks for your comments.

Celal: Thanks for your comments. I'd agree that people were looking for specific points to see where liberalism and Islam met, based on practical matters.

What should have been expressed by somebody but wasn’t is that is that Liberalism has it true basis in its emphasis on the INDIVIDUAL.

Kneen did try and mention the point early on that liberalism places its emphasis on liberty (for the individual). However, the question then asked of her was: well, how does this affect Muslims in Britain, because the political and legal structures in Britain are not taken from any Islamic texts/history? She was primarily concerned with the point that Islam in Britain, according to her research, was at odds with liberalism.

Also nobody mentioned that the Cartoon Controversy ...

Most, if not all, newspapers in Britain did not publish the cartoons, however. But we're not going to say Britain is not a liberal society. And contrary to some silly claims, Muslims in the UK do not hold any great political power. In fact, quite the opposite.

I think you're last point on Kantin ethics is the most important one; specifically, how well do Muslim beliefs sit with his 'religion within the bounds of reason'? It did cross my mind at one point during the evening, but I can't quite remember why I never followed it through. Some people did mention the existance of other beliefs, like Roman Catholicism, which may not sit well with Kneen's liberalism (or KC as you call it). Strictly speaking, as this was a debate on Islam and liberalism, those concerns were not valid in the course of the debate, although she did address those points.


Liberalism emerged out of the need for Christians denominations to stop slaughtering each other in Europe, it evolved to protect religious minorities, the idea it is rooted in judeo-christian values is laughable.

I agree that the City Circe are both intellectually lazy and dishonest. So are people like Ramadan and Sadar. They are only interested in making Islam acceptable to liberals, so that they can be accepted by their liberal mates. It's very sad indeed and in some senses they are not much different from the likes of Irshad Manji.
At the end of the day Islam is Islam and it is at odds with a fair amount of what constitutes liberalism and the liberal consenus. Does that mean Muslims can't live peacefully within a Liberal society, of course it doesn't. It means that they will compete with their values against other groups with their values as is what happens already.


You might disagree with Ramadan or Sardar (of the two Ramadan is more rigorous than Sardar); so might a majority of Muslims. But to equate them with Manji is off the mark. I would say that is also intellectually lazy and dishonest.

The point to remember is that there probably no "one" liberalism.


Agreed. A wonderful post, and I wish I could've been there, too.

What is liberalism? That's a damn huge question, too. After all, if we find the Enlightenment as its root, we fairly have to ask which Enlightenment, when and how? The German, Scottish or American? How come Americans have different attitudes to religion than the French, yet both lay claim to an Enlightenment tradition?

It seems like Kneen was trying too hard to create a unitary liberalism that couldn't benefit from alternative points of view. How, after all, do Orthodox Jews take part in societies like England if their views are as rigid as Islam's, in many respects, and opposed to Kneen's liberalism...?


i said Sadar and Ramadan were like Manji in the sense of trying to please their liberal mates, nothing else. I'm well aware of the vast gulfs between the three of them and Manji can't even really be considered a Muslim considering what she has said about the Qu'raan and the Prophet (SAWS). So apologies if that wasn't clear, i have elsewhere equated the SWP with the BNP on the basis of a single issue, i'm not trying to make generalisations but show what dubious bedfellows u attract by adopting a similar line of thinking.


After all, if we find the Enlightenment as its root, we fairly have to ask which Enlightenment, when and how? The German, Scottish or American? How come Americans have different attitudes to religion than the French, yet both lay claim to an Enlightenment tradition?

There is a demonstable continuity between Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, the American Founding Fathers and the founding documents of the United States of America.

French attitudes to religion in society in its own Enlightenment tradition exhibits a sharper reaction to the greater amount of violence inflicted against Protestants (see St Bartholomew's Day massacre).

This was not the experience in England and Scotland where the Protestant reformation was more of top down affair.

do Orthodox Jews take part in societies like England if their views are as rigid as Islam's, in many respects, and opposed to Kneen's liberalism...?

Jewish interest in theoracy has a definite Land component associated with it and outside of this piece of real estate Jews, even Orthodox Jews, have never really had any problem living under any form of government which is non-theocratic.

However, theocatic ambitions of the kind associated with Islam and the various examples of Islamic states constitute a more direct threat and sustained challenge to Enlightenment principles.


"At the end of the day Islam is Islam and it is at odds with..."

Which version of Islam are you referring to Ismaeel? If there's one thing I know, it's that every Muslim mate of mine has their own version of looking at the religion.

Anyway, you just wanted to whip that old hobby horse of insulting Sardar and Ramadan didn't you? ;)
Is everyone who can engage with non-Muslims an Uncle Tom to you?

Thabet - an excellent read and thanks for writing it. I wish I could have been there, only to ask a few annoying questions.


Agreed that this was a brilliant post. However Haroon, reading this has made me glad that I couldn't attend :p

Kneen judging Islam's compatibility with Liberalism from data gathered in Oldham is almost laughable. As has been alluded to, I think an even bigger problem is the assumption that the absence of liberalism means talebanism.

Apart from that, Ismaeel you need to be more tempered with the use of the word dishonest. I can understand why you may disagree with Sardar and you're entitled to that opinion. However to label him dishonest by resorting to amateur psychology (he does it to please his liberal mates), is in my opinion wrong.

From my own encounters with Sardar's work, I've found him to be fiercely independent. If you've read his book 'Desperately Seeking Paradise', I can't see how you could question his intellectual honesty.



I've read some of Sardar's contributions to the New Stateseman and that's why i hold the opinion he's out to please his liberal mates.
However although i have read Ramadan's Western Muslims and Manjis Trouble with Islam today, i haven't read desperatly seeking paradise so maybe i should...

Sunny, there are pleanty of people who engage with non-Muslims who i respect as well you know from other conversations we have had.

As for there being many different interpretations of our religion, again that is true but only to a point which is limited by the diversity of authentic scholarship which is diverse and rich enough for our needs.


Ismaeel be sure to read Desperately Seeking Paradise. I'll go out on a limb and say that you'll almost definitely find it an enjoyable read.

In particular make sure you don't miss his stinging critique of liberalism. Yes it surprised me as well, but like most of his writing his argument is both coherent and intelligent.


Just one or two corrections, you say Kneen was 'sloppy' for stating that the stoning was in the Koran, to be precise she did not state this, she quoted Ramadan as saying that he would not condemn stoning because it was in the Koran (i.e. she was saying that Ramadan said that, not that she believed it to be the case). This was an error that was famously made by Tariq Ramadan on the BBC, Kneen was merely quoting him. She was saying that Ramadan had said that and hence really she was having another dig at Ramadan.
Another correction, Kneen did not say that the riots proved incompatibility. She was asked how to measure 'cohesion'and she said that it was easier to measure a lack of cohesion, and she cited the riots as one demonstration of a breakdown of cohesion.


Another correction-(to Shariq)- Kneen stated that she had studied the texts AND the empirical evidence in the North (Oldham, Bradford, etc.). I think that this is an intelligent approach, since the texts maybe irrelevant to Muslims living today, one really does need to do both to make any meaningful statement.It is a bit unfair to misrepresent an intelligent researcher who does appear to have taken a full approach to the question. Had she ONLY read the texts I think your criticism woud be that 'she needs to talk to Muslims', 'nobody follows that', or such like. It does seem unfair to criticise the method when this does appear the most intelligent method. Or is it just the conclusion to which you object? If it is the conclusion Shariq, then you should really say so. I believe that the conclusion, using the defintions given, is correct. I also belive that Kneen used an intelligent method.


...she quoted Ramadan...

I don't recall her quoting Ramadan on this. Even if she did, a quick check of primary sources is not beyond a PhD student.

Kneen did not say that the riots proved incompatibility

Her various 'tests' for 'incompatibility' included social cohesion. Or why else did she mention it?


Hi Thabet,
"I don't recall her quoting Ramadan on this", she did, what she actually said was something like 'Tariq Ramadan refused to condemn stonings saying it is in the Koran'(I can't remember exactly!), which is what he did say on the BBC. I guess that she knows it is in the Hadiths, but obviously Ramadan does not!When quoting someone it is not necessarily indicative of what they know or not, one is merely quoting what another person said.One could say 'Jo said the moon is made of green cheese'-this would merely be quoting Jo, not illustrative of the speaker's opinion of whether the moon is made of green cheese.
"Or why else did she mention it?"-she mentioned it because she was asked a specific question as to how one could measure cohesion, and that is the context in which she mentioned it, so yes it is related but she mentioned it in response to a specific question as to how one could measure cohesion (she replied it is easier to measure lack of cohesion and this is obvious in matters such as segregation, tensions and the riots etc.)
Thabet-just out of interest, what is your opinion of Sadar? I know there are some opinions above, but what do you think?


shez: Well since I don't have a transcript or recording of the event, and unless you do, we can agree to disagree over her quoting of Ramadan. As I did say, that doesn't distract from her major point.

As for the social cohesion issue, again, I don't have a transcript/recording. However, since she raised it initially in the context of 'compatibility' between Islam and liberalism, it is a clear that she believes that too many Muslims with 'illiberal' interpretations can lead to a breakdown in social cohesion.

My views on Sardar: he has some very useful things to say as a cultural critic. However, his understanding and scholarship on Islam and Islamic history is poor, imho. I think there are better people out there than him if someone is interested in a serious understanding of intellectual/social developments in Islam. And I can sympathise with his views on Islam, if not fully agree with everything he has to say. For example, I would reject the idea he is like Irshad Manji; it does not appear he is merely out to make some money on the back of his 'dissident' views on Islam.


Thank you Thabet.
I agree with you that Stone is not really a debater, he always strikes me as though he wants a pat on the head. My disappointment of the evening was partly Stone's lack of addressing the issues Kneen brought up, but also a more general lack of debate. I would have liked the 3 speakers to actually debate together. The only interaction was when Kneen challenged Sidiqqi about his misuse/abuse of the term 'ijtihad' and that was ignored. I think that the format could have been better designed. Also, the manner in which audience questions were asked in rounds of three and then the chair chose a question from them was not ideal. But I did enjoy the evening. A better designed format may have enabled a more vigourous and interesting debate (probably not from Stone!). I was also disappointed that Kneen was not allowed to sum up, that could have been interesting. I know that the chair did apologise to her for not allowing her to sum up, which was a loss. Even better if she had summed up and then some final questions. It was good, but a better designed format would have made it excellent.

K Aldous

"... error regarding the supposed Qur'anic verse on stoning (there is none!) ...".

Perhaps not, but this unfortunate omission is corrected in Hadith 340:

"... We do not find the punishment of stoning to death in the Book of Allah, and thus go astray by abandoning this duty prescribed by Allah. Stoning to death is a duty laid down in Allah's Book for married men and women who commit adultery when proof is established."


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