An Introduction to Radical Islam is a new booklet by Paigham Mustafa which challenges many traditional beliefs of Muslims by questioning several interpretations of the Quran which he believes are incorrect and have caused untold damage to Islam throughout the ages.
Islam has a very tarnished reputation in the Western World. People hold deep rooted fears and disdain for the religion. In the UK, Muslims are faced with either suspicion or indifference every day. Few people believe Muslims who say that Islam is a peaceful religion when media evidence presents the complete opposite. On top of this, Muslims are the least integrated religious minority living in the UK. This booklet outlines some of the reasons why Muslims are disliked by stating that what some of them say and do in the name of Islam affects people in every corner of the world – suicide bombers, stoning, beheadings, honour killings, genital mutilation, sectarian and vigilante murders. When people see the violence and backward culture often associated with Islam and Muslims, they question what kind of doctrine has led men and women to behave in this way and whether the Quran condones such acts of barbarity and evil.
Mustafa states that The Quran is one of the most influential books in the world, read by millions of people every day – yet few understand it. One reason for this is that the Quran is written in Arabic and although it is translated into most languages, only twenty percent of Muslims throughout the world speak Arabic – coupled with the other startling statistic that seventy percent of Muslims worldwide have poor literacy. Misinterpreted translations of the Quran have been widespread throughout history. Mustafa is fluent in Arabic and has previously written his own translation of the Quran. He outlines several misconceptions in An Introduction to Radical Islam that might surprise or anger ‘traditional’ Muslims. Did you know that alcohol is not banned and that the word ‘alcohol’ does not even feature in the Quran? Instead the word ‘Khamar’ is mentioned meaning intoxicants of all kinds, which would include alcohol and opiates, but while the Quran states there is both harm and benefits in these substances, it does not outright forbid either of them. Obligatory fasting is mentioned in the Quran but there is nothing which stipulates that people should refrain from food and drink between dawn and dusk for a month during Ramadan. Mustafa also says the Quran has always given women and men an equal status and it does not say anything about the wearing of the burka or the veil, both of which are now seen as Islamic symbols. Male circumcision is optional without any direct command and there is nothing stated about tattoos being forbidden or dogs being untouchable. The Quran does not forbid men or women from different communities marrying each other but sets out high standards of probity and decrees believers to choose believers as partners. Neither does The Quran demonise homosexuality or call for the killing of gay people. It censures the sexual act – but no more than it condemns adultery or sex before marriage. The Muslims’ obsession with halal food and merchandise has given rise to a worldwide multi-billion pound industry solely based on erroneous beliefs and not the truth of the Quran. There are only four types of food forbidden in the Quran: animals that die of themselves, running blood, the meat of pigs and anything consecrated to anybody other than God.
Expanding further on misinterpretations of the Quran, Mustafa advises that if somebody sees a translation where the translator has given one word a variety of unconnected meanings, it is best to avoid it. He questions why God would create a message of guidance for all time, then leave it open to ambiguity. Mustafa also queries whether some Muslims have inadvertently abandoned the Quran, replaced it with their tribal traditions and wrongly attributed them to the Quran. Or indeed, have they placed too much emphasis on the ‘fairy-tales’ contained in the hadith – the collection of writings that appeared some 200 years after the Quran? Most of the writings in the hadith are attributed to Muhammad, which has given them authenticity. Mustafa points out that one popular hadith claims that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six years old. This is in stark contrast with the Quran that says marriage can only take place between two consenting mature adults. He gives two pieces of advice when it comes to the hadith: firstly, reject the hadith if it conflicts with the Quran and secondly, reject the hadith if it agrees with the Quran because when a primary source is available there is no need for a secondary source. Does this mean then that it might be best to discard the hadith entirely and just stick to the Quran?
There was something that struck a chord for me when I was reading this booklet and that is the realisation that I may never discover if Islam is a peaceful religion or not. I don’t speak or read Arabic. Fluency in Arabic might be the gateway to discovering the truth as to whether or not the Quran advocates violence. This is not a question definitively answered in An Introduction to Radical Islam and it should have been, given the author’s credentials. I do know that Islamic scholars have never been able to out-challenge historians who believe they have sufficient evidence to discredit Muhammad who they believe encouraged violence among his followers. Recently, I met a young refugee from Iraq who had fallen out with his imam father about the Quran. The young man had been taught Arabic from an early age and had a naturally inquisitive mind, but whenever he questioned verses in the Quran to his father, that apparently advocated violence towards non-Muslims, he was slapped for challenging the word of God. He grew to despise the religion before leaving his homeland.
I don’t question the honesty behind An Introduction to Radical Islam or the integrity of Mustafa, but I do wonder who this book is directed at and what type of Muslim will be willing to listen to him. I have met many different types of Muslims over the years – Sunni, Shai, Sufi and Ahmadiyya Muslims – and every one of them is rooted firmly in their own belief system. Each one thinks they are right and the others are wrong, to the point that it would take a miracle to penetrate and change their heavily formed beliefs. That stands equally for countries from the sub-continent and the Middle East who are both totally consumed with a brand of ideology that is totally enmeshed in their psyche. On one hand, it might be said that Mustafa is sowing a seed to bring about an authentic version of Islam that he truly believes to be correct – but narrowing the chasm between traditional and radical is an almost impossible task which renders me to wonder if, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, it is a case of ‘never the twain shall meet’.
There is a Young Offenders Institute in Thamesmead in London, ironically named Isis. The first time I visited a client there in my capacity as a social worker, I remember being fascinated by the vast height of its walls. Bearing in mind that Isis is situated next to Belmarsh high security prison, anyone seeing the sheer height of its walls automatically knows that the chances of any prisoner escaping are practically impossible. Entering the building is also impossible unless the security team deem you admissible. Could a similar comparison be used to describe the message contained in An Introduction to Radical Islam about getting through to mainstream Muslims, who as I said are all deeply rooted within their own individual walls of ‘traditional’ Islam?
Mustafa’s courage and dedication to his own religious beliefs are commendable and credit must be given to him for being brave enough to challenge the status quo, but it is doubtful whether he will ever get inside the inner layer of these sects and change their firmly fixed ideological thinking. Only a strong imagination can envisage any meaningful change occurring, and on that note I can only wish Mustafa the very best of luck in spreading his message, which he believes, based on his research and interpretation of the Quran, will lead to a better lived version of Islam.