On paper it seems a good idea. The problem of a rather negative public opinion of Islam has been recognised through a YouGov poll. A staggering six out of ten of us admit we don’t know much about Islam; not surprisingly, a majority of us form our opinions of Islam from what we see from various television outlets and 69% of Britons feel that Islam encourages repression of women. The response to this has been to offer a public relations rethink on Islam: say hello to InspiredByMuhammad.com.
The campaign has been set-up by the Exploring Islam Foundation, headed by Lord Patel with some very impressive ambassadors including a former MTV presenter and the editor of popular Muslim magazine, Emel.
The results are bad reading for all of us. The surprise for me, however, isn’t the findings of the poll; when you hear of Muslim training camps for terrorists, Islamic clerics calling for the death of Jews and Islamic law suppressing minorities in Islamic countries, the results can hardly be described as a surprise.
For an organisation that describes one of its aims to be to ‘raise awareness about the belief, practice, history, and cultures of Islam’, there’s a dangerous lack of context in their message. Sure they have pages of young Muslim professionals, showing off their success and, inspiring themselves with the legacy of the Prophet – but what if we take their logic to the opposite side of the argument?
Sultana Tafadar, the barrister on their flagship posters, believes in women’s rights, but can we can have a little more discussion of the misogyny faced by millions of women in the Islamic world, perhaps?
‘I believe in social justice. So did Muhammad’, says Rupon Miah – so do explain why the majority of Islamic countries are ruled by minority elites with an authoritarian eye, please?
If young Muslims can be inspired by Muhammad to contribute to women’s rights, then they can also be inspired by Muhammad, as we have seen, to blow themselves up in tube stations. Who is in the right? It is this question EIF should be answering.
Until the Muslim community, at large, starts to reject the harsh and intolerant interpretations of their faith, whatever inspired Muhammad will merely be met with a shrug of the shoulders by that 69% percent of Britons who believe Islam encourages oppression of women and the one in two of us who associated Islam with terrorism.
The Exploring Islam Foundation could have generated posters explaining to people the different strands of Islam and isolating the intolerant strands whilst promoting a more liberal interpretation. How about a poster saying ‘Wahhabism is not mainstream Islam’ or ‘The Burqa is not Islamic, it is cultural’? No, we didn’t get any of that, the most important issues have been sidetracked for a website that would have you think that there is no Islamist problem in the United Kingdom.
Isn’t this the problem facing the Muslim psyche? Only the most deluded Muslims would disagree with the extent of the inequality that lies in Islamic countries. In private, even my most devout Muslim friends talk of their distaste of the human rights situation in the Middle East; they feel betrayed by the inward thinking of their ideological leaders and look towards the horizon recognising the painful absence of mainstream Muslim political leaders. There is an obvious need for reform, yet the Muslim community is reluctant to face its problems head-on.
When ordinary Muslims publicly condemn Saudi-inspired Wahabi and Salafi Islam then, perhaps, public opinion on Islam will change. When Muslim leaders stop inviting hate-preachers to their events and acknowledge that medieval verses in the Quran were meant for the medieval times and when British Muslim figures stop castigating Western values of freedom and democracy and starting encouraging them, then we’ll get progress. Until then, spare me the botched PR job.
Muslims fail themselves when they resort to insularism for a solution to Islamism in the UK. There is no need to pretend, unlike the left, that Islam is a religion of teddy-bears and roses but there are serious, if not lethal, issues that require serious leadership if British Muslims are to make a contribution to society.
This is no time for puppy-eyed, thick-lipped posters. The advantage we have is that Islam does not have a ubiquitous political direction (just have a look at the plethora of ideologies governing Islamic states). I live in hope that we’ll win the fight against Islamofascism through external influence and internal reform of the religion. Just don’t airbrush over the reality.