Ziauddin Sardar is a leading British-Pakistani Muslim scholar and critic. In this interview with Susannah Tarbush, he talks about the magazine “Critical Muslim” he founded and which he sees as an “intellectual, cultural, philosophical and creative backup” for the revolutions of the Middle East
In January a year ago, a refreshingly different kind of Muslim publication, the quarterly Critical Muslim (CM), was launched in Britain. Published by London-based C Hurst & Co, CM takes the form of an attractively-produced paperback book of over 250 pages. Its stated mission is to be a quarterly of “ideas and issues showcasing ground-breaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, increasingly interconnected world”.
CM‘s founder and editor is leading Muslim scholar, critic and public intellectual Ziauddin Sardar. Born in Pakistan in 1951, Sardar grew up in London where he still lives. He is a prolific and much-read writer: since the late 1970s he has written some 45 books as well as numerous articles and essays. Sardar’s CM co-editor is the prominent British-Syrian novelist, critic and blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab.
To mark the first anniversary of CM‘s launch, Qantara interviewed Ziauddin Sardar on the quarterly’s concept, first year of publication, and future plans.
17 December 2012
Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which is an umbrella organization that represents 500 mosques across the UK, has strongly criticized the new government initiative to pass a law which would allow gay marriages to take place in religious establishments. According to the law however it is illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to conduct same-sex weddings.
The MCB statement found the law “utterly discriminatory” as it does not provide a similar exemption for Muslims. Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the MCB said:
‘We find it incredible that while introducing the bill in the House, culture secretary Maria Miller could keep a straight face when offering exemption for the established Church while in the same breath claiming, “fairness to be at the heart of her proposals”… It is not just the ‘Church of England and Church in Wales’ who “explicitly” stated strong opposition’ as Mrs. Miller says, the Muslim Council of Britain along with most other faith groups also made equally strong representation… no one in their right mind should accept such a discriminatory law. It should be amended to give exactly the same exemption to all the religions.’
Ministers expect the legislation to take up to 12 months to get through Parliament.
Conservative Party MPs, including ministers, will get a free vote amid private fears that at least 40 per cent of Tory MPs oppose the plans. Labour has also granted its backbenchers a free vote, in a surprise move.
photo by Andrew Hodges
01 January 2012
Since the data of the UK Census 2011 was revealed last month, the public has been debating the increasing presence of British Muslim community. The data has revealed that the Muslim population in Britain has almost doubled in ten years so that Muslims make up 50 percent of the residents in some British towns. Since the last census in 2001, the Muslim population in England and Wales increased by 80 percent (1.2 million), from 1.5 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011, making it the second-largest religion in Britain.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that conducted the census, the multiplying of Britain’s Muslim population has occurred for several reasons.
The ONS said one of the reasons for the massive growth in the number of Muslims in Britain is the rising number of Britons who are converting to Islam.
Many analysts believe that the true number of Muslims in Britain may be much higher than indicated by the census data. This is because the religion question was the only voluntary question on the 2011 Census and 7.2 percent of people did not answer the question.
The increasing proportion of Muslims has inevitably led to a significant presence of Muslims in the public. In this regard, a study published by UK think tank Henry Jackson Society points out the increasing representation of Muslims in the media. According to the study, which monitored statements of religious groups and media coverage of religion in the UK, the most prolific spokespeople over the last decade were the Muslim Council of Britain. This group made more interventions in the national discussion than any other faith group or leader, including even the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who came a close second.
After controversial debates about religious motivated circumcision, the German Federal Parliament approves circumcision. The circumcision must be executed by trained persons and must fulfill health and medical regulations.
A prior draft attempted to legalize the circumcision of boys with the minimum age of 14.
However, the majority of the parliament did not approve it.
Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP) welcomed the decision of the Federal Parliament: “For decades, parents have not been penalized when accessing professional means to circumcise their sons.” Circumcision would remain legal.
Head of the party in parliament, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) criticized the decision of the district court in Cologne, which had forbidden circumcision, as an alienating act for the Jewish community. Minister of Justice in Berlins, Thomas Heilmann (CDU) interpreted the law as a welcoming signal for Muslims and Jews.
19 December 2012
The potential threatening impact of jihadist activity on the Netherlands remains “limited and indirect”, according to the National Terrorist Threat Assessment provided to the country’s House of Representatives. The main source of terrorist threat faced by the country remains jihad, with the report mentioning conditions in Syria, Egypt and Mali as potential sites of international concern. The Assessment also addresses the possibility of threat within Europe and the Netherlands, noting that the “social assertiveness of the Dutch people – including Dutch Muslim communities – against extremism is as strong as ever.”
17 December 2012
The outcome of the UK Census 2011 was published last week. The census data revealed a sharp rise in the Muslim population. The Muslim population in the UK has significantly risen between 2001 and 2011 from 1.5 million to almost 3 million. Hence, Muslim proportion has increased from 2% of the population to 5%. In some towns, Muslims make up almost 50% of the population, and in large cities like London and Manchester they make up around 14% of the population.
Muslim populations in Manchester (over 100,000), Birmingham (plus 96,000), Bradford (plus 55,000) and most of the inner London boroughs, notably Newham (plus 64,000), Tower Hamlets (plus 58,000) and Haringey (plus 52,000). Tower Hamlets remains the local authority district with the greatest proportion of Muslims – 34.5%. The 2011 census estimates that there are now 2.7 million British Muslims, with nearly 40 per cent of them — a million — living in London.
The census data also revealed a sharp increase in foreign-born residents: 7.5million residents of England and Wales were foreign-born in 2011 Just 44.9 per cent of Londoners are White British. Further less than 90 per cent of country is white for the first time ever. According to the census data Christianity has been in decline: Around 59 per cent British people now call themselves Christian and a quarter say they have no religion.
Muslim Council of Britain Welcomed the Census 2011 results, and commented that “the growth in number points to the fact that Muslims play a significant part in the increasing diversity of Britain.”
Julian Bond, director of the Christian Muslim Forum, said the figures reinforced the need to “think about the best possible way to engage with Islam and think about whether people should be having days off for Eid, how Ramadan is accommodated and how religion is taught in schools”.
6 November 2012
Dutch Muslims are visiting mosques in the Netherlands at least once a week, according to a survey conducted by the national policy unit SCP. While the previous SCP survey in 2004 suggested a decrease in religiosity among the country’s Muslims, this most recent update suggests that this is no longer the case, particularly among Muslims of Moroccan origin (a population in which the number of mosque-attending individuals rose from 9% to 33% from 1998-2011).
According to the SCP, second generation Muslims who worship regularly feel a stronger bond with their family homeland than with the Netherlands.
In an East London office, British Muslims consult the legal talents of the Islamic Sharia Council’s (ISC) scholars. The dispute-solving Sharia body is the largest in the UK. The books on the waiting-room coffee table, bearing titles such as ‘Tolerance within Islam’ and ‘The Journey of the Soul,’ seem to prepare disputants for a mutually agreed solution.
Sharia law has been applied in the UK since 1982 facilitated by locally-appointed councils, known as Sharia courts. An estimated 85 Sharia courts are believed to be operating in Britain, according to a 2009 report by the think-tank Civitas. They have no formally recognised powers and therefore cannot impose legally binding penalties. However, it is estimated that thousands of UK residents use Sharia courts each year, and they voluntarily accept the rulings – mostly about family matters.
Although widely used, women’s rights groups such as the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation complain that Sharia courts discriminate against women. And, it was these complaints along with British activists who ran the campaign called ‘One Law For All’, that lead Baroness Caroline Cox to introduce The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in the House of Lords on 7 June 2011. The bill, which is up for debate on 19 October 2012, is aimed at ensuring that Sharia courts operate within the realms of British law. Islamic scholars are noted for claiming they have legal powers under Sharia law.
According to Cox, many British Muslim women do not know their rights under English civil law: “A woman once told me that she came to this country to escape Sharia law, but that the situation was much worse here than that of the country she was from.”
One example of the inequality is the fee for divorce. The application for religious divorce costs 200 pounds for men and 400 pounds for women. The reason behind this is that the process is more complicated and therefore more expensive, while it’s easier for a man to get a divorce.
But the bill could benefit men too. Despite being legally divorced under British law Mizanur Rahman, whose wife applied to the council for a religious divorce, says the council is unfair. His wife has been demanding money from him through the ISC. The council has sent the Islamic divorce papers to him three times. So far, he has resisted signing: “It’s not me but her who wants a divorce, thus she needs to pay,” he says.
Anti-Sharia activists say the courts are incompatible with democracy and human rights and thus hard to incorporate into British life. A petition calling for the ban of Sharia courts organised by the ‘One Law for All’ campaign gathered twenty thousand signatures. Activists say “Sharia is the legal arm of a political Islamist movement wreaking havoc across the world and therefore is a threat to secularism”.
Defenders of the courts believe everyone, including devout Muslims, should have the right to settle personal disputes in front of the tribunal of their choice. They say they give Muslims a facility already available to Orthodox Jews under Beth Din courts. They claim that many Muslim women feel the need for a cleric’s reassurance that they can break a forced marriage. Financial disputes are also claimed to be resolved quicker and cheaper rather than within the British legal system. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, says he does not see Sharia courts as a threat to the harmony in the UK, either.
The Equality bill will not ban private religious courts, but will place a duty on public bodies to ensure women who have religious or polygamous marriages are made aware of their legal rights under the law. The Bill is also seeking to create a new criminal offence criminalising any person who purports to legally adjudicate upon matters that ought to be decided by criminal or family courts. Lady Cox also insists that the Bill is not aimed at Muslims, nor does it name them. It targets gender discrimination whenever the religion arbitration court makes the discrimination.
However, even is the bill is passed, it may face some opposition from the council itself. Furqan Mahmood, an Islamic scholar at the ISC says, not women but men need to be protected. He says that according to Islam, men have to pay women to get married, financially care for their wives, and support their children even after divorce. He says “Islam makes men slaves of women.”
Berza ŞİMŞEK – Contributor, Strategic Outlook
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News Agencies – October 29, 2012
According to a study conducted by IFOP (Public Opinion Institute) for Le Figaro the image of Islam is rapidly deteriorating in France. It shows that the rise of ethnic separatist communities among some Muslims in France is strengthening the public rejection.
“Our study shows an evolution that is moving in the direction of a greater hardening of the French toward this religion and a reenforced negative perception of Islam,” explains Jérôme Fourquet, a director of IFOP. “Even if a significant proportion of the French, 40%, still say they are indifferent to the presence of Islam in France.”
If 43% of those questioned consider Islam to be a “threat”, this hardening is tied to a greatly increased “visibility” of Islam in public places and in the media. “For several years, there has not been a week without Islam being at the heart of current events, be they societal issues, the veil, halal food, or dramatic geopolitical events or attacks.” Hence another impression: 60% believe that this religion now has “too much importance”. Just two years ago it was 55%. And those who claim to be indifferent to this question go from 41% to 35%.
No longer a temporary problem
Increasing restrictiveness becomes clearer when questions on the Islamic veil or the building of mosques are asked. In 1989, 33% of those questioned were favorable to the construction of mosques. Today it is only 18%. As for the veil in the street, those opposed went from 31% to 63%. And those indifferent have virtually dissolved from half to only 28%. And as for the veil in schools, the red light goes on since, for the same period, those opposed increase from 75% to 89%.