A council has defended its decision to stock extremist books at Woolwich library – yards from where Lee Rigby died (The soldier who was killed in an attack in Woolwich on 22nd May 2013) – including one by a banned cleric claiming “every Muslim should be a terrorist”. Radical preacher Dr Zakir Naik was banned from entering Britain after his presence was deemed not conducive to the public good, yet three of his works are available in the public library. Greenwich Council has defended their right to stock the texts, written in Urdu, which contain controversial statements on women, Jews and terrorism in a library 200 metres from the spot where Lee Rigby was killed in May.
“We are not aware of any lists of books banned by the Home Secretary,” a spokesperson said. “Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf has been publicly available on the shelves of Britain’s public libraries for decades and remains available for any citizen in the UK to purchase.” The book is said to be available at libraries up and down the country.
In one of the texts Dr Naik states he is “proud to be a fundamentalist”, adding: “Every Muslim should be a terrorist. A terrorist is somebody who spreads terror and fear.” The statement was specifically examined by the Court of Appeal when it upheld Theresa May’s decision to ban the Islamic scholar from the UK.
Former Islamic extremist Dr Usama Hasan, of counter-extremist think tank Quilliam, said it was “strange” that such “niche” works should be available, warning that there was a small risk potential jihadist could use the text as “justification”. “It is difficult to see how the council justify it and defend their decision,” Dr Hasan said.
Early last month, a conference was held in London, entitled “Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution?” under the auspices of The Deen Institute, an organization which aims at promoting engagement between the Islamic tradition and modernity. The event sparked off a debate on social media and op-ed columns regarding the place of evolution in the Islamic worldview.
The conference, whose lectures were recently published online, brought together scientists like Prof. Ehab Abouheif and Prof. Fatimah Jackson with theologians like Dr Usama Hasan and the prominent Shaykh Yasir Qadhi. Also invited was Dr. Oktar Babuna, representing the hardcore creationist ideas of Harun Yahya, who is deemed by many Muslim scholars to be a charlatan. Sadly, by the end of the day, Babuna was reduced to such a laughing stock that even Qadhi distanced himself from him.
Some commentators have described this conference as marking a Galileo moment for Muslims. I would argue that this isn’t quite the case, as Islamic religious authority is decentralized, and there is no formal ‘religious establishment’ that has binding authority over Muslims. With even the historic center for Sunni learning, al-Azhar University, and influential scholars like al-Qaradawi accepting that Muslims could believe in evolution–though neither seems to–it doesn’t seem like this is a serious issue in theology. Rather it seems to be so only in the popular Muslim consciousness. As Muslims continue in the path of learning, as encouraged by the Prophet, I hope that a more nuanced attitude to this issue will emerge at a popular level, and then we can focus on more important discussions like that of climate change or alleviating poverty. This conference was an important step in that direction.
7 March 2011
Imam and science lecturer Dr Usama Hasan has said that he went too far in defending evolution theory and showing its compatibility with Islam. He suspended his role as Imam at Friday prayers at Leyton Mosque in London. This comes after he has received death threats when giving a lecture in January. A leaflet campaign had been carried out against him.
In 2008, Dr Hasan, senior lecturer at Middlesex University, published an opinion piece in the Guardian, explaining why the belief in creationism was problematic and that evolution theory could also be accepted by practicing Muslims. This, along with his view that the headscarf for women is cultural and therefore optional, has apparently led to fatwas against him in several countries three years ago.