Sunni-Shia divide in the UK

With many Islamic Societies at British universities mostly under Sunni leadership, the sectarian divides so bitterly apparent in much of the Middle East between the Sunni majority and the Shia minority are making themselves felt here in the UK.

The two main branches of Islam emerged following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, in 632, and a battle for influence across the Middle East between mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran is involved in much of the conflict.

However a Sunni student believes that the bigger divides in the UK are within Sunni Islam, rather than between Sunni and Shia. “I don’t necessarily know if the tensions have spilled over from the Middle East, as essentially that’s 1,400 years’ worth of disagreement,” she says.

At Leicester Central Mosque, Dr Ather Hussain al Asri – a Sunni Imam and writer – also believes that the increase in tensions here is caused by a particular strand of Sunni Islam. “Wahhabism is very small in terms of its numbers, but unfortunately in terms of finances, Wahhabi Islam is very strong in this country and that is because they are getting direct funding from the Middle East.

“So what they lack in numbers, they are making up for it in terms of organisation. Unfortunately, they are operating in universities and through social media, and they prey on the vulnerability of our youth.”

Dispelling myths about British Muslims

June 21, 2014

Many people have come to regard Muslims as a backward group of religious extremists estranged from wider society and incapable of coming to terms with what it means to be British. This impression has been heightened by misleading press reporting and inflammatory statements from senior politicians. The so-called “Trojan horse” controversy concerning an alleged Muslim takeover of Birmingham schools – based on what looks like a fabricated document – has brought fresh ugliness to an already putrid public debate.

There are elements of truth in the popular narrative about British Islam, but much of it is based on ignorance. A 2011 Demos survey showed that Muslims are more patriotic than other Britons (83 per cent said they were proud to be British as opposed to 79 per cent of the general population), and are more integrated than is often thought to be the case. So the publication of these two books could not be timelier. Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam by Innes Bowen and The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani.

Innes Bowen, a BBC radio journalist, has written an admirable and clear- headed study which has much to teach anyone with an interest in British Islam. She explains the beliefs, historical background and political engagement of the main Muslim sects and organisations: Deobandis, Barelwis, Tablighi Jamaat, Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Shia and Ismailis.

Bowman dispels a long list of myths about the role of Saudi teaching in mosques, the influence of Iran among British Shia (very little), the connection between the doctrines of Tablighi Jamaat and terrorism (none), and the alleged shortage of British-born imams (there are plenty). Bowen’s book is gentle and optimistic. She suggests that over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state.

Arun Kundnani has written a very different kind of work. It is angrier and more polemical. Yet it too is grounded in research from both sides of the Atlantic. The case studies from the United States are shocking. He shows how Muslims there can be ensnared by the FBI into so-called plots which have been devised by the US government, arguing convincingly that Islam has taken over the role of public enemy from communism. It dispels myths, pointing out that “there is no Islamic doctrine of ‘kill the unbelievers’ as anti-Islam propagandists often maintain. Islam, like other religions, provides a broad moral framework for thinking about questions of violence.” Again and again this book challenges your assumptions. It is worth reading for its examination of the word “extremism” alone. Martin Luther King, Kundnani points out, was denounced in this way. Kundnani is fiercer and more pessimistic.

Escalation between Sunnis and Shiites also threatens The Netherlands

June 29, 2014

“Of all the groups in the world that are known for their lies, they are stabbing head and shoulders above the rest. Lying is in their nature. This
people want to destroy Islam.” This is a quote from one of the many Salafi sermons in Dutch mosques circulating on the Internet. The “they” in these quotations refer to Shiites, alleged enemies of the Sunnis who are worse, according to other quotes, in the hierarchy, than “Zionists.” One Salafi Facebook page reads: “Shi’ite Islam is pure and total terror.”

Shia organizations held a demonstration last Sunday against terrorism in Iraq before and invited everyone, including Sunnis.

Jihadist Dutch elements were arrested for intervening with a counter-demonstration.

Sharia law for wills

March 23, 2014

 

The Law Society is to issue a practice note to solicitors who may be interested in drafting “Sharia-compliant” wills for their Muslim clients. Some have argued that by issuing the note the law society has opened the doors on the technical issues surrounding gender discrimination inherent in Sharia not only regarding the inheritance provisions, but more importantly endorsing a different set of laws for different groups of people. The idea of equality before the law is being threatened.

In Britain, unless you draw up a will, your estate on death will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. However, although people can do whatever they want with their assets and a lawyer must follow the client’s instructions; it has been argued that this guidance legitimises discrimination towards women, “illegitimate” and adopted children, and non-Muslim partners or offspring who may be the result of inter-marriage.

The key paragraph states: “The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class. Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised. Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death.”

It adds: “This means you should amend or delete some standard will clauses. For example, you should consider excluding the provisions of s33 of the Wills Act 1837, because these operate to pass a gift to the children of a deceased ‘descendant’. Under Sharia rules, the children of a deceased heir have no entitlement, although they can benefit from the freely disposable third [the third of an estate that can be given to non-heirs or charities].

“Similarly, you should amend clauses which define the term ‘children’ or ‘issue’ to exclude those who are illegitimate or adopted.” It has been argued that the ruling advises solicitors on how to discriminate and avoid equality legislation. But a person has always been able to distribute their assets in any way they choose, and a Muslim may legally have done so according to Sharia principles without letting the lawyer know the basis of the instructions. But the question now is that a solicitor could offer this service and develop a product specifically designed for a Muslim client who wants to distribute their assets according to their religious requirement, which could be considered socially unacceptable. Suppose a client instructed that their assets should not go to a relative because they happened to be of a different race or religion. Would that be acceptable? If one were to accept that people have the right to act in a discriminatory fashion with their assets if they choose to, this guidance encourages solicitors to adopt a separate approach to clients who are deemed “different” – in this case, clients who are Muslim. The guidance also states that “there are specific differences between Sunni and Shia rules on succession.”

The code of conduct for solicitors which all solicitors must abide by says: “As a matter of general law, you must comply with requirements set out in legislation – including the Equality Act 2010 – as well as the conduct duties contained in this chapter.”

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10717676/Sharia-law-for-wills-and-then-what.html

The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/23/sharia-law-enshrined-in-uk-legal-system_n_5016396.html

Number of foreign fighters in Syria nearly doubles

December 17, 2013

 

Up to 11,000 fighters from more than 70 nations have joined the struggle in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad, almost doubling estimates made earlier this year.

The number of individuals from western Europe taking up arms has tripled to up to 1,900 and includes up to 366 from Britain, according to research by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ISCR) at King’s College, London. The number reported from France has quadrupled while Belgium has the highest per capita rate.

Syria is becoming as big a magnet for Muslim fighters as Afghanistan was in the 1980s when an estimated 35,000 foreigners joined the mujahedeen ranks against Soviet invaders.

But the greater cause was more probably the deepening involvement in the war of Shia fighters from Lebanon and Iraq on the side of Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shia Islam and who is backed by Iran, the major Shia power. “For radical Sunnis, if you see this Syrian government supported by Shia Iran and Hezbollah, it becomes almost a civilizational conflict, almost as if America has intervened in the Middle East,” said Prof Neumann.

The ISCR said that from late 2011 to December 2013 between 3,300 and 11,000 individuals had gone to Syria to fight against the Assad government. It estimated that the likeliest number was 8,500. By that estimate, foreigners make up about ten per cent of the forces ranged against Assad, though other reporting has said they are among the most active in combat.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10523203/Number-of-foreign-fighters-in-Syria-nearly-doubles.html

Religious Leaders’ Views on Radical Life Extension

No religious group in the United States has released an official statement on radical life extension. However, here are brief summaries of how some clergy, bioethicists and other scholars from 18 major American religious groups say their traditions might approach this evolving issue. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on radical life extension and related issues, see “Living to 120 and Beyond: Americans’ Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension.” And for an overview of the scientific research and emerging ethical debate, see “To Count Our Days: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Life Extension.”)

Islam

Radically extending life “probably wouldn’t be a problem for most” Muslims, according to Aisha Musa, a professor of religion at Colgate University who has written about the issue from a Muslim perspective. According to Musa and others, Muslims believe Allah (God) knows the exact life span of each person  from birth to death, or what the Quran calls one’s “term appointed” (Sura 40:67). “Since you can’t really violate God’s plan for you, life extension is alright because it’s part of God’s will,” Musa says.

 

Given this outlook, many Muslims would likely see life-extending technologies as in accordance with God’s plan for humanity. “Whenever there is something new, Muslims believe that it has happened with God’s endorsement,” says Abdulaziz Sachedina, chair of Islamic studies at George Mason University and the author of “Islamic Biomedical Ethics.” “Whatever we do, God has a hand in it.”

 

Neither major branch of Islam (Sunni and Shia) has a central authority that would issue a decree on life extension. But Shia Muslims do follow religious leaders known as grand ayatollahs, who issue religious edicts, called fatwas, that are binding on their followers.

 

According to Mohsen Kadivar, a Shia theologian and philosopher based in Iran but currently teaching at Duke University in Durham, N.C., many Shia ayatollahs would likely sanction life-extension therapies as long as their object was not to extend life indefinitely. “There is a difference between life extension and immortality,” Kadivar says, adding, “The first is acceptable and the second is not acceptable, according to Islam and the Quran.”

 

Musa and Sachedina, who are Sunni, agree that striving for immortality would go against Islamic teachings because it would keep Muslims from heaven. “There is a deep-seated belief that death is a blessing,” Sachedina says. “We look forward to dying.”

 

Islamist nasheeds embrace modern technology while staying true to ideals

In his head shot, he’s posed like Leonardo DiCaprio for Tag Heuer, eyes upward in a pensive stare with a giant watch beside his cheek. Photos on Facebook show him in a production studio, the creative home base for the songs and videos he has become famous for. Muhammed Abu ‘Azrael al-Karbalai seems boyish and accessible — the singer even lists his mobile number on his Facebook page. But the 23 year-old Iraqi’s latest track, which surfaced online sometime between April and May, contains Arabic lyrics that translate roughly to:

Do not cross the line. . . We will silence you

Oh Syrian army, focus and show them what you can do

“This one is complex,” said Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, who recently posted the video and translated lyrics on Jihadology.net, a Web site that tracks digital material released by jihadist organizations. “The groups out of Iraq are sophisticated. Some of them even have their own production companies.”

With easy access to home production studios and widespread social media presence, jihadist nasheeds are becoming ubiquitous, employed by both Sunni and Shia groups. Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been chronicling the nasheeds since 2010, when he created Jihadology.net. He has found Auto-Tuned nasheeds that date back to the 1990s, and he isn’t surprised by high-quality production.

“Jihadists are some of the earliest adopters of technologies,” Zelin said. “Every top level group uses HD-quality production, Photoshop, voice-overs. It’s all top shelf.”

Sunni vs. Shia in Gerrard’s Cross: New mosque highlights growing tensions among British Muslims

In Fulmer, Buckinghamshire a village close to Gerrard’s Cross it was announced that a former church in the village had been bought for £2m, with a plan to turn it into one of Britain’s leading Shia mosques, assurances were sought about traffic and increased noise. But otherwise the new arrivals have been made welcome. The Muslim community faces an increasing threat from polarising clerics on both sides of Islam’s principal rival sects. The concern is rooted in increasingly vociferous opinions being expressed on both sides of Britain’s three million-strong Muslim community.

 

A leading mainstream Muslim group told The Independent yesterday it was concerned at the presence of “divisive and sectarian personalities” in Britain after it emerged that a controversial Saudi Sunni cleric, who was banned from entering Switzerland because of his extremist views and has frequently preached against “evil Shiites”, has been in London for the past week.

 

The respected Al Khoei Foundation, a mainstream Shia organisation which has drawn up a code of conduct to fight against Muslim sectarianism in Britain, said: “The Muslim communities remain concerned but vigilant about the possibilities of divisive and sectarian personalities being given the air of publicity in the UK. But we remain equally confident of our commitment to unity in the face of any hate speeches or crimes against us or against any community.”

 

Police were called to a demonstration in London’s Edgware Road last month led by Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the banned Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun. Participants in the protest held placards condemning the continued bloodshed in Syria and “the Shia enemies of Allah”. The violence at the heart of one of London’s most diverse Arab and Muslim areas has caused alarm in the wider community and was swiftly condemned by a coalition of Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), amid growing concern that extremist preachers are finding fertile ground in sectarian tensions generated by the conflict in Syria.

 

In a joint statement, which singled out the “antics” of Mr Choudary, the MCB said: “Sunnis and Shias remain united in the UK and have a long-established history of intra-faith co-operation. We are acutely aware that the complex situation in the Middle East and Muslim world has the possibility of threatening that tradition… We should avoid hate and condescending speech and literature in our midst.”

 

David Cameron hinted last week that mosques seeking to ban extremist preachers could have their legal fees paid from public funds as part of a raft of measures being drawn up by a ministerial task force, which is also considering direct bans on so-called “preachers of hate” being given public platforms.

Temporary Marriages Revived In UK Shia Muslim Community

13 May 2013

 

The BBC reports that an Islamic practice, nikah mut’ah (temporary marriage), is gaining in popularity amongst young Shia Muslims in the UK. Described as “basically a contract,” temporary marriages allow young Muslims to meet and get to know each other before entering a permanent marriage and without breaking Islamic law. These informal marriages are the subject of a recent BBC Radio Asian Network special report entitled, “Married for a Minute.”

 

Sara, a Muslim woman who entered into a temporary marriage and spoke to the BBC about her experience, said that she entered into the arrangement because “It allowed us to meet without breaking the bounds of Sharia [Islamic law]. We both wanted to date, to go out for dinner or go shopping and just get to know each other better before getting married, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.” Though statistics are not gathered on these informal arrangements, Muslim leaders interviewed by the BBC claim that the practice is experiencing a revival amongst Shia university students in the UK.

 

Temporary marriages are not universally accepted in the Muslim community. The practice is largely confined to the Shia community, with Sunnis considering these informal marriages haram (forbidden). A Sunni spokesperson for the UK Islamic Sharia Council said that “There is no difference between mut’ah marriages and prostitution” and that she has never come across a Sunni scholar who has declared such practices halal (permissible).

Shia Muslims celebrate the Shura

26/11/2012

Hundreds of Shiite Muslims in Spain commemorated this weekend the day of Ashura, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the third Shiite Imam, Imam Hussein along with his 72 companions.
In Spain’s capital, Madrid, the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran organized religious ceremonies from the first day of the month of Moharam which hosted both Muslims and Christians of Spain.
In the capital of the of Catalonia, Barcelona, also similar acts where staged such as religious processions, despite the process of Catalan elections were held on Sunday.