As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches, and British Muslims prepare for four weeks of fasting during day
light hours, a perennial debate on changing the Ramadan observance times in northern regions has sprung up again.
Dr Usama Haswan, an Islamic researcher from anti-extremism group Quilliam, has said that it would make more sense for Muslims in the UK to follow Mecca timings, as daylight lasts much longer this far north than it does in the Middle East
Dr Hasan said that Islamic law is about balance, and reducing the fasting hours to something more reasonable is more sensible. However, things get worse the further north you go. In Aberdeen, more than 500 miles north of London, daylight will last for around 18 hours during Ramadan. But even with a lengthy fast for British Muslims, the vast majority are adamant that they will observe it, no matter how difficult it is.
This opinion piece by Usama Hasan is reaction and commentary on Nazir Ahmed’s alleged ‘Jewish conspiracy’ comments in a Pakistani television interview in april. This in turn is the consequence of a toxic underlying legacy of misunderstanding between the Jewish and Muslim faiths the author argues.
The piece reports of cases of anti-Semitism and its perpetrators, with the increase in its occurrence resulting from a growing far-right, with an upsurge in neo-Nazi extremism across Europe that combines both vicious anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The author argues that what is needed now is “zero tolerance of all anti-Semitism, racism and Islamophobia, whether it comes from the far-right or Islamist extremists. We need honest and open, constructive engagement between British Muslims and Jews, including on the subject of Israel and Palestine, for which there is an increasing appetite among our communities.”
The author then concludes by stating the following:
“It is time to ditch conspiracy theories that focus on blaming the other. Far better to conspire openly to promote mutual dialogue and understanding, in the best spirit of our common humanity.”
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.
For this article, the author has met British Muslim women who have taken on the fight against Islamic extremism. Tehmina Kazi, for example, who defended imam and lecturer Usama Hasan, who had received death threats after declaring that evolution were compatible with Islam. She is also the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, an organisation that has always been headed by a woman, supports a young Muslim leadership programme, holds demonstrations against radical groups like Islam4UK and stands for diversity within Islam. The article cites many examples of female activism within the Muslim community and in society.
Following the controversy around evolution theory and Islam ( http://www.euro-islam.info/2011/03/13/imam-withdraws-his-pro-evolution-statements-after-threats ), an opinion piece in the Guardian focuses the variety of Muslim opinions on evolution and the role of anti-Islamic sentiment in the debate.
In this piece, Salman Hameed calls for a more nuanced view on what Muslims think of evolution theory, as there is not one “official” stance, although many do find the theory challenging. But the critics who denounced the views of Usama Hasan, a lecturer and imam who defended evolution theory but withdrew his statements after receiving death threats, only fuel anti-Islamic sentiments, Hameed claims. Evolution theory was just another area after the headscarf issue where many non-Muslims will not be able and willing to understand Islam. Hameed therefore calls for a free debate of the theory among Muslims without having to fear any repressions or threats.
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.