The man behind the bombings

by - 29th August 2005

The 'clash of civilizations' is really a dialogue of the deaf. In Britain, the State has not taken religion seriously for maybe a century. And Muslims are not spiritual in a way that fits what sense of religiosity Britain has left.

The bureaucrats' operational theory is that just as Europe has 'secularised', so other 'faiths' that come to Britain will secularise too. This largely explains the decades-long complacency about clerics preaching hatred: it would pass just like Anglicanism is (said to be) passing.

Muslims on the other hand find it difficult to explain their religion in ways that resonate here. Apart from the scholars, they have rarely actually read their own Scriptures - or heard them preached on - in language they can understand. Popular Islam is, at root, an aural civilization based on collective ritualised observance. Religion is not a private, but a communal matter.

It is too easy for the West to impose its own models on others and assume that Islam works - or should work - like Anglicanism. Or that political Islam functions in the same way as Western politics, and if it does not, it is through malign caprice. Muslim consciousness at its core finds Western libertinism and hegemony an affront to the honour and promise of God, and the bearded demagogues have merely to appeal to group solidarity. The sensibilities of 16% of Britain's young Muslims, (according to research) and particularly of Pakistani extraction, have been formed by the writings and interpretations of men embittered by causes far older than Iraq.

One-time journalist and founder of the Jamaat-I-Islami in Pakistan, Sayyid Abu'l Ala Maududi who died in 1979 is still perhaps the most influential. One of the two founders of Islamis, he was committed to the reestablishment of an Islamic world order, politically, legally and socially and systematised Islamic thought for the modern age. It is his disciples who now run the Islamic Foundation in Leicester - now an important and accredited institution of Islamic learning, and very much involved in national interfaith processes. British police attend there for racism-awareness training.

Maududi, self-taught in Western scholarship, was an Indian Muslim who moved to Pakistan after Partition. Despite initially rejecting the idea of the 'nation' as contrary to the spirit of the umma, he nonetheless helped by his writings to develop Pakistani nationhood. He was central to the articulation of a dream of a resurrected Muslim consciousness, after the humiliations of the Raj. What fired him was the contest of systems: the pure khilafah of idealised Islam versus the godless West. The Saudi regime honoured him.

Islam is a utopian system and Maududi articulated the sense of yearning that all religions have, but harnessed this yearning to an impossible dream. His premise was that, out of all the hundreds of years of Islamic history, only those fifteen following the death of the Prophet could be regarded as reliable exemplification for the foundation of a global system. He admired progressivist particularly Marxian thought and incorporated it into his idea that all of Islamic history could be swept away, dismissed as the product of venality, compromise or error - which must be ruthlessly stamped out by a new breed of revolutionaries.

The contemporary degradation of the ummah was the result merely of lack of will, he taught. `The Islamic revolution brought about by the Holy Prophet was the outcome of years of toil - years spent in producing men suitable for the cause,' he wrote. Godliness could not be fostered by ungodless people. Maududi set himself the task of molding an uncontaminated body of men of sufficient moral fibre and discipline that they could not only flout the evidence of history, but emulate the heroes of the golden age, when God came close to men, and ushered in the requisite `Islamic atmosphere' within which society could be regenerated.

Maududi was happy to use the mechanisms of the Western State - its technology and even its political idioms such as the notions of 'constitution' and 'state' which are un-Islamic - even though he hated the West whose people and products he regarded as 'irreligious'. He inculcated that hatred in his followers. He particularly lamented 'the satanic flood of female liberty and licence which threatens to destroy human civilization in the West . . . '

Maududi viewed this process in religious terms, as `a Holy War against the forces of evil'. Entry to the Jamaat required more than merely assent. Moral and intellectual zealotry were the litmus test, the sine qua non of membership: self-subjection, total commitment to the objective and a kind of asceticism that made the worker obnoxious if necessary even to his own family. `. . . you should, both in your individual capacity and as a party member, cherish your goal and adhere to your principles to such a degree that the unprincipled people round you find your way of life intolerable.'

His followers were exhorted to extreme behaviour. 'Your puritanic behaviour should become repugnant to your wives. You should become a stranger in your own country.' Maududi is indeed winning his ideological war when Londoners read in their Evening Standard that it was the very families of the bombers who rang the bomb helpline to find out where their own sons were.

Maududi's thinking lives on in Britain in the minds of the young, through small study groups up and down the country. The Islamic Foundation was led, after its founding, by a man who had been the Vice President of the organization Maududi founded in Pakistan. Kurram Murad has been credited with huge influence over young Muslims worldwide. He died in 1996 in Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.

This same Murad believed it was possible to justify violence from the Qur'an, and in one of his most influential documents he cites Sura 57:25:

Allah . . . revealed iron, wherein is mighty power and (many) uses for mankind, and that Allah may know him who helpeth Him and His messengers, though unseen. Lo! Allah is strong, Almighty.

Murad wrote that this justified even 'using force to dislodge powers that have become gods.'

Islam's inner dynamic must secure power. As the Anglican scholar Kenneth Cragg has written: 'What still remains mandatory to the Islamic mind is that this religious faith assumes, desires, and proceeds by state-and-power expression'. Muslims' torment today is in having to be true to that demand - in a society that as Cragg says, has learned to live with 'the negligibility of God'. British Islam's problem is its fear of secularity. The term 'intellectual invasion' (al-ghazw al-fikri) is commonly used to refer to Western cultural influence. It is often seen as more insidious than political and military dominance.

Secular rulers have nothing to say that Muslims can legitimately hear. Only faith can speak to faith. Religion holds the key to the future of the country.

A copy of this article first appeared in Church of England Newspaper.