Who represents Muslims? The answer is a resounding – no one

So who does does speak for Muslims or Islam? The answer is a resounding - no one.

Who represents, or who speaks for, Muslims? After countless debates and articles dedicated to this question, which is asked every so often (usually on a slow news day), it is posed once again.

On Monday’s Newsnight, Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz had just this debate with Huffington Post’s political editor (UK) Mehdi Hasan and Twitter celebrity Mohammed Ansar.

Oxford academic Myriam Francois Cerrah was also supposed to be on the show but was dropped at the last minute for ‘editorial reasons’ in favour of another male (Mohammed Ansar).

What we eventually saw was a group of South Asian Muslim men, aged 30 plus, shouting at each other (because we clearly don’t see enough of those do we?) The result was a tit-for-tat argument that descended into chaos, which even Jeremy Paxman left looking bewildered.

There is clearly no love lost between Mehdi Hasan and Maajid Nawaz, but the pair wasted an opportunity to come together to have a much needed discourse on the issue of Muslim representation.

Ironically, Myriam Cerrah complained about the all-male panel, claiming it was not representing a diverse range of views but then suggested that ex-Muslims should not be able to speak about Islam.

Far too often, Muslims complain that there is no unity within their communities yet when debates such as the one on Newsnight are aired, they take one side against the other, declare one, or all, participant(s) as non-Muslim, or non representative.



This is a problem we have – as soon as there is a Muslim, or someone of Muslim heritage gives an interview, they immediately pounce on them, attack them, or vilify them as not representative or not ‘Muslim enough’. Yet no participant, or writer, who ever speaks about Islam or Muslims purports to be representing everyone.

And, as much as I agree with many of Maajid’s views, even he does not speak for me. I speak for myself, though I understand that there are many people out there whose voices are not represented in the media.

This is why it is important to have a broad range of opinions (and this goes goes for anything, not just Muslims), meaning we cannot just play host to liberal voices. We must allow liberal, conservative, reactionary and even extremist voices, regardless of whether we agree with them not

This includes people such as Maajid or Mona Eltahawy, Mehdi Hasan, Myriam Cerrah, even the extremist Anjem Choudary and those from groups such as the Islamic Education and Research Academy, who advocate segregation at University lectures, because stifling debate is not the answer.

As soon as you forbid one opinion or one person’s views, you send them underground and make them martyrs for their cause.

So who does does speak for Muslims or Islam? The answer is a resounding – no one. No one can, or should, speak for the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet, and nor does any one person or organisation represent Islam.

Follow Iram Ramzan on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

13 Responses to “Who represents Muslims? The answer is a resounding – no one”

  1. Winston_from_the_Ministry

    Surely the answer is “whoever they allow to”.

  2. Mark

    Ansar may well have been in London, expecting to be on Channel4 news, but he was dumped. Then Francois-Cerrah is dumped for him on Newsnight. What happened? Did Newsnight know Ansar was around, or were they contacted by somebody who was suddenly free to do a job? Were media agents invloved? Who knows?
    Ansar has tackled the dumping of Francoise-Cerrah with the point he was dumped for an older man on Channel4, which he says, he’s ok with. I wonder if he’s taking that view because he muscled in on Newsnight. Otherwsie, he might bemoan the non-female representation.
    Then on the program, forget the film Nawaz made, it was all about the tweeting of cartoons and shoe-horning in an attack on Quilliam and Nawaz.
    Move on to BBC Free Speech the next night, and in the audience is Amadullah al Andalusi, and Nawaz on the panel. During the subject of gay/muslim, Andalusi, suddenly shoe-horned in an attack on Nawaz and Quillian as if to some sort of script. Apart from that some women in the audience seemed to be Quran/Hadith literalists, bemoaning homsexuality, like some sort of beared imam.
    Check out the BBC program The Big Questions. Some weeks will have three Christians. Two of them may be bible literalists. One, maybe an apologist. The next week, a Christian liberal and a Christian leaning towards agnosticism. Who represents Christians? Same for Jews; one week an orthodox Rabbi who won’t shake hands with women, the next week, a female Rabbi.There are too many Christian, etc views to choose from, and I’d guess that goes for Muslims. However, it is generally only The Big Questions where such literalist Christians get airtime on TV (unlike many years ago), but Islamic literalists are now getting more airtime on mainstream programs. I thought I’d seen the end of Christian hellfire preachers on TV from long ago, and that may well be true now, but they are being replaced with Muslim ones.

    It seems to me that the nutty Christians have backed off over time because popular public opinion took them over. Nutty Islamists don’t care, and the media is confused as to who should speak. The last year has seen a change of sorts, where tougher questions of said Islamists are now being asked, and I hope I do detect a desperation among them, and also detect a move towards using liberal, secular Muslims.
    Currently, a panel on Question Time, might have five people, and some might ask, “Where is the Muslim” or “Why that Muslim”? We need to get to a point where those questions are not asked, because it doesn’t matter, much like no questions of “Where is the Christian/Atheist/Jew/Hindu/Sikh?”

  3. Ortega

    Apart from that some women in the audience seemed to be Quran/Hadith literalists, bemoaning homsexuality, like some sort of beared imam.
    Just to be a major nitpicker but I’d say puritans rather than literalists. The one woman said that alcohol and drugs are clearly prohibited in “Islam”. It’s actually not clear historically at all, especially as regards drugs. Cannabis was used by many mystical Islamic orders in the past and even the jurists weren’t that strongly against it.

  4. Dave Roberts

    This is the same circular argument about who speaks for ethnic minorities. Before its unlamented demise the unelected Commission for Racial Equality claimed it represented the interests views and wishes of all Black Minority Ethnic people. Then it became Black Asian Minority Ethnic so you can take your pick BME or BAME. Of course all it ever was was a vast money spinning racket that invented racism and persecuted white people.

    Then of course we had the shambles of all of the Livingstone funded groups that allegedly represented this and that minority except that once again they were totally unelected and disappeared once the electorate of London dumped his newtness.

    The answer of course is that non of these people or groups speak for Muslims. There is no Muslim community as there is no Gay, Financial or Intelligence community. There are all different kinds of Muslims with different opinions just like the rest of us.

  5. swatnan

    Its about time that all muslims got their house in order.
    Everyone is sick to death about hearing about problems in that community.
    They have to adapt and change their ways.

  6. crosscop

    If they change their ways they will not be Muslims anymore – and that would be a good thing.

  7. crosscop

    I’d pay good money to see a real debate about Islam. Preferably with Robert Spencer on the panel so that he could ask Mehdi Hasan why he doctored Sura 5:32 in his article (in the Daily Telegraph after Lee Rigby was killed) to disguise the fact that the Koran justified the murder. And why he failed to mention the very next verse (5:33) which not only justifies the killing but also the crucifixion and mutilation of people like Lee Rigby. Oh, and to also ask Hasan to explain his comments ( which can be seen on You tube) about we “kuffar” being “cattle.”

  8. cbinTH

    Good final summary. Although it’s true that not-to-care is a healthier mindset, though, in fact it surely does matter who’s invited onto Question Time, as the audience want to see themselves represented?

    I saw Andalusi’s performance on “The Big Question”, and it struck me quite strongly that he came out against pronouncing people not to be Muslim, which put him in unspoken conflict with the young girl in the audience who refused to admit that a homosexual could be a Muslim, and who responded to Nawaz’s point about some Muslims seeing her own behaviour as sinful by simply asserting that those people were wrong.

  9. Mark

    If you get someone like Nawaz making the point that some muslims may condemn her for no veil and sitting amongst men, you have a reasonable, logical person. For her to simply dismiss that point showed her absolute ignorance. He effectively destroyed her point, but she wasn’t having it.

  10. cbinTH

    Well, of course, Abdullah came to her defence by pointing out that, however various Muslims may be in their belief, there is only correct and incorrect Islam (which is logical, inevitable even, if you are a believer), and that by suggesting that all interpretations of Islam are equal, Maajid Nawaz is just like that other well known re-interpretor, Osama Bin Laden.

    Abdullah Al-Andalusi always feels he has distanced himself from terrorism by disavowing the procedural flaws in that approach, compared to the conventional Islamic laws of war. His articles praising movements that use terrorism and sympathising with their cause, whilst claiming to be anything but a “supporter” of terrorism, are frustrating in the extreme. It was something of a pleasant surprise when writers on his own website attacked his article on the Kenyan shopping mall atrocity for focusing too much on the sins of the Kenyan government, and for not unambiguously condemning al-Shabaab.

  11. Mark

    We know why Andalusi was there, and what his ultimate objective was. Nawaz is correct. It’s simply interpreted differently. Did he say that was a *good* thing? I don’t remember, but Adalusi just using the fact that different interpretations *do* exist, as an analogy for Bin laden (apparently) ignoring the Quran, was ridiculous. He simply wanted to link Nawaz to Bin laden in a sentence. And who says (apart from Andalusi), that Bin Laden did actually ignore the Quran?

  12. Pavvy

    I feel really sorry for the presenter.

  13. Bosun Higgs

    Slowly, we begin to see the dazzlingly obvious – that nobody can claim to speak for 1.6 million people except a demagogue. It’s an essentially fascist idea. Where Marxism slices society horizontally, fascists see neat vertical divisions.

Leave a Reply