The left must support Birmingham’s liberal Muslims, not the Islamists

Most British Muslims do not practice the Islam of the so-called trojan horse plot.

Trojan horse plotj

Most British Muslims do not practice the Islam of the so-called trojan horse plot

Since the Trojan Horse Islamist school plot hit the headlines, the extremist architects of the plot have hit back with the inevitable claims of ‘Islamophobia’, ‘racism’ and ‘hostility’, with some on the left misguidedly defending these Islamists and branding the current investigations a ‘witch hunt’ against Muslims.

Just to remind readers of what we are dealing with here – these schools had banned music and the use of musical instruments, they stocked books advocating stoning, lashing, execution, intimidated Muslim moderates, made children engage in anti-Christian chants and invited a pro-al-Qaeda speaker into one of the schools.

Mohammad Zabar, a former teacher at Park View, said “It is important for Muslim parents to say that what is happening is wrong, and to stand up against it. The culture I’ve been brought up with is that you mix with all races and communities and this will drive wedges between different communities.”

Some staff at the schools hit back with cries of ‘hostility’ and ‘Islamophobia’, but it is important not to be fooled by crocodile tears from extremists. This is not the Sufi inspired Islam of my parents nor the Islam of millions of Muslims in Britain. Ofsted and the Education Funding Authority have already found indisputable evidence of a plot and I expect, when the Department of Education (DfE) releases its own findings, they will be much the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me make something clear: this is not the Islam I was bought up with by my parents. It is not the Islam that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain, most of whom are from South-Asia, were bought up with. Salafi-Wahhabism, originating in the 18th Century, is a particularly virulent strain of religious fundamentalism which is being pushed and funded by oil rich Gulf States.

Sufism on the other hand, is a thousand years older than that. It is a branch of Islam known for its humanism, openness, tolerance and spirituality. Ask any Pakistani or Indian about the Qawwalis of Nusrat or Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and they will smile with pride.

And rightly so. Qawwalis are a great tradition and a huge part of Asian Islam. Age old Sufi religious music like Dam Dama Dam Must Qalandar praise Hindu saints and seek to work for unity across faiths in the Pakistani province of Sindh. The virulent Salafi-Wahabi strain of Islam, however, considers Sufism to be heretical, let alone calls for brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims.

It is contingent upon the South Asian populations of Birmingham and indeed the liberal left, which has sometimes failed to support liberal Muslims in their bid to face off this extremist threat, to save the Islam of their parents. A good step would be to acknowledge the Wahabist/Salafist attempts to indoctrinate young children into their regressive, ultra-conservative brand of Islam while branding any of their critics ‘Islamophobic’.

It is too easy to shrug off this plot as a vicious smear campaign against Britain’s Muslims instead of acknowledging that a minority of self-appointed ‘representatives’ of Muslims are pushing their own extremist agenda in state funded secular schools. Liberals, leftists, Muslims and non-Muslims alike should condemn attempts to divide communities.

The left must support liberal Muslims; and Muslims themselves must channel the Sufi tradition of their parents which worked to bridge divides between communities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Misguided attempts to curtail anti-Muslim bigotry are not helped by refusing to acknowledge attempts by fundamentalist Muslims to indoctrinate Muslim children or speak for Muslims as a whole when they clearly do not.

Only by supporting liberal, humanistic values which cross faiths and communities can the problem of extremists who give Muslims a bad name be tackled.

The divisive, hateful and draconian Islam found in these schools is similar to that sometimes heard in university and college campuses. It is at these universities that Islamists have spent the last two decades making a concerted effort to capture and control Islamic societies at the expense of the Sufi influenced Islam of my parents and the parents of the overwhelming majority of British Muslims. At least four former heads of Islamic societies in the UK have been charged with terrorist offences.

How many more children must be indoctrinated into the brand of Islam followed by the likes of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab (the underwear bomber) before we realise that there is a problem? If extremists running riot on university and college campuses has led to the emergence of terrorists, most of whom failed in their plots, would the next bomb plot have to be successful before we all wake up?

Zaheer Rayasat is an activist and social commentator

38 Responses to “The left must support Birmingham’s liberal Muslims, not the Islamists”

  1. Liam Fairley

    Excellent and sensible article. One minor disagreement: you say ‘some’ on the left misguidedly defend Islamists; I would have said, regrettably, ‘most’ on the left. Salma Yaqoob seems to be denying there’s any evidence of extremism whatsoever. The last time I spoke out against extremists and the subjection of woman, I was accused of wanting to start another Crusade, and that, actually, I didn’t really care about woman’s rights at all.

  2. Astrid Fernandez

    We need to raise the voices of people like Zaheer Rayasat, and challenge the voices of the Islamo-Wahabbi-Fascist nasties that claim to speak for Muslims. They don’t.

  3. Astrid Fernandez

    I presume you’re a white male, therefore you don’t qualify for an opinion in the eyes of the looney left 🙂

  4. norman jones

    ” Muslims themselves must channel the Sufi tradition of their parents” – sorry, but not all British Muslims are from Sufi backgrounds. At various times it’s been claimed that 80% are, but I’m not sure this is true at all.

    And why bring ‘the left’ into it here? There’s absolutely no evidence that anyone on the mainstream left is siding with the extremist governers in this ‘Trojan horse’ case. your ‘some on the left’ brings up a discursive guaridna piece – evidence only of balanced reporting.

  5. Liam Fairley

    Sad but true. Was told pretty much the same thing by white, middle-class 18-year-old students not long ago. It’s sad how sensible debate has all but di
    dissapeared in academia by the increasingly vitriolic, incorrigible ‘left’

  6. John Smith

    ‘Most British Muslims do not practice the Islam of the so-called trojan horse plot’

    Maybe not but they have a poor track record of turning in the Islamists that are dangerous & giving them a bad name
    The rhetoric is always interesting but actions speak louder than words

  7. Mike Stallard

    What a fine article.
    It is about time that the claims of the Salafists were questioned, especially by a practising Muslim. My daughter lives actually in Saudi at the moment and she tells me that the Saudis are not nearly as savage as the Salafists in this country – or Syria or Iraq. For example, the punishments in her town (she is Western) certainly do not include crucifixion, hand chopping or stoning. Even alcohol manufacture and sale (on a titanic scale) was only punished by a £1,000 fine.
    And, further across the scale, I have heard it said (by Muslims) that Singapore has forbidden its nationals to go to work in Saudi because of the way they were treated.
    The Salafists, despite their demagoguery, are actually a tiny part of world-wide Islam.

  8. Just Visiting

    I;m trying to understand your point here Norman.

    Are you saying the Guardian are not part of the ‘left’ ?

    Or that the Guardian’s coverage suggests they are in touch with the reality of what happened?

    Yesterday they wrote the following it sounds like they are still majorly in denial to me: see what they think the most important lesson to be learnt is:

    “Trojan horse affair: five lessons we must learn
    Shows Gove has too much power and daily worship should be scrapped, but
    the most important point is the need to support the schools involved”

    And reading their 5 lessons, none mention the word islam: only one even mentions the word religion:

    ” Fourth, the place of religious bodies and their organised faiths in schools needs to be understood and reframed.”

    What do they mean by the weasel word ‘reframed’ ?!

  9. Just Visiting

    Or yesterday the Guardian put up a piece by an anonymous Headmaster (why did they need to be anonymous – when several of the headmasters directly involved have not felt the need to be anonymous).

    And guess what the Guardian headline was :

    “A Birmingham head: Trojan horse is not about Islam, it’s about academies”

    So, It does seem the Guardian are bending over backwards to avoid the reality that in this case we actually ought to have a debate, as to why Islam was involved: and not any other religion.

  10. Just Visiting

    Hi Mike
    is your daughter Arab speaking?
    Is she sure that what she’s going on may not be the whole picture ; that there perhaps may be window-dressing going on for the sake of western eyes?

    This is what Human Rights watch write:
    “Over 9 million migrant workers…many suffer multiple abuses
    and labor exploitation, sometimes amounting to slavery-like conditions. ”
    “Under the discriminatory Saudi guardianship system, girls and women are
    forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing
    certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians”
    “Women remain banned from driving.”
    “Strict clothing requirements for women were publicly enforced.”

    Or Amnesty:
    “Some 10 protesters were reportedly shot dead and others injured by
    security forces, during or in connection with the Eastern Province
    “At least 79 prisoners were executed, mostly in public. They included at
    least 52 Saudi Arabians and at least 27 foreign nationals, including at
    least one woman. Some prisoners were executed for non-violent offences.”
    “On 26 September, two men were killed and a third was fatally injured in
    unclarified circumstances when security forces raided a house in search
    of a man wanted for allegedly “stirring up unrest”. No official
    investigation into the deaths was known to have been held.”
    “Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees and sentenced prisoners
    were reported to be common, widespread and generally committed with
    impunity. Reported methods included beating, suspension by the limbs and
    sleep deprivation. ”
    “The courts continued to impose sentences of flogging as a principal or
    additional punishment for many offences. At least five defendants were
    sentenced to flogging of 1,000 to 2,500 lashes. “

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    You presume that people’s right to speak is conditional…you.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Ignoring the failures of some christian academies now?

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    So an extremist got hot and bothered with you…why should that stop you speaking out? Extremism can come from both sides of the political spectrum, and they’re both wrong.

    Perhaps, though, it was more that you’re apparently conflating Islam and Islamism.

  14. robertcp

    I am not a Muslim and I am not sure if I want to support any type of Muslim. They can worship whatever they like, so long as they do not harm other people. Regarding Birmingham, it is still not clear to me what happened. Some incidents appear to be unacceptable but there is also a lot of hysteria.

  15. Paul J

    The Guardian are NOT part of the left, no. They used to be, but they are now liberals, which is not the same thing.

  16. Dave Roberts

    The Guardian ceased to be part of the left years ago. Seamus Milne is still nostalgic for the Soviet Union.

  17. Mike Stallard

    She can only meet and greet in Arabic, but her husband works all over Saudi on business.
    Saudi is an Arab country. It is not British. There never has been a Magna Carta, a Bill of Rights or a 1660/1685 settlement. The King is the King.
    And, of course, the East of the country (where they live) is Shi’a largely – so the Arab spring had to be ruthlessly suppressed – as in Bahrein.
    The flogging is certainly nothing like that in, say, the British navy in the 1800s or in Public Schools in the 1850s. I am told (never seen one myself) that the flogger has to hold a copy of the Koran under his arm while flogging.
    Women have ancient rights. If you read 4.16ff, you will get the picture. Also there are things about gay marriage there too.(4.15) Actually it is all rather like Edwardian London – with Gentlemen’s Clubs and ladies withdrawing at dinner and covered up in public. There is, of course, a large gay – in the 19th century sense of the word – life going on too. Polygamy is a curse and, I have observed myself, quite common. It is hilarious to see a tall Arab in a white cassock and headdress buying bras in a shop while his wives look on.
    In a way it is all rather fun for a man for a couple of week’s holiday.

  18. norman jones

    you’d have to ask the author of that opinion piece, who incidentally is NOT ‘The Guardian’. It’s not a leader piece. There must be something badly wrong with your schooling if you think the two are the same.

    To me that passage means that the issue of faith in schools needs to be considered in its entirety. For example if this academy had been a faith school all of these things would have been ok. And that’s surely not right.

  19. norman jones

    Well yes. And my main concern about this is – why did it take Michael Gove, whose book is pretty much anti-Islam per se, took FOUR YEARS to notice this was happening, ignoring warnings. Clearly the DfE is incapable of providing the necessary oversight.

    The debate here should be about the role of faith in schooling (to me, there shouldn’t any any such role except in religious education) and the lack of oversight of academies. Those were a Labour invention, so they’re by no means blameless, but Gove and the tories think they are amazing when it’s clear that the academies system makes this kind of thing much easier.

  20. apnorf

    Faith schools will make this sort of problem inevitable. ALL schools should be secular which is the only way anyone’s faith will be respected. My sister, a retired primary schoolteacher, worked for many years in a Catholic school where the local priest was an Irish nationalist (nothing wrong with that) but who told the children he would “dance on the graves of British soldiers”. It’s not just Islamic schools that can be threatened with fanaticism..

  21. swatnan

    Are there any liberal muslims?. Well., you could have fooled me.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    That’d be blind support for free schools and academies. Any failing undermine the justification for their program. The DfE wasn’t allowed to do it’s job of oversight as a result.

    (I’m no Labourite, and look to Finland’s educational model)

  23. Leon Wolfeson

    So how will you replace the schools which would close?

  24. Liam Fairley

    Believe me, Leon, I fully understand the distinction between Islam and Islamism; Ed Hussain’s excellent ‘The Islamist’ taught me that much when I first read it several years ago. I wasn’t under the impression one needed to supply one’s credentials. whatever they might be, to post an opinion on here. That little voice in back of your mind is just screaming “ISLAMOPHOBE”, isn’t it.

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    No, that’s the little politically correct voice at the back of your mind.
    Yes, I am being sarcastic.

    I am basically unconvinced, and remain so, because of what you posted, nothing more. When you make certain kinds of claims…without backing…

  26. Ortega

    sorry, but not all British Muslims are from Sufi backgrounds

    To be honest, the term “sufi” has become completely meaningless. It’s just become a generic term for any expression of Islam outside of the “five pillars”. It’s certainly not a “branch of Islam” as this article claims.

  27. Ortega

    Sufism on the other hand, is a thousand years older than that.


    The Sufi and Hanbali / Ahl al-Hadeeth trends both started in the early Abbasid empire.
    Wahhabis are just Hanbalis with oil (and before that British Imperial Support).

  28. apnorf

    The buildings, teachers etc. EXIST, there is no reason to close any they just stop being faith based. I’ve worked in many schools; secular, C of E and Catholic and the ethos of all is pretty much the same, they operate the same, they teach the same stuff so what would be a problem? They just wouldn’t be tied to one faith. If faith groups needed to use school facilities out of school hours would that be a problem?

  29. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’d seize the buildings. Conscript teachers into work. That’s what it means…you can’t legally change ownership and force people into new jobs like that!

    But then you’d paper up a new sign without the “Catholic” which changes nothing else. Er…

    I’d have a problem with that, it’s the same problem as America, religion being hidden behind a “separation, can’t talk about it” façade. No, let’s talk about it openly. If there are to be no state-funded faith schools, then they need to be closed (or go private).

    That means the funding needs to be allocated. There needs to be new management teams, new employment contracts. Proper transfer of ownership of the land. The law needs to be followed!

  30. Pluto Animus

    We must support liberal Muslims.

    Both of them.


  31. Rashida Islam

    A question to the author – self-hating much? It’s quite clear that a minority group is being subject to a series of pernicious attacks vis a vis Islamophobia.

  32. Rashida Islam

    Instead of rounding in on an already assaulted community try defending it from the barrage of racism leveling from the media, the political elite and those on the progressive spectrum who should know better. You only serve to inflate yourself with this nonsense but you’re in good company as evidenced from the pomposity emanating from this thread.

  33. yewtree

    Very good article.

    Only a couple of days ago, I was arguing with a non-Muslim on Facebook who claimed that all Muslims want women to be banned from driving, and other Wahhabist ideas. I pointed out that there are many different groupings in Islam (Sunni, Shi’ite, Wahhabist, etc) and the major differences between them. Saying that all Muslims are like the Wahabists is a bit like saying that all Christians are like the Westboro Baptist Church.

    People should not brand all Muslims as extremists. Nor should we claim that all criticism of Islam is islamophobia.

    I am a Pagan and we have suffered from defamation in the past. People need to be educated about religion, and the different groupings within religions. Otherwise, we will all be labelled and dismissed as being like the extremists.

  34. Rajia Dejany

    Guys, I think it’s now time to get to the very root of the matter. The values we hold so dear on the left such as equality between all human beings and freedom are in direct opposition with the teachings of the quran which are sexist, homophobic, violent and condone rape and slavery. 4:24 ‘And prohibited unto you all married women, except those your right hand possesses.’ Really? Is it ok to possess another human being? It is permitted for men to beat their wives and ‘prophet’ Muhammed has said ‘A woman will reach heaven under the feet of her husband’.

    The muslims we call ‘moderate’ are following the nicer and more ethical verses of the Quran whilst those we call ‘extremist’ are just following the text in it’s entirety and punishing or doing away with anyone they perceive to be a threat to their religious agenda. 8:12 ‘I will cast terror onto the hearts of those who have disbelieved so strike upon their necks and strike their every fingertip’

    If we do not permit sexism, violence and homophobia in our society, then why should we allow it in a religious context and even worse!! allow it to be taught to children!!?? and tell them this rubbish comes from a divine source?!

    I believe that this quran (and torah and bible) should be taught as mythology and not as solid fact because to do that would be brainwashing! Whether the curriculum is ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’.

  35. Mark

    This sort of thing needs to get in The Sun etc. It’s sort of been obvious to me that there are many Muslim sects, but I learned of yet another at the weekend (can’t remember name), apart from Sunni, Shia, Deobandi, Wahabi, Salafi, Amadyia. But yes, the Salafi/Wahabi type needs to not only be understood, but not defended by the regulars who get on TV. Perhaps those regulars feel the need to defend “Islam” (for the benefit of the ignorant) while knowing the different extremes in the story, or they are knowingly defending the extreme and are Wahabi themselves. Who knows? They are supposed to be “moderates” after all.
    And of course the absolute nasty things are completely forgotten during TV interviews by the interviewer and interviewee, with such ridiculous defending of gender segregation in class (discrimination), by making comparisons to single-sex schools or even Eton, and completely deflecting from the point, in order to defend.
    If this whole thing isn’t explained, the “all Muslims do……” will remain as rhetoric.

  36. eyeless

    You cannot have religious schools, that is a contradiction in terms as religion has nothing with schooling to do. Such “schools” should be forbidden in any rights-respecting society.

  37. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah. Well, have fun abolishing the courts then.

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