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.
Still confused as to why ex-Muslims inc in discussion on who speaks for Muslims….probably not those who don’t identify w/it? #newsnight
— M Francois-Cerrah (@MFrancoisCerrah) March 24, 2014
What’s depressing is that the actual film raised an important point. But discussion that followed – failed to address it. #newsnight
— Sara Khan (@SaraKhanInspire) March 24, 2014
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.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.