What's The Big Idea? by Ziauddin Sardar

So what is your idea of Islam? To what extent and in what way is there or should there be a choice? Do you agree with Mohammad Sidique Khan or with Tariq Jahan? On the one hand, Khan, leader of the 7 July 2005 London bombers, sought ‘martyrdom’. In his suicide video, he told the world that it was legitimate to kill innocent people indiscriminately for ‘what we believe’. On the other hand, Jahan lost his youngest son in the Birmingham riots of August 2011. Twenty-year-old Haroon Jahan was killed along with two of his friends when they were deliberately run down by a car driven by youths. Haroon died protecting his community during the month of Rama­dan. As far as his father was concerned, he was a shaheed, a martyr. In an atmosphere of rising tensions, with the police fearing revenge attacks and killings, Jahan diffused the situation with a few unscripted words of immense dignity: ‘Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? I have lost my son. Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Other­wise, calm down and go home – please’. Revenge, said Jahan, was not part of his faith. But his faith gave him the strength and composure, as Bryan Appleyard noted in The Sunday Times, ‘to make one of the great speeches of the twenty-first century’. ‘I’m a Muslim’, Jahan said, ‘I believe in divine fate and destiny, and it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone’. In less than 500 words, he calmed a convulsed nation and presented an idea of Islam that could not be further removed from that of Sidique Khan.

Perhaps you have imbibed the common Western idea of Islam as all sex and violence, the domain of unfathomable mysteries, cruel and barbaric scenes. This is Islam as the darker side of Europe: depraved and licentious, ignorant and stupid, unclean and inferior, monstrous and ugly, fanatic and hell-bent on revenge. Or, maybe you subscribe to the idea of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the thirteenth-century poet, philosopher and theologian who saw Islam as love and Muslims as a ‘community of spirit’: ‘join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy streets, and being the noise’, he wrote...

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