The triple threat of communalism, clericalism and caliphism

Quran (Photo by Masjid Pogung Dalangan on Unsplash)
Quran (Photo by Masjid Pogung Dalangan on Unsplash)

A new book written by adjunct professor at the Center for Jewish Civilisation based in Georgetown University, Ed Husain: Among the Mosques, is an ethnographic exploration of mosques and Muslim communities in the United Kingdom. Husain travels up and down the country, spending time in these religious institutions, getting to know worshipers and understanding their norms, values and beliefs. Throughout his journey, what Husain begins to realise is that whilst the mosque was once the hub of the community during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad, it appears to no longer hold that status anymore. Mosques seem to be increasingly detached from modern day Britain and Husain hypothesises, that this is due to the rapid increase of communalism, clericalism and caliphism.

For many years there has been a debate about what it means to be British and Muslim. Can the two identities coexist or are they doomed to clash? What is more important, the law of the land or the religious customs that dictate how we behave in a pluralistic society? These are all valid questions on identity and ones which Ed Husain tackles in his book by introducing the reader to the concept of communalism – the allegiance to one’s own identity group rather than to wider society.

We share many aspects of our identity with those around us. Some of us are immigrants, others are children of immigrants. There are those that take on a new religion through conversion whilst there are others that make the decision to leave a religion. Whatever identity we assume, we can be sure to find many commonalities with each other, but never enough to replicate them and apply them to someone else. This is what makes us unique. Communalism seeks to do the opposite by placing weight on one aspect of our identity and dismissing all others in favour of it. Communalism – rooted in identity politics – endangers our diversity in pursuit of homogenising Muslims into a bloc so that religion becomes our primary identity. Husain warns that this is being enforced upon Muslims in Britain by family, friends, so-called community leaders and worryingly, through intimidation and violence.

Communalism is only possible through powerful men – the clerics of the Muslim community – who give religious justification for separating one’s religious identity from all others. Husain sees this evidently in mosques where young boys are sent to private education institutes known as ‘madrassas’ to train and become the clerics of the future. When power is situated with one male individual, the abuse of it follows almost automatically. Ed Husain heard evidence of this from worshipers in Birmingham and Cardiff, where the mere suggestion of questioning religious doctrine is forbidden. Closing the minds of young Muslim children benefits only those that seek to remain in power, whereas for the children, they are left behind shackled to a culture of intellectual abuse that they do not know differently from.

The final threat Ed Husain warns of is the spread of caliphism – the idea that secular Britain is flawed and it is only through the social and political aspirations of a caliphate – can the glory of Islam and the ruling Muslims be realised. The concept of caliphism appears to be entrenched in parallel societies, where one is able to abide by the laws of the land, whilst simultaneously enforcing religious edicts on themselves and others. Husain cites religious marriages as an example, where women cannot instigate divorce but instead, must seek permission. This point is further reinforced by research conducted by the Civitas think tank that found it was women who were disproportionately the losers in unregistered Islamic marriages, compared to their male counterparts.

Whilst Ed Husain paints an honest picture of the three challenges faced by British Muslims, he also offers six defining traits to counteract these challenges: 1) The rule of law, 2) individual liberty, 3) gender equality, 4) openness, 5) uniqueness and 6) racial parity. These, Husain sees as ways to define one’s own identity, rather than to place oneself into a box determined by those in power. Without the willingness to take charge of who you are, there will be someone else to do it for you.

Among the Mosque is a great read. It takes the reader across the United Kingdom and immerses them into the culture, traditions and thought processes of the diverse Muslim community in the west.


About the Author
Wasiq is an academic and trustee for the organisation Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS). He specialises in the areas of academia, law and terrorism.
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