It’s a depressing story. A few moderate Muslim voices give hope, however, a liberal call to prayer over a fundamentalist wilderness. One such voice belongs to Taj Hargey, chair of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and the Imam of the Summertown Islamic Congregration. Writing in the Times, he offers a cause for the poison in British Islam and suggests a cure.
The cause is simple: there is no British Islam. Instead, Muslims in Britain imbibe the milk of exported Saudi wahhabism, wetnursed by fundamentalist imams from Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Islam in Britain has been taken over by the followers of a warped manifestation of the faith. The Muslim Council of Britain, the main Muslim newspapers and many of the big mosques are dominated by men who subscribe to a virulent and backward-looking brand of Islam that has been exported from the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.
According to Hargey, this is an Islam which fetishises the hadith to the exclusion of the Qur’an. The cure, then, is also simple: downgrade the hadith and return to the Qur’an.
We need a reformation that saves Islam from foreign-inspired zealots. That reformation is already under way, with Muslims going back to the pristine teaching of the transcendent Koran, not taking on trust the hadith (a compilation of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad recorded some 250 years after his death by non-Arabs) or the corpus of medieval man-made Sharia (religious law).
Hargey believes that this extra-Qur’anic layer of authority is responsible for many of the ills that plague Islam, offering to fundamentalist imams religious support for many of the extreme Arabian mores which many Muslims believe come from God. For example:
The rampant oppression of women in Muslim society does not stem from the Koran but is chiefly the product of misogynistic hadith. For example, a famous “authentic” hadith declares that there will be a preponderance of women in Hell. But the facts here on earth suggest otherwise – male criminality far exceeds that of females.
Hargey seems to imply that many of the hadith are fabricated justifications for post-Muhammadan practices given the sheen of authority by being ascribed to the Prophet. They should not be treated as a sacrosanct source for Islamic jurisprudence and should be rejected whenever they contradict the Qur’an.
Whether this call for a return to the foundational text will make Hargey a latter-day Muslim Martin Luther remains to be seen. (I am skeptical and also a little worried: religious reformations are rarely bloodless affairs.)
A ready Christian parallel is not easy to imagine, as the New Testament is itself akin in some ways to a more reliable hadith. Mormonism perhaps comes closer, with its canonical (but unlike the Qur’an, not infallible) Doctrine and Covenants and attendant reports — some trustworthy, others not — of Joseph Smith’s life and teachings. I wonder if modern portrayals of Smith and early Mormonism are creating a Mormon hadith which have the potential to distract from the scriptural texts he revealed, or are Mormons able to separate the two?
Thoughts (on this, or on Hargey’s argument)?
N.B. The website Islamophobia Watch is suspicious of the media’s love affair with Hargey. FWIW.