Altmuslim : altmuslim this week

march 1, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND : Assalamu aleikum and welcome back. Spring is in the air, which means its time for a new fatwa or two. The issue of Islamic justification for terrorism - specifically suicide bombing - has been a hotly debated one since 9/11, particularly since the Osama bin Ladens have been defending their tactics in explicitly Islamic terms. This week, one promient Pakistani cleric issued a fatwa denouncing terrorism at a London press conference. But it wasn't just a simple statement. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, the founder of the Minhaj-ul-Quran International, an Islamic movement with centers in 90 countries, introduced a 600-page analysis which goes as far as to call proponents of terrorism "kafirs" (unbelievers) destined for hellfire. "Until now, scholars who were condemning terrorism were conditional and qualified what they said," said Qadri to CNN's Kiran Khalid. "I didn't leave a single, minor aspect that, in the mind of radicals or extremists, can take them to the direction of martyrdom." Of course, many will note that other imams and scholars have condemned terrorism and suicide bombing in particular in scores since 2001 (and earlier). But many fatwas get dismissed for a number of political, sectarian, or plain Islamophobic reasons. It's also important to note that Qadri's analysis, though probably the most comprehensive against terrorism, is but one opinion in a sea of clerics around the world. As Islam has no clerical hierarchy, Qadri's opinion rests on the strength of his analysis alone. One example of the varying opinions on this can be seen here, where British activist Dr Azzam Tamimi dismisses the ruling against suicide bombing by Palestinians, as prominent sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi has also done. With the strength of Islamic influence resting on the consensus of scholars, it remains to be seen how Qadri's analysis can extend to a better understanding of such a consensus, despite the nuances, caveats, and emphases that various opinions tend to have.

Also since 9/11, Western countries have been urging their Muslim populations to integrate into society and participate in all aspects of civic life. Central to this is political participation, where Muslims vote for public officials and join political parties. Strange, then, that a recent documentary in Britain accuses one group, the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) of "infiltrating" Britain's Labour party in London's east end neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets (where approximately 35% of local residents are Muslim). The documentary, titled "Dispatches: Britain's Islamic Republic," went undercover into the East London Mosque, where the group meets, to uncover alarming rhetoric from IFE members and guests. The "takeover" of the local council seems in no way disproportionate to the natural tendency of British Muslims to gravitate to the Labour party, despite the Iraq war led by Tony Blair's Labour-led government. And to dismiss the political participation of Muslims (despite the IFE's demonstrated conservatism) seems counterproductive. The issue mirrors a similar one in the US, where undercover reporters claimed that America's Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) was "infiltrating" Congress, as outlined in a book endorsed by several US Congressmen and women. What has not been explained is how the mere presence of Muslims in Western political establishments could help impose sharia on a non-Muslim majority. Until that question is answered, reports like this will go nowhere. The Dispatches reporter, Andrew Gilligan, returning to visit the mosque after his documentary aired, found one of the show's antagonists, Azad Ali, inviting him out for a curry and found it strange that even though he "did get the odd double-take, no-one was even slightly hostile."

Finally, a major fast food chain in France has angered some of its potential customers by offering halal meats and removing pork from the menus of a number of their franchises in November of last year. The Quick chain, which has over over 400 restaurants in France, Belgium, Spain, Russia, and the Middle East, has insisted that the conversions are taking place in only a handful of its stores (eight at the moment) where large Muslim populations provide a ready market. "I'm happy, as I can come with my Muslim friends," said one Muslim customer, Farid, 17. Managers at the Roubaix branch of Quick noted a slight increase in business after the conversion to halal menus and that no complaints from customers had been received. But that wasn't enough for some to express alarm at what they felt was discrimination against non-Muslims. "I'm not bothered by the fact that there is a halal menu," said Rene Vandierendonck, mayor of Roubaix, who has filed a complaint for discrimination against Quick. "But this is going too far because it is the only menu on offer and it has become discrimination." Al-Kanz, a French Muslim consumers' group, said the reasons were "purely economic", and added that there were no "dark Muslim forces in France putting pressure" on Quick to convert its stores. Though halal restaurants have been prevalent in Europe for much of the past decade, the catering to Muslims by Western restaurants and multinationals has alarmed those fearful of "Islamisation" of European society, despite the fact that the menu changes have not come under duress, but in search of the Muslim Euro. In the UK, the Subway sandwich chain began a successful campaign in 2008 of halal-only stores, expanding to several dozen serving similar Muslim areas of Britain. KFC soon followed with a trial of eight stores (similar to Quick) in London last year. Despite similar protests of "Islamisation", the trial was so successful that the American multinational increased the number to 73 by February 2010. In both cases, halal-only stores have been located near conventional alternatives, so that those who desire pork or non-halal products have a choice. Strangely enough, KFC stores in France - all 70+ of them - have been certified halal since 2009. But as a French owned chain, Quick hits a bit closer to home, albeit a home that includes, at over 4 million, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.

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