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14 Apr 2012

Conversation with Muslim Political Activist in Harrow

On 14 April, I had a stimulating conversation with a Muslim woman in Harrow-on-the-Hill shopping precinct. Nadia and Farhana (right, with whom I spoke) are pictured here on their stall, with literature promoting Hizb ut-Tahrir. For those who wish to read more about the group, its stated political aims are available in a 'media pack' on its website. The group has been targetted by Cameron for proscription, see Watchdog recommends Tory U-turn on banning Hizb ut-Tahrir. A primer on the group is available on Wikipedia.

Although I had been provided with a leaflet, my main interest was to discuss the views of the group with one of its members there and then, to facilitate better comprehension of them (in so far as one representative can be taken as evidential). I guess I have a natural disposition to want to understand an ideology, whether religious or political, before I judge it, particularly a desire not to prejudge a group only in the light of public controversy. I found this opportunity in my discussion with Farhana, whom I found eloquent and thoughtful. However, I did have something of an agenda and Farhana was very accommodating in seeking to address my lines of enquiry. The main points of the discussion I summarise here:

1. Was her group proposing Sharia law for the UK? No, the answer. Their advocacy of Sharia was for the Muslim world only. (How exactly this was to be defined, I did not pursue, but probably the imputation is of a state in which the majority of citizens proclaim Islam.)

2. Did she advoctate, therefore, observance or compliancy with the laws of the UK? Yes.

3. What was the status of so-called "Muslim Courts" getting established or finding bases in mosques in the UK? Was it not pernicious to inaugurate such "courts" in the UK when the UK had its own laws, thereby running the risk of conflicting legal judgments, when everybody had to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, surely? Farhana replied that these were not formal courts as such and agreed with my refrain that they should therefore be called by their proper name, as more akin to advisory services.

4. What was her view on voting and did her organisation not seek to boycott elections run along the lines of representative democracy? She said that she would not be voting as her interpretation of democracy as practiced in this country was as one of supporting capitalism and that her religion did not support capitalism. At this point I had a number of rejoinders and I did not find her answers satisfactory. Why should democracy necessitate capitalism, and if it really did, how could political parties advocating socialist, non- or anti-capitalist programmes manage to stand for election? How did her refusal to participate for such reasons not amount to a boycott? She said that though this was a position she freely adopted it was not one she needed to impose upon others. Why, if her group called itself a "political party" did they not find it fit to stand for election and in what sense then were they a political party?

5. My most substantial complaint, I think, was the following, which I found intellectually untenable on her part. Why, if she was prepared to comply with UK laws and clearly had an interest in what the law said, was she not committed, in all consistency, to supporting better forms of legislature, or legislative scrutiny, as could be promoted by her favoured parliamentarians? Was it sufficient for one to say that there are principled reasons for not voting - but in what principle did her disengagement from political process consist of here?

6. Finally, I asked about elements of her group, whether fringe or previous incarnations of splinter groups who wanted to have Sharia Law in this country. She said this had no basis in the Koran and demonstrated "political naivety" on their part. They did their religion no favours.

I left after completing a short questionnaire for them about Islam and capitalism and they agreed to have their photo taken for this blog.

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