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Martin Parsons: Sharia is the touchstone for recognising and combatting radical Islam

Martn Parsons writes the second in a three-part series considering how to counter radical Islamism. Read Part I.

Yesterday I outlined how the previous Labour government’s approach to countering Islamism failed to recognise that the violent and non-violent Islamist groups had, at least in broad terms, the same long-term strategic aims – the introduction of sharia to Britain and elsewhere in the world. The previous government’s partial appeasement of the agenda of non-violent Islamist groups actually led to ground being surrendered towards the alignment of certain aspects of British law with sharia.

Today I want to address another related issue which the previous government entirely failed to get to grips with – how to identify radicalisation among British Muslims. In particular. I want to suggest that each individual Muslim's attitude to sharia is the touchstone for identifying radicalisation.

One of the major problems any government faces in identifying and combating radicalisation is separating ordinary British Muslims from radicals. The thorny issue here is that ordinary British Muslims, who are deeply peace-loving, have a primarily devotional faith. However, they are largely unaware that the Islamic theological schools (madrassas) that train imans follow a theological curriculum that has remained largely unchanged for 400 years and has very similar teaching to radical Islamism concerning the imposition of Islamic law and government on non-Muslims.

This is not simply the Saudi (Hanbali school of Islamic law) curriculum identified in a recent BBC Panorama programme. It also includes the Hanafi school of Islamic law, whose Dars-i-Nizami curriculum is used by most Sunni madrassas in the Indian subcontinent and those with subcontinent links in the UK. This contains a major textbook on sharia known as the Hedaya.

However, the widespread ignorance of the contents of this among many ordinary British Muslims, who follow a traditional, primarily devotional form of Islam, means that there is actually a spectrum of belief among British Muslims. The essential problem for the government is to find a way of defining a specific point that very clearly delineates the start of radicalisation and that can be used as a touchstone to assesses when British Muslims and Islamic organisations have crossed it.

Sharia provides that point. It is both wholly incompatible with a number of important historic British values and its implementation on Muslim and non-Muslim alike is central to the ultimate aims of both violent and non-violent Islamists. As such, it can be used not only to identify radicalisation, but also to draw a line in the sand in respect of British values that wavering young Muslims can be challenged not to cross.

Let me just summarise some of the main ways in which sharia is incompatible with historic British values:

Citizenship: Sharia stipulates that non-Muslims cannot be full citizens. Instead Christians and Jews have what is termed dhimmitude which is a second class status. They may not be part of the government or judiciary and are obliged to pay a special tax termed jizya. Hindus and atheists are not even granted this second class status. In some Islamic countries such as Mauritania and Saudi Arabia only Muslims can be citizens at all, while in countries such as the Maldives recent changes to the country’s constitution make it ambiguous whether those Maldivians who embrace a non-Islamic faith automatically lose their citizenship and become stateless.

Equal standing before the law: Non-Muslims are subject to Islamic law and punishments. However, the testimony of a non-Muslim is given only half the weight of a Muslim, similarly the testimony of a woman is also given only half the weight of a man. These provisions can result in serious miscarriages of justice and human rights abuses. For example, sharia requires four male witness to prove rape, and if a victim is unable to produce these she may be imprisoned for making a ‘false’ allegation.

Family law:  Again sharia also grants women significantly lesser rights than men. It states that a daughter inherits only half as much as a son. It is also significantly harder for a woman to divorce her husband than for her husband to divorce her; At divorce the man automatically gains custody of children over seven or in case of younger children as soon as they are seven.

Commercial law: The ultimate jurisdiction in any issue relating to sharia finance is a sharia judge, an office which non-Muslims are barred from holding. Where large sums are involved, as for example in the sukkuk Islamic bonds that Gordon Brown sought to introduce, the country then becomes economically vulnerable to Islamist pressure.

Freedom of speech: This of course includes the freedom to criticise beliefs and values held by others. Under sharia any criticism of Muhammad carries a mandatory death penalty.

Freedom of religion: The death penalty also applies to any Muslim man embracing a non-Islamic religion. Illustrative of this being a major touchstone of radicalisation in Britain is the fact that a 2007 study by Policy Exchange found that 36% of British Muslims aged 16-34 agreed with this tenet of sharia.

The research conducted by Policy Exchange illustrates why recognising the need to combat sharia needs to become the centrepiece of counter-extremism policy. Previous estimates of the number of British Muslims who had been radicalised generally suggested between 13% and 15%. However, Policy Exchange’s research suggests that more than a third of Muslims aged under 35 have now been radicalised.

Tomorrow I will suggest specific steps that the Government can take to counter sharia-based radicalisation.


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