Sajda Khan is identified in The Independent as “a writer and researcher working towards a PhD on Islam in Britain”. And she (I think the name “Sajda” is female) seems to specialize in Muslim apologetics of the “true-Islam-is a-religion-of-peace” variety. Although she hasn’t written much for the Independent, she seems to have quite an oeuvre on PuffHo, including these articles:
Unfortunately, when you try to go to any of these pieces (including the interesting ones like “Mulsim women complicit in their repression?”), you get this message:
Now I can’t guarantee that this is the same Sajda Khan, but given the nature of the piece, and of the Feb. 1 Independent piece that is still up, “The Prophet Mohammed had British values—so the only way to combat extremism is to teach more Islam in schools,” I’m betting it’s the same person. And it’s not at all clear to me why Khan asked for her PuffHo pieces to be removed. They don’t seem to convey any message different from what Reza Aslan has promulgated, enriching and promoting himself in the process.
The substance of Khan’s article is expressed in the title: “true” Islam is peaceful, democratic, and conciliatory, and those, after all, are “British values.” Ergo if we teach the true “British-value” Islam in schools, potential extremists, like teenagers attracted to ISIS, will become moderates.
Dan Dennett once told me that he was in favor of teaching comparative religion in schools, for belief has been such a powerful force in history and remains so today. I could see his point but, I argued, who would determine how each religion should be taught? It’s no simple matter. Would Catholicism, for instance, be presented in its “hard” form, in which homosexual acts are deemed a hell-worthy “grave sin”, or in the softer form that most Catholics practice. Would Christianity be presented as a literalistic or metaphorical faith? And what about Islam? You can imagine the conflict that would arise among Muslims about what tenets of the faith should be presented. There’s no time, of course, to present all the beliefs of all the brands of Islam, much less of the 40,000 sects of Christianity. I’m not opposed to the idea of teaching comparative religion, but doing so at the secondary-school level is a minefield.
Khan, on the other hand, is not only in favor of teaching Islam (she doesn’t mention other faiths), but presenting it in a particular way: the way Reza Aslan would present it. Islam would be shown as a peaceful religion, with Muhammad as a man of fully British values: a seventh-century Churchill. I kid you not. As Khan argues:
Many reading this will find it difficult to stomach, but the Prophet Mohammed had what we also call “British values”. Those values of social responsibility, respect for the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs that schools are now required to promote are not exclusively British, and are inherently Islamic. The teachings of the Qur’an are unambiguous on being inclusive, and treating others with justice and equality. There needn’t be a discrepancy between what is British and what is Muslim.
. . . The remedy to the poison of warped Islamic ideology is clear, then – we must teach the realities of Islam, that it is a religion of peace and tolerance. I strongly believe that it is a simple formula, one that requires no restriction of civil liberties or demonisation of minorities: Muslim scholarship must provide a genuine counter-narrative. Only then can young people be led to understand that groups like Isis use their religion an excuse – rather than a guide – to justify their barbaric actions.
This isn’t an objective portrayal of Islam, of course, but one strand of a complex faith: that strand that construes the faith as tolerant and accepting. I needn’t add that many schools of Islam, and many Muslims, aren’t so tolerant, favoring the execution of gays, apostates, and adulterers, and corporal punishment of criminals. (Do remember that the fatwa on Salman Rushdie calling for his murder, was just renewed, with the bounty increased.) If you doubt the extremist, “non-British” beliefs of many Muslims, I refer you again to the Pew Survey of attitudes of Muslims throughout the world. Khan goes on:
This is a golden opportunity to develop within our schools a curriculum based upon the biography of Prophet Muhammad, which clearly demonstrates and embeds what are now also considered British values. This is what will develop a strong sense of identity within our youth and dismantle the perverse understanding of Islam peddled by a few. We must be brave enough to say that being a British Muslim is not an oxymoron; it is the most natural thing in the world.
. . . The government should instead understand that the success of Britain’s counter-extremism strategy will hinge not only on the wider engagement with the British Muslim community but also on re-discovering the legacy of Prophet Mohammed. Encouraging those who have found solace in religion to turn away from it makes little sense. Investing in a theological education that teaches the basic tenets of Islam is the only way we can genuinely win over those who have turned to extremism – whether we like it or not.
Now of course there are peaceful Muslims and non-extremist schools of Islam, but to say that those schools that are more extremist—those that have “non-British” values—are the “wrong” kinds of Islam is to engaged in dissimulation. Have a look at some of the less conciliatory verses of the Qur’an, or, better yet, read the whole document (there’s a Skeptic’s Annotated Qur’an that labels the verses by their tone, peacefulness, or divisiveness). And then judge for yourself whether Khan is being truthful.
Perhaps there’s a way to teach comparative religion to teenagers in school, but one way not to do it is Khan’s suggested strategy: using those classes as political tools to slant the portrayal of religions in a way that makes them seem more genial and benign. Let Muslims tell their own coreligionists such things. It’s not the responsibility of the British government to convince Muslims that their entire religion promotes “British values” when in many cases that’s palpably false. For one thing, the subjugation of women is not a “British value.”
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