By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
I was just watching the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live (11.09.2011). I didn’t realise the depth of ignorance of Peter Hitchens. For a journalist as renowned as himself to be so incredibly unacquainted with reality is shocking! The man is under a delusion that we are somehow still living in a Christian society; I think many Christians themselves would disagree with him on this point. Without a shadow of a doubt, Christianity has left an indelible mark on the character, culture and customs of this nation. However, how many people go to church now? How many people with Christian ancestors really give Christianity any real consideration today?
Anyone acquainted with British society at the beginning of the 21st Century and a sense of rationality and fair interpretation, would realise that large numbers of indigenous British people themselves have moved away from Christianity, instead adopting Buddhism, Islam, Universal Sufism, Wicca, Hinduism, Sikhism or abandoning religion altogether and becoming Atheists, and they include such internationally renowned British scholars like Professor Richard Dawkins and the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
Angela Epstein and Peter Hitchens mentioned something about Muslims being opposed to people celebrating Christmas, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Only a very tiny minority of Muslims living in this country hold such extremist views; whether they celebrate Christmas themselves or not, the vast majority of Muslims have no issue with Christmas. I have never encountered a Muslim campaign to ban Christmas – the very idea is itself quite absurd!
In his polemic, Peter Hitchens said, “I would not want this country to be a Muslim country because I would not want it to be subject to Shariah Law, I don’t like the Muslim attitude towards women, I don’t like generally the consequences of Islam in politics, I have disagreements with Islam, which are fundamentally Christian disagreements with Islam… Let me just make a point as to why this should remain a Christian country, our laws, customs, traditions, language, music, architecture, diet, everything you care to name, these are all based upon Christianity. If Muslims want to live here, I’m very happy for them to do so, I regard them as allies, actually in the battle against the awful moral decline that we face, but they have to accept that this is fundamentally a Christian country, and integrate into it as such.”
Incredible, I guess Hitchens is living in the clouds! Firstly, who is suggesting this becomes a Muslim country (whatever one of those is)? With only 2 million Muslims in a overall population of around 62 million, I doubt very much that this is going to become a Muslim country any time soon! Where is this crazy myth originating that Britain will become a Muslim country anyway? Even most countries with mainly Muslim populations are not governed by the medieval “Shariah” laws to which I assume Hitchens is referring… Over time, national laws change and develop, it would be genuinely impracticable to govern any contemporary state according to a literal reading of any medieval codex of laws, whether that be Canon Law or of the Shariah variety. Too much has changed in our society for such primitive legislation to be useful today.
Before I continue any further, I’d like to clarify a few misconceptions about Shariah. The word itself is Arabic and refers to a road, path or way. Like it’s English equivalents, it’s meaning varies depending upon context and in the religious context, in Islam it’s applied to the concept of laws both religious and secular. Shariah in this context is not fixed, while certain key principles are timeless, the interpretation varies according to time and place. In much the same way as any codex of laws will develop over time. Today, we have laws which apply to our modern transport networks, airspace, radio frequency bandwidths etc. New laws and fresh interpretations of older laws are required to deal with changes in our society. Thus, my point is that even if Shariah were to be implemented in a modern state, it would be rather different to the older interpretations we read about in the history books and centuries old books on religious law.
Another point on Shariah, which Hitchens might find interesting, is that during it’s early development, English Common Law was without doubt influenced by forms of Shariah Law being practised in Sicily and Andalus (Spain). At that time, large regions of the Iberian Peninsula were still governed by Muslim leaders and Sicily had not long been conquered by the Normans, cousins of King Henry II, who spearheaded the implementation of an early form of the United Kingdom’s present legal system. Sicily at that time still used a form of Maliki jurisprudence as the basis of it’s country’s legal system. Certain key English legal concepts such as trial by jury, land possession and perpetual endowment and even aspects of the way it’s organised have direct parallels in Maliki jurisprudence, from whence they were most likely derived.
I’m curious as to which aspects of the Muslim attitude towards women that Hitchens doesn’t like, the right to own property, the right to an education, the right to work, the concept that paradise lies at the feet of your mother? Is Peter Hitchens even aware of how Islam expects men to treat women? Perhaps he prefers St Paul’s idea that if a woman uncovers her hair, she should shave it all off! (1 Corinthians 11:5-6). One of the last things Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, mentioned before he left this life, was his concerns that men treat women well, such was his dedication to the rights and well being of the fairer sex.
I’m very surprised Hitchens considers our architecture Christian, especially as Jesus, peace be upon him, to the best of my knowledge never gave any particular guidance in this area. The interesting thing is that the basic structure of many of our most impressive churches in this country, are built using concepts that are unmistakably Islamic in origin; the most obvious being the pointed arch, which as any architect would know was developed by Muslims and later imported to Europe. Today’s architecture is a mismatch of all different ideas developed in various parts of the world, it has nothing to do with any particular religion.
A Christian diet is one of the most amusing ideas Hitchens put forward, as even Ajmal Masroor highlighted on the programme! I personally am very fond of pasta and pizza, neither of which are English in origin. But among the most popular foods in Britain today, are curries, samosas and other Asian foods brought to this country by people from the Indian subcontinent. Even our national drink, tea originated in China, while coffee was brought to Europe by the Ottomans.
One of the most amazing and appealing aspects of British culture, is that it’s always absorbed elements from other cultures. What could be more typically English than tea or a Panama hat, which as it’s name suggests originated in South America, although they actually originated in Ecuador, not Panama. Our culture is a beautiful blend of aspects of so many others, in effect British culture was multicultural long before it recognised itself as such. With this in mind, I found it particularly surprising that Angela Epstein was emphasising that this country was founded on Anglo-Saxon Christian values, the Angles and Saxons themselves weren’t even Christians when they first settled here 1500 years ago! What is she trying to prove?
To top it all off, Peter Hitchens and Angela Epstein presented British Muslims as immigrants and they were allowed to get away with it! There have been Muslims living in this country for hundreds of years. The Association of British Muslims, the United Kingdom’s oldest Muslim organisation was originally founded by Sheikh of Islam, Abdullah William Henry Quilliam in 1889! Isn’t it time we recognised Islam has been a part of our culture for hundreds of years, and in all that time British culture never succumbed to being dominated by it, but has rather been enriched by it’s interactions with Muslim communities around the world as well as here at home.