In this article I would like to address three main points raised in Haitham Al-Haddad’s response:
i) his claim to mainstream Islam
ii) his comments regarding Panorama documentary causing divisions
iii) and the fueling of Islamophobic attacks
In an attempt to respond to allegations made on Panorama, Haddad tries to shield himself by using the term “mainstream Islam”. This common tactic is used to imply that an attack on him i.e. his ‘Islamic’ views, is a direct attack on Islam itself. Thus, the reason Haddad gets attacked because ultimately Islam is under attack. Haddad knows very well that if he plays on the feelings of everyday Muslim persecution it will result in Muslims rallying around him. Haddad and supporters often use and abuse such terms when on the back foot. A similar tactic is to appeal to the dogma of unity, the ‘Ummah” and its abuse amounts to nothing more than a form of Muslim-tribalism. Such terms serve well to divert the attention from noxious views acting as a get out of jail card. But, what of his claim to mainstream Islam? For those that are not acquainted with Haddad, he was student of Abd al Aziz Ibn Baz, a leading advocate of the Wahabism form of Islam, which has a sinister history. The foundations of Wahhabi theology were established by the eighteenth-century by the reformist Muhammed bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1206/1792). When Haddad refers to Mainstream Islam, is he referring to his Wahhabi Islam training? If so, given its origins, it’s rather far fetched to claim it so. It may be gaining ground, but it cannot be considered orthodox Islam nor is it practiced by the majority of Muslims.
What about comments regarding the Panorama documentary creating divisions? Well this I find ironic. The founder of Wahabism was vehemently Schismatic, the fastest Takfiri in the East so to speak. ‘Abd al-Wahhab sought to rid Islam of what he deemed ‘corruptions’, opposing mysticism, rationalism and Shi’ism. If a Muslim weren’t a ‘true believer’ according to his strict standards, he would have no hesitation in calling that Muslim an infidel and such a judgment meant that they could be killed. His writings repeatedly refer to jurists who did not fall within his understanding of Islam as “devils” or “spawns of Satan”. ‘Abd al Wahhab’ held that the juristic tradition spanning over many centuries (bar a handful of jurists) was corrupt and heretical. All jurists who were not strict literalists and employed reason in their jurisprudence were by default considered heretics (see my article on Intellectual apostasy). It is documented that ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers even ordered the execution or assassination of large number of jurists with whom they disagreed with. Wahhabism by definition is fervently sectarian and divisive. In similar fashion, Haddad follows suit. He considers the beliefs of the Asharite and Maturidi schools of theology (which make up the majority of Muslims past and present) heretical and yet he claims to represent mainstream Islam Given the origins of Wahabism and its schismatic nature, it is extremely ironic that he speaks of those who took part in the Panorama documentary in terms of division and seduction and a attack on Mainstream Islam. They, Haddad and his followers have a right to practise their religion how they deem fit. However, the claim he represents mainstream Islam is simply not true.
Probably the most disturbing part of his response is his exploitation of Nahid Almanea’s death, who was murdered in an unprovoked attack. His point here is to say that if we demonize everyday ‘orthodox’ Muslim practice then every day Muslims will be attacked for their normative Islamic practices. Firstly, Haddad makes a comment regarding Nahid Almanea’s appearance, namely that she was wearing the Hijab and Islamic dress. But I must point out here that the documentary did not regard Muslims who wear the Hijab as extreme in any shape of form. This poor example is gratuitously playing on Muslim sensibilities. The documentary was about non-violent extremist views and attitudes that act as a precursor to violent extremism. Moreover, Islamophobes aren’t as selective as Haddad makes out. I have personally interviewed dozens of Muslims across a spectrum of practicing degrees who have been victims of Islamophobia and anti Muslim hate crime. One Muslim sister, who comes to mind, didn’t even wear the Hijab. She was incessantly bullied at work for months on end for simply having a Muslim name. Also, his argument that normative Islam is being labeled as ‘extreme’ and as a result Muslims who practice orthodox Islam are becoming victims of Islamophobia is flawed. Haddad simply begs the question here, and assumes that his views and practices are wholly representative of orthodox/mainstream Islam. Surely it’s important that he prove his mainstream credentials before concocting such an emotive ‘argument’ about demonization of normative Muslim practice? Using the example of segregation is hardly the hallmark of mainstream Islam, especially the way in which Haddad understands it. Thus, the main thrust of his argument that Panorama presenting genuine orthodox Islamic beliefs as criminal and that it fuels Islamophobia simply breaks down.
Furthermore, I very much doubt Islamophobic attacks spiked after the Panorama documentary. They do however increase when Muslim extremism rears its ugly head. Islamophobia is fueled by ignorance, hatred and fear. Our part in these precarious times is to minimize that ignorance by representing Islam in its true light and making a clear distinction from extremism, which evidently fuels Islamophobia.