Islam and knowledge

The intellectual influence of Islam and fears for Muslim scholarship today and in the future

Islam means peace. It came to elevate humankind onto a higher plain of being, with respect for diversity and the establishment of justice in all human relationships and a move away from power-based exploitation.

Islam created the first truly global civilisation with its advances in the sciences and arts. It was also responsible for lifting Europe out of its dark ages.

The 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain between the 8th to 15th century not only gathered and preserved the intellectual content of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge, it also built upon and expanded that knowledge in so many new fields of science, mathematics, astronomy, law, history, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology and music.

Despite what the Pope says about Europe’s Christian past, Europe was rescued from its dark ages by European Muslim scholarship. Today’s Europe is indebted to Islam. Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) created covivencia - the golden age for Jews, Christian and Muslims living, thriving and prospering together. Al-Andalus was the true precursor to the European Union. It taught Europeans to not only tolerate but respect people who have different beliefs and backgrounds. An understanding of covivencia is needed as today’s Europe grapples with it‘s multiple identities.

The first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammed was iqra (or read/recite), such was the emphasis Islam places on learning and scholarship. A famous saying of the Prophet states that "the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr".

Muslim scholarship over the last few centuries has been in rapid decline due to the arrogance that comes with power and refusal to learn from others. The problems that plague the Muslim world today can almost all be traced back to this decline in intellectual excellence in all spheres of knowledge.

Islam was revealed through the Prophet. The compiled words of God revealed to the Prophet form the Qur’an. The Qur’an is thus divine, but its interpretation is human - and no human interpretation can be deified. The Qur’an is timeless guidance for mankind; it is not a rule book. Each successive Muslim generation needs to approach the sacred text afresh in order to apply new insights to vastly changing historical experiences. A failure to do so leads to intellectual stagnation, dogma and irrelevance.

There is no clergy in Islam, individuals are empowered by God with a sense of purpose to promote good and prevent injustice. All individual and collective actions in Islam must conform to the following four principles: justice (adl), benevolence (ihsan), compassion (rahmah) and wisdom (hikmah). These are also the attributes of God.

Islam is not about the next world, it is about this world - and how to make it a peaceful and just place for all. The Prophet is reported to have said that to love one’s country is part of faith (iman) and to serve the people is to serve God.

Asim Siddiqui is Chairman of the City Circle, which provides a place for British Muslim and non-Muslim communities to engage. More details can be found on www.thecitycircle.com. He works as a forensic accountant.
Getty
Show Hide image

Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.