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.
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The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.