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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.