A Government approved version of Islam? 
In today's Times, MPs Hazel Blears and Julian Lewis, both members of the Commons Security Committee, placed an editorial which expressed the need to address a number of issues to counter Muslim extremism. In such a medium, the detail necessarily absent, and indeed suggested that the details were yet to be formulated. However there was one glaring suggestion that would not only kill any Muslim support for the initiative from the outset, but which would be likely to be substantially more dangerous than doing nothing at all. They proposed that a single, safe and acceptable version of Islam be promoted.

Ms Blears, if you have again been approached by advocates of some of the mill town Bareilvi mosques with the notion that their version of Islam is the sole purveyor of integrated, inclusive and acceptable Islam, please be warned, nothing could be further from the truth. Three of the four 7/7 bombers came from nice, respectable, Bareilvi-aligned Pakistani families, the other was a convert. Bareilvis do not promote violence, at least not in the UK, and as long as you discount the Bradford book burnings that kicked off the Rushdie affair. But they run the most schismatic and exclusive mosque managements, follow the most impenetrable doctrines, have the most corporal child abusive madressahs, the least communicative (in English) imams, and generally do more than any other subset of British Islam to alienate their own offspring. New converts to Islam approach Bareilvi masjids for help, and leave rapidly, shaking their heads in bewilderment. Nearly all incidents of Muslim violent extremism in or from the UK have involved one or two converts. Most have involved the offspring of Bareilvi families - Tel Aviv, 7/7, High Wycombe.

I should explain the basis on which I make the presumption about Hazel Blears' Bareilvi briefing. Some time ago I was one of a number of carefully selected delegates to a meeting that as we learnt part way through, was orchestrated to set up what became the Sufi Muslim Council. I was invited because my Sufi credentials and possibly also my substantial Bareilvi credentials, appeared to mesh with my counter-extremism credentials and meet the organiser's desire to achieve unified support for his proposed SMC. The organiser was Haras Rafiq, a Rochdale protege of Hazel Blears, and her name was cited by the hosts as well, to lend authority to the proceedings - she was a Blair minister at the time and Rafiq now draws a retainer through Quilliam. I don't actually know why I wasn't invited to the following meeting (I wasn't the only one), but that was the launch of the SMC, and pretty much its wake as well, apart from the website which lingered untouched for a couple of years. I have never, in spite of my extensive research into such matters, been able to identify any mosque that actually affiliated with the SMC, even though I knew many of the two dozen worthy delegates to that first meeting, and I doubt that now Ms Blears and Dr Lewis are advocating a repeat of Haris Rafiq's misguided initiative. Don't be fooled into allowing government policy to be hijacked to become the proxy for Bareilvi factionalists to continue their mid-nineteenth century feud with Deoband and everyone else - they have nothing at all to offer counter-extremism.

But be warned, whichever brand of Islam you pick to be the acceptable face, it will be a poisoned chalice. Nobody wants to be the face of UK Government's acceptable Islam when there is so much to complain about. In fact, such a policy would be the mirror image of the Takfir of the extremists; it plays on the hadith on firqas in just the same way: "My ummah (followers, community) will divide into seventy three sects and all but one will be in the hellfire. The one will be the people of my Sunnah (practice, way of life) and (that of) my Companions." There is hardly a Bareilvi imam in the country who isn't paid by his management committee explicitly to pronounce takfir against Deobandis, Salafis, Shi'as, so-called Wahhabis, even other Sufis that challenge them.

They are not alone in such schismatism, of course, but they are the most vituperative. What is really needed, is what has been advocated over and over in these pages: Accountable mosques with plural congregations, mutual respect for differing firqas, informed and intelligent, multi-party debate, indigenous imams, and the opportunity for those tempted by extremism to have such matters analysed, dissected and countered in an objective, undoctrinal way by people who know what they are talking about. None of these things are currently possible.


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