The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism;
Editor Antoine Sfeir;
Translator from French;
Columbia University Press2007;
Pp430; Available in bookstores in Pakistan
This dictionary is a French angle on the whole idea of Islamism, which is trying to not only to observe the personal rituals of Islam but to seek to impose it on others. One of the contributors is Olivier Roy, which guarantees that there will be new insights that the Americans have either ignored or don’t believe are true. The book has personal entries that you would like to know about. It has also country-wise entries, which is helpful if you know the person you want to get information on is located in a country. Because the dictionary is recent it gives you information of the new actors appearing on the horizon of jihad.
France offers the most interesting picture as it contains the largest number of Muslims, around 6 million, according to the entry, and challenges the Muslim French citizens on their cultural expression because it clashes with the state law of keeping religion out of the public space. Out of the 6 million, 2 million are in the Paris region, thus making Paris the arena of the conflict between the increasingly religious Muslims and an increasingly scared secular state. Funnily, 40 percent say they are practising Muslims but 70 percent fast during the month Ramadan. There are hard-Islam organisations in France and Belgium that control them and make individual practice irrelevant.
Muslim Brotherhood or the Ikhwan dominate France but there is Tablighi Jama’at too which has its origin in South Asia and is strongly moored in Pakistan because of its Deobandi hinterland in the Pakhtun areas and the madrassa system funded by Saudi Arabia. The immigrant stream began after a 1974 law allowed Muslim spouses to be brought in. This gave rise to the second generation Muslims who adapted themselves to French culture and took over the small retail business in the cities, with strong links with religious institutions back home. Then in the 1980s came the third generation of French Muslims who saw their ‘home countries’ exploding with an Islamic upheaval.
The alienation of the French Muslims from their mother countries gave rise to an Islam that the third generation put together away from home. The religion they acquired in France was hard and forced them to disconnect first from their secularised parents and then from the French state. The mosque sprang up and through the mosque clerics of Brotherhood and Tablighi Jama’at controlled the Muslim population. It is here that the new generation heard of such Arab leaders as Abu Hamza al Masri of London’s Finsbury Park Mosque and made an icon out of him. So potent is the Salafi Islam coming from the Arab lands that it has overwhelmed the Deobandi brand of Tablighi Islam.
In 1989 France clashed with this new generation when it prevented Muslim girls from wearing scarves to schools and other public institutions. By 2005 there were 1500 mosques in France and all interconnected through salafi and other clerics. France has a 1905 law — brought against the Catholic Church — forbidding the state to financially support any religion, especially as it mobilises towards becoming a factor in community-based politics. In 2004, the girls wearing scarves were proceeded against and all religious symbols were removed from the public space. For some time the scarves were off and Muslims seemed to back down, but soon enough the violence began as radicalism among Muslims became sharpened.
Britain has 1.5 million Muslims, the largest chunk of them being from Pakistan and therefore whenever the Muslims clash with the state, mostly under salafi influence, it is Pakistan that becomes highlighted as home of extremist Islam. Pakistani majority came as Barelvis from Azad Kashmir in the 1950s where Deobandism had not yet trespassed and annihilated Sufism as it was to do during the state-sponsored jihad in the Indian-administered Kashmir. In Britain too Barelvi dominance gave way to Deobandism before merging with hard salafism with money to hand out for the 1,600 mosques all over the UK.
Tablighi Jama’at is the big symbol of hard Islam that Muslim Britons have embraced. It is building the biggest mosque in Europe in East London, scaring the Britons as Islam never did before. The mosque will be built over three storeys and when complete will be Britain’s largest religious building, capable of holding 40,000 worshippers, eclipsing Europe’s largest mosque which is in Rotterdam and holds 1,500 worshippers. This compares to a modest 3,000 for the UK’s largest place of Christian worship, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool. The trauma of July 7, 2005, when mainly Pakistani Muslim Britons blew up the underground train and a bus in London, was inspired no doubt by Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack but nurtured by the 1989 agitation against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.
With the rise of Hizb al Tahrir of Syrian Umar Bakri (deported) and the open instigation to acts of violence by Egyptian Abu Hamza al Masri (jailed), the assimilationism of France began to look benign compared to the multiculturalism of Britain. Pakistani Muslims found themselves unemployed three times beyond the national average and the jails indicated that crime was also highest among them. A survey in 2007 found the Muslims interested in radical ideas, 12 percent admiring Al Qaeda, a majority saying women should wear the veil, and 60 percent blaming arrogance of the West for world problems. There were 1,600 British-born terrorists in Britain in 2007 claiming to have connections with Al Qaeda.
Holland has a million Muslims (mostly Moroccans) who began immigrating in the 1960s, but as the Dutch got scared and stopped the immigration in 1974, the law about spouses and family consolidation brought the total number to what it is now. The problem arose when Holland’s gentle secularism began to show signs of unease about the way the Muslims treated their women; and trouble exploded when a Moroccan killed a Dutch film-maker in 2004 on the subject with the help of a Somali woman, Hirsi Ali. Today Dutch Muslims are radicalised and almost 50,000 or five percent actually espouse extremist ideas under the apolitical umbrella of Tablighi Jama’at.