In conversation: Sara Khan talks about The Battle for British Islam
The rise of extremist Islamist views among third-generation Muslims in Britain and the failure of Muslim organisations to effectively confront those views is the central concern of human rights activist Sara Khan’s new book, The Battle for British Islam.
Khan is the co-founder and director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation. She helped launch Inspire’s Jihad Against Violence campaign and the anti-Islamic State campaign #makingastand, which was backed by the British Home secretary.
“7/7 to me was a real shock. There was no work done to tackle the issue and no change in policy,” Khan told a London audience on September 7th about the 2005 bomb attacks.
Khan spoke about the influence of British Muslim organisations.
“After 9/11, there was the thought there was a jihadist hub in London. The pressure of terrorism policies by the government and the emergence of British Muslim organisations posed a threat. You see them on Islam channel, you see them at university campuses and they have even influenced human rights organisations using human rights language even though they don’t believe in human rights. We have been sleepwalking into it and people have no clue that’s been happening,” she said.
“In 2013, Universities UK, the body that engages with all the vice-chancellors, issued a guideline that if an external speaker requests segregated seating, universities should accommodate them. That meant an Islamist preacher could request segregated seating and universities will accommodate for that in the name of freedom of speech. It is absolutely outrageous that we were going to penalise Muslim women on the demand of Islamist preachers,” Khan said.
Khan argued the majority of Muslim literature is extreme and there is not enough done by mosques and Muslim charities to encourage progressive Islam.
“I am a Muslim,” Khan said. “I have a strong belief in God. It has always been important to me since I was a child but the problem I have experienced is when you read Muslim books in this country, the dominant narrative is Wahhabi, Islamist and Salafist literature. I think a lot of Muslims don’t want to accept that.”
She said that for the current generation, religion — not ethnicity or nationality — is the primary identity.
Khan lamented that “there is no strong counter-movement [to extremism]. There are 1,600 mosques in this country and the vast majority do not promote progressiveness in the 21st century and that in itself is a huge problem that faces Muslims and their institutions in this country.
“There are very few Muslim charities that fund this kind of work. It has an impact on all of us. When the state gets involved with religious affairs, it can get quite worrying, so ideally we want the change to come from Muslims,” she said.
Nick Cohen, a columnist for the Observer, said there was a lack of understanding by the West of what radical Islam is.
“Part of the problem for white people over 30 is we don’t really know what we are talking about… People don’t yet know what radical Islam is, what the divisions are within Islam so they have a patronising view of the group ‘the Muslim’,” Cohen said.
“You can find endless justifications for sex slavery in the Old Testament or genocide or prejudice in the Bible. That was stopped not because of enlightenment but because we destroyed them.”