I had thought of writing a detailed review of Professor Abdal Hakim Murad’s new book Travelling Home, Essays on Islam in Europe which he kindly sent me recently. Instead I felt moved to pen this heartfelt cri de cœur. Be advised: I say some rather rude things about Muslims in the UK. Nevertheless I have sent it to him.
I’m reading with fascination your new book.
Your whole approach to Islam and our English and European history is rich in its analysis and credible in offering solutions.
But something bothers me about it. Hard to put my finger on what it is.
Perhaps something along these lines:
I don’t know any Muslims who express your vision of an Islam inculturated and at home here in England and who understand the nature of the task ahead.
Most Muslims of my acquaintance turn a blind eye to violent extremists in our midst and condemn those (like me) who speak out publicly of the real dangers. No Englishman would think twice about taking action.
Most Muslims I know seem to dislike this country, its traditions, history, and culture, and know nothing of its literature, art, and music. You mention in passing George Herbert’s poetry (p. 67) as if it was the most natural thing in the world. For you – and me – it is! But no Muslim I know will have ever heard of him. If I tried to explain why he is a much loved poet I would meet with incomprehension. A 17th century priest of the Church of England who wrote metaphysical poetry? You have to be joking! Yet he is part of our cultural DNA. So is John Donne, John Milton, TS Eliot…
Muslims in the main come across as complete philistines. Yet you are different. The reason is obvious: you are an educated (white) Englishman with a long ancestry in Cambridge (the city and university). An outlier from the herd. In my own way I am similar.
So I remain pessimistic about an English expression of Islam. I would guess that 99% of Muslims (ie nearly all the non-revert Muslims) show no interest in this nor have the faintest idea of what it would look like. I wish it were otherwise!
Sorry to end on such a negative note!
Categories: Dr Tim Winter, England, English Literature, Europe, European Muslims, Islam, Life in the West, Paul Williams, Recommended reading
I dare say this is a problem with English people as well. Many are not interested/aware that England has a history prior to their lives besides, perhaps, some strained awareness of Shakespeare. The Church which is among our oldest institutions has largely given up the ghost when it comes to not only maintaining its historic beliefs in Protestant Christianity but also even in its own importance as a vital part of the communities in which it serves.
We are content to roll over to American cultural supremacism, introduced via its media, multi-national businesses which have choked smaller businesses out of the areas in which they served and shall likely continue to do so after this pandemic as many will not be able to survive as people spend their money online.
This has, in my opinion, been further perpetuated in the media via the mass propagation of content in order to match its apparent obsession with social media, something that has even been admitted by one of the chiefs of the BBC with regards to journalism.
There was some hope that the lockdown would cause people to become more wholesome as we were forced to stay indoors and away from the enforced metropolitan lifestyle engineered by said multi-nationals. This has not happened and instead with regards to politics, social issues, and culture: it has become even more radicalized than before.
I doubt this will change anytime soon vaccine or no vaccine nor shall it be possible to revive the kind of society that we know now only in our dreams in this kind of environment since the damage has already been done.
We can only watch and marvel as that which we read about in sacred history, namely the self-destruction of society due to sin is being played out in real-time.
This subject needs to be nuanced. I’m not sure if got this right “Most Muslims I know seem to dislike this country, its traditions, history, and culture, and know nothing of its literature, art, and music.“??
I mean why do they have to? For instance, do they have to enjoy reading for Shakespeare? Moreover, I don’t think English white youth are onto what you mentioned. I’m sure sitting on a couch watching NetFlix means more to them than what you said.
‘I mean why do they have to?’
A question that should not have to be asked.
A question that shouldn’t be asked, yes. However, Abdullah makes a good point that you are holding the masses to an unreasonable standard. Islam never expects all people to be scholars. English masses aren’t aware of their history or literature just as the Muslim masses aren’t. Lastly, the problem of European demand for assimilation is exactly what caused so many problems such as the holocaust. I hope you don’t mind me saying that if the Jews wanted to live in Europe for centuries without assimilation without adopting the culture of the host country than Muslims should also be able to live without assimilation.
I see many double standards in your review here Mr. Paul, with all due respect.
You mentioned George Herbert – John Piper has lectured and written about him –
“He wrote about 184 poems, and what is remarkable is that when he was seventeen, he wrote two sonnets for his mother, whom he loved very much. And in those sonnets he pledged himself to write only for the glory of God. So, in spite of all this battling with his public life in the years just after Cambridge, he held to that promise.
We know of no poems from the pen of George Herbert that do not deal with God or with the soul in relation to God. He is not like John Donne, who spent half his life, or more, writing poems of a more secular, natural kind. All of Herbert’s poems were devoted to God.”
Who was George Herbert?
Makes my point even more!
The full message by John Piper about George Herbert and his poetry and life:
Maybe the reason is because you and Tim Winter ( Abdal Hakim Murad) are retaining some good aspects of Christianity that is still left in the spirit of English culture and traditions; and most of the Muslims come across as “complete philistines” to you, is because there is something inherent in the spirit of Islam that nurtures jealousy, hatred, rancor, spite, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, etc.
Just look at how Faiz and Stewjo turned on you with such hatred and rancor, etc.
Yet he [George Herbert] is part of our cultural DNA. So is John Donne, John Milton, TS Eliot…
They are all deeply informed by the Bible and Christianity and the Christian worldview. Especially George Herbert and John Milton . . .
Maybe T. S. Eliot less so – ( I confess that of course I have heard of him for years, for most of my life, but not really familiar with his poems, etc.) We read John Donne and John Milton, and Shakespeare and Chaucer, and Beowulf, etc. in high school and college. (in the USA in the 1970s and early 1980s)
But according to the Wikipedia article on him, he later converted to the Anglican church; after his secular period.
Most Muslims I know seem to dislike this country, its traditions, history, and culture, and know nothing of its literature, art, and music.
Why do you think most Muslims don’t like English culture?
Does not Islam itself conflict with western culture, western style government, freedom of speech, religion, food, etc. ? Islam has rules for art; and some Hadith even seem to say that most all music is wrong.
According to Islamic tradition, the principles of Islamic art are: 1. no iconography – no animals or humans – only floral and plant drawings, 2. Qur’anic Calligraphy 3. Symmetry 4. Geometric shapes – these principles are the basic plans of the carpets and buildings of Islam in history.
patrobin also has some good points about modern English culture – even young Brits don’t know about their older cultural heritage – the last 60 years are increasingly secular and it is understandable why practicing Muslims would not like modern secular western culture.
The last 60 years, in western Europe and USA, in general, has seen an increase in apostasy from religion and ethics and morality and increase in secularism – it is kind of understandable why most Muslims don’t “get into” English culture.
Do British schools teach the old values anymore?
Why were so many disillusioned and drifted away from Christianity after WW 2?
Why did the Beatles have such a massive impact?
3 of the 4 expressed disillusionment with organized religion, especially Lennon and Harrison (who converted to Hinduism, Hare Krishna) – but they were hypocrites because of their many adulteries, drugs, and materialism. Great music, but terrible role models.
The inculturation that Dr Winter is calling for is mostly relevant to converts who do not have a culture in which Islam is immediately soluble. They need to inculturate their Islam so as not to feel alienated. Inculturating their Islam gives their faith a substrate that allows them to leave a live a full life as British Muslims, with authentic names, halal tastes, artistic interests, etc. and to not have to imitate Arabs or Pakistanis.
Immigrant Muslims came with a preexisting cultural substrate that already allows them to live a coherent Islamic life as a Faisal Chaudhuri who likes subcontinent music and enjoys a tandoori. I don’t see why they should need to erase that to adopt the vestiges of authentic British Culture. They may be British by nationality, but only with a desire to integrate but not assimilate, and that’s okay.
That’s almost Scruton-like right wing conservatism bordering white culture supremacy…
…To live a full life…
Scruton was a great man.
I agree. I think he was maybe the most articulate conservative thinker in the recent years.
There is much in his thought Muslims could agree with.
Salaam, I do not know much about British Muslims – I am not British, I am Muslim, I am Pakistani, I am living in UK since 2.5 years as my company opened an office here, that I am setting up. But I have not only heard of all the poets, but T.S. Eliot is one of my favorites. I knew of these poets even before I traveled west.
I have lived for several years in USA also, there are very religious Christians there, in fact most of my close friends are from the Christian fellowship at my college – and most of them do not know these poets. I volunteer at my local cricket club in Wales where I live and none of the ladies in my team knows or cares about poetry.
Reading and loving poetry is not part of being Christian or Muslim, or British or Asian; it is the environment you are surrounded by. Its because Shiekh Abdal Hakim has always been a scholar and academician that he has a love for poetry. I read and hear him so much because of this attribute. I have a feeling the same is true for you, Mr. Paul Williams – which is what drew me to your YouTube videos. Also, I think the newer generation due to growing up with technology and watching things rather than reading – cannot feel the depths and beauty of poetry.
To correct Ken Temple, Faiz was Muslim due to birth but not practicing – he was communist by thought. Also, if you read Sufi poetry – there is more love and God than in any other poetry.
One thing I can say of what little I know of British Muslims, the initial people who came had little or no education; in addition, they came only for money. Britain, unlike Canada and Australia has never lured the highly educated into their country. They needed people to do their dirty work – and those are the sort of people who came from Asia. You know the required qualification in Canada and Australia is a Bachelor’s, in UK they have just moved to High School or Inter (late, but still way behind). The rich who come to study here, usually go back as life is better back home if you are well off.
I am struggling to find friends in this country – people from my background are not educated, and nor enjoy intellectual conversations. The British have no regards for God or religion, and cannot relate to a person who tries to practice Islam. This is one reason, I am in 2 minds to reside here long-term, though my boss has been telling me that once i complete 5 years, I will not get a renewal and must apply for residency. In US the friends I have from my community are highly educated, and the Americans are practicing Christians. In Pakistan it is the same. If Britain needs better Muslims it needs to attract them.
Inshallah one thing I pray for, before I leave I can visit Cambridge Muslim College, as I have even taken some courses with them, and enjoy their teachers. If you see the teachers of CMC, they would fit the profile that has been described by Sheikh Abdal Hakim – so inshallah all is not lost. Their kids will be the British Muslims that have been imagined in the book.