“We will never have peace on this Earth so long as we have the Qur’an.”
These were the words quoted by EDL founder Tommy Robinson on Tuesday morning, in a bizarre and frankly irresponsible ITV interview that featured Tommy dropping a series of bombshells on the hosts, like the fact that they hadn’t grown up in Luton, (true), and that a British Prime-Minister from 150 years ago held some pretty backward views on Islam, (also true).
Robinson has a well-established history of making inflammatory statements about Islam and Muslims in general. His effect, and those of his comrades-in-arms, is not trivial. Hate crimes against Muslims have risen four-fold in as many years, and the recent attack is a chilling reminder that the far-right in this country is growing both in anger and confidence. The kind of rhetoric he espouses is therefore quite literally a matter of life and death.
But there’s something else about him that really gets me. In my time with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association, I spent much of my university life coordinating anti-extremist events across UK campuses. And you know what? There’s something eerily familiar about the kind of things Robinson says. I’ve heard them all before. And not from the far-right, but from the leaflets and literature of Muslim Radicals. In fact, when you analyse it, Tommy and Abu ‘Hook-Man’ Hamza actually share identical views about Islam:
Belief that Islam promotes an endless war against non-Muslims? Check. Belief that the Prophet Muhammad promoted religious intolerance? Check. Belief that Muslims and non-Muslims can never truly integrate, that Islam forbids freedom of religion, that Islam is anti-democratic? Check, check and check.
It’s telling that in order to fight against the threat of Muslim extremism, Tommy doesn’t challenge the extremist narrative. Instead, he fully accepts it, and then shouts about the fact that it’s extreme.
If Islam was a religion of peace, why does it sentence all those who leave it’s fold with DEATH?
— Tommy Robinson 🇬🇧 (@TRobinsonNewEra) 11 April 2017
you can preach whatever you want, Islam will not assimilate or integrate. I know it & you know it
— Tommy Robinson 🇬🇧 (@TRobinsonNewEra) 5 October 2016
Well here’s an idea Tommy. If you really want to fight extremism, stop waving about that Qur’an you’re holding, and actually read it. And when I say read it, I mean put some effort into it and read a commentary alongside it, don’t just flit between bookmarks of the verses Google told you were bad. And while you’re at it, do all Muslims a favour and read a proper biography of the religious personality you claim is the source of Britain’s woes—don’t just scan Geert Wilders’ latest masterpiece.
Were Tommy to do this, he’d have the most effective de-radicalisation tool known to man: knowledge. You see, both Muslim extremists and far-right nationalists rely on their respective audiences being completely ignorant about Islam. Nature abhors a vacuum, and extremists of both persuasions will gladly fill it.
For instance, with a bit of research, Tommy might find that far from persecuting others, the Prophet was himself heavily persecuted for his Unitarian message. Rather than murdering others, his own pregnant daughter was killed for her father’s faith. Rather than being anti-democratic, the Prophet pioneered the historic Medinite charter, proclaiming that Jews, Pagans and Muslims of the city were all equal citizens of one nation. Rather than being a religious demagogue, Tommy would learn that the Prophet only took up arms in defensive warfare after thirteen long years of persecution, having emigrated 200 miles North to another city while still being pursued. When he finally finally returned to his home city of Mecca, with ten thousand converts behind him, and his persecutors at his mercy, he chose to forgive them rather than punish them. And yes, that even included the man who killed his daughter and nascent grandchild.
But Tommy and his extremist colleagues don’t want you to know all this. They’d much rather you think that the Prophet was something like the self-styled ‘Caliph’ plaguing the Middle East right now. And let alone know about the Prophet, they certainly don’t want you to read the Qur’an. If you did, you might find such scandalous verses as this one guaranteeing religious freedom: “There must be no compulsion in religious matters.” Or this one, explicitly saying that only defensive warfare was allowed: “Permission to wage war is given to those who have been fought against, because they have been wronged.” Or this one, making the point even more clearly: “fight against those who fight you, but do not transgress.”
And they would surely want you to ignore the fact that peaceful co-existence is explicitly spelled out in the words, “Allah does not forbid you, regarding those who have not fought against you on account of your religion and have not driven you out of your homes, that you be kind to them and deal equitably with them; surely Allah loves those who are equitable.” Definitely, definitely, don’t read that bit.
Far-Right hate preachers and Muslim extremists are two peas in the same pod. The nationalists assert that Islam is an existential threat against the West, and religious fundamentalists tell us that the West is an existential threat against Islam. They rely on each other, and our ignorance, more than anything else.
So my message to Tommy Robinson, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and all their ideological partners, is simple:
Stop telling me what my religion is. Your ignorance is as transparent as it is toxic.
Umar Nasser (@UmarN91) is a junior doctor who frequently writes on religion, science and atheism. He is a public speaker on religion in the contemporary world, and has coordinated anti-radicalisation event campaigns across UK universities.
He was once a street magician, but has since decided that there are more than enough tricksters in the world.