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03 Mar - 09 Mar , 2012
Militant Secularism And The Muslim

Militant Secularism And The Muslim
In my last column I had written about the steady rise and rise of 'militant secularism' in Britain, a term coined and used extensively by the British peer of Pakistani origin, Baroness Saeeda Warsi. The term was coined in the backdrop of a High Court decision which ruled that the saying of prayers in local council meetings was not legally valid. That, however, was not the starting point for this militant aggressive secularism that permeates so much of western society. Incidents which reveal this attitude have been going on for some time; in fact, only a few days before the High Court ruling there was another court ruling that brought this attitude out in the open.
The case started when two devout Christian guesthouse owners in Cornwall, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, cancelled the booking of a homosexual couple for a room in their guesthouse, believing that any sexual activity outside of marriage, whether homosexual or heterosexual, was a sin. The question involved was that while the gay couple claimed their rights, the guesthouse owners claimed their religious rights so which one would be deemed by the courts to have precedence over the other. In the event, gay rights won hands down; to be gay or Jewish in the west is to have won the lottery of life for no one can even think of saying a word against you if you are either. The couple who were fined £'a33,600 for refusing the gay couple accommodation in their guesthouse then appealed against the verdict but the court of appeal unanimously ruled that the Christian couple had acted unlawfully in canceling the booking in 2008.
Christian groups criticised the finding  claiming the Equality Act consistently elevated gay rights above religious rights and needed to be reformed by parliament. While any such reform is not even on the distant horizon, it is interesting to note what the judge said while delivering her judgment. Lady Justice Rafferty said: "Whilst the appellants' beliefs about sexual practice may not find the acceptance that once they did, nevertheless a democratic society must ensure that their espousal and expression remain open to those who hold them.
"It would be unfortunate to replace legal oppression of one community (homosexual couples) with legal oppression of another (those sharing the appellants' beliefs).
"However, in a pluralist society it is inevitable that from time to time, as here, views, beliefs and rights of some are not compatible with those of others. As I have made plain, I do not consider that the appellants face any difficulty in manifesting their religious beliefs. They are merely prohibited from so doing in the commercial context they have chosen."
The Christian Institute which funded the Bulls' appeal, said: "Peter and Hazelmary have been penalised for their beliefs about marriage.
"Not everyone will agree with their beliefs, but a lot of people will think it is shame that the law doesn't let them live and work according to their own values under their own roof.
"Something has gone badly wrong with our equality laws when good, decent people like Peter and Hazelmary are penalised but extremist hate preachers are protected.
"We urge parliament to revisit the Equality Act and redress the imbalance between gay rights and religious rights. Religious rights seem to come last whenever there's a clash."
All this has an immediate bearing on the future of Muslims in the West. It shows that while much of the feeling against Muslims is based on political reasons and the perceived popular connection in the West between Muslims and terrorism, a great deal of it is also due to the completely conflicting views that Muslims and the mainstream community here in the UK and most of Europe have towards religion as such, irrespective of which particular religion one happens to be talking about. Religion and values based exclusively on religious teaching – and values that govern sexual relationships would perhaps top the list - are considered outdated, anti-liberal, anti-progressive and thus by implication, backward, and on all these counts, as a means of introducing discord in society. Europe has had a vexed relationship with religion but many would wonder whether the solution lies in letting the pendulum swing to the other extreme. France does not allow students to wear headscarves in schools as no religious symbols are supposed to be acceptable in public places; in the UK, an airline worker was not allowed to wear a crucifix around her neck. Although these attitudes may be said to impact followers of all religions, they impact most a community in which adherence to religious values is widespread and that means the Muslim community. Quite apart from the political and terror angle, the overt religiosity of the Muslim community in Britain, and for that matter in the West in general, finds very few people who can empathise with a value system that promotes such religiosity. This is not to pass a value judgment on that system or the resulting religiosity; far from it. It is only to say that it has few sympathizers in the mainstream population of the UK and Europe and this acts as yet another factor in the successful integration of Muslim communities in the UK and Europe.
While on the subject of religion and attitudes towards religion, a recent book published in the United States has received a great deal of coverage there and is now making the rounds here in the UK. It is a book that purports to give the real life love experiences of some Muslim women in the US. Westerners and Muslims again are likely to approach the book from very different viewpoints. For one western publication, the punchline of the book, which it carries in the first sentence of its coverage of the book tries to highlight the liberal Muslim women of the western world.
To the western mind, that would be a 'redeeming' feature for a Muslim woman living in the West, something that takes away from the stereotyped image of oppressed Muslim women, subject entirely to the will of their menfolk. The breaking of that image, or at least challenging it, which the books does, will be seen by militant liberals as a triumph of the west. Muslim communities probably see the statement as controversial.
The book is a collection of stories about flirting, dating, relationships, marriage, and divorce by a diverse array of 25 Muslim women. The writers bare their most intimate emotions and physical encounters, and unload brutally honest criticisms on parents, ex-boyfriends, and themselves.
The book also includes stories from some very conservative Muslim women. One describes how she went through an arranged marriage after seeing her husband just once before the marriage, with the nikah taking place over the phone. She then describes how she fell in love with her husband, a person she barely knew till her marriage.
One would have to read the book, which was only published last week, to determine what the overriding impression conveyed by it is. The Muslim community in the US may be different from the Muslim community in the UK and the sort of Muslim woman the book talks about, in hijab but entirely liberated, may be the norm in the US. Here in the UK, where most of the Muslim community consists of immigrants from the south Asian subcontinent, that is certainly not true.

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