More than any other faith, Islam gives detailed instruction on how the State should facilitate a peaceful, harmonious and inclusive society. Few Muslims see these to be at odds with laws in the UK. Yet in the margins most people interpret the government’s ‘British Values’ to be a counterpoint to Islamic religious fundamentalism.
There is a strange irony here. As I see it many current social policies are being informed by an undertone more similar to the mainstream Islamic perspective than the values that founded Christianity (one reason why the bishops recently took pen in hand to re-establish their frustration with today’s politics).
Take the new definition of British values that Ofsted uses. One key British value is ‘tolerance’, a word that no one warms to, but is pragmatic and essential for a pluralist democracy.
Tolerance, of course is not a word that you would find in the Bible or Koran. Tolerance, as a societal concept is of little interest to the writers of the Christian section of the Bible as the preoccupation of Jesus relates to ‘a Kingdom not of this world’ in a state whose rule was beyond the say of the common man.This is in stark contrast to the Prophet Muhammad whose religious principles became intrinsic to the establishment of the good society in the here-and-now. Yet ‘tolerance’ wouldn’t have been a concept in his vocabulary either.
Muhammad is a man from similarly brutal social origins to Jesus but whose mission led him to become the leader of a peaceful state. He dominates and tames the relentless tribal warfare that had previously defined that region by introducing the rule of Islam and principles of Shariah. He develops the concept of the ‘Ummah’: the community of believers, but these are not just Muslims. Indeed, in the Constitution of Medina (a legal constitution that predates the Magna Carta by some 400 years) he defines one of the major Jewish tribes living in Medina as being part off the Ummah.
In so doing he delineates those considered to contribute to the good, or righteous society. These are not simply those who hold to Islamic belief. And by contrast, those who will not contribute to a righteous society are outlawed. Some Jewish tribes are counted into the Ummah and others are not tolerated.
So the prophet is tolerant of those beyond his own religious beliefs but intolerant of those who refuse to bring goodness to a wider social cauldron in which all are shaped. Islam’s sense of social justice and high principled personal moralities correlate individual choices to the subsequent impact on the souls of all those who live in that state – in a way that modern liberal minds find intolerable as they don’t permit individual deviance.
Sounds familiar? At root Islam is much closer to this government’s perception of British values. It has a high moral call on the individual, is intolerant of those who will not contribute positively, expects each to work conscientiously and support their family, and has a more accepted view of the given way of life: it also creates firm boundaries about who should be in or out.
Contrast this with the bishops’ missal about a government that will not tackle inequality effectively and has let compassion-driven welfare turn into an argument about personal moral merit.
More ironic still then that the sector of society that feels most alienated right now are Muslims.
Of course, many feel this because the Western values that they believe to undermine the shaping of a good society are still at large. Such liberalism permits and tolerates those of alternate moralities to their own, and even protects them by the laws of the land.
Yet still, on balance, the current emphasis on the individual and their character rather than the protection of those made vulnerable and needy through the negligence of the ruling powers suggests that either Islamic thought coincides with Tory tradition, or that our British values are informed by a romanticised Sunday school religion subservient to the avarice of liberal capitalism.
No wonder teachers are not yet clear how to teach British Values.