The Politics of Islam(ism): Decolonizing the Postcolonial - ENDNOTES

The Politics of Islam(ism): Decolonizing the Postcolonial - ENDNOTES

by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

Article is at


[1] Henzell-Thomas, J., “Beyond The Tower of Babel: A Linguistic Approach to Clarifying Key Concepts in Islamic Pluralism.” Conference on Citizenship, Security and Democracy, Istanbul, 1-3 September 2006.

I referred in that paper to the problematic distinction between “tradition in the sense of perennial wisdom and traditionalism in the sense of a conservative, orthodox and even anti-progressive and reactionary outlook. The same applies to the distinction between a vision of progress rooted in innate human values (such as concern for the advancement and welfare of our fellow human beings) and that brand of rootless progressivism which is dogmatically inimical to the past or merely synonymous with the blind worship of technological advancement. The confusion over what is meant by the words tradition and progress is perhaps the best example of the Tower of Babel at this time. We all tread carefully around these terms, lest we be labelled in the wrong way. How many people have the insight to see that one can be wedded to tradition and progress at the same time, and that the espousal of one does not entail the rejection of the other?”

[2] “This destruction of diversity is a travesty of the concept of unity, for the universe was created as a manifestation of unity in diversity and not as a uniform entity. When a sacred conception of what is beyond the visible is lost to a culture, then the reflection of unity in the human soul is transposed to the forms themselves. The outcome is the need to make things uniform, to homogenise.  The homogenising impulse springs from the denial of the Unseen, which is a denial of God. This confusion between unity and uniformity is a typical example of the confusion caused by the distortion and degradation of key concepts and this is what the Tower of Babel story is telling us at a symbolic level. A Tower built by people who sought to usurp the eminence of God symbolises the arrogance which seeks to impose uniformity on a plural world. It is the Promethean theft of what belongs to God alone, bringing it down to a base level where its reflection is distorted beyond recognition.” (Henzell-Thomas, J., ibid)

[3] I am indebted to Hisham Hellyer for proposing the key distinction between integral and integration as a means of going beyond the false dichotomy between integration and segregation (personal communication, 2006). Responding to my suggestion that Muslims need to be a creative minority within Europe, he replied that “it is my deepest belief that a creative minority (as you rightly point out, this is Toynbee’s observation) can and should be a force for the renewal of Europe. Islam has historically been that creative minority. But to accomplish that, Muslims must learn to be integral. Not integrated, nor segregated. It’s a very different way of doing things. From a Muslim community perspective, they need to do this, otherwise Srebrenica can happen to them.”

In reply, I wrote as follows: “The essential meaning of ‘integral’ is to have ‘integrity’, that is, to be ‘whole, complete’, from Latin integer. The etymology takes us further back to the Indo-European base tag-, which also produced Latin tangere ‘touch’ (source of English intact as well as tact, tactile and tangible). The word ‘entire’ is from the same root, but through Latin integrum which passed into Old French through Vulgar Latin as entier. The original sense is also ‘untainted’ (Horace, Odes, 23 - Integer vitae scelerisque purus - ‘With life untainted and free from guilt’.) This explains the connection with the sense ‘touch’ - to be whole, to have integrity, to be intact, is to be ‘untouched’, ‘untainted’, ‘pure’.

This is symbolised in the alchemical process in which the transmutation of base metals cannot be achieved if there is any ‘adulteration’ (i.e. ‘tainting’ of the materials.”

[4] The Qur’an repeatedly and unequivocally states that faith and denial are matters of personal choice in which there can be no coercion or interference, and that, in accordance with what Muhammad Asad describes as a fundamental principle of Islamic ethics, each human soul must take personal responsibility for the consequences of that choice:

There shall be no coercion in matters of faith (2:256).

Whoever chooses to follow the right path, follows it but for his own good; and whoever goes astray, goes but astray to his own hurt; and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden (17:15).

And say: The truth has now come from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it (18:29).
Behold, from on high have We bestowed upon thee this divine writ, setting forth the truth for the benefit of all mankind. And whoever chooses to be guided thereby, does so for his own good, and whoever chooses to go astray, goes but astray to his own hurt: and thou hast not the power to determine their fate (39:41).

The Qur’an also makes it clear that the Messengers of God are only warners and bringers of glad tidings without any power to coerce or enforce:

No more is the Apostle bound to do than deliver the message entrusted to him: and God knows all that you do openly, and all that you would conceal (5:99).
I am nothing but a warner, and a herald of glad tidings unto people who will believe (7:188).
But if they turn away from thee, O Prophet, remember that thy only duty is a clear delivery of the message entrusted to thee (16:82).

Furthermore, the Qur°än teaches that differences in belief are aspects of the diversity which God has ordained for human beings and that only God can give a final verdict on such differences:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

For never would thy Sustainer destroy a community for wrong beliefs alone so long as its people behave righteously towards one another. And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but He willed it otherwise, and so they continue to hold divergent views - all of them, save those upon whom thy Sustainer has bestowed His grace. (11:117-119).

And on whatever you may differ, O believers, the verdict thereon rests with God (42:10).

Qur’an 5:48 above has been described as a “virtual manifesto of religious pluralism” and “a structural guarantee for the survival of more than one religion and every Muslim should know it by heart” (Murad W. Hofmann, “Religious Pluralism and Islam”, in Islam and Global Dialogue: Religious Pluralism and the Pursuit of Peace, edited by Roger Boase. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, pp. 238-239).  In his note to the same verse, Muhammad Asad explains how “unity in diversity” is frequently stressed in the Qur’an (as, for example, in the first sentence of 2:148, in 21:92-93, or in 23:52) and describes 11:118 as stressing once again “that the unceasing differentiation in men’s views and ideas is not incidental but represents a God-willed, basic factor of human existence.”

[5] The preponderance of the abstract noun –ism suffix on the negative side should alert us to the fact that many of the degraded meanings are not authentic ideas in the original Platonic sense but the product of human ideology, - abstract systems of doctrine and belief constructed by human minds rooted neither in revealed wisdom nor in higher human faculties.

[6] Qur’an 2:31

[7] “In the contemporary usage of all modern European languages, outside the specialized vocabulary of certain antiquarian and literary critical coteries, the word rhetorical is unfailingly pejorative. Rhetoric now roughly connotes the dissembling, manipulative abuse of linguistic resources for self-serving ends, usually in a political context.” (Wardy, R. ‘Rhetoric’, in J. Brunschwig and G. Lloyd (eds.), Greek Thought: A Guide to Classical Knowledge. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 465).

[8] Dwight D. Eisenhower, from his Farewell Address to the Nation, 17 January 1961.

[9] To that layer of moral valuation, we should add too the imperative of right action, described so simply and beautifully by the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton: “The activity proper to man is not purely mental, because man is not just a disembodied mind.  Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Boston: Shambhala, 1993, p. 18).

[10] In my address, The Language of Islamophobia, (Exploring Islamophobia Conference, University of Westminster School of Law, London, 29 September 2001) I referred to Norman Cigar’s highly cautionary illustration of how the Serbs differentiated and isolated the Muslim community “by creating “a straw-man Islam and Muslim stereotype” and “setting and emphasising cultural markers” which focused on Islam and the Muslims as alien, culturally and morally inferior, threatening and, of course, exotic, but in a perverse, negative way. The Serbs applied the label “Islamic fundamentalist” freely to all Muslims, who were seen as reflections of the “darkness of the past”. They claimed that “in Islamic teaching, no woman has a soul”; that “the tone of the Qur’an is openly authoritarian, uncompromising and menacing”; that the reading of the traditional tales in A Thousand and One Nights predisposed Muslims (in their words gave “subliminal direction” to the Muslims) to torture and kill Christians; that the destruction of places of worship belonging to other faiths is an obligation on all Muslims; that the “banning of tourism and sports” in Islam inevitably led to “xenophobia” and “segregation”, and so on.  It is quite clear that these Serbian orientalists, “ by bending scholarship and blending it with political rhetoric….defined Islam and the local Muslim community in such a way as to contribute significantly to…. making genocide acceptable”. And what allowed them to play such a role? It was “the extensive media exposure they enjoyed in Serbia”, as much as “their participation in official propaganda campaigns abroad”. (Norman Cigar, The Role of Serbian Orientalists in Justification of Genocide Against Muslims of the Balkans, Islamic Quarterly: Review of Islamic Culture, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 3, 1994.)

[11] The word conformation is used by Muhammad Asad to translate the phrase fï ‘ahsani taqwim in Qur’an 95:4: Verily, We create man in the best conformation. Variant translations include We indeed created Man in the fairest stature (Arberry) We created the human being in the highest station (Sells) and We have indeed created man in the best of moulds (Yusuf Ali).  Yusuf Ali’s note gives the various connotations of taqwim as “mould, symmetry, form, nature, constitution”. He adds:  “There is no fault in Allah’s creation. To man Allah gave the purest and best nature, and man’s duty is to preserve the pattern on which Allah has made him.”

[12] And every human being will come forward with his erstwhile inner urges and his conscious mind, and will be told: “indeed, unmindful hast thou been of this Day of Judgement; but now We have lifted from thee thy veil, and sharp is thy sight today!” (Qur°än 50:21-22)

To paraphrase Muåammad Asad’s detailed note on these verses, they refer to the contending nature of the two fundamental motive forces within man: on one side, that which drives (sa’iq), his primal, instinctive urges, inordinate appetites and unrestrained desires (often symbolized as shaytan), and on the other side, his conscious reason (shahid), both intuitive and reflective, or the awakening of the deeper layers of his consciousness, the “lifting of the veil” that leads to a sudden perception or witnessing of his own moral reality.

[13] Civic Involvement: An Islamic Imperative by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, Islamica Magazine, Issue 20, 2007, pp. 84-86.  This article is an extract from a newly published book by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir entitled Agenda to Change our Condition, Zaytuna Institute, Hayward, California, 2007.

[14]  It has been very recently announced that Muslim groups will receive £70 million in Government funds to help tackle extremism in “ungoverned spaces” such as internet chat rooms and snooker halls. In a speech on 1 November 2007 Hazel Blears, Communities Secretary, made her first foray into tackling radicalisation and extremism in the community. She announced plans to “beat the terrorists at their own game” by extending the fight against terrorism to gyms, cafes and the internet where increasingly-sophisticated techniques are used to recruit youngsters. Speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio, Ms Blears defended the Government’s decision to give the cash to Muslim rather than Christian or Jewish groups. “There is support for faiths across Government, but let’s be honest about this - what we are about is saying that we have a problem of radicalisation and extremism in a small minority of areas and communities.” Ms Blears said that it was the job of Government to support minority groups and enable them to be more resilient. However, Rageh Omaar (“How heroin creates terrorists”, New Statesman, 12 November 2007) makes the telling point that “when the government speaks of concentrating on combating radicalism in cyberspace, they betray how ill-equipped they are to reach out to those young men most vulnerable to al-Qaeda’s message”, especially to those for whom drug dealing and drug abuse plays such an important role in their radicalisation. “Young men,” he says, “who have hit rock bottom are ripe for targeting by proselytisers”. What is needed is support for organisations “which have respect and legitimacy among young British Muslims”, organisations such as the Brick Lane Youth Development Association (BLYDA) which do “heroic but utterly unsupported work with youngsters to keep them from being disenchanted, hopeless and radicalised.”

[15]  The extent of damage wreaked by alcohol on the lives of children was revealed in the Today programme on BBC radio 4 on 13 November 2007.

[16]  More recently, the chairman of the National Obesity Forum in Britain has warned that tackling obesity could bankrupt the NHS, with half of adults and a quarter of children predicted to be dangerously overweight by 2050. A report into the future trends in obesity compiled by 250 experts has called for a “paradigm shift” across all aspects of society, Government, the food industry, healthcare, education and culture. (The Weekly Telegraph, 24-30 October, 2007).  Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, commenting on this report, believes “we are facing a potential crisis on the scale of climate change” (Times Online 15 October, 2007). Climate change, itself, according to the British government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, is a far bigger threat to the world than international terrorism (BBC News 9 January 2004). The implied syllogism (that obesity is now a greater threat to the world than international terrorism) has not gone unnoticed in the press.

[17]  More recent statistics include the alarming finding that nearly half of all teachers in Britain have been physically attacked by pupils and more than 90 per cent have been verbally abused (Reuters, 23 February 2007). The Scotsman reported on 25 September 2007 that the 20,000 assaults (including physical and verbal abuse) reported each year on healthcare workers in Scotland were “just the tip of the iceberg”. In 2006, The Royal College of Nursing reported that one third of nurses working alone in the community had been assaulted or harassed in the previous two years (BBC News Online, 31 March 2006). As I write this paper, a report reveals that there have been half a million incidences of physical and verbal abuse on shopkeepers in Britain in the last year. Perhaps worse still, a news item on BBC Radio 4 on the day I arrived in London to attend this conference (10 November 2007) revealed that 1000 paramedics and ambulance staff were assaulted last year.

[18]  Neal Lawson, The Guardian, 22 February 2007.

[19]  The USA scored even lower on the last two dimensions but overall came 2nd because as well as being generally orderly and polite they gave generous tips. An article in The Independent entitled “Teenagers ignorant about world” (12 November 2007) reports a survey commissioned by the British Council which found that “British schoolchildren are now bottom of the class when it comes to international awareness”. This survey of 4,170 11- to 16-year-olds in 10 countries (including the USA) found that British youngsters were the least likely to make the effort to understand current events in the world or to learn a foreign language.

[20]  Amongst the cases referred to by Cochrane, that of Christine Lakinski, a 50-year-old with a spine deformity, is particularly distressing. In July 2007, “she fell over and lay dying in the street near her house – at which point she might have expected help from her neighbours. Instead, Anthony Anderson, 27, emerged from his house and was joined by friends. He first kicked Lakinski and then urinated on her.”  Keith Philpott, a man with learning difficulties, was tortured to death at his flat in Teeside in March 2006. Steven Hoskin, whose learning difficulties were severe, “was targeted by a group who cheated him out of his benefits, dragged him around his bedsit on a dog lead, before forcing him to take 70 painkillers and pushing him over the safety rail of a railway viaduct. Hoskin held on with his fingertips. One of the group stamped on his hands.” Cochrane concludes that she used to be one of those who had little time for those “hell-in-a-handcart folk who claim society is worse than it’s ever been, that we’ve lost our values” but the recent string of crimes against the disabled has convinced here that “we are, indeed, going to the dogs”.

[21]  See my article, “Restoring Dignity Through Compassionate Care” in emel Magazine, November issue, 2007. The Healthcare Commission report follows close on the heels of another report, published in August, by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which called for a “complete change of culture” in health and care services.  That equally shocking report detailed how elderly people are suffering from abuse, neglect and malnutrition in hospitals and care homes up and down the land. Evidence was found of “historic and embedded ageism” within healthcare services. One elderly woman, who had difficulty feeding herself, “appeared to be slowly starving to death” because visitors who could have helped her were discouraged from staying during meal times. The Charity Age Concern estimates that half a million elderly people are subject to abuse at any one time, mostly in healthcare settings, and Help the Aged declared that “the shocking examples highlighted by this report provides all the evidence the government needs to justify urgent action”. The fact is that there have been dozens of previous reports which have exposed similarly disturbing cases. The Observer reported over a year ago on 16 April 2006 that the neglect of the elderly would be targeted that very week under new guidelines forcing hospitals to respect patients’ dignity. Professor Ian Philp, the government ‘tsar’ on services for old people admitted at that time that “things happen to older people that, if they happened to children, would end up in the criminal courts, but don’t even get mentioned; they’re swept under the carpet.”

[22]  See “Death makes life easier in the NHS” by Charles Moore, Weekly Telegraph, 17 October, 2007. In the same issue an article by Jenny McCartney entitled “Elderly and in need of a helping hand: who cares” reports that “so much is warped and rotten in Britain’s social care for the elderly that it will take major structural work to render it even partially sound.”  “In a youth-obsessed culture”, she continues, “many young and middle-aged people shrink from looking directly at the plight of the elderly…”

[23]  The Archbishop’s lecture, entitled Islam, Christianity and Pluralism was published jointly by Lambeth Palace and the AMSS (UK) earlier this year (2007).

[24]  The first nurse in Islamic history was Rufaidah bint Sa’a who lived during the time of the Prophet. Long before Florence Nightingale reformed nursing in the 19th century, Rufaidah set up a training school for nurses, developed the first code of conduct and ethics, and actively worked for community health. She had a strongly empathetic personality, a distinctly human touch. Sandy Lovering, Chief of Nursing Affairs at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah explains that “the recognition of Rufaidah as the first Muslim nurse and role model is a very recent phenomenon as Muslim nurses seek roots in their history and grounding of the nursing role within their own religious framework.” 

[25]  What can we learn about the characteristics of a caring culture from the underlying meaning of the word nurse?

  The word nurse comes from a Latin word which also gives us nourish and nutrition. It originally meant ‘suckle’ but this earlier sense of feeding and caring for children was later generalized to ‘look after’ and it was not until the end of the 16th century that it came to mean ‘care for sick people’. The word nursery still retains its associations with children, and by extension with young plants.

  The neglect of old people’s nutrition in hospitals is profoundly ironic in the light of the original meaning of the act of nursing, which was an act of feeding, nourishing and rearing.

  And that act of nourishing, of providing sustenance, is no less than the embodiment of the divine nurturing principle enshrined in the Arabic word rabb. Muhammad Asad chooses to translate this word in the Qur’an not as ‘Lord’ but as ‘Sustainer’. Commenting on the phrase rabb il ‘alamin in Qur’an 1:2 he points out that this includes the sense of “rearing, sustaining and fostering anything from its inception to its final completion”. In his view, the word ‘Sustainer’ better reflects the wide complex of meanings associated with the Arabic root.

  Islamic education is often referred to as tarbiyah, from the same root. The qualitative emphasis of this concept is mercy (rahma) and it has the essential sense of nurturing, rearing, fostering and developing latent potential, like Latin educere (‘draw out’), the source of the English word education. The English word develop has the etymological sense of “unwrap” (Old French des- + voloper). In other words, educational development is a process of remembering, activating, awakening, revealing or bringing to light innate capacities.

  Qur’an 2:3 also tells us that one of the qualities of the God-conscious is that they “spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance.” Asad notes that “Ar-rizq (provision of sustenance) applies to all that may be of benefit to man, whether it be concrete (like food, property or offspring) or abstract (like knowledge or piety). The ‘spending on others’ is mentioned here in one breath with God-consciousness and prayer because it is precisely in such selfless acts that true piety comes to its full fruition.”  Speaking to ‘Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, the Prophet said, Give without calculating lest God calculate concerning you; and don’t hold back, lest God hold back from you. Give as much as you are able. 

[26]  This report, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and based on surveys and reports spanning the last 50 years, found that British adolescents spent longer in the company of other teens – and less time with adults and parents – than most other young people around the world. Only 64 per cent eat with their parents in Britain compared to 89 per cent in France and 93 per cent in Italy. The existence of a pervasive “yob culture” characterised by binge-drinking, drug-taking, fighting, gang membership and underage sex and has been further exposed in a more recent IPPR report published in July 2007 which describes British teenagers as “among the worst behaved in Europe” and called for a “legal extension” to the school day. Julia Margo, the think-tank’s senior research fellow, said that “today’s announcement is an admission that successive governments have left British youth to its own devices.” (The Weekly Telegraph, 1-7 August 2007). However, in an article in the same newspaper, Sue Palmer (author of Toxic Childhood: How Modern Life is Damaging our Children and What We can Do about It ) expresses her belief that “it’s no good trying to counter the effects of this mess” with what “sounds suspiciously like internment” in the form of “state-sponsored educare or other “ham-fisted policies”.  She is surely right in maintaining that “rather than trying to stick elastoplast on the gaping wounds appearing in society, we should be looking at what’s gone so comprehensively wrong and trying to put it right.” Her solution is to reclaim a culture of personal care, for it is this which “provides children with emotional resilience and a sense of personal responsibility”.

[27]  Cited in Honore, C.,op. cit, (See note 2).

[28]  An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries: A Comprehensive Assessment of the Lives and Well-Being of Children and Adolescents in the Economically Advanced Nations, UNICEF, 2007. This report examined well-being in six dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviour and risks, and subjective well-being.

[29]  A recent survey on happiness, the so-called Happy Planet Index, compiled by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Friends of the Earth, ranked the USA (No. 1 in affluence) at 150th (despite the fact that the pursuit of happiness is sanctified in the constitution) and the UK comes 108th. In both these countries, mental health problem afflict a quarter of the entire population at some stage in their lives (compared to 10% in mainland Europe. The happiest place on earth, according to the survey, is Vanuatu, a place where “People are generally happy because they are very satisfied with very little,” according to Mark Lowen, of Vanuatu Online.“This is not a consumer-driven society,” he said. “ Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people. It’s a place where you don’t worry too much.” The survey has been widely criticized for using misleading criteria, but at the very least in seems to confirm the well-attested (and intuitively plausible) finding that increases in the standard of living in rich countries have not left people any happier.

[30]  “New Year Message for Rhys’s Murderer” by Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi, available in the Jewish Telegraph Online, October 2007 at

[31]  I have explored this in depth in my paper “Going Beyond Thinking Skills: Reviving an Understanding of Higher Human Faculties” delivered at the 10th Conference of the International Association of Cognitive Education and Psychology (IACEP), University of Durham, England, July 10-14 2005. A key footnote in that paper is as follows:

  Brian Thorne, Emeritus Professor of Counselling Studies at the University of Norwich, describes how in his psycho-therapeutic work, he ministers in his consulting room to an ever-growing stream of angry, burnt-out, deeply unfulfilled people who sacrificed their souls in the frantic pursuit of personal achievement and material success. Bound by the imperative to “deliver” so much of what is useless and ephemeral they had failed to see to their own “deliverance”, which in its original meaning is simply their liberation from all such oppression and illusion.

  Brian Thorne’s experience is confirmed by recent studies which have exposed the scandalous increase in depression, self-harm and even suicide amongst young people, including schoolchildren, with a growing number of websites offering advice to young people who want to take their own lives about the best methods of killing themselves.  The Independent on Sunday (12 September 2004) reports that the suicide rate in Britain today is now three times higher among schoolchildren than it was 20 years ago, with children as young as five being treated for self-harming. The main causes of self-harm amongst children and teenagers in the UK – believed to be the highest in Europe – are bullying at school and exam stress as well as an abusive parent or bereavement. A poll carried out in September 2002 found that testing had replaced bullying as the biggest fear for schoolchildren during their schooldays (“The obsession with exams and targets is destroying childhood”, by Richard Garner, The Independent, 21 September, 2002).

  In a newsletter to parents dated September 2005, David Hopkin, Head Teacher of Naima Jewish Preparatory School in London, reports the finding of Carl Honore that “children as young as five now suffer from upset stomachs, headaches, insomnia, depression and eating disorders brought on by stress”. (Honore, Carl, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Orion Books, 2005). 

  The recently published Primary Review by Cambridge University, the biggest study of its kind in 40 years, exposes the deep anxiety experienced by modern primary school children, the result of the excessive pressure imposed on them by school tests (fuelled partly by parents themselves), a rise in knife and gun crime, consumerism, the cult of celebrity and family breakdown.

  Further data published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, reveal increasing social division, with a huge gap in attainment between children in poor areas compared with those in prosperous suburbs. (The Weekly Telegraph 17-23 October, 2007)  The same study blames the low attainment of many primary school children on the lack of conversation in the home and a decline in outdoor play coupled with a rise in addictive video games and television.

  In an article in The Guardian (“Doubt and depression burden teenage girls”, 24 February 2005), Lucy Ward reports the findings of a poll commissioned by the magazine Bliss that “the vast majority of teenage girls in Britain suffer depression and self-doubt, blaming excessive pressure to look good and succeed in school. Nine out of ten say they feel depressed, 42% feel low regularly, and 6% think life is not worth living…84% felt burdened with too much homework and coursework at school, and almost two-thirds thought there was too much pressure to succeed academically. Most admitted crying over their homework…Bullying also featured high, 66% admitting that they had been bullied, mainly by other girls.” The article also referred to last Autumn’s Time Trends study on adolescent mental health by the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and the University of Manchester, which reveals a sharp overall decline in the mental health of teenagers in the past 25 years. Amongst its findings was the startling revelation that 37% of teenage girls believed they suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder.

    And this stressful existence is not confined to schoolchildren. In the same edition of The Guardian (24 February 2005) next to the headline “Work is a four letter word for those in their 30s”, there is a striking photograph of a dejected young man sitting on a flight of stone steps, briefcase between his legs, leaning forward onto tightly clasped hands, with the caption: “Stressed, worried and overworked…the price of climbing the career ladder is too high for thirtysomethings”. The article, reporting the findings of a study by the Employers’ Forum on Age, also reports the findings of Brian Thorne, derived from his psycho-therapeutic encounters, that workers in their thirties “gradually tumble to the fact that work has become the totality of their existence and so much of their energy, intellect and emotion goes into making their way up the hierarchical ladder. They are exhausted and they realise they are losing touch with their friends or missing out on aspects of their children development that can never recur.”

    Professor Louis Appleby, the British Government’s mental health ‘tsar’, said earlier this year that the way to deal with the problem of declining mental health in children and adolescents was to bring in an “army of therapists”, as if it were the children who are “sick” instead of the culture and school system in which they growing up. A wiser approach would surely be to attempt to rectify an educational system which not only demoralises and dispirits, but also causes widespread disaffection, depression and even suicide. These debilitating effects are the outcome of an educational process which often gives no real place to spiritual and moral development apart from the generalised lip-service paid to them in school mission statements. Dispirited and demoralised school pupils are also increasingly disaffected, as is clearly shown by truancy statistics which show that truancy is continuing to rise despite government measures designed to tackle this problem. The BBC Radio 4 News of 15 September 2004 reported that an average of 49,000 pupils were absent from school every day in the year up to April 2004. 
[32]  “Muslim checkout staff get an alcohol opt-out clause”, The Sunday Times, 30 September 2007. This describes how Muslim supermarket checkout staff who refuse to sell alcohol are being allowed to opt out of handling customers’ bottles and cans of drink.

[33]  See my article “Reaching beyond Self-interest: The Power of Altruism” in the April 2007 issue of emel Magazine. 

[34]  A true Muslim hero and model of chivalry who exemplified such universal humanity was Amir ‘Abd al-Qadir, the leader of the struggle and insurgency in Algeria against the French colonial forces until his surrender in 1847 and eventual exile to Damascus in 1855.  In 1860, when the Muslims of that city attacked the Christian quarter and killed over 3000 persons, ‘Abd al-Qadir and his personal guard rescued large numbers of Christians, bringing them to safety in his house and in the citadel.

[35]  The Sunday Times, 14 October, 2007.

[36]  For example, a BBC poll on the state of historical knowledge, reported in The Independent of 5 August 2004, found that a surprising percentage of British teenagers thought the English hero who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 was not Francis Drake, but Gandalf the Wizard from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. And that degree of historical ignorance is easily surpassed by levels of geographical illiteracy in the United States, where a survey carried out in December 2005 found that six out of ten Americans aged 18 to 24 could not locate Iraq on a map of the world, despite media exposure about the country since the invasion.  More than 40 per cent could not locate Pakistan in Asia. The president of the National Geographic Society, which commissioned the survey, attributed this ignorance to a prevailing culture of isolationism. “Geography”, he says, “is what helps us make sense of our world by showing the connections between people and places. Without it, our young people are not ready to face the challenges of the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century.” See my comments on this survey in my article “Knowing Where We Are” in the February 2007 issue of emel Magazine. It is also worth recalling how poorly indigenous British teenagers scored on a proposed test of Citizenship designed for immigrants to Britain.

[37]  From Seeds selected and edited by Robert Inchausti (Boston, MA, Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2002, pages 131).  Originally published in Contemplation in a World of Action (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971, page 164)

[38]  Qur’an 13:11

Dr. Jeremy Henzell-Thomas is Executive Director of the Book Foundation, a registered UK charity with worldwide objects working with partner institutions in the UK and the USA to improve understanding of Islam in the West.  He was the first Chair of FAIR (UK Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism) and is a member of the Executive Committee of the AMSS (UK).

    He holds degrees in English and Linguistics from London and Edinburgh universities, and a Ph.D. in the psychology of learning from the University of Lancaster.

    He has worked at many levels in education both in the UK and overseas, as a teacher, academic director, curriculum development specialist, schools inspector, university lecturer, doctoral research supervisor and educational consultant.  He speaks widely on the themes of education, society and spirituality, and writes regular columns for Islamica and emel magazines. He is a member of the Advisory Board of Islamica and a contributing editor of The American Muslim.

    His recent international conference papers, including plenary addresses, have been delivered at the Gustav-Stresemann Institut, Bonn (2002), University of Surrey, Roehampton (2003), University of Indiana, Bloomington (2003), University of Edinburgh (2004), Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University, London (2005), and the University of Durham (2005). His most recent keynote address, “Beyond the Tower of Babel: A Linguistic Approach to Clarifying Key Concepts in Islamic Pluralism” was delivered at the AMSS conference on Citizenship, Security and Democracy in Istanbul in 2006.