A new Oxford institute aims to defeat the extremists and enable proper social integration
Unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam has not experienced a substantial renaissance or reformation. Many Jews have in the past 200 years morphed from rigid orthodoxy to reform manifestations of their faith, following in the footsteps of Christian transformations during the 16th century. A similar progression is imperative for British Muslims to fully take their place in society.
Such a philosophical evolution is theologically endorsed, since ijtihad (analytical thinking) is an intrinsic Qur’anic precept, as exemplified by the trailblazing 9th century Mu’tazilah, who championed rationalism, justice and liberty.
That is why, after two decades of gestation, last week we launched a progressive new Muslim think tank and research academy at St Peter’s College, Oxford. The independent, non-government funded Oxford Institute for British Islam (OIBI) is a pioneering scholarly initiative to promote a Qur’an-centric Islam that is rooted in, and relevant to, the United Kingdom.
It seeks to advance free-thinking pluralism by providing fresh insights benefitting the five-million strong Muslim community, so that they can become part of Britain and not apart from it.
OIBI is designed to restore Islam’s authenticity by reforming the ideology that subverted the original Qur’an with tainted interpolations, jeopardising its universalist endorsement of freedom, equality and democratic accountability. In the colossal struggle for hearts and minds, the only feasible option to emancipate Muslims from theological paralysis and religious stultification is to offer evidence-based, scholarly alternatives to the falsehoods peddled by the Islamic establishment.
OIBI focuses primarily on the egregious situation affecting British Muslims today. The persistence of religious fanaticism and terrorism within the community are compounded by disproportionate criminality, low educational attainment and higher levels of social alienation and economic exclusion. This mainly self-inflicted predicament flows from a warped, non-Qur’anic theology.
The misogynistic Islamic clergy propagates segregationist and contrived supremacist doctrines, stemming from suspect secondary sources that violate the faith’s transcendent text. Instead of depending on Islam’s sacred scripture, the unaccountable Muslim priesthood has invented a toxic trio of manufactured, post-Muhammad dogmas: the hadith (alleged prophetic sayings); shari’ah (concocted “divine” law); and fatwahs (contentious clerical “edicts”). These negate the Qur’an’s primacy, replacing it with patriarchy, sexism, polygamy, jihad, apostasy, blasphemy and other such innovations. This foreign-inspired, ultra-conservative credo is the dominant Islamic variant in the UK, inhibiting Muslim integration.
To sever the umbilical linkage with the Middle East and South Asia, a “naturalised” British Islam is needed. This British-based Qur’anic Islam should embrace a conscious adherence to the progressive and pluralistic philosophy of the Qur’an — an integrated, inclusive and “indigenous” religion, rooted in, and relevant to, 21st century Britain.
This Qur’an-centric faith is compatible with innate British values and is ideally suited for UK-born Muslims. In a nutshell, British Islam will be Qur’an-centric, gender-equal, non-sectarian, intercultural (as opposed to containing silos of multiculturalism) and autonomous.
This reform Islam is committed to universal social justice, democratic civic rights and cross-community cohesion. OIBI’s role is as an authoritative think-tank, educational unit and empirical research organisation to address the challenges facing Islam and Muslims in 21st century Britain.
OIBI’s academic output will include critical thinking, applied research and policy dissemination across the public and private sectors. Our inaugural conference will be in August, and we are commissioning updated Qur’anic translations that speak to British-born Muslims. Another priority is the establishment of an interdisciplinary periodical, the Journal of British Islam, featuring articles, book reviews and other scholarly material on the historical background and current trajectories of the British Muslim community.
This landmark academy is the best strategy to defeat theological dogmatism and religious fanaticism, and to neuter resurgent Islamic extremism, militancy and radicalism. OIBI welcomes support from anyone — including fellow Abrahamic adherents — committed to life-affirming and humane perspectives. Join with OIBI in promoting true Qur’anic Islam, resisting theological distortions and formulating a viable blueprint for the future. We will all benefit when Muslims proudly become part of Britain, not apart from it.
Dr Taj Hargey is Provost of the Oxford Institute for British Islam
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British Muslims need 'reform' version of Islam – The Jewish Chronicle