I begin writing this introduction on the sixth night of Muharram 2018, exactly two years after the events that ultimately led to these articles, and about four months since public comments made in our community led me to consider it a responsibility to, also, address these issues publicly.
The last four months have been filled with much reflection and research, communication and consultation. I have spoken to dozens of academic, religious and political experts from here in Britain, across Europe, North America and South Africa as well as political and religious authorities in Iran and other countries. I have spoken to the individuals involved in particular incidents, making sure I hear from across the spectrum of opinion. I have spoken to dozens of community members, from the “ordinary” mosque goer to those who take the time and energy to be “active” in our community to facilitate them.
Many hours have been spent reflecting on the fact that all the individuals involved would have been attending majalis and mourning for Imam Hussain (as) in these nights. They would have all cried sincere tears and sent sincere condolences to the Imam of our time (ajf).
That should leave us feeling both sorrow and hope. Sorrow that, despite our shared respect and love for our Imams we have become divided. And hope that, because of our shared respect and love for our Imams we can become more united than ever before.
It is not only possible, but it is necessary, for us to be together. That does not mean we will all think the same nor have the same role to play. But it means that despite our differences, there is an urgent need for us to agree on our priority principles for our native (British Muslim) context and to promise each other that unity on these principles will always be more important than any of our differences; to understand the importance of this unity within our individual selves and within our collective community consciousness.
It also means being multifaceted in our approach to meeting those principles. Communities thrive when the attempt to reach these priority principles deploys multiple strategies at the same time; grassroots, robust, firm, political activism and protest, great! Religious outreach, great! Charity work, great! Engaging with political and legislative infrastructure, absolutely! That can be great too. As long as all of these are arms of the same collective strategy they are all not just needed, but necessary.
However, on their own they are necessary but not sufficient. We will get nowhere and fast if they work separately and with different aims. Most importantly, as is unfortunately too often the case at present, if they are working against each other, they are dangerous and destructive.
Our community is not, and should not be homogenous. Our diversity can be our strength. We should see each other as different digits of the same hand, different limbs of the same body; we will only function if we work together.
It is important that we realise the analogy for the current times we live in, is not that we must amputate a finger, a hand or a limb to save the body, but that we are a healthy, living, functioning entity that should not be tricked in to thinking we will be stronger when we are not able-bodied.
Most importantly, this process requires us to be honest about where we are really at. Acknowledge where we have gone wrong and commit to get back on to the right track…together.
These are confusing and difficult times in Britain socially and politically, not just for the Shia community in particular, or the Muslim community in general, but for everyone. So though I have been compelled, on this occasion, to focus on specific issues within the British Shia community this should not be misconstrued as meaning we have a particular problem, nor that much of the discussion in the following articles are not relevant to everyone across the Muslim community or Britain at large.
These are difficult times, and, a part of being honest is to acknowledge that there are no easy solutions. However, we must not forget that there are solutions and these can be clear and unambiguous for us all. These solutions include a collective understanding of how socio-political movements of minority groups in Britain have actually worked, and what red-lines have already been shown to be necessary to facilitate them.
A united front can no longer be a pretty façade. It must have roots with goals and principles that are unshakeable. In these difficult times, this requires difficult conversations that are now urgent and unavoidable. If we continue to avoid them we will lose not just today, but we will lose the generations that are increasingly being put off by our failures, and turning away to solutions that are not the answer.
To this end, I have written the following articles, discussing the current laws, political policies and media agendas in Britain that every single member of our community; be it the Shia community, the Muslim community or our collective British community must be aware of. I have tried my best to extensively reference and source throughout these articles for those who want to expand on their research on the topics raised. I have also discussed several specific case studies within the Shia community that must also be discussed in a respectful manner to come to a conclusion as to where we stand. This isn’t short reading! It is my attempt at being comprehensive.
These conclusions impact every single one of us, and at this juncture it would be wrong to continue to claim that these discussions can only happen behind closed doors, or amongst a select group of individuals.
Finally a word on sincerity and the search for truth. Our period in time is filled with an increasingly heavy fog. You are not alone if you feel that truths used to be easy to identify but now the fog of confusion feels suffocating; there is division within division within division; confusion, within confusion, within confusion. Withdrawal from it all seems like the easiest thing to do. But let us also acknowledge that withdrawal is a luxury that Western Muslim communities, like those in Britain are privileged with. Disengaging to continue to live in relative comfort is a privilege. One that can be taken away far more suddenly and sooner than most of us realise.
It may sound strange to say this to a community at the forefront of being targeted but we need to get uncomfortable about the state of our affairs. This is a lesson that everyone in this society needs to learn. We need to be uncomfortable about the ongoing struggle against racism of the Black community, the rise of fascism, the devastating effect of drug addiction and homelessness in our society, the apathetic state of affairs within our own community and so much more.
When we look to our role models we need to bring their struggle in to our modern day and understand that, as they paved for us, we pave the way for the future.
Malcolm X said “the future belongs for those who prepare for it today.” It is a well known quote of many that we often quote from him. We admire his conviction, his confidence, his defiance. I have often thought about that. We must be honest with ourselves. It is easy quoting Malcolm X today, but it is also a disservice to his legacy. If he spoke today, we would call him an extremist. We would distance ourselves from his words. We would be uncomfortable with what he says.
They had to kill Malcolm X. Now they know better.
I have, like most of us who grew up in the West, been deeply impacted by the politics and positions of Malcolm X. But above all I have been influenced by his unending search for the truth, his ability to admit within himself that he was wrong and to change; not only his self and his positions, but by admitting these changes openly and continuing to advocate for his growing understanding of the truth.
One of my favourite quotes from Malcolm X is from a letter he wrote from Mecca after taking part in the Hajj Pilgrimage;
"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."
Our entire lives are a single pilgrimage to Allah. I pray that, despite our firm convictions, the changes we need to make, within ourselves, and within our community are not too difficult for us.