No one—and that's not necessarily a problemby Sameer Rahim / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since the Paris attacks, British Muslims have felt under pressure. Should they denounce terrorism done in Islam’s name or does that admit complicity where none exists? A Survation poll published a week after the attacks found that 30 per cent of British Muslims thought their leaders had not done enough to condemn Islamic State, while 37 per cent said they were doing enough. But this raises the question: which leaders? Islam is a decentralised religion with no official structure of legitimate authority. There are assorted muftis, ayatollahs and imams but none commands anything like majority assent among Britain’s 2.8m Muslims. Most British mosques are based on ethnicity and are community centres as much as religious gatherings. Different sects barely speak to one another. Such a jumble makes it hard for British Muslims to speak with one voice.
The organisation with the best claim to be representative is the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group with 500 affiliates. The day after Paris, it encouraged Muslims to attend a candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square and later took out full-page newspaper adverts affirming solidarity with the victims. Harun Khan, the MCB’s deputy secretary general, told me that “we’re not apologising for anything,” but “what we’re saying is that this doesn’t represent our faith.” The advert reached a broad audience: it was c…