Originally published in The Independent
Photo by Karsun Designs
A recent poll published by the BBC suggested the majority of Brits don't think Islam is compatible with Western values, a thoroughly concerning finding considering how there are nearly 3 million people in the UK and 3 million in the U.S.A who ascribe themselves to the religion of Islam. This feeling of suspicion and anxiety towards the faith of Muslims is nothing new as Islamophobic sentiment continues to rise in the UK and is already rife in the U.S.
The core Western values of democracy, freedom and justice can be seen as the bedrock of its civilisation. For practising, informed Muslims, freedom and democratic values are anything but new to them. Islam from its very outset advocated for complete freedom, justice and democratic values.
Picture by Scott Robinson
It was Islamic injunctions which first spurred the great advancements made during the Islamic Golden Age from the 8th to the 13th century. Many are quick to point out though, how today, Islamic nations seem to have fallen into Dark Age depths. What one would find however, is this being a direct consequence of failing to follow Islamic injunctions faithfully, due to hardline clerical mindsets - as opposed to actually being a result of Islamic teachings.
From the outset, Islam has always advocated for a democratic form of governance, leaving it to the people to decide how and by whom they should be led. So any Muslim demanding Shariah Law forcibly be imposed in the West is not only entirely ignorant of Islam but insolent towards the freedom and opportunities Western countries offer - by which they spout their false ideology.
To illustrate Islam's support for a democratic government, verse 4:59 of the Holy Qur'an clearly outlines the basic and main requirements for democracy. The people must take their vote as a responsibility and thus choose the most appropriate and suitable person to lead them. It then in turn exhorts those in authority to exercise justice.
Further, it promotes dialogue and consultation to gauge public opinion and decide matters fairly as illustrated in 42:39. Muslims in the early era of Islam had this sense of responsibility.
So when Islam itself supports a democratic form of governance and also requires Muslims to 'obey those in authority among them' (4:60), any Muslim speaking against the West while living amongst its freedoms is quite disingenuous. By the same token, those who really feel Islam isn't compatible with Western values ought to educate themselves on Islam's true teachings, even if some so-called Muslims won't.
Western Europe's largest Mosque (Photo by Ryan Taylor)
If we take justice to be one of the Western values to be proud of, those unaware of Islamic teachings would be surprised to hear how the Qur'an strongly exhorts to absolute justice on more than one occasion (5:9, 6:153, 7:30) to the extent of saying 'Allah loves the just' (49:10). So much so that Harvard declared this verse as one of the greatest expressions of justice.
Coming on to perhaps the most valued Western principle - and therefore the most contested issue around Islam - freedom, we find a similar tale. Those asserting Islam restricts freedom are grossly mistaken, or simply deceived by the oppressive political regimes in the Middle East - confusing the religion of Islam with oppressive political and dictatorial rule.
What hardline Muslims and the uninformed so inexplicably miss is how, when the Prophet of Islam was forbidden to compel anyone in matters of faith, can his followers then have the authority to impose their beliefs on others? Time and again Islam's teachings uphold religious and personal freedoms. If dictators in the Middle East or radical Muslim preachers oppose the Prophet Muhammad in their words and actions then they're solely to blame. It doesn't mean Islam is incompatible with freedom or human rights, it means, hate-preachers and unjust rulers who claim to be Muslims are at odds with not only Western values - but the true requirements of their faith.
The categorical verse, 'there shall be no compulsion in religion' states that no Muslim has the permission to compel anyone to follow their way of thought. This is supported by the well-known teachings of Prophet Muhammad who declared all men were free - no one being superior to another except by way of righteous conduct. He further took great steps to abolish slavery and liberate women in Arabia whose status as chattel was wide-spread.
Speaking of such freedoms, a discerning mind is hardly required to consider how only after many centuries did the West do away with slavery. And it was only when women themselves started fighting for their freedoms with suffragette movements, did they finally win their right to be considered equal citizens.
Considering how Islam, a religion founded some 1400 years ago already expounded such values in primitive Arabia, the only conclusion one can reach is:
Islam isn't just compatible with Western values, it even preceded it in establishing such values in the world.