When Faith Meets Fundamentalism - Proposed Guidelines for Interfaith Marriages

31/12/2012 10:08 GMT | Updated 01/03/2013 10:12 GMT

An interfaith organisation Christian Muslim Forum have put together guidelines this December 2012, for what they perceive to be a growing problem affecting the Muslim community - the hostility and apparent forced conversion that takes place in the Muslim community in response to the marriages of Muslims to people of other faiths. Their guidelines entitled 'When two faiths meet' is an initiative put together by a select group of Christian ministers and Muslim imams, which provides support and advice as to what should happen in such situations. Emphasis is placed upon the marriage of Muslim women to men of other faiths being particularly badly received by the community, who believe this to be a contravention of Islamic law, the Shariah.

The Forum seeks to try to change attitudes on this issue, with Taj Hargey, imam of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford speaking passionately about his belief in Muslim women being able to marry men of other faiths. He told Al Jazeera,

"There is no verse in the Holy Quran that bans Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men".

This initiative for the mainstream Muslim, who lives by Islam, will instantaneously appear baffling. Baffling because, if an organisation seeks to propagate the Islamic view, then the Islamic view on the issue of marriage of Muslim women is clear. This has been confirmed by the Quran itself (Chapter 60, verse 10) as well writings of classical scholars throughout the centuries of rich scholarly history of Islam where this issue was so clear it was never even disputed.

This same educational centre we know has in the past pushed for other aspects of Islam to be reformed such as the leading of the prayer by women as well as men, again even despite this being an undisputed issue wherever you go in the Muslim world, whichever point in history you look at.

Therefore a deeper look at such initiatives highlight a loyalty not in promoting the 'true' version of Islam, but in promoting a true version of a malleable faith that fits nicely into secular, liberal Britain. As if the truth of Islam was the objective being sought, a dip into the scholarly works of Islam would give such centres all the answers they needed on what the Quran exactly said, and the context in which it's verses were revealed. If it was Muslims that such centres sought to stand up for, they would have been the first to stand up for those women who have had to forcibly remove their niqab (face veil) in France, even though they did not want to. If it was cultural practices and Islam they wanted women to distinguish between, they would have distinguished between the secular cultural practice of women needing to compete against men and the Islamic view of gender distinctness.

Such calls for the shrinking of religion across society, whether it is the call for the banning of the niqab or the adorning of the cross, to the wide acceptance of religion being the butt of humour across the media, reflects a new tide in secularism. So although the initiative 'When two faiths meet' gives a superficial demeanour of being in aid of religion, in reality it just plugs a particular crusade which has been quietly seeping across liberal societies; whilst everyone has been worrying about religion doing the seeping. Tobias Jones says about secular fundamentalism and those who advocate it, in the Guardian:

"These new militants, however, believe themselves to be the only arbiters of taste; they want to eradicate the root and cause. They will dictate what you can wear and what you can say. That, after all, is what totalitarians do"

The loyalty of such reformist organisations therefore is with this secular fundamentalist agenda which holds its values as supreme, forcing all religion to take their boxed place in society, out of sight and out of mind. It is with this agenda that such initiatives are selectively chosen and given attention in the media, to promote the secularised reformed view of religion as mainstream. That's why niqab has been such a problem, not because it was 'oppressive' - as the very 'oppressed' were the ones calling for it, but because it could not be boxed away.

It assigns supremacy to the idea of the non-existence of God and the redundancy of God legislating, over the notion that God may exist to legislate (as secularism so claims to allow); thereby deeming any sacred tenets and religious rules regarding family life and marriage inferior to the liberal view. This is despite the fact that religion, including Islam, does not coerce people to believe in it. The irony is, here we have secularists doing the coercing.

Religious communities and the Muslim community therefore should not feel pressured to have to adopt such practices, reforming and changing, just because a fundamentalist agenda urges them to and other religions may have done so in the past. Sacrificing one's principles and belief in the Divine for the sake of acceptance by others. Is this not a real contradiction in principles, when for a person of faith in the Divine from the onset it is never the acceptance of people they seek in their religious journey, but the acceptance of the Divine?

So rather than the finger being pointed at those of faith who believe in it enough to adhere to it in all aspects of life; we should put the advocates of secular fundamentalism on the spot as they not only believe in their idea, but forcibly impose it on everyone else. And unless we have this debate, faith will become like the timid child in the playground - knowing he is right but following the bigger, more intimidating bully, not because he wants to but because there is no longer any other choice.