In 1882, when the British occupied Egypt, they began to push Muslim scholarship into new theological and jurisprudential understandings. This was to make the Muslim Ummah more pliable to its needs in the hope that they could weaken the Ottoman Empire.
This was not limited to the British. Most of Europe saw fit to manipulate Muslim societies in order to produce an Islam compatible with newly established sentiments of the Enlightenment era.
The foremost task was to create a rival Caliphate, thereby splitting the Ummah in two. Caliph Abdul Hamid had stated as far back as 1870, “England’s aim is to transfer the great Caliphate from Istanbul to Jidda or to a place in Egypt and by keeping the Caliphate under her control manage all the Muslims as she wishes”. This was after parliamentarians and scholarship began to publicly muse the idea. The British fully expressed their plan in a telegram in 1915 to their high commissioner in Cairo stating that “the seat of the Mahommedan Khalifate should be in Arabia, which comprises of Hedjaz, Syria, El Irak (Iraq), Yemen and other places… Arabia is the best and most suitable place for the new Khalifate on account of its religious and political importance.” (1)
Not only was the Muslim world reeling from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, but each state nominated by the British to be the de facto authority of Islam eyed its potential role and began cosying up to the British for the privilege. It is not surprising therefore to see Saudi Arabia today as nothing more than a client state for Euro-American interests.
The second task was to create a clergy group that would act on its behalf; that would adore all things Western and wish to export European ways of thinking. This would not only foster the internal divisions but legitimise anything the colonial powers sought but in the name of Islam.
Ignac Goldziher proposed,
“Muslim theologians… will have to imitate the work done in Europe in the nineteenth century by scientific theology and thus raise the level of religious thinking to confirm with historical knowledge. In order for Islam to raise itself to the same degree [as Europe], its proper religious sciences will have to begin an analogous evolution [to Europe’s]. Islam’s Ulemas (scholars) will have to assimilate the methods according to which we in Europe study religious phenomena. There needs to emerge enlightened minds in Islam who would naturalize in its colleges our historical method (emphasis added) for the study of religion.” (2)
This didn’t take long to achieve. Lord Cromer, British Consul General of Egypt began to champion the unveiling of women as the means of modernising Muslim societies. This was despite his own opposition to women’s suffrage at home. By the 1920’s, Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’rawi had visited Rome and as a means of proving her liberation would be amongst the first Muslim women to unveil herself in protest of Islam’s ‘oppressive’ and ‘backward’ ways.
It seem’s the holy Qur’an was not incorrect when it warned,
“And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion”
The idea of splitting the Ummah and planting stooge representatives of Islamic scholarship was not difficult to instruct. What the European powers could not have imagined was that instead of this representation being from genuine scholarship or the academic class, Muslims would come to accept almost any person speaking on behalf of its religion, even if the most elementary religious course was left incomplete. Yet this is where the Muslim world appears to have reached today.
Enter Mohammed Tawhidi, presently of Australia, the latest from the gaggle of ‘outspoken’ ‘reformists’ pseudo-scholars to speak on behalf of Islam, thrusted to stardom by the same people that brought us Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (3)
It has long been a tactic of the FOX ‘News’ model to find the one self-hating black or Latino eager to sell out their own community in exchange for prostituting themselves for some fame; to be paraded as the ‘See! If a black/Latino man is saying it’s all the black/Latinos’ faults, it must be true!’ ace card of the far-right media for their white supremacist viewers to lap up and spout as legitimacy and confirmation of their bigoted beliefs.
Bill Maher is the expert at this. His insightful and hilarious takedowns of the GOP and Trump notwithstanding, if a Muslim happens to have left the religion and wants to talk about it or has taken off her Hijab, they will get a recurring spot on his show ‘Real Times’, a book deal and be in heavy rotation on all liberal outlets for about six months.
Tawhidi was well known – and ostracised – in the English Shi’i community for his repulsive behaviour, often manifesting itself in tweets, posts and the odd nonsensical lecture. He was also well known to be out for himself, despite proclaiming to be a strict adherent to the Iranian Shia scholarly family, the Shirazis. Tawhidi was quoted by more than one source to me as saying, “I have so much dirt on the Shirazis I could bring down their entire house if I wanted to.”
A regular on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia and amassing a legion of Britain First social media followers, Tawhidi, adorns himself with the title ‘Imam of Peace’. This is nothing more than a slogan and an attempt at seeking attention to capture an audience by capitulating to the notion that Islam is inherently violent and therefore needing a reformist to make it peaceful. Tawhidi is the poster child for the far right seeking the ‘moderate’ Imam, whatever that is.
The real problem with Tawhidi is not that the entire Shi’i and Sunni world denounces and ridicules him, it’s that the non-Muslim world considers him to be some sort of revelation. A maverick and man of profound religious insight, offering the Western antidote to all things wrong in the Muslim world.
Though claiming to be a reformist, it is obvious to anyone with elementary Islamic knowledge that Tawhidi offers no genuine reforms. Nothing he offers is particularly drastic, insightful or novel nor does it appear to have any internal logic or consistency.
Ask Tawhidi for an epistemology or his hermeneutics, or a methodology for his selective memory of the Hadith corpus and you will be left waiting. Enquire from Tawhidi a worldview or Maqasid as-Shari’ah or any papers, scholarly articles or books he has written, even recordings teaching a year one seminary class and none of these will be forthcoming. Al-Mustapha International University even had to release an unprecedented letter clarifying that Tawhidi had not even completed introductory studies in order to stop him from using their institution as a source of credentials. (4) (5)
Unsurprisingly, the ‘Imam of Peace’ has never been known for nor does he have any previous record on activism in the field of peacebuilding or conflict resolution. Neither does he have any networks to speak of or references in order to claim such a mantle or example of mediating between a peace agreement. Two years into his charade, his audience is left asking for his roadmap to intra-Muslim peace, let alone peace between violent Muslim and non-Muslim groups. In fact, the ‘Imam of Peace’ appears to cause more violence than solve. (6) This hardly appears to be the Celia Elworthy of the Muslim world. (7)
Pleasing the former head of the EDL Tommy Robinson and his talking points, as Tawhidi did recently, wasn’t a tough task. Given that Donald Trump managed to wow the same target audience into voting for him, Tawhidi must have appeared like Gandhi’s guru.
What most observers fail to realise is that Tawhidi’s methodology is actually incredibly simple: scapegoat Sunni Islam and offer his extremist, limited and personalised understanding of a bastardised version of the Shirazi scholarship as the solution to all of the Muslim world’s problems. It really does not go any deeper than this. To those who know him, it never has. It’s always been about sectarianism. This is just his way of masking it.
The problem with pursuing this reformist image is that Tawhidi has proven his Islamic illiteracy and character. The latest series of ‘head-in-hands’ inducing spectacles was this interview with Robinson, on the latter’s new YouTube channel. Robinson’s goal outlined in the interview is the removal of Islam from Britain stating, “We have to stop Islam. Not extremism or radical Muslims, we have to stop Islam in the UK.” (8)
Robinson then went on to argue that the Qur’an inherently calls for genocide of all non-Muslims to which Tawhidi agreed! “[Do] you accept there’s a lot of violence in the Quran?” “Yes, yes” Tawhidi replies. “Do you accept there is incitement to murder non-Muslims in the Quran?” “Yes” comes the answer again. “Do you accept there is even incitement to murder non-Muslims who haven’t done anything other than being non-Muslim?” “Even murder Muslims that don’t agree with you” claims Tawhidi.
A favourite subject of Tawhidi’s, the marriage of Umm al-Mo’mineen A’isha to the Holy Prophet (s) was also scripted in, pursuant to his and Robinson’s personal agendas. Tawhidi offered A’isha’s age to be 21. Tawhidi claimed the reason for the age to have been fixed as 6 or 9 was early Muslim scholars protecting A’isha’s reputation from having had previous marriages. Robinson, arguably having prepared his comments with Tawhidi off camera, uses this opportunity to make this statement mean that A’isha had ‘gotten around’. The implications of this accusation are obvious and both had a good laugh at the idea of the Prophet’s (s) wife being unchaste.
Firstly it must be stated that A’isha ever being ill actioned prior to her marriage with the Prophet (s) is not the Shi’i view. It must also be added that Tawhidi’s childish sniggering and laddish behaviour with a man whose stated intent is to destroy Islam was intolerable for any Shi’a to have watched and damningly insightful. Second, the two leading Shi’i scholars Grand Ayatollah’s Syed Ali Sistani and Syed Ali Khamenei have both declared edicts forbidding the abuse of Umm al-Mo’mineen A’isha. (9)
Beyond this is the factual problem of Tawhidi’s argument. So delighted was he to mock the wife of the Holy Prophet (s), Tawhidi did not properly explain his own reasoning. The Shi’i response to the claim that A’isha was not 6 or 9 but rather 17 owes itself to the jealousy (10) that A’isha appears to have had for Lady Khadija (a), the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and one of the four greatest women in creation.
In a famous narration, the Prophet Muhammad (s) was praising Lady Khadija (a) when A’isha said, “Why do you talk all the time about that old woman who had inflamed gums? After all, Allah has given you better wives than her.” The Prophet (s) replied, “No A’isha! Allah never gave me a better wife than Khadija.” (11)
The Shi’i argument states that whoever made up this age of 6 or 9 was doing so to claim A’isha as a virgin so this would be in her favour, whilst Lady Khadija (a) was known to have been previously married and elder in age. It follows that if A’isha would be younger and a virgin, this is somehow a virtue of hers over Lady Khadija (a) while in reality, this has nothing to do with honour, rather piety in the way of God is what matters.
Robinson’s response that A’isha had ‘gotten about’ and Tawhidi’s consent to this suggestion is not grounded in any historical fact. Worse, Tawhidi only raised the topic in this way as a provocation of the Sunni audience, whilst Robinson used the debate and Tawhidi to make a laughing stock out of the Muslim world and its revered figures, all to the unwitting face of Tawhidi.
Given that Tawhidi claims expertise in this area, that he was unable to articulate the Shi’i or his own position in a largely scripted interview, demonstrates his lack of knowledge and his inability to be a bridge between the Muslim and far-right worlds. Moreover, in the entire interview, the ‘Imam of Peace’ offered no comments or plans for peacebuilding.
Why do I raise this particular segment of the interview? Firstly to offer a correction on behalf of mainstream Shiism. Second, to demonstrate how inept and manipulated Tawhidi is.
Observe again Tawhidi’s argument and encouragement of Robinson to mock A’isha. If A’isha was married previously and thus married at 21, their point was that this made her easy, an unchaste woman. Lady Khadija (a) was also previously married. So too were the majority of the Prophet’s (s) wives, including Hafsa, Umm Salama and Zainab bint Jahsh. If A’isha’s having been married previously somehow equated to her having ‘gotten around’, then by extension so too were the rest of the Prophet’s (s) wives, easy, having ‘gotten around’.
The fact that Tawhidi was so eager to have Umm al-Mo’mineen A’isha mocked by Robinson for his personal agenda, what then stops Robinson or his ilk attributing the same puerile terms to Lady Khadija (a) as she too was previously married? What stops the rest of the Prophet’s (s) wives from being abused when a Muslim himself not only condones but encourages it in front of a global audience? How many an Islamophobe is now doing this after Tawhidi’s legitimization? How often have we seen acts of violent reprisal as a result of perceived blasphemy, such as with Charlie Ebdo?
Whilst FOX News, Breitbart, Tommy Robinson, Maajid Nawaz, Bill Maher and their ilk will never engage with true Islamic scholarship, except to their agenda, it must be known that for those seeking reformist Muslims of genuine scholarly credentials, steeped in wisdom, piety and capable of responding to Western queries of Islam, there are plenty. Islam never required charlatans for its maintenance. And Muslim championed by Breitbart or Robinson should come with warning sirens.
Wrongly believing Tawhidi is a credible source of Islamic revivalism is not the fault of an uninformed non-Muslim audience. I blame the snake oil salesman more than the snake oil purchasers. They have been fed a staple diet of Shock TV and an endless supply of incompetence so long as it fits their narrative. Robinson too doesn’t really care for Tawhidi’s ‘reforms’, he’s just using Tawhidi to further his own agenda. There is little difference between Tawhidi and the ‘scholars’ Goldziher sought to create.
As Dr. Saba Mahmood stated, secularism, initially centred around the separation of state and church, has evolved to be about the removal of religion or state control of religion. (12) The fact that Tawhidi cannot see that whilst being the darling of the month for Breitbart and Robinson is again greatly revealing as to his credibility of Muslim representation. As such, his every word does more damage to Muslims everywhere.
Nor does Tawhidi see the consequences of cosying up to these types of people.
1) You will say anything to get on their airwaves; moreover, when the man interviewing you tells you he wants to remove Islam from Britain, you won’t dare challenge such an idea. Having controlled you, they then control what you seek; attention, or access to their advertisement of you.
2) If you allow these people to ‘make’ you, when they’re done with you, they’ll ‘break you’. They’ll drop you the moment someone more useful to their game comes along. You’ll then spend more time trying to be their darling again in order to regain access.
Returning to and completing the aforementioned verse:
“And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion. Say; “Surely Allah’s guidance, that is the (true) guidance”. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.”
- Caesar Farah, Great Britain, Germany and the Ottoman Caliphate, 278-279
- Joseph Massod, Islam in Liberalism, pg 69
- SPL Center
- Daily Mail
- Scillael Worthy
- Ayatollah Khamanei Fatwa
- عن عَائِشَةَ رضي الله عنها قالت ما غِرْتُ على امْرَأَةٍ ما غِرْتُ على خَدِيجَةَ من كَثْرَةِ ذِكْرِ رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِيَّاهَاAisha says that “I did not envy envy woman as much as I envied Khadijah since the Prophet used to remember her so much”.
(Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 3 p. 1389, Hadith No. 3606)
- عن عَائِشَةَ قالت كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا ذَكَرَ خَدِيجَةَ أَثْنَى عليها فَأَحْسَنَ الثَّنَاءَ قالت فَغِرْتُ يَوْماً فقلت ما أَكْثَرَ ما تَذْكُرُهَا حَمْرَاءَ الشِّدْقِ قد أَبْدَلَكَ الله عز وجل بها خَيْراً منها قال ما أبدلني الله عز وجل خَيْراً منها قد آمَنَتْ بي إِذْ كَفَرَ بي الناس وصدقتني إِذْ كذبني الناس وواستني بما لها إذا حرمني الناس ورزقني الله عز وجل وَلَدَهَا إِذْ حرمني أَوْلاَدَ النِّسَاءِ(Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 6, p. 117, Hadith No. 24908)