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Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The contested ground of British Islamic activism

June 12, 2016 at 2:53 pm

  • Book Author(s): Dr Sadek Hamid
  • Published Date: March 2016
  • Publisher: IB Taurus
  • Hardback: 202 pages pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784532314

Muslims and non-Muslims alike have discussed the concept of being British and Muslim widely across a range of public forums. In most cases, the discussion focuses on Muslim assimilation or integration into British society. The tabloid media’s contribution to the debate is generally limited to scare-mongering about the “Islamic threat” to British identity; other media tend to be slightly more objective about Britain’s Muslim community. Politicians use the concept of a “British Muslim” as a vehicle for spreading their messages.

Hence, British Muslims have become more proactive by taking the narrative in their own hands and playing a larger role in faith-based activism. This is often seen as a reaction to the post-9/11 climate which has helped to ostracise Muslim communities in the West. Activism that is seen as philanthropic is usually read as Muslims reaffirming their positive role in society, whereas activism that could radicalise Muslims and perpetuate a self-other discourse in society is interpreted as either Islamic angst, or that there is an inherent hatred for British values. Sufis, Salafis and Islamists shows that this analysis of British Muslims is not only problematic, but also very unrealistic, as there are many underexplored paradigms within the community.

The book does not focus on all sections of the Muslim community; it offers direct analysis of the activities of those from the Sufi and Salafi schools of thought. Discussing both in detail, the author explains the difference between them and considers their activism. Disagreements between the two are also explored through their history in this country, and the effects that this has on the way that they are viewed by the general public.

Somewhat uniquely, rather than focusing on Muslims post-9/11, Hamed traces the history of Islamic activism from decades before, looking at the change in attitude of each generation, along with the contemporary challenges they faced. Thus we are taken on a journey of the British Muslim community forming, evolving and defining itself, providing some context to the notion of a “British Muslim”.

Although limiting the discussion by focusing on just two sections of the community, it does provide an in-depth account of two schools of thought that make up a significant proportion of British Islamic activism. The author demonstrates the complex nature of British Muslims and their activism, busting many of the myths that fill media generalisations. It is a valuable contribution to the growing list of academic literature on this topic.