I have never been a good Believer, neither as a Christian before those five years of agnosticism nor as a Muslim ever since. My faith has never been zealous; when I said I didn’t believe in God for a year or so around the age of fifteen even my atheism was agnostic. Nevertheless, however simple my faith may be, I do tend to take words seriously. I waver and slip often, sometimes steaming off as if towards oblivion, but those short Semitic sayings always call me back before long.
My literal interpretation of Gospel advice to turn the other cheek meant that I would never stand up for myself if I was picked on at school—it was a revelation for me when my mother asked me why not in my final year of junior school. We were brought up on the good book, attending church and Sunday School throughout childhood. The earliest of those snippet teachings remain with me, so still I censure friends who “take the Lord’s name in vane”. I suppose it is this simple, literal faith of mine which leaves me so disappointed with the world we live in; we—believers of all faiths—are taught one thing, but then told to do something else according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I am not under any illusions about the conflicts defining modern-day Britain—the most vocal voices define us as a secular nation, while traditionalists maintain this is a Christian land—but one can still dream that something of our religious heritage might shine through and colour the way we treat one another. Just imagine what public life would be like if it were defined by the citizen’s faith rather than a bizarre Machiavellian worldview. How would all this public calling-Muslims-to-account look in the light of words their saviour is said to have uttered?
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
There is no denying that we Muslims are falling far short of our ideals in our personal and political relationships. But it is gross hypocrisy for British politicians and the Press to demand that we get our house in order whilst they themselves are falling short as well. Who are we? A tiny minority making up 2.7% of the population; a disparate group made up of many ethnicities and following numerous interpretations of Islam.
I don’t usually comment on political affairs, but I have been reading about Camp Xray, Abu Ghraib and the cost of the war in Iraq recently. Indeed I have been reflecting on European intervention in the colonised world in general. The legacy remains despite independence. It is in no way reassuring—just very sad indeed—but it is still true to say that we Muslims are not alone in needing to get our house in order. The trouble is all of us seem to have planks in our eyes. None of us can see.