The Big Question
Is fundamentalism undermining faith?

by Muhammad ud-Deen

Over the past century the UK has seen a severe decline in church attendance and growing liberalisation of society partly led by powerful gay activist and neo-feminist movements. The move away from traditional values and the control of the Church has on one hand, allowed a melting pot of culture and ideas in the UK but on the other has led to the breakdown of the family as the backbone of society in the face of increasing sexualisation of culture. This has led to an inevitable backlash from religious communities who have stepped up their activities and sought to check the degeneration of traditional social structure.

Following this background and recent controversy surrounding gay ‘marriage’, the religious debate of the Republican race in the US presidential nomination and the media focus on Muslim communities and the role of women in them; Sunday’s special edition of ‘The Big Questions’ asked a panel divided between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘liberals’ from the three Abrahamic faiths if fundamentalism was undermining faith in society?

Evangelical Christians and a Modern-Orthodox Jew were teamed up with well known Muslim, journalist and human rights activist Yvonne Ridley and Abdullah Hasan, a young preacher at the East London Mosque and recently appointed imam of Masjid Ibrahim in Upton Park. The other side was made up of a female rabbi from the reformist Jewish school of thought, a liberal Christian university professor, Ann Cryer former MP of Keighley; an area with a large Muslim population along with Haris Rafiq, from the now disbanded Sufi Muslim Council and Khalid Anis former president of the Islamic Society of Britain.

Immediately it was clear that the conflation with Evangelical Christians and self defined Modern Orthodox Jew, Abdullah Hasan and Yvonne Ridley were deftly painted with the same paintbrush as those sometimes irrational ideologues. The host, Nicky Campbell quickly sought to discredit one of the Evangelists by confirming his belief of the World being created in six days and his literal understanding of the modern day Bible, which was shocking to viewers especially as it flew in the face of modern science and common sense. It became even more unnerving for viewers when later another Evangelist recounted the story of his enlightenment, when in a state of drunkenness God Almighty spoke to him. This drew astonishment from the audience and the host was quick to pick up on this and he highlighted this point to exert maximum damage.

The debate was fast paced and panellists were sometimes left red-faced as they tried to keep up with the pace of the discussion. This was obviously necessary due to time restrictions, but often points were made and they did not see any response and there was no opportunity for rebuttal.

Yvonne Ridley once again proved herself as an invaluable asset to the Muslim community and she delivered composed and well-thought out responses. She was questioned by her former colleague Nicky Campbell regarding her change of faith and change in her dress since she found Islam. She confidently responded by saying that she was the same person but her smaller black dress was now a longer black dress. Yvonne supported the complaints of Ann Cryer, who as MP of Keighley found that Mosques, their committees and imams were reluctant to tackle social taboos such as forced marriage and kept women out of mosques and decision making bodies. Yvonne made clear that this was not from Islam and that cultural backwardness had crept into Islamic practice. She drew a striking example of how mosques were opened up to the visiting Condoleeza Rice, but as a Muslim woman she could not access the House’s of Allah in many places around the country.

Imam Abdullah Hasan showed himself as a rising star in the community and under probing from Nicky Campbell regarding the belief of evolution in Islam, he clarified that Islam was not totally against the ‘Theory of Evolution’ but against the idea that ‘Adam (pbuh) was not created. Ann Cryer also threw important questions at Imam Abdullah and asked how the Muslim community could deal with problems of British society when most imams were ‘imports’ who had basic or non existent English and who were brought over to do as they were told. Imam Abdullah sympathised with the former MP and told her that he was well aware of the problem as he faced it daily in his field of work. He went on to say that the Muslim community are aware of these issues and changes were being made to remove the cultural baggage that had bogged down Muslims and that has often tarnished the Islamic faith.

The programme overall highlighted the key role of traditional beliefs in British society and the closing remarks of the Professor Linda Woodhead who said that ‘fundamentalist’ belief was on the decline in the UK, seemed to be misjudged in the context of the rich and impassioned discussion. The ‘fundamentalists’ showed themselves to having a broad and diverse beliefs but underlying that, was the deep conviction that their centuries old faiths provided answers to the complex problems of modern societies.