London, April 15, 2015 (Alochonaa): Maajid Nawaz, , co-founder for UK’s Quilliam foundation and a Lib Dem candidate was exposed by the British newspaper Daily Mail a few days ago for something that he did during the last summer that nobody ever expected from him. He went to a strip club and was caught by CCTV drinking alcohol and trying to touch a nearly naked woman who he paid for to dance for him in a private room. This is not illegal in the UK and many people, including many Muslims, visit strip clubs for a bit of group laughter and fun during stag and hen nights and also for sexual gratification. But what Maajid has done has extremely serious implications for himself, the Quillam Foundation and their Islamic reform agenda, supported by various institutions, prominent individuals and the British government.
How a self-described feminist man squares his use of a female stripper with his respect for women was explained by one of Maajid’s spokesperson. He claimed that Maajid’s reputation for advocating women’s rights was ‘in the context of Islamic extremism’. Although this sounds like an attempt at damage control, it probably reflects reality. If indeed this was the case then it would have even more serious implications for Maajid. By this explanation the spokesperson is suggesting that Maajid does not respect women in general, but rather, only argues for women’s freedom and rights in the context of Islamic extremism. This explanation will surely land Maajid in deeper waters. There is no other way and if he tries to continue with his mission of Islamic reform, it will have diminishing returns in an exponential way.
For ordinary Abdul, Patel and Joe, if they were to visits strip clubs, although may get into trouble with their wives or girlfriends if found out, there would be no negative social, political or legal implications for them. However, this is not the case with respect to Maajid Nawaz as he is a prominent public figure, known as a moderate and role model Muslim compatible with British values, and seen as a champion against radical Islam who has been campaigning for Islamic reform. Another indirect defence for Maajid presented was that those who charge Maajid with hypocrisy are no supporters of women’s rights themselves. Rather, they are the opposite and real hypocrites showing their misplaced concerns for women’s rights in relation to Maajid’s minor misjudgement of visiting a strip club.
In fact, all the articles and facebook postings against Maajid that I have read so far have tried to expose him as a hypocrite and imposter by drawing attention to some of his contradictions. Contradictions and hypocrisy are normal experiences of most human beings and as such no one should assume the high moral grounds and try to bring someone down on such a small misjudgement. If not all but most of us do contradict ourselves sometimes in life and commit hypocrisy and may pay a small or large price or be forgiven by friends and loved ones or our contradictions are not seen as constituting anything serious. Nevertheless, small misjudgements can become very damaging or fatal for some people because of the context. Their stated missions can become completely discredited by some of their actions. This is what happened in the case of Maajid’s ‘drunken night of temptation’ and for Quillam as a consequence, and this action is likely to be very costly for him and also for the group he founded. Neither ordinary members of the community who go to strip clubs nor someone like Maajid who enjoyed a ‘drunken night of temptation’ have committed any illegal acts or major social transgressions. However, the damage is still real and rather serious because of the context of who he is, what he has been doing and his stated mission of reforming Islam.
Many of Maajid’s friends, supporters and well-wishers will want to present him as a ‘normal bloke’, just like many other ordinary people from different walks of life, and therefore, there should not be any serious consequences for him arising from this incident. This is understandable as some normal blokes in the UK and probably all around the world do what Maajid did but what he did was not normal and wise because of the context of who he is, what he says and his actions. Therefore the credibility of his mission is now in serious danger of collapsing or becoming totally ineffective. His position as a moderate Muslim champion against radical or extremist Islam, who will help achieve Islamic reform, has surely become untenable.
Maajid’s supporters will rightly try to rally around him and attempt damage control by suggesting that this is a minor issue which should not deflect from seeing the vital work that he and the Quillam have been undertaking to help expose, challenge and undermine radical or extremist Islam. This is probably the right thing to do, but only to an extent, and no doubt Maajid will find some comfort in this support but the question is, what will happen to his voice and position with respect to his crusade against radical and extremist Islam, of which, he is the leader? The dread of the possible death of Quillam as a result of Maajid’s action is probably too terrifying for their supporters as an effective replacement organisation and individual may not be available for a while and found so easily. So the futile attempt to rescue Quillam and Maajid’s reputation will continue for some time to come.
There are many possible outcomes out of this incident but none of them will be able to restore the reputation of Maajid, founder of Quillam, to the levels he enjoyed pre-CCTV ‘drunken night of temptation’ exposure. For one thing, the Muslim community in general and their representatives will object to Maajid’s and Quillam’s role more vehemently now and many of the so called moderate Muslims who are looking for change and adaptation to the modern world will not want any kind of reform of Islam that includes and accepts alcohol drinking and strip shows as legitimate in Islam.
The government and many other institutions which encouraged Maajid and the Quillam, including providing funding, to carry out their active agenda on the Muslim community will likely see him now more as a liability than an asset and his words are not likely to be taken very seriously by anyone anymore. The Islamists or average Muslims who found Maajid and Quillam as objectionable will become more emboldened to take on and criticise Quillam and all those who are involved and those that supported and funded the organisation. The supporters and funders are unlikely to be able to find practical reasons and the moral stamina to continue to support the Islamic reform agenda of Quillam.
All those Muslims who are actively involved with Quillam will become more effective targets of criticism and ridicule. If another leader from Quillam were to emerge, and Majid is removed completely and totally out of the picture, then they may be able to rescue themselves to an extent and operate at a much lesser level of effectiveness. However, the catastrophical damage caused by Maajid’s actions will mean that it is highly unlikely that Quillam will ever regain any of its previous levels of reputation and effectiveness. There will also be calls from within the Muslim community of Britain to reclaim the good name of Abdullah Quilliam, the founder of England’s first mosque and Islamic centre.
Who can carry out reforms in Islam or play a role in helping Islam and Muslims to adapt to developing situations? Not the likes of Quillam and Maajid – absolutely not – especially after the ‘drunken night of temptation’ of the founder of Quillam. Only people with impeccable characters, deep Islamic learnings, profound knowledge of western civilisational driven change dynamics and those who have the trust of the worldwide Muslim community can help Muslims to adapt, in a legitimate way from an Islamic point of view, to the modern world, which is ever evolving and ever changing. Long term dialogue and close working together are needed at levels that matter if we want to overcome major challenges of our day, and help create an ever increasing harmonious living together in a world of increasing diversity.
*M Ahmedullah holds a PhD on the Epistemology and Political Theory from University of Kent, UK. He worked for many years in inner city regeneration programme in the UK. Between May 2005 and June 2010 he has delivered a unique exhibition on Dhaka City in and around London. He is the secretary of Brick Lane Circle, an organisation based in London that runs academic events to help transform the intellectual landscape of the Bangladeshi community in the UK. His personal website is http://www.culturalparadise.org
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