Birmingham has changed a bit since I grew up there in the 1970s. Back then, the stories of the hour were the usual industrial unrest at Longbridge, the IRA bombs in the Tavern in the Town and the Mulberry Bush, and the ongoing success of local lads Slade, Wizzard and ELO. Today, though, it’s mainly stuff like Operation Trojan Horse, and I barely recognise the place or the culture at all.
So when, driving back from the Conservative party conference the other week, I found the radio button that normally takes me to Radio 4 mysteriously tuning instead to a local Islamic station, I thought I’d do a bit of homework and listen to the sermon it was playing. I’d never heard an Islamic sermon before. Nor probably have you. But if you want to understand what’s been happening in inner-city Britain these last few decades, I recommend you do. It will give you an insight as to why there’s a parallel culture developing which has little or no interest in integrating with the one most of the rest of us inhabit.
You know how, in C of E sermons, the vicar is at pains to make his sermons as locally relevant and as secular as possible? Well, Islamic sermons are the exact opposite of that. Though this one had been recorded in a Cape Town mosque it could have come from anywhere in the ummah, from Islamabad to Jeddah to Luton. The preacher would illustrate his points by regularly breaking into fluent, chanted excerpts from the Koran or the Hadith, and he spoke with the absolute conviction of a man who is relaying directly the word of God to the ignorant masses.
His theme was ‘Din’: the correct way in which all good Muslims should live their lives. Whether you are rich or poor, the preacher told us, it is imperative that you should accept your lot because this is what Allah intended for you. There is no point grumbling that the rich are undeserving because, unlike Allah, you do not have the full information. The preacher explained that Allah chose them to be rich for a reason, which we lack the divine wisdom to understand.
As I listened to this uncompromising message, two thoughts struck me. The first was: ‘Is it any wonder that Islamic countries perform so poorly in the economic league tables when their religious leaders seek to destroy the single quality most likely to encourage economic growth: aspiration?’
And the second was: how desperately pre-medieval it was. At the time, by coincidence, I’d been stuck into the 12th-century chapter of Ian Mortimer’s excellent new history book Centuries of Change, and been reading about Peter Abelard.
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