The challenge of Islamic extremism (1)

As a believer in lifelong learning, I regularly attend short courses at a London further education college called the City Lit. This weekend, I attended a one-day course entitled “Hope And History: A Short Introduction To Contemporary Issues In Muslim Contexts”. Our tutor was Pakistani-born Dr Farid Panjwani, a lecturer at the Institute of Education,  who was very informative and balanced and delivered his material with fluency and passion. He drew the title of his course from the last line of a poem by Seamus Heaney: “And hope and history rhyme”.

There were 17 of us on the course – two-thirds of them women. In the introductions, only one (a young woman)  self-declared as a Muslim and she said nothing for the rest of the course. Most of the attendees expressed an interest in current affairs and many made it clear that they wanted to understand better the threat of Islamic terrorism. One (American) woman asked: “Why are Muslims killing one another?’ Another student admitted ” “I’m feeling fear and the beginning of prejudice”.

Dr Panjwani began the course with a quick look at the historic background:

  • Prophet Muhammad 570-632 CE: Mecca to Medina
  • First Four Caliphs (not related) 632-661 CE: the Golden Age
  • The first dynasty: Ummayads (661-749 CE)
  • The Abbasids (749-1258 CE)
  • The Mongol invasion in 13th century
  • The gunpowder empires: Mughals, Safavids, and Ottomans

Then he gave a few facts about contemporary Islam;

  • About 22% or one in five of the world population is Muslim
  • Of all Muslims, Sunnis are around 85% and Shias are 15% [for explanation of the difference, see here]
  • In the UK, there are 2.7 million Muslims or 4.5% of the population
  • The largest component of UK Muslims (40%) are of Pakistani origin

Dr Panjwani insisted that “There are huge cultural differences between Muslims” – a theme to which he constantly returned.


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