Tim Dieppe comments on news that the latest Full Council meeting of Oldham Council opened with Islamic prayer led by an Imam.
It has emerged over the summer that the latest Full Council meeting of Oldham Council opened with Islamic prayer led by an Imam. The new Mayor of Oldham is a Muslim and asked his Imam to lead the prayers. The previous Mayor asked an Anglican chaplain to lead prayers. The mayor before that was also Muslim and also had prayers before full Council meetings led by an Imam.
Watch the video
Videos of all the Council meetings are available online. In the video for the Full Council Meeting on 12 July 2017, the Islamic prayer starts at 6:25 minutes. The meeting on 16 July 2014 also starts with Islamic prayer (from c.4:00), as do various other Full Council meetings.
Chanting in Arabic
Looking at the video of the latest meeting on 12 July, the Imam begins by chanting in Arabic (from 6:25 minutes). This means that what he said would not be understood by the vast majority of people in the Council meeting. This in itself is alienating to the members of the Council.
The Imam’s Arabic chanting includes various standard salutations to ‘the prophet’. He refers to Muhammad as: “The lord and master of all messengers.” Did the members of the Council realise what was being said? Muhammad was being described as the highest messenger.
Misquoting the Qur’an
In the meeting of 12 July, the Imam says that: “No religion, no culture tolerates extremist behaviour.” (7:05). Presumably this means that he doesn’t think that behaviour endorsed by Islamic State is extreme in any way.
Then he says that:
“The Qur’an says that whoever kills a body unlawfully, or for creating disorder in the land, it is as if he has killed the entire of mankind.”
Here he is taking a phrase from verse 5:32 from the Qur’an which reads:
“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.” (Q 5:32 Yusuf Ali)
Note how the Qur’an says that this instruction was “ordained for the Children of Israel”. That means it was for the Jews. The verse actually uses a quotation from the Jewish Talmud (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Babylonian Talmud, Tractate 37a).
Note also that, contrary to what the Imam said, there is an exception for “murder or for spreading mischief in the land.” In this case, according to the Qur’an, killing someone would be permitted for the Jews. This exception is inserted into the quotation from the Talmud.
The very next verse is not restricted to the Jews, and provides explicit punishments for those who oppose Islam:
“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.” (Q 5:33 Yusuf Ali)
Therefore, the Imam is misquoting the Qur’an as a simple reading of his quotation in context shows.
Comparison with Jews and Christians
Later in the prayer, the Imam recites the daily prayer (7:41):
“Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon you have favoured, not of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray.”
This is a quotation from verses 1:6-7 of the Quran. What is not often realised, is that traditionally, “those who have earned your anger” refers to Jews, and “those who have gone astray” refers to Christians.
This is seen, for example in the Tasfir of al-Jalalayn:
“the path of those whom You have favoured with guidance from alladhīna together with its relative clause is substituted by ghayri l-maghdūbi ‘alayhim not the path of those against whom there is wrath namely the Jews and nor of those who are astray namely the Christians. The subtle meaning implied by this substitution is that the guided ones are neither the Jews nor the Christians.” (Tasfir al-Jalalayn)
Further evidence that this is the traditional interpretation is provided here. Therefore, the Imam is effectively praying for the Council not to be like Jews or Christians.
Council prayers allowed
Back in 2012 a court ruled that council prayers were unlawful as part of a formal meeting. A government Bill was enacted in 2015 to resolve the issue. The Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Act 2015 makes specific provision for council meetings to include “prayers or other religious observance, or observance connected with a religious or philosophical belief.” The Bill does not say that the prayers must be Christian and so a council is free to hold Islamic prayers as part of its business should it choose to do so.
The problem with pluralism
The problem with pluralism is that it assumes all religions are equally valid and equally good for society when they are not. Pluralism is also inherently unstable as different religions or worldviews compete with one another for influencing society. Sooner or later one or other worldview will gain the dominant influence and set the foundation for society.
Islamic prayers are prayers to a different god. A god that seeks political and spiritual influence in society. Oldham council using Islamic prayers is yet another example of the increasing influence of this Islamic god in our society.