The much anticipated Rethinking Islamic Reform event at Oxford University brought together, for the first time, two of the most celebrated and influential Islamic scholars and thinkers in the West. Imam Hamza Yusuf and Professor Tariq Ramadan addressed an eager audience, agreeing on some issues while politely disagreeing on others. I don't want to review the discussion, I'm sure you will find many reviews of the event on the net. I wanted to ask why Imam Hamza avoided the question about Quilliam Foundation?
From my perched position on the balcony of Oxford's 17th century Sheldonian Theatre I saw both Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz swagger in, shake hands and small talk with other guests such as Ibrahim Mogra, representatives from the Foreign and Home Offices, and assume their seats. Both speakers talked with passion about the need for Muslim scholars and community leaders to remain independent from government influence, agreeing that governments do not fund organisations out of the goodness of their hearts – but because it fulfills their interest or agenda. However when a written question asked for the speakers' opinion on QF, Imam Hamza shied away from answering the question, looking at Dr Ramadan and saying "I'm from America!".
I am sure Imam Hamza is aware of the QF, the damage it has done and continues to cause British Muslims. I was therefore shocked and disappointed at his polite refusal to comment. Why would he remain silent? Surely he is not happy with the agenda they are pursuing and the manner in which they are operating?
Having spoken about a crisis of authority and warning against Shaykh Google and Weekend Mufti, surely this was the opportunity to give practical guidance to Muslims. Should we be supportive of QF? Has QF bought more benefit or harm to Muslims? From their work so far, can we say they are trying to be faithful to the principles and sources of Islam, or are they being motivated by other interests? None of these questions were addressed by Imam Hamza "from America".
To Dr Ramadan's credit he didn't avoid the question, and instead blasted the QF - describing them as counter productive. He said he disregarded 90% of what they say, and made it clear how important it is for Muslims not to be used to drive though government agendas, which are harmful for communities and their faith.
I would have loved to hear from Imam Hamza. Was it me, or did Imam Hamza's no comment induce sighs of relief from Ed and Maajid?