2013 Oxford University Debate: Is Islam a Religion of Peace? (Mehdi Hassan's Passionate and Winning Speech on the Defence of Islam and Muslims)
Mehdi Hassan's impassioned speech and visceral defence of Islam and the Muslim community strung many chords within the world's Muslim community's. This was because he had said everything, everything that British Muslim's felt in one fell swoop that lasted just under fourteen minutes, and with only 2,570 words. This included a counter-offensive argument that it was European civilisation that committed the holocaust, which is true, which drew several groans of protest from audience members, since he had not differentiated between Germans and ordinary Europeans. Hassan snapped back and responded to these critics that this was precisely what the opposition was doing with Muslims, when they made accusations against Islam over infinitesimally minute events termed "terrorist attacks", in relation to these far larger events, and far more serious historical events. Lambasting the opposition he cynically opened up with an apology for all the crimes committed by Muslims, in response to the bletherings of Anne-Marie Waters.
The response to the debate from some Muslims was however much more isolative, the news website "5 Pillars UK" insinuated that arging in the debate was undignified, because the answer was so painfully obvious that Islam is peaceful, so why should Muslims participate in such events. The answer to this is however obvious, as more discussion into what Muslims believe managed to persuade the audience towards siding with the Muslim perspective. According to Hassan's profile on Al Jazeera, "[h]is debate-winning speech at the Oxford Union on Islam and peace went viral online, amassing more than two million views". According to "The Muslim Debate Initiative (MDI)", they noted that "[w]atching the debate, many found Mehdi Hasan’s performance to be striking and compelling. He lambasts the Islam-critical opposition, and brings some common sense refutations of their misguided argument in his inimitable entertaining style". Even non-Muslim websites noted how Hassan has "eviscerated" Waters and Johnson.
Mehdi Hassan: Thank you very much Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. As-salaamu alaykum, lovely to see you all here tonight. We are having a very entertaining night, are we not? With some very interesting things been said from the other side of the House tonight. Let me begin by saying, as a Muslim, as a representative of Islam, I would consider myself an ambassador for Islam, a believer in Islam, a follower of Islam and its prophet—so in that capacity—let me begin by apologizing to Anne-Marie for the Bali bombings. I apologize for the role of my religion, and me and my people for the killing of Theo van Gogh, 7/7... Yes, that was all of us. That was Islam, that was Muslims,that was the Qur'an. I mean, astonishing, astonishing claims to make in the very first speech on a day like today, where the Conservative PM of the United Kingdom has to come out and point out that these kind of views are anathema. And I believe you are trying to stand for the Labour Party, to become an MP in Brighton. If you do, and you make these comments, I'm guessing you'll have the whip withdrawn from you, but then again, UKIP are on the rise, they'll take you, the BNP, they might have something to say about your views.
Mehdi Hassan: By the way, just on the factual points, as we heard a lot, from the second speaker about how backward we Muslims all are, on a factual point, you said that Islam was born in Saudi Arabia. Islam was born in 610 AD, Saudi Arabia was born in 1932 AD, so you were only 1,322 years off. Not bad, not bad start there. Talking of maths, by the way, a man called Al-Khwarizmi, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, a Muslim, worked in the Golden Age of Islam, he's the guy who came out with not just algebra but algorithms. Without algorithms, you wouldn't have laptops, and without laptops, Daniel Johnson today wouldn't have been able to print out his speech in which he came to break us Muslims for holding back the advance and intellectual achievements of the West, which all happened without any contributions from anyone else other than the Judeo Christian people of Europe. In fact, Daniel Davin Levering the author of the Pulitzer Prize, winning historian and author of the "Golden Prism of Winter", that there would be no renaissance, no reformation in Europe without the role played by Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, some of the great Muslim theologians, philosophers, scientists, in bringing these texts to Europe.
Mehdi Hassan: As for this being "our" university, I will leave that to the imagination as to who is "our" and who is "their", I studied here, too. An astonishing, astonishing set of speeches so far making this case tonight. A mixture of just cherry-picked quotes, facts and figures self-serving, selective, a farrago of distortions, misrepresentations, misinterpretations, misquotations. Daniel talked about my article in the "New Statesman" which got me a lot of flak where I talked about the anti-semitism that is prevalent in some parts of Muslim community, which indeed it is. Of course, I didn't say in that piece it was caused by the religion of Islam, in fact, modern anti-semitism in the Middle East was imported from—finish the sentence—Christians! Judeo Christian Europe, where I believe some certain bad things happened to the Jewish people. In fact, Tom Friedman, a Jewish American columnist in "The New York Times", told me in this very Chamber last week that he believed had Muslims been running Europe in the 1940s, 6 million extra Jews would still be alive today. So I am not going to take lessons in anti-semitism from someone who's here to defend the Judeo Christian values of a continent that murdered 6 million Jews...Moving swiftly on. Moving swiftly on.
(Groans from audience)
Mehdi Hassan:—No, no, no, no! I'm about to make a point. You're right! I agree with you! I agree with you 110%! That is my point. I don't think Europe is evil or bad. I'm a very proud European. I don't want to judge Europe on this. But if we are going to play this gutter game where we pull out the Bali bombings, and we pull out examples of anti-semitism of Islam, then of course I will come back and say, "Hold on." I mean, look, let's be very clear. Daniel here was a last minute replacement for Douglas Murray who had to pull out, and Douglas and I have very well documented differences, but to be fair to Douglas, as to be fair to Anne-Marie, and to Peter, atheists. Atheists see all religions as evil, violent, threatening. The problem I have with Daniel's speech is that Daniel comes here to run this robust defense of Christianity forgetting that his fellow Christians, people who said that they were acting in the name of Jesus gave us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Anti Jewish Pogroms, European colonialism in Africa and Asia, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, not to mention countless arson and bomb attacks on abortion clinics in the United States of America till this very day. I would like a little bit of humility from Daniel first, before he begins lecturing other communities and other faiths on violence, terror, and intolerance.
Mehdi Hassan: But... No, thank you. (A glass of water.) But I would say this: to address the gentleman's very valid point here, I am not going to play that game. I don't actually believe that Christianity is a religion of violence and hate, because of what the LRA does in Uganda, or what the Crusaders did to Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem when they took back the city in the 12th or 13th, or whatever century it was. I believe that Christianity, like Islam, like pretty much every mainstream religion is based on love, and compassion, and faith. I do follow a religion in which 113 out of 114 chapters of the Qur'an begins by introducing the God of Islam as the God of mercy, and compassion. I would not have it any other way. I don't follow a religion which introduces my God to me as a god of war, as some kind of Greek god of wrath, as a god of hate and injustice. Not at all. As Adam pointed out, you go through the Qu'ran and you see the mercy, and the love, and the justice. And yes, you have verses that refer to warfare, and violence. Of course it does, this is not a motion about pacifism. I am not here to argue that Islam is a pacifistic faith. It is not. Islam allows military action, and violence in certain limited context, and yes, a minority of Muslims do take it out of that context. But is it religious? We talked about Woolwich; Daniel and Anne-Marie have suggested that it is definitely religion that is behind all of this.
Mehdi Hassan: Well, actually, what I find so amusing tonight is we have a debate about Islam, and the opposition tonight has come forward, we have a graduate in Law, one in Modern History, in Chemistry, and you know, I admire all of their intellects and abilities but we don't have anyone who's actually an expert on Islam, a scholar of Islam, a historian of Islam, a speaker of Arabic, even a terrorism or a security expert, or a pollster, let alone to talk about about what Muslims believe or think. Instead, we have people coming here putting forward these views, putting forward these sweeping opinions. Listen to Professor Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, one of America's leading terrorism experts, who, unlike our esteemed opposition tonight, studied every single case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2005. 315 cases in total. And he concluded, and I quote: "There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism or any of the world's religions. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territories that the terrorists consider to be their homeland." And the irony is, when we talk about terrorism, the irony is that the opposition and the Muslim terrorists, the Al-Qaeda types, actually have one thing in common, because they both believe that Islam is a war-like, violent religion. They both agree on that. They have everything in common. Osama Bin Laden would be nodding along to everything that was said tonight by the opposition, he agrees with them.
Mehdi Hassan: The problem is that mainstream Muslims don't, the majority of Muslims around the world don't, in fact a gentleman that started quoting all sorts of polls, Gallup, carried out the biggest poll of Muslims around the world, of 50,000 Muslims in 35 countries, 93% of Muslims rejected 9/11 and suicide attacks, and of the 7% who didn't, they all, when polled in focus groups cited political reasons for their support for violence not religious reasons. As for Islamist scholars and what they say, well, Daniel talks about "our" University of Oxford; well, go down to "Oxford Center for Islamic Studies", get hold of a man named Shaykh Afifi al-Akiti who's a massively well credentialed and well-respected Islamic scholar, who has studied across the world, who in the days after the 7/7, published a fatwa denouncing terrorism in the name of Islam, calling for the protection of all non-combatants at all times, and describing suicide bombings as an innovation with no basis in Islamic law. Go and listen to Shaykh Tahir-ul-Qadri, one of Pakistan's most famous Islamic scholars who published a 600-page fatwa condemning the killing of all innocents in all suicide bombings unconditionally without any ifs or buts. There's nothing new here; this is mainstream Islam, mainstream scholarship which has said this for years: you don't go out and kill people willy-nilly in the high street or anywhere else, on a bus or a mall based on verses of the Qur'an you cherry-picked without any context, any understanding, any interpretation or any commentary.
Mehdi Hassan: Please.
Mehdi Hassan: I didn't say it doesn't happen at all. I never said it didn't happen. I don't blame Islam. Yes. It's a very good point. And a lot of us, are campaigning against that. I am campaigning against it in the name of Islam. We are campaigning against it in the name of various interpretations of Islam. Anne-Marie comes and scares us with her talk of Sharia Law, I would like to see the book of Sharia Law, it doesn't exist. People argue about what the Sharia Law is and you empower the extremists by saying there is only one version. You empower them all. I don't believe you took any interruptions Anne-Marie...
Mehdi Hassan: So I think you should stay there for a moment.
Mehdi Hassan: Here's what we are dealing with—
Mehdi Hassan:—I took your point. Here's what we are dealing with: a 1400 year old global religion followed by 1.6 billion people in every corner of the world, a quarter of humanity, of all backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and yet, the oppositions tonight wants to generalise, stereotype, smear, in order to desperately win these debates. And here's my question if we're going to generalise and smear: if, okay, people say yesterday's bombers and we've got to be careful there's a trial going on, were yesterday attackers sorry, motivated by Islam, big debate, I don't believe they were, let's say they were, let's say Faisal Shahzad, The Time Square bomber was motivated by Islam, let's assume for the sake of the argument that Richard Reid the shoe bomber was motivated by Islam, if Islam is responsible for this killings, if it is what is motivating these people, and it's therefore not a religion of peace then ask yourself this question: why aren't the rest of us doing it? Why is it such a tiny minority of Muslims who are interpreting their religion in the way that the opposition claim they are? Let's assume there are 16,000 suicide bombers in the world—there aren't—let's assume there are for the sake of argument. That 0.001 percent of the Muslims population globally, what about the other 99.99% of Muslims who the opposition tonight either ignore or smear? The reality is that the rest of us aren't blowing ourselves up tonight, the reality is that the opposition came in tonight not worried about the fact that me and Adam might pull open a jacket and blow ourselves up tonight because we are followers of warlike, warrior religion which want to take over Europe and Daniel's university. The issue is this...
Mehdi Hassan:—unless the opposition can tell us tonight, and Peter Atkins is here, one of our great atheist intellectuals can tell us tonight, can they answer this question tonight: why don't the vast majority of Muslims around the world behave as violently and aggressively as the tiny minority of politically motivated extremists? Then they might as well give up and stop pretending they have anything relevant to say about Islam or Muslims as a whole. Ladies and gentlemen, let me just say this to you: think about what the opposite of this motion is. If you vote no tonight, what you'll say the opposite of this motion is: that Islam isn't a religion of peace, it's a religion of war, of violence, of terror, of aggression. That the people who follow Islam, me, my wife, my retired parents, my 6 year old child, that 1.8 million of your fellow British residents and citizens, that 1.6 billion people across the world, your fellow human beings, are all followers, promoters, believers in a religion of violence. Do you really think that? Do you really believe that to be the case?
Mehdi Hassan: They say that in Oxford Union, the most famous debate was in 1933 when Adolf Hitler looked out for the result of the King and Country motion, where they voted against fighting for the King and country and Hitler was listening up for the result. Well, tonight, 80 years on, there are two groups of people around the world who, I would argue, are waiting for the results of tonight's vote: there are the millions of peaceful, non-violent, law-abiding Muslims in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and beyond, who see Islam as the source of their identity, spiritual fulfilment, hope and solace, and then there are the phobes, the haters, the bigots out there who want to push the clash of civilisations, who want to divide all of us into them, and us, and ours, and theirs. Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you all not to fuel the arguments of the phobes and bigots, don't legitimise their division, don't legitimise their hate, trust those Muslims who you know, who you've met, who you hear, who don't believe in violence, who do want you to hear the peaceful message of the Qur'an, as they believe it to be taught to the majority of Muslims, the Islam of peace, and compassion, and mercy, the Islam of the Qur'an, not of Al-Queda. Ladies and gentlemen, I beg to propose this motion to the House, I urge you to vote yes tonight. Thank you very much for your time.