Sacred Spaces

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 22:23 Cassandra Jihad - Doctrine
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Reading Patrick Sookhdeo’s book “Faith, Power and Territory, A Handbook of British Islam”, I was fascinated by his explanation of the Doctrine of Sacred Space.

P45 “Islam is a territorial religion, very conscious of whether or not an area is under Islamic control."

Areas not under such control are termed Dar al-Harb (the House of War), which reflects the classical Islamic teaching that such territory must be subjugated by Muslim military might. Any space once gained is considered sacred and belongs to the umma for ever. Non-Muslims could at best be tenants on their former property. Any lost sacred space must be regained – by force if necessary. 

Following Qur’anic texts which decree that the whole earth belongs to Allah and he has given it to Muslims, Islam can only expand its territory, never move, exchange or yield anything it has already gained in the UK,. Some parts they already possess, while others are theirs in theory and will eventually become theirs in reality.

The concept of the waqf, a religious endowment, means dedicating a building or plot of land for religious purposes, whose management and revenues will then be regulated by sharia. Jihad is a sacred fight to reconquer lost space, extend Muslim political dominion and implement God’s ideal state on earth. Muhammad’s treatment of the conquered Jewish lands at Khaibar served as a paradigm for conquered lands, which were divided as spoil among the Muslims, with the former owners left as tenants paying tax, but at the mercy of the Muslim rulers who could expel them at any time. Qaradawi stated that lands once held by Muslims may never be given up to non-Muslims. Should the lands be lost in war, it is the duty of all Muslims to retake them, even if this process lasts until the end of the world. He issued a fatwa that is was unlawful for all homeless Palestinian refugees to accept damages in return for their lost land, even if they amount to billions. The land of Islam is not for sale; it is not to be relinquished, and no damages can possibly make up for its loss.

Kalim Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain stated that every Muslim enclave becomes a potential base for further expansion of Muslim rule.

Sookhdeo explains that this doctrine of sacred space and the consequent compulsion to regain lost lands fuels many of today’s conflicts. Hence Palestinians insist on the obliteration of the State of Israel, as the land was once under Muslim rule and as a holy waqf, can never be transferred to non-Muslims. This is certainly a better explanation why the Middle East peace process never makes any progress than the elites’ blaming it on the ‘settlements’ or Israel’s intransigence.

But this concept doesn’t only apply to countries. Sookhdeo shows that migrant Muslim communities in the West are constantly engaged in sacralising new areas. “While first generation Muslim migrants sacralised the private spaces of their homes and mosques, the second generation took to the public sphere. Local place names have been changed in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in response to the requests of Muslims living there who objected to saints’ and other Christian-sounding names. A mosque-building programme in the UK involves huge buildings being erected, even where the Muslim population is too small to need such large places of worship, with much of the finance coming from abroad, particularly Saudi Arabia. The sacredness of mosques is paramount and they can never be given up or demolished. Sookhdeo warns this should be borne in mind by those involved in granting planning permission and by church ministers who kindly allow their buildings to be used by Muslim groups for worship.

The tendency of British Muslims to live close together and create Muslim enclaves can be understood in the light of the doctrine of sacred space. Anecdotal evidence points to non-Muslims being squeezed out of these areas, eg. Dog-owners have been told to get rid of their pets or the animals will be killed, thus forcing the family to move. Christians and Hindus living in Muslim-majority areas have been threatened and intimidated. Although rarely reported in the media, there are incidents of specifically anti-Christian and anti-Jewish violence, including attacks on church buildings and church leaders in strongly Muslim areas.

Following on this, what questions should Australians be asking? I have a few points I would like clarified:

  1. Whenever a university, school or workplace allocates space for Muslims to pray, does this become a sacred space which can never be retrieved? Think back on the problems RMIT had when it built a Muslim prayer space, then after various complaints, decided it should be a multifaith area. And what of Monash University’s decision to grant land to Muslims to build a mosque? Can that land ever be reclaimed or used for academic purposes?
  2. If Church groups, in a spirit of generosity, lend Church buildings for Muslims to pray (after all, they are part of the Abrahamic religions!), are they then part of the waqf? And when Muslims visit churches and synagogues for interfaith shindigs, do these buildings become Islamic?
  3. Do areas which have become strongly Islamic, such as Lakemba in Sydney, exclude and intimidate their fellow Australians?
  4. In hospitals, often built by Christian philanthropists, chapels are told to remove the crosses lest Muslims be offended. When these chapels are used for Muslim prayer, are they then sacred spaces?
  5. Once permission is granted to build a school or mosque in Australia, is the land then sacred to Islam in perpetuity?
  6. Do banks which offer sharia compliant products thereby become Islamic? And what about supermarkets selling halal products?

I would welcome readers’ comments on any of these points, including their personal experience of living and working among Muslims in Australia.