Introduction to OIBI

In view of increasingly problematic conditions facing Muslims in Britain today, and given the rising tide of religious-inspired violence and anti-Islamic discrimination, the time has come for a new, radical and pro-active approach that will not only help to safeguard but also enhance the security and status of Muslims in the United Kingdom. New strategies and innovative steps are required to propel the variegated British Muslim community forward – away from theological tribalism and temporal dogmatism – along a path that protects the interests and future of the faith in the UK that must invariably retain its own distinctive identity and special character while stressing its compatibility with British values.

With this end in mind, the establishment of a novel and all embracing educational unit and research foundation is envisaged that will address both the secular needs and spiritual concerns of British Muslims. A trail-blazing institution that purposefully combines the world of religion and politics, of theology and society, of philosophy and the public sphere is envisaged. This new research academy will expedite a long overdue trajectory towards the sustained progression and full integration of the British Muslim community into the UK mainstream. Not only will this landmark academic and intellectual centre spearhead the movement towards the long-term ‘indigenisation’ of Islam in Britain, but it will also spur the rejuvenation of a pluralistic and rational creed that has to deal with the complex consequences of globalisation in a rapidly changing 21st century world.

Primary goals of OIBI

OIBI’s goal is to become the chief catalyst and principal repository for developing fresh intellectual rigour as well as championing positive socio-political and religious momentum within the British Muslim community. This places the quest for critical thinking, social justice and inclusive community cohesion at the helm of its agenda. The aim is to become the most creative and effective independent think tank, merging research with advocacy, theological expertise with practical action. High-quality applied research, pragmatic professional counselling and policy dissemination will characterise the objectives and output of OIBI. By joining forces with interested parties from the public domain as well as the private sector, OIBI will work to attain its immediate as well as long-term ambitions.

This project will accelerate the re-validation, renewal and renaissance of a Qur’anic Islam that is solidly planted in the United Kingdom while concurrently heeding original scriptural precepts and principles. In other words, an authentic Islam that is rooted in and relevant to life in 21st century Britain, not to foreign preoccupations. An indigenous Islam that is at home in this environment and which has taken on board the useful nuances and good personality of British life and culture without compromising any of the fundamentals of the faith. This process of an Islamic ‘naturalisation’ is not unique to Britain. It has been intrinsic to the documented history of Islam wherever it has spread, be it in Asia, Africa or Europe.

Muslim self-empowerment

A key aspect of OIBI’s platform will be to empower individual Muslims with the requisite textual resources as well as the theological tools to re-interpret and implement their creed within modern Britain. Such a novel development would give them an unprecedented pathway and independent capacity to restore logic and reason to their hitherto blind-believing faith. This re-affirmation of the classical primacy of scripturally sanctioned ijtihad (independent analysis) with current Islamic discourses is a theological watershed if Muslims wish to be real stake-holding citizens in the UK. Without it, rational and thoughtful Muslims cannot equip themselves to repudiate unthinking belief (taqlid) and uncritical reliance upon popular, ethnic and regional distortions of Qur’anic Islam. When they truly comprehend the sublime principles of their own creed, when Muslims have a proper understanding of their own heritage and civilisation, and when they transcend a ritualised faith and outmoded traditionalism, they will be able to transform not only their religion and politics, but also their entire philosophy of life to the betterment of society as a whole.

OIBI intends to foster candid freethinking by laying firm foundations for the future. It will provide the average Muslim with substantive choices in either explaining and/or practicing their own religion. This will be achieved by restoring ijtihad (independent reasoning) to the heart and soul of British Islam. This new Oxford think tank will encourage ordinary Muslims to comprehend the doctrines and theology of their faith themselves within the confines of the original ordinances of the Holy Qur’an. Through verifiable knowledge and rigorous introspection they will acquire ‘theological self-empowerment’. When they do so, they will be liberated from the mindless obscurantism and ideological fixations that so characterises tribal, mythical and cultural Islam today. Any logical comprehension of Qur’anic Islam by everyday Muslims would inevitably challenge the unmerited theological monopoly of an ill-educated one-dimensional clergy (ulama). This revolutionary process will begin with an analytical understanding and extensive dissection of Islam’s sacred text as well as the subsidiary religious literature of ‘popular’ Islam so that the uplifting attributes of the pristine faith will prevail, not the peripheral and superfluous notions that are preached by out-of-touch clerics obsessed about and mired in the past.

OIBI will instigate robust public deliberations and forthright discussions within a religiophilosophical framework where the pre-eminent challenges and problems facing British Muslims today will be tackled fearlessly and frankly. It will initiate critical scrutiny and the re-appraisal of all conventional Islamic norms as well as habitual theological warping by restoring the total transcendence of Qur’anic Islam and human reasoning to religious dogma and debate. Fresh and imaginative ways to inform and educate the general public about Islam will be a high priority for this new institute. The plan is to eventually overturn the moribund theological exclusivism of vested priestly power – local as well as foreign – and to restore religious independence and theological autonomy to individual believers.

To this end, OIBI is committed to making a authoritative intellectual contribution to a bold and ambitious study of Islam in the UK by actively promoting the emergence of free and fresh thinking, the evolution of new ideas and concepts, and the advancement of proactive initiatives and trailblazing programmes. It will evolve into the premier philosophical and cerebral focal point that will inspire progressive thought and pioneering conceptual thinking right across the religio-political spectrum for British Muslims. In this sense, OIBI will be a key channel and conduit for intrepid proposals and positive change within the community. It seeks to build a coveted reputation for a demanding analysis and principled implementation of authentic Qur’anic teachings, not the routine falsehoods derived from a myriad of suspect secondary sources. The net result will not only benefit rank and file followers of the faith here (and perhaps elsewhere), but also anyone else interested in comparative religion, community relations, minority affairs and public policy.

Main characteristics

OIBI intends to be an autonomous and independently-funded policy research academy. That is, OIBI will be wholly non-partisan, functioning without affiliation or allegiance to any political party, religious grouping, national association, specific madzhab (school of thought) or any ulama (clerical) organisation. It will be explicitly Qur’an-centric, egalitarian, multi-ethnic, inter-cultural, ecumenical and non-homophobic in orientation and operation, including its governing structures. A notable feature of OIBI will be its determination to nurture independent thinking and logical reasoning, particularly in the sphere of faith, theology and politics. This strategy will enable it to advance realistic solutions in dealing with the huge challenges facing UK Muslims today, especially in the aftermath of terrorist outrages.

OIBI will be an open, modern and reform-minded think tank that will accommodate and welcome dissenting opinions and divergent views. It will provide a non-sectarian forum and inter-denominational platform for all Muslims, irrespective of their identity or ideology – to explore and examine all the taxing issues of the day in a challenging and questioning academic setting. This new institution for pro-active thinking and assertive action will be an exponent of inventive ideas and forward-looking measures derived primarily from and based upon Islam’s sacred scripture. The objective is to encourage progressive thinking and the unfettered participation of UK Muslims in British society to avoid ghettoisation, induced either by belligerent host reactions or by a self-imposed Muslim apartheid mentality.

Muslim marginalisation

Increasingly, as a result of imported religious fanaticism from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere, Muslim social self-exclusion has become a largely voluntary phenomenon within the UK. This tendency towards Muslim segregation must be reversed to reduce social tensions, youth disaffection, juvenile criminality, economic deprivation, political disillusion and community alienation. The adherents of Islam in the UK simply have to become an intrinsic and integrated component of the British mainstream if they wish to avoid the pitfalls of burgeoning socio-political isolation and inter-communal discontent. One proven way to minimise social friction is to promote effective cross-cultural fertilisation. This two-way strategy permits British Muslims not only to absorb ‘the best of British’ but also to positively influence and impact the rest of society, thereby benefiting 6 everyone. UK Muslims must therefore establish a status that is commensurate with their demographic numbers and exercise a corresponding authority and sway in public life. In other words, Muslims need to ‘fit in or lose out’. It is as simple and as clear as that.

To assist Muslims in the UK to achieve this important aspiration, OIBI intends to be the foremost scholarly clearing house and engine for innovative ideas and modern initiatives that will accelerate a meaningful adaptation of Muslims into the British social fabric and body-politic. But this essential engagement with broader society must also be combined with the retention and underpinning of a distinctive Islamic identity and specific Muslim character. This type of confident religious input and proactive participation would truly complement and contribute to the emergence of greater Muslim self-confidence as well as a more inclusive British society. There is simply no viable alternative to this twin track campaign of retaining faith and identity while being an integral component of British life if Islam is to remain fully relevant to observant Muslims in this country in the 21st century.

A progressive and pluralistic institution

OIBI will promote progressive, pluralistic and pro-active perspectives of Islam in the United Kingdom. This campaign for open and tolerant communal structures as well as for responsible political and modern democratic standards throughout British Muslim society will be an OIBI priority. Tolerance, transparency and accountability have to be the emblems of an authentic Islam that is deeply enmeshed in Britain, consigning outmoded tribal governance and undemocratic ethnic authoritarianism to the past. This is in harmony with the incontrovertible endorsement of democracy that is enshrined in the Holy Qur’an.

OIBI will formulate a Qur’anic moral paradigm and pursue an honest ethical code of conduct in public life and policy to encapsulate unsullied Islamic values. This will be partly realised by championing the classical juridical principles of ijtihad (individual reasoning), dissent and freethinking in grappling with contemporary political, socio-economic and theological issues. By reviving and reinforcing the predominance of logic and self-informed doctrinal judgement – concepts that are firmly enshrined in the sacred scripture – British Muslims will remain loyal to the actual Divine Writ instead of non-divine sources.