Described as Britain’s own Muslim polymath, Ziauddin Sardar is a London-based scholar, award-winning writer, cultural critic and public intellectual who specialises in Muslim thought, the future of Islam, futures studies and science and cultural relations.
He joined Anthony Julius in April 2016 to discuss what liberal Islam looks like.
In Conversation with Ziauddin Sardar, Chair of the Muslim Institute
Deputy Chairman, Mishcon de Reya
We invited Ziauddin Sardar who is a leading Muslim public intellectual, British public intellectual, to come along and talk to us about his own history and about his sense of the position of Islam today in British culture. He did just that and exceeded our very high expectations.
Chair of the Muslim Institute
I think most people don’t know that my first, it wasn’t really a job, I mean it was kind of assignment if you like, a journalistic assignment, was at Hackney Gazette. Now Hackney Gazette was not too far from where I lived. During my sixth form I was becoming determined to become a journalist so I would go to Hackney Gazette every day and ask for a job and every day they would say, you know, basically, ‘Get lost’, but one day after trying regularly for six months they said ‘Okay, there is a fire somewhere where you live, see if you can write a report for us on the fire’. So off I went to find this fire and discovered that my own school was on fire. So I did write a report and then took it in and I am sure to this day they think I set the school on fire to actually, you know, get a job in journalism.
I write about Islam but I also write about the future. I also write about cultural studies of post modernism and a great deal of my early career is about science, I worked as a science journalist for Nature and the New Scientist. The book I have been talking about today is called ‘Islam beyond Violent Jihadis’. It is essentially a book that came out of Bradford Literary Festival.
Last year I found myself at Bradford Literary Festival and one of my jobs was to go to a secondary school for girls in Bradford called Belle Vue Girls’ School. I found myself in a kind of class of thirty Muslim girls, aged between sixteen and eighteen, some hijabified, some not hijabified, and the teacher introduced me and said today’s topic is ‘Everything you always wanted to know about Islam but were afraid to ask’. A number of hands went up and I asked a girl who was wearing a hijab what question she wanted to ask and she said, “How do we determine the will of God?” I kind of took a double take and I said “What?” She said “How do we determine the will of God?” I replied “Look, this is a question that we have been struggling with for the last fourteen hundred years and we still haven’t found an answer. Can we start with a more simple question?” A lot of hands went up so this time I asked a girl and she said “Do you think we can reconcile Islam and post modernism?” And that, I mean, I thought, “I am in the wrong place” but what proceeded for about three hours was a forensic analysis by these sixth formers of, not just of Islamic foreign history but my ideas and kind of my writings, and I thought to myself if sixteen and eighteen year old Muslim girls can do that then, well they are going to change the world.
Deputy Chairman, Mishcon de Reya
We talked about essentially the three stages of the Anglo-Muslim journey in the post-war period from a essentially unified politically passive confessional community through to a somewhat theologically divided community in the 1970s and 80s, and then an outward looking and politically engaged community but at the level of identity politics rather than class politics, and we finished by discussing the challenges faced by Muslim communities, in this country in particular, today.