Written by Husain Al-Qadi- Saturday, 18 October 2008
Following the 2005 media stunt in New York where Amina Wadud led a tiny group of men and women in what they described as “Friday prayers”, a barrage of worldwide criticism was levelled at the organisers. Among the charges, two points in particular really got under their thick skins.
Firstly, there was the irrefutable evidence that the whole event was a media stunt; it was clear for all to see in the published photographs. There were more journalists in attendance than “worshippers” .
The second point was that the stunt was a leap so far removed from Islam that the only venue they could find was a place of worship beyond the fold of Islam – a Christian cathedral!
Understandably, the organiser who invited Amina Wadud to the UK to repeat the stunt yesterday, Taj Hargey, would have been keen to avoid repeating the same mistake by conducting the stunt in his own usual “Friday prayers” venue – a church hall at the corner of Portland Road and Banbury Road in Oxford. So he opted for an alternative, and the best he could come up with was the Masonic Hall at 333 Banbury Road. Before we go any further, it is interesting to note the thoughts of the head of the Church of England on Freemasonry.
Although his own father was a member, according to the current Archbishop of CanterburyChristianity and Freemasonry are “incompatible” . It is public knowledge that he refused to appoint clergymen to senior posts because they were members of the Masonic Brotherhood. In 1992, Dr Rowan Williams told The Independent newspaper that he is not in favour of ministers being Masons because it is a “secret organisation” whose views are questionable. He also voiced doubts in a letter to Hugh Sinclair, who has been investigating the Brotherhood: “I have real misgivings about the compatibility of Masonry and the Christian profession … I have resisted the appointment of known Masons to certain senior posts.” The Rev Gregory Cameron, chaplain to Dr Williams, said: “He questions whether it’s appropriate for Christian ministers to belong to secret organisations. He also had some anxiety about the spiritual content of Masonry.”
A spokesman for the Archbishop had said that he was “worried about the ritual elements in Freemasonry – which some have seen as possibly Satanically inspired – and how that sits uneasily with Christian belief”.
If Christianity, a religion that has undergone several waves of reformations and re-reformations, remains doubtful about Masonic activity, it beggars belief that anyone would assume that a woman leading a Friday sermon and prayer in a Masonic hall would strike a cord with the Muslims of Oxford, or Muslims anywhere for that matter. This has turned out to be a classic case of “from the frying pan into the fire”.
Despite attempts by the organisers to whip up controversy with the help of the local (Oxford Mail) and national media (The Times), the event was a total flop – hardly anyone attended. An evening news report broadcast on the ITV Thames Valley programme (17.10.08) commented on “the media far outnumbering the congregation” and “the historic moment beingunderwhelmed by the turnout from both sides of the debate, with the majority of Muslims in Oxford having simply decided to ignore the event”.
There are, of course, some intriguing questions that remain unanswered, such as why it was not held at Wolfson College, Oxford, where the MECO conference following the service was to be held. It would have been much easier and there would have been no danger of running out of space. Even several members from Taj Hargey’s tiny band of happy-clappers had declared in advance that they would not be attending.
In the end there were only 7 men and 7 women in the congregation – though not, of course, if one looks at the picture (above) on the BBC website which is taken from an angle to give the impression of a large presence at a historic event. If one looks at the video shot (below), it is clear that those in the frame were the only people there – totalling no more than 15 including Aminah Wadud. However, Fran Bradsley of the local Oxford Mail insists that there were about 20 people in attendance. This comes as no surprise as the turn-out must have been disappointing for the Oxford Mail since it had published two articles leading up to the event and had kept a large picture of Amina Wadud on the main page of its website all day on Thursday. Not to mention that this newspaper has a history of playing a major role in exaggerating the importance of Taj Hargey and his organisation, MECO.
Although anyone in Oxford who saw the posters for the event would have recognised the address (333 Banbury Road) as the headquarters of the Masonic Brotherhood in Oxford, the “reliable” BBC online report says: “The protesters had ignored a plea from a local Muslim leader not to picket the mosque as it would give the event more publicity”; and “The move has angered many Muslims and a small group of protesters gathered outside Wolfson College to voice their opposition.”
UmmahPulse reporters went to Oxford on Friday and we can confirm that the BBC is either mistaken or wilfully trying play down the Masonic Hall connection. There were no visits to mosques nor were there any protests in front of Wolfson College. The event and the protest took place at 333 Banbury Road, Oxford.
Even if one gives the benefit of the doubt to the BBC reporter who may have been from out of town and had not realised that it was the Masonic Hall located some 2 miles away from the University, the Oxford Mail reporter cannot claim such ignorance. Fran Bradsley, however, managed to set a new record for dodgy reporting when she wrote: “Protesters demonstrated outside a Muslim centre in North Oxford to object to a woman leading an Islamic prayer meeting. Today’s prayers, at the Muslim Education Centre of Oxford, in Banbury Road, were thought to be the first time a woman has led a mixed congregation of Muslims in this country.” So much for objective journalism.
UmmahPulse has learnt from speaking to acquaintances of Taj Hargey that in the run up to the event, upon realising that no-one might show up for this “historic” moment, he made frantic, panic-stricken phone calls to encourage people to attend.
One person quoted him as saying, “Get anyone to come and I don’t care who, we expect both worshippers and protesters”. When people explained to him that this is not the kind of event they would wish to attend, his response was, “That is because you are from a different background.. . If you had not come from, for example, Pakistan or Egypt, you would not be so reluctant. It’s your background that is influencing you.”
Upon learning of these conversations, I decided to ask the obvious question: What is Taj Hargey’s background? Who is he? What makes him so loved by the media and some government institutions and why is he being promoted as a pioneer when all he can muster is a handful of lost souls for his most heavily publicised event?
I am afraid that the answer – and brace yourselves – is more revealing than everything I have written above. My sources in South Africa, where Taj Hargey spent much of his life, tell me that he is from a family in Cape Town well-known for their Qadiani faith (Qadianis are a heretical sect).
Taj Hargey has, I understand, told some people in the UK that he is not a Qadiani and has threatened to sue the Muslim Weekly for claiming such an affiliation. When this was put to my sources in Cape Town, they told me that it may well be that he has left the family faith, but in the 1980s there were a series of high profile court cases in South Africa between Qadianis and Muslims. During that period, Taj Hargey owned a shop in Cape Town where literature on Qadiani beliefs was being sold continuously. This does not tally with the claim of not being a Qadiani.
It is easy for one to change one’s faith – all it takes is a pronouncement – and it may well be that Taj Hargey never accepted the family label of Qadiani, but that does not detract from the fact that when it comes to the influence of background upon a person’s attitude, outlook and aspirations, there is something to be said about family religion. This is especially so in Taj Hargey’s case, when he is so keen to delve into the background of his critics and use their background to trivialise legitimate concerns.
So what can we see in Taj that is indicative of the Hargey Qadiani family connection or background? The list is too long for this short article, but see if you can spot the similarities. It may help to understand the utterly weird combination of an American female convert performing a party piece in a Masonic Hall described by journalists as a mosque. A hundred years ago, when the British were in India, the situation was no less bizarre.
In the 1880s, a previously unknown author named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani published a four volume critique of the ulama (Islamic scholars), titled Bahrain e Ahmadiyya, in which he declared:
“I have been commissioned by God as a reformer of the age and I resemble Jesus”; “The Divine communication will never cease because it is an evidence of the vitality of a religion”; “I am a Ma’mur, commissioned by God to establish the truth of Islam and to bring reforms to the society. My mission is similar to that of Jesus, the son of Mary”; and “The English Government is a boon for the Muslims in the Subcontinent and my family being loyalist, devoted itself to the service of the English”.
In a later publication, he explained that he was an amulet and a citadel to protect the English Government from afflictions. God had given him the glad tidings that He would not chastise the English as long as he (Ghulam Ahmad) was in their midst. (Nur al-Haq 1894, p.34).
What everyone needs to understand is that Islam is not a religion that can be manipulated through whispers and intrigue. It is a global faith with nearly two billion followers. For anyone to assume that they have a magic formula to deconstruct 1400 years of received wisdom is a sign of gross arrogance and delusion. Yes, they may manage to create tiny groups of heretical adherents with Muslim names but these will never have the strength or ability to change what Muslims all over the world believe in: a faith protected by God. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is a case in point.
“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption). ” (God Almighty in the Quran 15:9)