Is Islam Compatible with British Values?
Sometimes responding to a question with another question opens the window of opportunity to find the right answer: What are British values? This however, is a tricky question to answer. There is no “Divine” revelation or a set “Moses tablets” that we can refer to in order to aid our investigation. Therefore, trying to find a reference or a consensus is not an easy job.
In our view, and we appreciate that it is quite limited; we think we might be getting there, but we need much more work in this field. A survey conducted by ComRes in February 2015 interviewed 2,017 people from the British public who were offered a list of values. They were asked to choose which values were the most important. Notwithstanding the inevitable methodological constraints, (NB: the participants were asked which values were important, and not what British values are) the results were as follows: 
- Freedom of speech 46%
- Respect for the rule of law 33%
- A sense of humour 29%
- Politeness 27%
- Tolerance of others 26%
- Equality 23%
- Fairness 22%
- Political freedom 20%
- Responsibility 14%
- Religious freedom 13%
- Multiculturalism 10%
- Don’t know 6%
- Aspiration 4%
- Curiosity 3%
The results may seem obvious to many, but what do these values actually mean for each person? Words are vehicles to meanings, and it is without a doubt that when two people use the same word, it can carry a different meaning, and can be applied in a dissimilar way given a particular context. A previous poll by ComRes interviewed a random sample of 1,045 people in February 2009, and the results were weighted to reflect the British population. 63% of those questioned agreed that laws should be respected and be influenced by the UK’s religious values. 
So can we assume that the values above have religious connotations? Who knows? The point we are raising here is that relying on polls and surveys is problematic and doesn’t provide us with a consensus on what British values actually are. We just seem to have a collection of words, that although may have some meaningful common denominator, can have varying manifestations and expressions in a real world context. It can be argued that we need a qualitative approach to the question of British values. It would give us more of an idea on what people mean by “tolerance” and “freedom of speech”. Picking up a dictionary is not enough when trying to understand human beings. Some of us may tolerate a wide range of religious beliefs, but others may draw the line when it comes to Scientology or Satanism. We need more of a national conversation rather than a quantitative and binary reduction of our values. Therefore, the next question we should be asking our fellow citizens is: what do you mean by that?
Nonetheless, for the purposes of this article, we will take the current Government’s definition of British values and correlate them with the values emanating from Islamic thought. This is important because a substantial number of the wider British public believe that Islam is bad for Britain.  This exercise is important for community cohesion, and can facilitate in easing the wider public’s fears about their Muslim friends, colleagues and neighbours.
The Government have stated that fundamental British values are:
• Belief in democracy
• The rule of law
• Individual liberty
• Mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs 
So let’s take each value and correlate them to Islamic teachings. Before we do this, please note that this is not meant to engage in philosophical hair-splitting, rather it is a practical discussion to show that practicing Muslims, who take their religion seriously, want to be part of a cohesive British society.
Now this is a tricky word because some argue that in a British context there is no true democracy.  Take for example the “first-past-the-post” (FPTP) system that Britain has adopted. The Electoral Reform Society argues that it is “the very worst system for electing a representative government.” , and Catch21 a charitable production company set up by a group of students at the University of Hull, which produces videos to help engage young people with their communities, argues that Britain may “not be truly democratic”.  Putting this all to one side, from a perspective of values, democracy is associated with justice and accountability. Islamic teachings have profound insights that can help shape our understanding of these values.
Islamic scripture and texts resonate with justice. The Qur’an provides timeless and profound advice on treating others with justice (‘adl) and equality (qist) across all communities. The Divine book commands that justice must be maintained and implemented regardless of whom it supports:
“O You who believe! Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone, even against yourselves or your parents and relatives. Whether they are rich or poor, God is well able to look after them. Do not follow your own desires and deviate from the truth. If you twist or turn away, God is aware of what you do.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 135]
“…and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching, which He gives you! Truly, Allah is ever all- Hearer, all-Seer.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 58]
In the Islamic spiritual tradition, obtaining God’s love and mercy is the ultimate goal. The Qur’an provides deep spiritual motivations to adhere to justice by saying that,
“… God loves the just.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 60, Verse 8]
Islam teaches that justice must be meted out irrespective of friend and foe:
“O You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to faith. Heed God [alone]. God is aware of what you do.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 5, Verse 8]
The ninth century exegete and historian, At-Tabarī, wrote that justice in an Islamic context means: “that towards all peoples and religions you must treat them justly and equitably.” 
Communities across the Muslim world once implemented these timeless teachings. They created justice and impartial societies where even minorities who were persecuted in Europe fled to the Muslim world to find justice. The Jewish historian, Amnon Cohen, describes the historical manifestation of justice under Islamic values. Cohen states that the Jewish minorities sought justice from the Islamic courts rather than their own:
“The Jews went to the Muslim court for a variety of reasons, but the overwhelming fact was their ongoing and almost permanent presence there. This indicates that they went there not only in search of justice, but did so hoping, or rather knowing, that more often than not they would attain redress when wronged…” 
Accountability in the Islamic tradition is a spiritual and political concept. Muslims are encouraged to engage in a process of self-accountability by reflecting on their mistakes, transgressions and injustices in order to rectify the negative consequences of such errors. From a political point of view, accountability has always been understood by scholars to be part of al-amr bil ma’ruf wal nahy an al-munkar (commanding the good and forbidding the wrong). The Qur’an states:
“Let there be among you people that command the good and forbid the wrong. They indeed are the successful.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 3, Verse 104]
This concept of “commanding the good and forbidding the wrong” led the citizens of the Muslim lands to account those that were in power. The fact that the early Muslim communities were not afraid to even take to account the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), shows the extent they internalised and implemented this value.
The Islamic teachings created a social awareness that made the community understand that political accountability was an obligatory duty. This was demonstrated by one of the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him). During his leadership there was an understanding that it was both the state’s and its citizens’ responsibility to account and be accounted. Umar once asked the public what they would do if he went astray in his office of power. A normal citizen who heard what Umar had asked the public, replied by saying that that he would correct him. Umar responded by saying:
“Praise be to God, there are people in the nation who would put me right if I go astray.” 
This display of recognising the responsibility to hold those in power to account, and the acceptance of being taken to account, indicates the fact that accountability is a key value in Islam. Another example of accountability is when a Christian won a legal case against the ruler of the time, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him),
“[Ali] returned to Kufa, when he came across an armor in the hands of a Christian. He said to the Christian, ‘This armour is mine, I have not sold it or given it away’. The Christian said, ‘It is my armour and it is in my hand.’ He said, ‘Let us go to the judge.’ Ali went first, sat beside the judge, where the judge said, ‘Speak O Leader of the Faithful’. Ali said ‘Yes this armour which this man has is my armour; I did not sell it nor did I give it away’, the judge said to the Christian, ‘What do you have to say?’ He said, ‘It is my armour and it is in my possession. But I do not call the Leader of the Faithful a liar.’ The judge said to ‘Ali, ‘Do you have any evidence, Leader of the Faithful?’ He said, ‘Yes. Qanbar and Hassan (the son of Ali) will bear witness the armour is mine’. The judge replied, ‘A son’s testimony is not acceptable on behalf of his father’, and so the judge ruled in favour of the Christian.” 
Professor of International and Comparative Law, Mark Welton, argues that the Islamic concept of accountability meant that people could use the courts to seek redress and argue against the government and its officials in a court system free from political bias:
“The courts were open to, and used often by, the people to seek redress of their grievances not only against each other, but also against the government and its officials. The judges were usually and sometimes famously noted for their independence from political control.” 
The Rule of Law
In the absence of the rule of law, what remains is chaos and social disharmony. Islam encourages the use of reason, and it is only rational to want to build and live in a society where there are laws, and law-abiding citizens. The Islamic scholarly tradition spent centuries formulating and codifying laws and principles of jurisprudence based on the Islamic texts. Professor Hallaq has noted that this is what gave formative Islam “what we call today the rule of law.” 
Professor Mark Welton maintains that it was the work of the Islamic legal scholars, in trying to codify laws and principles from the Qur’an and the words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which created a complex legal system that led to achievements that could only have happened with the rule of law in society:
“This sophisticated legal system in turn helped support the artistic, scientific, and commercial achievements of the classical era – achievements that a Western scholar like Joseph Raz might well argue are the virtues, if not inevitable outcomes, of a society based on the rule of law.” 
Following the above discussion on the rule of law, it was from the key Islamic values that the scholars developed the concept of huqūq al-‘Ibād; the rights of the people. This concept was derived from Islamic texts, which included a myriad of rights ranging from the right to life to the right to due process. The Qur’an is clear on establishing decency, good conduct and forbidding oppression, which is the path to liberty,
“Indeed God commands justice, good conduct and giving help to you kin, and He forbids indecency and oppression. Thus He admonished you so that you may be mindful.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 16, Verse 90]
Al-Ghazali, the eleventh century theologian taught that Islam and its underlying moral and legal objectives aim to preserve an individual’s life, religion, intellect, lineage, and property. This was developed hundreds of years before John Locke’s conception of natural rights and the Declaration of Colonial Rights in 1774. In summary, the concept of individual rights and liberties are established values in the Islamic tradition.
Mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
Islam teaches mutual respect and tolerance of people with different faiths and beliefs. This is exhibited in the unprecedented treaty between the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Christians of Najran. The Prophet (peace be upon him) offered the people of Najran unprecedented tolerance, freedom of religion and protection, which they never experienced under the Byzantines. The Islamic historian, Al Baladhuri narrates the text of the treaty in these words in his book Futuh ul Buldan:
“The lives of the people of Najran and its surrounding area, their religion, their land, their property, cattle, and those of them who are present or absent, their messengers and their places of worship are under the protection of God and guardianship of his prophet. Their present states shall neither be interfered with, nor their rights meddled with, nor their idols deformed. No bishop shall be removed from his office. The intention being that no change in whatever state everyone is, shall be made (status quo shall be maintained). Neither the people shall be punished for any past crime or murder, nor shall they be compelled to do military service. Neither shall ‘ushr (the tax on grain) be imposed on them, nor shall any army enter their area. If anyone of the people of Najran demands the rights, justice shall be done between the plaintiff and the respondent. Neither oppression shall be allowed to be perpetuated on them, nor shall they be permitted to oppress anyone. Whatever has been written in this pact, God and Muhammad, his Prophet, are guarantors for it, unless there is an order from Allah, in this connection, and as long as the people of Najran remain faithful and adhere to the conditions, which have been made for them, except that someone compels them to do otherwise.” 
The Islamic teachings of tolerance manifested themselves throughout history. Heinrich Graetz, a nineteenth century Jewish historian expressed how Islamic teachings in Spain favoured the Jewish community in the context of kindness and liberty of belief:
“It was in these favourable circumstances that the Spanish Jews came under the rule of Mahometans, as whose allies they esteemed themselves the equals of their co-religionists in Babylonia and Persia. They were kindly treated, obtained religious liberty, of which they had so long been deprived…” 
Ulick R. Burke, a prominent historian specialising in the history of Spain, reached a similar conclusion of the treatment of the Christian community:
“Christians did not suffer in any way, on account of their religion, at the hands of Moors…not only perfect toleration but nominal equality was the rule of the Arabs in Spain.” 
Islam promotes intellectual debate and dialogue, and forbids disrespecting other people and their beliefs.
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 16, Verse 125]
“People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you may get to know one another.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 49, Verse 13]
“And do not insult those they invoke other than God.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 6, Verse 108]
“Nothing will be heavier on the Day of Resurrection in the Scale of the believer than good manners. God hates one who utters foul of coarse language.” 
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
The Islamic teachings of respect towards other people and their beliefs is echoed by Associate Professor Andrew F. March’s study on liberal and Islamic values. He opines that the Islamic scholarly tradition supported the idea of recognised religious difference and the contribution to non-Muslim welfare:
“…there was surprisingly strong support from classical, conservative jurisprudence, particularly on questions relating to the terms of residence, loyalty to a state of residence, recognition of religious difference, and contribution to non-Muslim welfare.” 
This toleration and respect is not just for other religions, but also for people with no religious beliefs. The Qur’an teaches that we must share our beliefs and values with “wisdom and good instruction” while discussing “in a way that is best.”
The Islamic scholar and grammarian al-Zamakhshari said that “in a way that is best” meant:
“using the best method of argumentation which is the method of kindness and gentleness without gruffness and harshness.” 
Hence, Islamic teachings advocate mutual respect and kindness for all. This value is manifested in early Islamic history. By around the eighth century a group of people labelled as the Dahrīyya emerged. They were the modern equivalent of what we now call atheists. For example Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, in his Kitāb al-aghānī, mentions an intellectual amongst the Dahrīyya to have engaged in a public debate with the famous jurist, Abū Ḥanīfa. Details concerning the Dahrīs can be found in the works of various classical Muslim scholars, such as al-Jāḥiẓ, Muḥammad b. Shabīb, Ibn Qutayba, and Abū ʿĪsā al-Warrāq. This clearly shows that there was an environment of intellectual discussion and debate, which could only have been facilitated by mutual respect and tolerance. 
The Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that having a myriad of beliefs is part of God’s will, and that there should never be any form of compulsion, but mutual respect and tolerance:
“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, would you compel the people in order that they become believers?”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 10, Verse 99]
“There is no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.”
[The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Verse 256]
The Islamic thinker and scholar, Jaafar Idris, aptly summarises Islam’s stance on other beliefs:
“Existing peacefully with non-Islamic beliefs is an essential Islamic principle that is clearly stated in many Qur’anic verses, and that has been practiced by Muslims throughout their history. It is not something that Muslims impose on their religion or something that they have to resort to because of exceptional external circumstances. It is a requirement demanded by the nature of the religion…” 
In this article, we have shown that there seems to be an overlap between the Government’s idea of what British values are and Islamic values. We have been consistently advising and empowering the Muslim community to not only practice these values, but compassionately and peacefully articulate them to the wider society. We strongly believe that another core British value that must be included in the Government’s list is compassion. This is evident in the compassionate charitable giving of the British public, and it is something encouraged and promoted in Islam, for example the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“The Merciful One shows mercy to those who are themselves merciful (to others). So show mercy to whatever is on earth, then He who is in heaven will show mercy to you.” 
“God is compassionate and loves compassion.” 
“Love for the people what you love for yourself and you will be a believer. Behave well with your neighbours and you will be a Muslim.” 
“Love for the people what you love for yourself.” 
We strongly urge the Muslim community in Britain to be a manifestation of the values we have discussed in this article. We must be compassionate, tolerant, and obey the law. It is essential that we engage in civic activities, by promoting a just society that takes those in power to account, and is involved in a process that facilitates that. The fact that we have common values must be promoted to encourage community cohesion.
Notwithstanding this exercise, it is important to note that values are understood and contextualised via the philosophical foundations of a particular way of life. Since Islam is a comprehensive belief system, it too, has an intellectual basis that shapes its values. Therefore, although we can clearly maintain that Islamic values contain concepts of tolerance, justice, accountability, individual rights and the rule of law – just like the Government’s conception of British values – it doesn’t mean that there is an overlap in what it means – for example, to be “just” and what exactly justice entails in a particular context. We have to be mature and understand that even if the Government states that British values are “X”, it doesn’t mean the whole country understands “X” the way the Government does. Remember, words are vehicles to meanings, we need a nationwide conversation on not just labels and slogans, but on meaning, application and context.
We would humbly argue that since Islam is based on some irrefutable truths, including the fact that God exists, He deserves our love and worship, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is his final messenger and a mercy to all mankind; then it follows that whatever values emanate from this foundation are going to be true and a benefit for the whole of the country.
To conclude, like with most things human, there will be some inevitable differences in the application and understanding of values, even if the same language is used (NB: we are not undermining or refuting the universality of the common denominators of these values. The Islamic concept of the innate disposition of humanity dictates that we accept a commonality). These differences should be discussed openly in the public sphere. If we anchor ourselves on the values of compassion, tolerance and mutual respect, we will be able to create a public space to engage in dialogue and start a debate on what these values mean, and how they should be implemented.
 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7906595.stm; Young, P. (2014), A matter of pride, NatCen Social Research
 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10251827; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/aug/02/poll-islam-negative-britain
 Jāmi’ al-Bayān, commenting on chapter 60 verse 8
 A World Within: Jewish Life as Reflected in Muslim Court Documents from the Sijill of Jerusalem (XVIth Century). Part One, 1994, Pennsylvania.
 Shibli Nu’mani, “Al-Farooq: the life of Omar the Great”,Translated by Zafar Ali Khan, New Delhi, Idara Isha’at-e-Diniyat Ltd, 1996, p 379.
 Al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya, Volume 8 page 5, see also Tareekhul Khulafaa, page 193
 Mark David Welton, Islam, the West, and the Rule of Law, 19 Pace Int’l L. Rev. 169 (2007)
 Al-Mustafa Min ‘Ilm al-Usul
 Al-Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan, translated by Philip. K. Hitti, New Jeresy, 2002 (Reprint), p. 100-1.
 H. Graetz. History of the Jews. London,1892, Vol 3, p. 112.
 Ulick R. Burke. A History of Spain, London. 1900, Vol I, P. 129
 Narrated by At-Tirmidhi
 Andrew F. March. Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus. Oxford University Press. 2009, p.263
 Al-Kashshaf, commenting on chapter 16 verse 125
 See Atheism (pre-modern). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Edited by: Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson. Brill Online , 2012.
 An Islamic View of Peaceful Coexistence, 2007. Accessed on 27 May 2015 from www.jaafaridris.com/an-islamic-view-of-peaceful-coexistence
 Narrated by Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi
 Al-Adab Al-Mufrad
 Narrated by Ibn Majah
 Narrated by Ibn Majah