To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their strategy against Islamic terrorism, they will encourage United Kingdom Muslim leaders to re-examine the Muslim tenet of abrogation.
My Lords, freedom of speech and religion are core values that make our country great. Britain is home to diverse communities, which are free to practise their religion in accordance with the law. The Government’s strategy for tackling Islamist terrorism is firmly based on strengthening our partnership with communities, civil society groups and faith organisations across the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, which was helpful as far as it went. I should explain that Islamic abrogation holds that the Koran’s later, violent verses, of which there are many, take precedence over the earlier, peaceful verses, and so it lends support to the jihadists. Have the Government noticed that we can say what we like about any other religion, but we get into all manner of trouble if we try to discuss Islam? If they have noticed, what can they do to encourage civilised national debate about Islam, in the hope that that will encourage our peaceful Muslim friends—who are, of course, in the vast majority—to do more to stand up to their violent co-religionists?
My Lords, I have to say that I think that the first part of the noble Lord’s statement is factually incorrect. We work with communities to make them resilient and we certainly support the discussion of religion, as we are doing now, as we speak. This is a country that prides itself on freedom of speech—unless people are actually inciting others to intolerance or hatred—and that is something of which I am very proud.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that a Muslim scholar, whom I consulted today, told me that there is no unanimity in the Islamic world about which verses of the Koran are abrogated by later verses? It is completely wrong of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to ascribe the views of some hard-line Wahhabis and Salafists as though they were the views of mainstream Sunni, Sufi and Shia Muslims. That is not the case, and all that the noble Lord does by repeating this—as he has done before—is to undermine the position of moderate Muslims in this country.
I could not have put it better than my noble friend; that is absolutely right. The vast majority of Muslims in this country share our values and share most of the things that we would aspire to for our children and our communities. We should not make blanket statements about a very small minority.
My Lords, whenever the question of religion is raised in this House, there seems to be an air of embarrassment, as if it were something private that should not be discussed. The reality is that it is very much the concern of us all. The suffering in Syria and the weekend outrages in Cairo and Istanbul show that a force, religion, which has a potential for good, is being used these days as a force for evil. Does the Minister agree with the findings of the Louise Casey report that the interfaith industry has done very little to combat this, and we need an actual discussion of the concerns that people feel, rather than being superficially nice to each other?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that religion should be a force for good. It is a particularly pertinent point at Christmas time to consider what religion is a force for. Christmas is a time for giving and doing good to your fellow man or woman. Dame Louise Casey produced an independent report which the Government will consider in due course and comment on in the new year. She addressed what the noble Lord is talking about—namely, that we should not be frightened of saying things.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best way to tackle extremism in a religious setting is not for this Government, or any Government, to start identifying particular religious doctrines that they would like to see changed, but rather to concentrate on that building of partnerships? Would she agree with me in commending the approach taken by my colleague the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in building those sorts of relationships of trust and friendship, which are creating a platform on which these issues can be honestly faced and discussed as we try to find a way forward on them?
I completely concur with the right reverend Prelate. I thought that he was going to talk about his noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, because he does similar work. It is in talking to people through the partnerships that we form that we can form a more cohesive society. I commend the work of the Church of England in this area.
My Lords, while associating myself with the comments of the right reverend Prelate, can I ask the Minister whether she thinks it appropriate for a Question to be put down on the Order Paper of this House which refers to “Islamic terrorism”? She quite rightly referred to “Islamist terrorism”. It is inappropriate to lump in 2.5 million British Muslims in this country as somehow being associated with terrorism. Does she think that this Question being brought constantly to this House by a Member of this House is in fact helping those who want to see division in this society and who want to associate peace-loving Muslims in this country with terrorism? Will she answer that please, and will she also say—
Will she also say whether she thinks that is appropriate?
I did not hear the last bit of that question because there was a bit of a noise from the House. This House prides itself on the wide range of Questions that can be tabled. We do not police too heavily whether those Questions are always necessarily accurate or reflect the situation. I cannot remember the noble Baroness’s second point. I will leave it there.
Is there not a real danger of highlighting parts of the Koran, when you could equally make the same points about the Bible? Is it not important that we do not take either of those texts as literal?
My Lords, we have seen with all religions how people can interpret parts of them to their own ends. I was talking just this morning about my own Church and how some things in the past have been interpreted not for evil ends but wrongly. It happens with all texts. It is a question of how we as a civilised society deal with that in the round.