Author: Mohammed Amin*
I was recently surprised to receive an unsolicited invitation to become a columnist for the Istanbul Network. Having accepted, I am using this first column to introduce myself as readers are entitled to know “where I am coming from.”
Like many things in life, my connection with the Istanbul Network arose from pure chance. In June 2015, I attended a conference organised jointly by Conservative Home, The Institute of Economic Affairs, the Taxpayers Alliance and Business for Britain. This was held to discuss possible priorities for the Conservative government which had just won the May 2015 British general election. I was sitting next to a lady who was a complete stranger, and started chatting as is my habit with all strangers that I meet in such situations. She turned out to be Linda Whetstone, who is a Council Member of the Istanbul Network. As we chatted, Linda mentioned Wan Saiful Wan Jan (the Council Chairman) who I have known for over 10 years as he used to live in the UK and was on the Executive Committee of the Conservative Muslim Forum (affiliated to the British Conservative Party) which I now chair.
The “About Me” page of my personal website www.mohammedamin.com contains a detailed personal profile. Very briefly, I was born in Pakistan but have lived in the UK since the age of 1 ¾. Now aged 66, I retired seven years ago from being a tax partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the firm’s UK Head of Islamic Finance. Despite being raised in a Muslim family, I paid relatively little attention to studying Islam in any depth until I went on Hajj in 2002. Since then I have been reading about it quite extensively (solely in English as I am monolingual in the best British tradition) and for over 10 years I have been writing about aspects of Islam amongst other topics.
I believe that it is impossible to address the social, political, economic and legal needs of Muslim majority countries without also addressing how their people understand Islam. I see three broad reasons for this.
- In my view most fundamentally, if you are a Muslim then how you understand Islam should be a major factor, probably an overwhelming factor, in how you see your personal ethical responsibilities and your relationship with your fellow human beings. Your understanding of Islam may lead you to devote your life to charitable activity helping others. Conversely, a different understanding of Islam may turn you into a bloodthirsty monster eager to kill anyone who dares to disagree with your religious views. Your understanding of Islam may motivate you to strive for personal success. Alternatively, a different understanding of Islam may lead you to believe that every aspect of your life is predetermined so that all personal effort is futile.
- In Muslim majority countries, we find many civil society organisations which have an explicit “Muslim agenda” and political parties which are organised around particular interpretations of Islam.
- Some Muslim majority countries claim to base their entire legal and political system on Islam. Many others, while not going that far, nevertheless give Islam a special place in their constitutional arrangements. Few, if any, are explicitly secular in the way that the USA or France have secular constitutions.
I will be addressing specific issues in future columns.
However, as suggested by my comments above, I have a straightforward position on who is a Muslim – namely anyone who professes to be a Muslim.
Accordingly, in my view, terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are clearly Muslims acting on their understanding of Islam just as much as I am a Muslim acting on my understanding of Islam. This does not mean that I consider all understandings or interpretations of Islam as being equally valid. I consider that I am right and they are wrong. If I did not think that I was right, then I would change my views to adopt those views I did consider were right.
* Mohammed Amin was born in Pakistan but has lived in the UK since the age of 2. He is a Cambridge mathematics graduate, a chartered accountant, a chartered tax advisor and an associate member of the Association of Corporate Treasurers. Before retirement, he was a tax partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, their UK Head of Islamic Finance and a member of PwC’s UK Supervisory Board.
In retirement, Amin divides his time between several political and interfaith organisations, mentoring individuals, and writing and speaking in the media. His website www.mohammedamin.com contains most of his past writings and some of his media appearances.