6 min read

For years, many of us have spoken about the need for British Muslims to prepare themselves in the (martial) combative arts, both as an engaging way to keep fit (for some simple exercise is boring), and to provide a means of defence for ongoing anti-Muslim and racist physical abuse that heightened particularly after the 7/7 atrocity. And yes, it wasn’t a matter of mere advocacy, we did it ourselves.

More recently, I’ve been asked as to why it hasn’t taken root in the faithfuls’ culture. I’d say:

1. Most Muslim ‘leaders’ were either disinterested, ignored its palpable importance, or issued erroneous fatwas to undermine it (such as “it’s haram to strike at the face” – which I’ll deal with elsewhere). There were various reasons, some of which were:
a) they themselves are overweight, extremely unfit and weak, and essentially unable to lead by example,
b) they’re not the combative type: they lacked courage, they’re fearful of confrontation and aggression (even in training), and essentially, they’re not about that life,
c) they’re understandably apprehensive that they (or Muslims) would be portrayed as militant, Jihadist, or inciting violence. (Clearly the attempt to pacify peaceful Muslims has been working)

2. People would only be interested for short bursts of time, particularly following a publicised attack on a hijabi. But once the news cycle moved on, the hype quickly subsided.

3. There’s shar’i ignorance on the nature of the physical body, what its purpose is, and what we’re meant to do with it.

4. Combative arts, strength building, and fitness simply aren’t considerable aspects of the ethno-cultures that the majority of Muslims in the UK ascribe to. In fact, it’s the opposite: there’s an obsession with food that tends to disregard health, along with overeating being a norm (I’m not referring to the occasional communal feast or celebration which is fine). When one lives to eat rather than eats to live there’s a serious problem.

5. Muslims lack martial values. In an age of superficiality and rhetoric where even the sincere try to engender these, a lack of shar’i learning (and living) means these values are often expressed through the prism of jihadism or merged with an anti-western lens, not as a normative way of being that’s neither reactionary or ideologically motivated.

Now as we have seen over the past few years, the far-right have become more mainstream, and today there’s not much difference between the nationalistic right and the far-right. And there are growing groups of militant racists who train hard, climbing their way to expertise in various martial disciplines. Gone are the days when it was some beer-bellied bloke spouting some racist comments outside the pub (alcohol tends to make you do/say stupid things) whom you could easily outrun – now it’s some vegan who spend hours in the gym everyday, who’ll soon be (or already are) black belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, or specialists in Muay Thai boxing or MMA. Is this going to be another one of those circumstances where Muslims wake up to reality five years too late, and especially women who tend to be at the brunt of such attacks? If expertise in self-defence takes years, when exactly do we intend to start (as a collective), and when will we be confidently ready to deal with such challenges whilst going about our lives peacefully?

Now this type of conversation tends to make many uncomfortable, and I wholly sympathise. You can always rely on a bunch of idiotic Muslims to take this conversation and do/say imbecilic things with it. I disassociate myself from them and align with the intelligent and civilised.

And of course, we have allies, decent (non-Muslim) fellow citizens who are willing to physically stand up to violence and intimidation alongside us – and we ought to do the same when it concerns them. But there are also the disingenuous who’ll claim that this is “over the top”, that “it’s not that bad”, and if it becomes that bad they infer they’d not let it happen. Those of a similar ilk said the same before them: “If you are driven out, we shall go with you. We would never listen to anyone who sought to harm you. And if you are attacked, we shall certainly come to your aid.” But the truth is that “if they are driven out, they will never leave with them; if they are attacked, they will never help them. Even if they did come to their aid, they would soon turn tail and flee – in the end they would have no help.” (59:11-12)

The Jewish and Bosnian ethnic genocides remain in living memory, and whilst things are obviously not at such extreme levels, they both started somewhere – that level of hatred didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

But shouldn’t we rely on the government for our absolute safety?

Well if we had a government that fostered our faith in them then of course – it’s their job to ensure the safety of all citizens, and not just through policing but a responsible narrative that undermines demagoguery and prejudice. But evidently, we don’t have that type of government at the moment. Today’s one-nation Tories is plain rhetoric, and alongside Johnson’s documented dislike for Muslims and ethnic minorities, Patel, Gove and Javed have demonstrated their alliances with the rabidly anti-Muslim Hindutva and right-wing zionists which have already and openly shown hostility to British Muslims. An intelligent outlook which also considers past practice compels us to anticipate a dubious future. Of course, we always hope for the best, but we must perpetually be prepared for the worst (in all matters of life).

In ending, I’d like to make it absolutely clear for the disingenuous, foolish, or confused: all true believers perpetually incline to peace and harmony, it is a pillar of human flourishing which is what God likes. God also calls to wisdom, civility, and rationality – talking through differences and finding common ground ought to be the only way. But where the uncivilised and irrational resort to violence and intimidation (whether they be non-Muslim or Muslim), God expects us to be prepared to resist such evil wholeheartedly and protect ourselves.