He has just finished presiding over the trial of Parsons Green Bomber Ahmed Hassan. Finding him guilty of trying to murder a trainload of people in the name of Islam, Judge Haddon-Cave offered some theological advice to Hassan.
‘Finally, Ahmed Hassan, let me say this to you. You will have plenty of time to study the Koran in prison in the years to come. You should understand that the Koran is a book of peace; Islam is a religion of peace. You have violated the Koran and Islam by your actions, as well as the law of all civilised people. It is to be hoped that you will come to realise this one day.’
Apparently Charles had spent a summer reading the Koran for himself in translation, and had come to this conclusion. I think it reflects kindly on his optimism, and less well on his expertise outside the law.
There is no doubt that Mohammed did start a religion of peace while he was in Mecca. He was friendly towards both the Jews and the Christians, and the early part of the Koran reflects that – it contains many amicable sentiments.
But things went wrong. After 13 years of preaching, with only a handful of followers, the people of Mecca threw him out.
Once in Medina, Mohammed changed the tone of his ‘messages from God’ – they became increasingly violent and he became a warlord, leading small armies who raided and attacked, ravaged and killed their enemies. His life involved capturing and trading slaves. Indeed, the Koran has a variety of passages about when you can have sex with slaves.
Rather confusingly perhaps, the Koran, at one and the same time, contains passages directing Muslims to respect Christians and Jews as well as passages directing violence against them. It also has passages commending the taking and trading of slaves as well as passages directing that they should be treated well.
Charles Haddon-Cave and other generous-minded critics face two problems: the first is how you reconcile the contradictions in the Koran, and the second is the example of Mohammed himself.
Malcolm Pearson, Baron Pearson of Rannoch, is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and he thinks that Islam is becoming a serious challenge to our culture and our values.
In a speech in the Lords after the recent Rotherham sex scandals, he addressed the problem of gangs of predominantly Muslim men sexually abusing young girls.
He said: ‘If we accept the views of our lead police officer for child protection, we seem to be looking at millions of rapes of white and Sikh girls by Muslim men, only 222 of whom have been convicted since 2005.
‘Will the UK government ask the Muslim leaders whether the perpetrators can claim that their behaviour is sanctioned in the Koran and if not to issue a fatwa against it? Can there be a national debate about the different interpretations of Islam without being accused of a hate crime?’
He explained later that what needs to be debated is the Islamic idea of abrogation. Its effect is to give greater weight to the latter parts of the Koran against the earlier. The trouble is – but no doubt you have guessed it already – the first part of the Koran has a good deal of peace in it, and the second a good deal of violence.
So which is the authentic Islam – the murdering, raping and violent religion, or the accommodating, respectful and peaceful one?
We know what Charles Haddon-Cave thought. What do the Muslim leaders in Britain think? If they agreed with Haddon-Cave, they would expel the bombers, the murderers and the child molesters from the Muslim community, saying such behaviour was incompatible with the ‘religion of peace’.
On how many occasions, then, has a bomber, murderer or child molester been expelled from the Muslim community? None.
Just in case you thought the question remained delicately hanging in the balance, a good Muslim models his life on Mohammed, and Mohammed dedicated much of his life to killing and enslaving – one of his more colourful escapades involved the beheading of 600 Jews.
For Christians, this is Holy Week. During it we remember when one of the disciples took a sword to defend Jesus and chopped off someone’s ear. Jesus healed the ear, told him not to resort to violence, was killed and three days later rose from the dead.
If you have to choose between a religious leader whose example was that he killed and enslaved people, directed that his followers take revenge on his enemies, performed no miracles and then died or one who insisted on forgiveness for enemies, miraculously healed the sick, brought life even to the dead and was raised on the third day, which would prefer?
The way we frame our laws and customs at this juncture, particularly regarding definitions of hate crime, involves just such a choice. What’s yours?