Author: Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
Published by: The Cordoba Foundation
Price/Availability: Downloadable free Click here
This paper, by a former Secretary General of the The Muslim Council of Britain, is a timely 'wake up call' to community organisers and activists within British Muslim civil society. Dr Anas Alitikriti of the Cordoba Foundation, London, in his preface to the essay notes that it "provides a much needed mapping exercise and draws a way forward". This is accomplished in various ways. Firstly, here is someone holding up a mirror to Muslim organisations and workers, in a spirit of internal critique and constructive criticism, pointing out the malaise and blemishes but also the good points; secondly, there are suggestions on a wide variety of tactics and strategies to take us out of our state of ineffectiveness to becoming valued members of the wider society, individually and as a community.
For example, in a section headed Ineffectiveness of Movement groups in the Muslim minority context,Dr Bari observes,
"In the aftermath of centuries-old Muslim stagnation, the 20th century Islamic movements
were seen by many to emerge with an inspirational vision of Islam - to revitalise the
ummah, reclaim the spirit of Islam and re-establish the just social order for the benefit of
humanity. Their message captured the imagination of countless talented Muslim activists
of their time and was able to create a buzz in some parts of the Muslim world. One of their most important achievements was their ability to bring into their fold Muslims of all ages
and from various trends, particularly from amongst the young; there appeared for some
time a unity of purpose in Islam-inspired socio-political activism and in the beginning the
speed of progress they were making was quite impressive.
However, over decades and for probably structural reasons, some of these movements
seem to have lost much of their steam. A mixture of complacency and overconfidence
appears to have thwarted their progress and inertia has taken over. They are seen by
many as elitist and exclusivist, not people-oriented. Their vision may still inspire many
today, even in the European countries; but the groups that originated from the mother
movements have so far been unable to contextualise the vision with timely structure
and strategy. Lethargy seems to have crept into some of these groups. With ineffective
leadership and borrowed methodology their appeal to today’s activists in Europe is
This was written before the traumatic events in Egypt in August 2013, and while Dr Bari's critique may or may not have been made with the Ikhwan in mind, his appeal for greater imagination and efforts to become broad-based were presceint.
In the section, The Way Forward, Dr Bari adds,
"It is time we step back and start afresh, with a penetrative mind and profound thinking,
free from our preconceived mindsets and cultural inhibitions. It is imperative our frame
of reference remains the exemplary life (Seerah) of our beloved master Muhammad
(peace and blessings be upon him) and his worthy companions. We need to see the big
picture now as they saw then, beyond our immediate situation, and create an emotional
attachment with people we are living amongst and be the catalyst of positive change
wherever we live. Our plan and action have to be much wider than what we have been
doing so far within our small world; our aim has to be very high indeed."
The bond between spiritual values and activism needs to be strengthened,
" our connection with Allah and the Qur’an has become incredibly weak.
Consequently, many Muslim activists in modern Europe seem to be very weak in the
Islamic character which is very much needed to serve people. For a Muslim, Islamic faith
demands in our character constant God-consciousness (taqwa); the pinnacle is Godliness
(Ihsan). We may be community activists, religious leaders or scholars (Ulama), political
activists, academics, professionals or business entrepreneurs; but we have to ask ourselves
whether love, mercy and truth penetrate our hearts? If not, then mere recitation of holy
words or ritual practice would be meaningless."
At present there are various competing narratives seeking to position Muslims in Britain within the national endeavour. There are two which are unacceptable because they hark back to the colonialist mission civilisatrise. The first is the neo-con one, favoured by the likes of Michael Gove and Melanie Phillips: 'Britain has become a decadent society, unsure of its values, allowing itself to become colonised by the arrival of large numbers of Muslims in Britain. Muslims at best want to live separate lives and at worst make the country to Shariah law. The solution is that if Muslims want to live in Europe they should assimilate and become invisible in the public sphere.'
The second narrative to be challenged is more sophisticated: it appreciates the potential of Muslims to contribute to
spiritual, ethical, and educational renewal for British people generally; however Muslims should not worry so much about matters of fiqh and legal rulings. They should be shariah-lite and promote their own ijtihad, to allign Muslim values more closely to the best of European values. The narrative here is that Europe, as the heartland of civilisation, can also sponsor an Islamic revival.
Dr Bari’s essay provides an authentic counter-narrative. Becoming invisible or allowing others to tell us our religion is not an option: We, (the section of Muslim civil society not seeking patronage from either the British Government or foreign governments), recognises our achievements and problems. It is no mean achievement to have established the mosques, community organisations, charities, schools and businesses we find today. Our youth are a strategic asset to the nation as are our spiritual values. Young Muslim women are doing extremely well in education and many are taking up professional careers. Initiatives such as the Muslim Council of Britain have emerged as coalitions within Muslim civil society. However we do have internal weaknesses and external enemies. Our levels of socio-economic deprivation and educational underachievement are shocking and we have a poor image in society. The priority is to build internal capacity and a well-grounded leadership.
Dr Bari is to be commended for making an effort to map out where we stand and so are better placed to seek ways to change our condition.
|Mosques & Youth Engagement, Guidelines & Toolkit
Author: Qari Muhammad Asim
Published by: The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board
Price: Distributed free but for P&P terms contact MCB, PO Box 57330, London E1 2WJ
From the Executive Summary, "In order to identify some of the key issues facing mosques and youth, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) held a series of workshops across the country to discuss youth engagement in mosques. A number of key themes emerged, but most notably it became clear that there seems to be a real lack of appreciation on the part of management committees and young Muslims of the challenges faced by each other...The workshops revealed the types of services and activities Muslim youngsters want their mosques to provide. These range from sports activites, youth clubs, "chill-out rooms", community events and interfaith activities to the delivery of sermons in English and Imams with whom they can relate. This toolkit sets out the issues that were raised in detail to help break down the barriers between youth and mosque management committees in order to open up channels of communication between the two groups and ultimately encourage youth engagement in mosques."
Extract from Part III - Youth Suggestions, , "Women participants of workshops held in Leeds explained that at Makkah Masjid in Leeds, there was an initiative whereby the women's subcommittee is given the opportunity to run the entire mosque for three days every year, running women-only activities (with men only allowed to enter the mosque for prayer). The purpose of handing the mosque over to the women's sub-committee is: a) to make the women feel part of the institution; b) to give women an idea of what goes into running the mosque' and c) to generate some ideas from the women on new activities that the mosque could run to cater specifically for their needs..."
|Contextualising Islam in Britain II
Compiler: Dr Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
Published by: Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and funded by
the UK Government's Department for Communities and Local Government, in association
with the universities of Exeter and Westminster
Downloadable from: : Click here
Date: January 2013
Price: no charge for download
Professor Yasir Suleiman CBE, FRSE, Leader, writes, "This report represents the collective thinking of a group of British Muslims in the
second phase of ‘Contextualising Islam in Britain’: a project that began in 2008. The
first phase culminated in our report Contextualising Islam in Britain: Exploratory
Perspectives, published in October 2009. In this first report, the project participants
set out to answer a central question: what does it mean to live faithfully as a Muslim
in Britain today? They did so by considering Muslim views in relation to secularism
and the secular nation state, citizenship as a form of political and civic engagement,
pluralism, human rights and the Islamic Sharia as a path of moral living.
The present report sets out to answer the same question and to build on the findings
of its predecessor. However, it does so by engaging with a new set of issues that
impact on the following areas of Muslim belief and practice (appended as questions
at the end of this report): (1) the individual and the community, (2) gender: equality,
identity and sexuality, (3) education, and (4) wider society and the common good.
Team members: Mohammed Abdul-Aziz • Abdelwahab El-Affendi • Akeela Ahmed • Muhammed Ahmed •
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed • Tahir Alam • Abu Muntasir Manwar Ali • Anas Altikriti • Nosheela
Ashiq • Qari Asim • Ahab Bdaiwi • Yahya Birt • Fozia Bora • Mahmood Chandia • Maurice
Coles • Suma Din • Mustafa Kasim Erol • Rokhsana Fiaz • Ramon Nicolas Harvey • Jeremy
Henzell-Thomas (Report compiler) • Dilwar Hussain • Musharraf Hussain • Mohammed Imran
• Ahmed Izzidien • Shainool Jiwa • Humera Khan • Sabira Lakha • Michele Messaoudi • Jing
Min • Ibrahim Mogra • Ghulam Moyhuddin • Fiyaz Mughal • Michael Mumisa • Mukhtar
Osman • Imranali Panjwani • Sajjad Rizvi • Abdullah Sahin • Anas Al-Shaikh-Ali • Julie Siddiqui
• Shahla Suleiman • Yasir Suleiman (Project leader and chair) • Shahien Taj • Erica Timoney •
Batool Al-Toma • Mushfiq Uddin • Shereen Williams • Farah Zeb
|Muslim Women and Shari'ah Councils - Transcending the Boundaries of Community and Law
Author: Samia Bano
Published by: Palgrave Macmillan
Date: November 2012
Drawing upon original empirical data and critiquing existing research material this book challenges the language of community rights and claims for legal autonomy in matters of family law. It draws upon critiques of power, dialogue and positionality to explore how multiples spaces in law and community both empower and restrict women at different times and in different contexts. It also opens up the conceptual space in which we can see in evidence the multiple legal and social realities in operation, within the larger context of state law, liberal multiculturalism and the human rights discourse. In this way the book provides an important contribution to current debate on the use of privatized and ADR mechanisms in family law matters while analyzing the dynamics of relationality and cultural diversity in new forms of mediation practices. In a wider context it explores the conceptual challenges that the rise of a faith-based dispute resolution process poses to secular/liberal notions of law, human rights and gender equality.
Dr Samia Bano lectures in Family law, Gender and Law and Research Methods in Law at the University of Reading Law school, UK, where she was recently been appointed Deputy Director of Research. Samia is recognized as an international scholar in the field of Muslim family law, multiculturalism and gender discrimination. Before joining the law school at Reading Samia worked as a researcher on a number of projects in the area of legal policy and practice and gender equality.
|Young Muslims, Pedagogy and Islam: Contexts and Concepts
Author: M G Khan
Published by: Policy Press
Link to Publisher's shopping basket: Click here
For most young people religion and religiosity is something latent or private activated by private events or the passing of years. For Muslim young people it can be activated by an incessant Islamaphobic discourse that requires fundamental questions of relationships and belonging to be addressed in the public gaze whilst being positioned as representatives and 'explainers' of their religion and their communities.
Written by a leading practitioner and academic in the field of youth and community work this multidisciplinary book reflects the way theoretical, the social and the religious impacts on the lives of Muslim young people. It discusses the real politic of developing services for young Muslims in the post 9/11 context and moves beyond notions of gendered provision and confessional activity to ask what defines a Muslim pedagogy. In doing so it presents a 'theoretical frame for Muslim youth work' that can be recognised by informal educators and Muslims alike and which re-conceptualises the relationships paradigm in this field. This much needed book provides insights and analyses of nuances that are only possible from a real engagement in a subject and is for anyone working with young people in general and Muslim young people in particular.
The author established the Muslim Youth Work Foundation (www.mywf.org.uk) and is a Tutor in Youth and Community Work, Ruskin College Oxford.
|At Home In Europe: Muslims in London
Authors: Open Society Foundations Team - Nazia Hussain, Tufyal Choudhury, Klaus Dik Nielsen, Helene Irving, Andrea Gurubi,Csilla Toth
Published by: Open Society Foundations
Downloadable from: : Click here
Price: No Charge
From the Publisher's blurb: Muslims in London highlights the complexities around belonging and identity amongst Muslim and non-Muslim residents living in Waltham Forest, one of London’s 2012 Olympic boroughs. The research reveals that that local not national identity is strongest for Muslims in Waltham Forest. The situation is exactly the reverse for non-Muslims in the borough, who feel a stronger attachment to Britain than their neighbourhood.
The research offers the most up to date insight on how Muslims in one of London’s most diverse boroughs really feel about where they live and what’s stopping them from feeling they belong in Britain.
By engaging with communities and policymakers, local experts heading the research explored the primary concerns of Muslim residents in Waltham Forest. Issues addressed include education, employment, health, housing and social protection, citizenship and political participation, policing and security, media, belonging and identity.
The report acts on its findings by offering a series of recommendations for local and national authorities, Muslim communities and other minority groups, NGOs and community organizations, the media, and broader civil society.
|Minority legal orders in the UK: Minorities, pluralism and the law
Author: Maleiha Malik
Published by: British Academy
Downloadable from: : Click here
Price: No Charge
From the Publisher's blurb: Minority legal orders - the systemic, distinct, religious or cultural norms of groups such as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others - are often misleadingly described as ‘parallel legal systems’. Since 9/11 and 7/7 they have been mainly discussed in the context of Islam and sharia law, and more often than not as an ominous threat to UK liberal democracy.
Minority Legal Orders in the UK: Minorities, Pluralism and the Law argues that a liberal democracy such as the UK has a responsibility to consider the rights and needs of those from minority groups who want to make legal decisions in tune with their culture and beliefs; it also has a responsibility to protect those ‘minorities within minorities’ who are vulnerable to pressure to comply with the norms of their social group.
|Islam and the English Enlightenment, 1670–1840
Author: Humberto Garcia
Published by: John Hopkins University
Available from: : Click here for publication details
From the Publisher's blurb: Taking a historical view, Humberto Garcia combines a rereading of eighteenth-century and Romantic-era British literature with original research on Anglo-Islamic relations. He finds that far from being considered foreign by the era's thinkers, Islamic republicanism played a defining role in Radical Enlightenment debates, most significantly during the Glorious Revolution, French Revolution, and other moments of acute constitutional crisis, as well as in national and political debates about England and its overseas empire. Garcia shows that writers such as Edmund Burke, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and Percy and Mary Shelley not only were influenced by international events in the Muslim world but also saw in that world and its history a viable path to interrogate, contest, and redefine British concepts of liberty.
This deft exploration of the forgotten moment in early modern history when intercultural exchange between the Muslim world and Christian West was common resituates English literary and intellectual history in the wider context of the global eighteenth century. The direct challenge it poses to the idea of an exclusionary Judeo-Christian Enlightenment serves as an important revision to post-9/11 narratives about a historical clash between Western democratic values and Islam.
|Wandering Lonely in a Crowd
Author: S. M. Atif Imtiaz
Published by: Kube Publishing, Ratby Lane, Markfield, LE7 9SY
Available from: : Click here for Kube Shopping Cart
Date: October 2010
True to its Wordsworthian title, this collection of essays, speeches and short stories is a pensive and sensitive work with keen observations on contemporary British society as a whole, and its Muslim component in particular. There is an immediacy and passion in Atif Imtiaz’s descriptions of the struggles and traumas of British Muslims, while also offering a detached and scholarly perspective. He is both amongst the worshippers circumambulating the Kaba, and also perched with the pigeons observing the frenetic scenes below.
The longest essay, ‘September 11: Thoughts and Emotions’ is a powerful account of the author’s own immediate responses and his attempt to take stock, while also drawing on his expertise as a social psychologist to explore the relationships between the media and behaviour and what he terms the ‘totalisation of discourse’: “the media, which usually struggles to capture major audiences, suddenly found itself serving captive audiences. There was no other topic of conversation…the language devoured us all. Muslims were objectified as the global Other at that moment, through the image of Osama bin Laden.”
In the author’s view, acts such as 9/11 have their roots in the loss of respect for traditional Islamic law: “If Muslims are to be critical of themselves, and indeed now they need to be so, they should ask about what happened to Islamic law that can abandon its traditional self so completely to permit some acts which are so obviously forbidden…the law is sacred in Islam, as the expression of a divinely-guided consensus. As soon as this is challenged and doors are opened for furious men to reread the scriptures themselves and ignore the scholars, then we will begin to arrive at destinations that we did not intend”. It is a fair analysis but one with excessive regard for ‘traditionalism’. In the first 150 years or so after Hijra, Muslims had plenty of territory, but no fiqh or law till the great savants like Imam Shafi’i set to work. Our problem today is that we have plenty of jurisprudential rulings, but little territoriality to make it operational! At the root of OBL’s vendetta was the resentment of foreign troops in the Jaziratul Arab.
Atif Imtiaz warns community activists from championing Muslim causes through means “that are un-Muslim” and for drifting towards “a lack of concern for personal morality”. The underlying plea is for greater introspection where “the focus is upon the believer’s immediate environment - primarily his self, and thereafter those whom he has to serve and then those whom he should serve if he can…all of this community work is service (khidma). “ He also believes in localism, noting, “there is no reason why those who are committed to khidma have to organize at a national level, or for that matter, at a regional or local level. They should organize at that level which makes sense in light of the objectives that they wish to achieve, and it would be my contention that most of what we would wish to accomplish can best be achieved by focusing on individual cities…we should be united in our hearts in helping each other, being generous towards each other, respecting and working honestly with people’s specialities and arenas of service”. This cordiality is not just an intra-faith matter, but the author develops it as a societal principle: “…the development of a language of human sympathy”.
The collection contains a brilliant semi-biographical account of the author participating in a march, traveling by coach from Bradford to London in the company of 'bros' Taz and Saj. Atif Imtiaz, together with his other wisdoms, provides here a modern equivalent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Here is a book that should now be on every Muslim community organiser’s book shelf.
|Young British Muslims and Relationships
Author: Musab Younis
Published by: Muslim Youth Helpline
Downloadable from: http://www.myh.org.uk/attach/MYH%20Relationships%20Report%20(Final).pdf
Date: October 2010
The Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) - founded by Mohammed Sadiq Mamdani in 2001 while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford - plays a unique and important role in Muslim civil society, offering counseling services to young persons . He set the framework for a self-sustaining venture which provides the only telephone help-line service to young Muslims. A similar project for Muslim women – the Muslim Womens’ Helpline - unfortunately folded up due to lack of funds some years ago. MYH has gained respect and credibility over the years, which is reflected in the advisory board that it has been able to assemble for steering Musab Younis’s project – these include distinguished academics and policy researchers such as Professor Louise Archer who has researched the attitudes of Muslim boys, Tufyal Choudhry, knowledgeable on the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in Britain, and Sughra Ahmed, who recently authored ‘Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims’ published by the Policy Research Centre at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester .
MYH possesses a unique source of quantitative data, the Electronic Logging System (ELS), “which provides a strictly confidential record of information for every call received. This includes the date and time of the call, the name of the helpline worker taking the call, the caller’s details (age, gender, ethnicity, and location), and the category and sub-category of the call. There is also space for detailed notes to be made by the helpline worker on the nature of each call and the suggestions made by the by the helpline worker on the nature of each call and the suggestions made by the helpline worker”. In this study, the ELS was supplemented with information obtained from a focus group of young people aged 14-21.
An analysis of ELS data has provided the following breakdown on the reasons of calls:
Health/mental health 21%
Social life 8%
The report notes, "the biggest single concern for callers has consistently been ‘relationships’: boyfriends/girlfriends, marriage, parents, family or community - "yet very little research has been conducted on this topic.”
The ‘Relationships’ category includes parents, friends, marriage, divorce, sexual abuse and sexuality. Boy-girl concerns – “calls regarding a heterosexual relationship outside of marriage – are very common on the helpline, and constitute between one-fifth and one-third of all relationship calls, depending on the year. This suggests such relationships are not unusual and can be a significant cause for concern for young people from Muslim communities. The content of these calls varies across a range of issues including questions over the legitimacy of such relationships, the family and community pressure surrounding them, the problems and disagreements within a relationship itself, concern over the future of a relationship, and so on”.
The Report notes, "as well as relationships before marriage constituting a major topic, the helpline receives a substantial number of calls relating to marriage itself... This has remained a fairly steady concern on the helpline (at between 15–25 percent) through the years 2006–2009. Forced marriage has, seperately, been a consistent concern at around 4 percent of all enquiries per year. Taken together with boy-girl concerns these two issues alone sometimes represent 50 percent of all the relationship calls taken in a year."
In a finding important for service providers, the report indicates that "participants criticised common stereotypes, such as an exaggerated notion that young Asian women lack freedom and have all choices made for them by male members of their family." It also adds "if young British Muslims are reluctant to access support from the mainstream for fear of being misunderstood, the results are likely to be experiences of further isolation and marginalisation. Thus, meaningful engagement and support – which is faith and culturally sensitive – can be empowering and transformative, helping young British Muslims to overcome barriers to social inclusion and have better access to the services and ultimately opportunities that promote good psychological and emotional wellbeing". The report includes a plea to institutions such as mosques: "community engagement for the sake of engagement is a powerful tool when seeking to help young people from ethnic communities that experience high levels of disadvantage and deprivation, and who are more than likely to be discriminated against compared to their counterparts and other ethnic minority groups".
|7/7 - Muslim Perspectives
Editor: Murtaza Shibli
Contributors: Mohammed Amin, Laura Stout, Ruhul Tarafder, Sadia Habib, Raihan Akhtar, Anjum Anwar, Murtaza Shibli, Anisa Abouelhassan, Muhammad Amin, Saiyyidah Zaidi, Imam Mohamed Rawat, Fatima Khan, Ibrahim Lawson, Asra Fareed, Mohammad Sartawi, Serene Kassim, Ammar Ali Qureshi, Seja Majeed, Hassan AlKatib, Nada Mansy, Farhat Amin, Saadeya Shamsuddin, Yaser Iqbal, Shahida Ahmed, Ahmed Bashir
Published by: Rabita
Available from Rabita Ltd, P O Box 601, Northolt, UB5 9NY
Date: July 2010
Published on the fifth anniversary of the London bombings, this collection of essays “articulates the reflections of ordinary Muslims in the UK who come from different professional and cultural backgrounds”. Half the contributors are women and many have written heartfelt accounts of their experiences. Seja Majeed, a British Iraqi law student describes her trepidation on going out in the aftermath of the event: “I can vividly remember putting on my headscarf with a sense of dread taking hold of me. My hands became heavy like stone as I folded the material and pinned it together. I had always believed in freedom, justice and respect, and yet the intensity of wearing this symbol over my head was now foreseen as a form of persecution….people were staring at me, looking at my scarf and glaring at my bag as if I possessed some form of ammunition that would unexpectedly explode. If they had looked into my bag they would have found a tonne of law books….”
The collection present three different narratives of 7/7: It provides different narratives of events: the ‘dodgy theology’ thesis – that there is a destructive, nihilistic strand within Islamic theology that has to be exorcised; that it should be understood in terms of a political, revolutionary confrontation far removed from Islam; and finally the hypotheses of false flag operations or a sting gone wrong.
The young and gifted Pakistani, Aamar Ali Qureshi, a former student at Imperial College, observes that for him, the context is a “reactionary or conservative interpretation of Islam”. In his view, “it is important that one draws inspiration from [these] well established tolerant traditions within Islam. This deserves to be highlighted as a counterweight to the intolerant strands in religion which has driven people to despair and nihilism…the discourse in the West has unfortunately focused on the intolerant and illiberal strand within Islam….” Another scholarship-winning contributor, journalist and broadcaster Saadeya Shamsuddin, notes “it’s clear that a minority of Muslims have interpreted Islam in a very twisted way. What I do accept is that such views exist and it is a real problem among a small minority of young Muslims, particularly men…”
In contrast to this ‘dodgy theology’ view is the view that the protagonists have found it convenient to deploy religious motifs and symbols – the ‘instrumentalisation’ of religion. Laura Stout, an anthropology graduate and young English woman who embraced Islam a year after the event, writes, “…I can honestly say that I still don’t remember making the connection between any of these attacks and Islam as a religion! Religion has always been a positive force than a negative and I couldn’t imagine a religion that would encourage people to blow themselves up in the middle of crowded public spaces…they were most probably manipulated, by people who were politically manipulated or had something to gain from their actions, into thinking that their actions would be seen as striving against injustice and therefore as acts of jihad…I think you really need to look at why these individuals did what they did rather than just making sweeping general statements that inevitably breed misunderstanding, increased ignorance, fear and hate. Seeking to understand the root causes just seems like common sense – although I appreciate it is not an easy task…My understanding of Islam is a million miles away from the pictures I hear and see painted around me. It is a religion that encourages love, forgiveness and compassion for the world and those around us…”
The ‘black flag’ narrative is put forward in contributions from Dublin-born artist Muhammad Amin and barrister Yasir Iqbal. Amin cites numerous cases where the State has played a shadowy role in unleashing carnage, from the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa to the ‘torpedo’ attack on the US warship in the Gulf of Tonkin, the incident which allowed America to go to war with Vietnam. He notes that “no evidence has ever been presented which satisfies the American Government’s assertions about the 1993 [World Trade Centre] incident. The same for 9/11 – no funding trail, no identification (apart from Mohammed Atta’s passport found at the bottom of the Tower – do you believe in miracles?)…. Implicating evidence of the official story behind 7/7 has been lost or not presented…I have just returned from the country of my birth – Ireland – with a book on the ‘Jubilee Plot’, which was an attempt by the British Government to assassinate Queen Victoria and blame it on the Irish, to undermine the move for Home Rule…”. Yasir Iqbal wonders aloud why is it that when “terrorists have existed for most part of the latter half of the last century but never before have the people lived in such doubt and fear of them and never before has the word terrorism been associated to one creed and doctrine like it is being done today…what is needed here is a deeper understanding of the modern world and its key players at a global level. I am not pointing towards some conspiracy theory but what I am presenting is my view that the explanation as to the real perpetrators of 7/7 is not as simple as most people are led to believe.”
The editor of the collection, and one of its contributors, is a Kashmiri Londoner journalist and poet, Murtaza Shibli, who was employed by London Transport on the fateful day and based at Holland Park tube station. That a journalist and gold medalist (top of the year in the class of 1997 in Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Kashmir, Srinagar) found himself on ‘gateline’ duties is revealing - in the 1970s it was not uncommon to find law graduates from Pakistan resigned to jobs as ‘clippies’ on London’s buses; it seems that forty years later, certain careers remain out of reach of the ethnic minorities. Shibli’s competence and flair in marshalling 25 well-edited essays firmly establishes him as a media professional, whether or not it is recognized in mainstream circles.
|Meeting the needs of Muslim women - A directory of mosques in England
Published by: Faith Matters
Downloadable from: http://www.faith-matters.org/images/stories/publications/Developing_Diversity.pdf
Date: June 2010
This report identifies mosques in the UK that have made efforts to meet the needs of women and seek their engagement in mosque affairs. Drawing on the findings from focus groups, five aspects of mosque services formed the basis for the assessment: separate prayer space for women; services and activities for women (e.g. childcare); an imam or qualified woman accessible to service users; inclusion of women in decision-making (at operational and strategic levels); women holding office in mosque committees. Mosques that could be 'ticked off' on all aspects were assigned 'five stars'. The authors note: "fifty eight five star mosques and sixty four four star mosques were assessed via the telephone and each of the five star mosques were visited in person across England so that face to face validation work could be undertaken....a final number of fifty five star and fifty four star mosques were therefore included in this directory...[it] is therefore a snapshot of service provision between February and March 2010".
The 'five star' mosques' geographical distribution is as follows (starting with the connurbation with the greatest number):
London - East 7
London - North 6
London - North West 4
London - South East 3
London - West 3
London - South West 2
Stoke on Trent 2
London - Central 1
The list includes all the main mosques in London - Baker Street, London Muslim Centre, Al-Manar, Al-Muntada. The lower number from regions of high Muslim population such as Bradford, Leicester and Birmingham requires further study. In any case there is at least one potential role model mosque in these cities.
The study was undertaken by Faith Works, based on Government's Prevent monies. It had been allocated £75,000 of CLG funding in 2008/2009 for compiling "a directory of the 100 leading mosques that provide the best access to women...the ultimate aim is to incentivise mosques to improve their engagement with and inclusion of women in all aspects of their work through greater access to recognition and resources from the public sector".
Projects funded by Prevent have been controversial and widely perceived within the community as efforts to reshape theological aspects and embark on top-down social engineering. The performance of projects are audited using a central government-specified assessment form, the NI35, which makes explicit reference to women's issues: "Building the capabilities of Muslim communities, including young people and women to provide positive leadership to local communities and confidence to challenge extremism". Many canny, clever consultancies have benefited from the Prevent largesse by playing on such funding criteria. 'Meeting the needs of Muslim women' should not remain an academic exercise, but the champions for change need to emerge from within mosques and local communities, rather than on high.
|The Adab - 'Respect' Research Programme
A perspective of Muslim-Sikh relations in the United Kingdom
Author: Professor Gurharpal Singh
Published by: Faith Matters
For publication details: http://faith-matters.org/contact-us
Date: May 2010
The report “draws mainly on published secondary sources” and forms part of
the ‘Adab (Respect) Research Programme’ initiated by a UK networking and
consulting ‘community interest company’, Faith Matters. This body, founded
by Mr Fiyaz Mughal, is not to be confused with the better known Faith
Matters project of the Churches Regional Commission.
The focus on Muslim-Sikh relations is a curious one given the alternative
options of studies of Muslim-Jewish relations or for that matter
Evangelical Christian-Jewish relations. The highlighting of Muslim-Sikh
relations is not particularly high on the agendas of either Muslim or Sikh
communities and the issues which have arisen recently – such as the Dubai trial of migrant workers – are of a tangential nature for communities in Britain.
Nevertheless Professor Singh’s scholarly literature review is to be
commended for nailing the myth of Muslims grooming Sikh girls for
conversion. He notes, “no case of forced conversion has been recorded by
the police so far….while there were a few publicized cases of this in the
late 1980s, no one has been able to prove that these were anything other
than isolated incidents or that it is still going on”.
For completeness’s sake, Professor Singh’s review ought to have included
some of the interactions between representative Sikh and Muslim bodies. For
example the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and affiliates such as the
Federation of Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS) have taken steps to
maintain cordial relations with the Sikh community and address common
concerns. Muslim and Sikh organizations were both important members of the
interfaith campaign for the religion question in the 2001 Census – in which
Indarjit Singh, representing the Network of Sikh Organisations, played an
important role. In July 2002, Indarjit Singh also participated and spoke at
an interfaith goodwill conference organized by the MCB at a time of
political tensions between India and Pakistan. More recently, FOSIS has met
the Sikh Community Action Network on the issue of hate blogs, and the MCB
has endorsed the message of sympathy following the arson attack on an East
London gurdwara. There are thus well-established networks and attempts to
over-dramatise community tensions are unwarranted and poor use of resources.
Mr Mughal’s Faith Matters has been a recipient of numerous grants from the Department of Communities & Local Government (CLG), for example for a study on Muslim chaplaincy in the public sector. The organization received £30,000 in 2006/7 and was allocated £50,000 the subsequent two years for ‘capacity building’ work. It had been allocated £75,000 of CLG funding in 2008/2009 for compiling “a directory of the 100 leading mosques that provide the best access to women….the ultimate aim is to incentivise mosques to improve their engagement with and inclusion of women in all aspects of their work through greater access to recognition and resources from the public sector”.
Professor Singh’s report builds on a residential workshop conducted by Faith Matters also funded by CLG. This was held at the Corrymeela conflict resolution centre in Northern Ireland in July 2008.
The Corrymeela workshop was ostensibly “the first of its kind” and aimed at promoting “much needed discussion and dialogue …between key British Muslim and Sikh communities representing their organizational heads, students, and religious leaders and upcoming politicians”. However from the workshop report it seems the participants only spoke for themselves and were not community organizers. The same applies to this report: the extent to which Professor Singh’s ambitious recommendations for “sustained interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Sikhs” and “serious efforts to learn from the experience of the other” will be endorsed by British Muslim and Sikh leadership remains a moot point. Professor Singh has dropped one of the more grandiose recommendations from Corrymeela, “a national Muslim/Sikh Forum of Commissioners should be set up with 5 Muslim and 5 Sikh commissioners who should work on a regional basis. They will act as bridge between Government, local authorities, regional development authorities, other statutory sources (sic) and grass roots Sikh and Muslim communities. They should meet on a quarterly basis….”.
In this report Professor Singh makes the case for the recognition of a ‘Punjabi’ identity in Britain which co-exists with Indian-Pakistani or Hindu-Muslim identities. He sees much in the ‘bhangra’ phenomenon – “since the early 1980s and the 1990s bhangra has become the emblem of British Punjabis, coinciding with the emergence of an identifiable youth culture…the growth of the bhangra industry, and its global impact, has been hailed as the precursor of social hybridities, cross-over and multiple-identities which explodes the myth of dominant discourse of ethnic and religious identities among Britain’s minority populations”.
There is a danger of overselling bhangra as a community cohesion balm. It remains a catchy folk song-and-dance tradition, but one overshadowed by the more potent hip hop genre that incorporates subversion, protest and expression of youthful angst. If YouTube and Islamic events are markers, then Muslim youth culture has found a cultural vehicle that out paces bhangra.
Professor Singh’s report sends mixed signals on Islamophobia. On the one hand it rightly quotes Ceri Peach’s research highlighting the double penalty faced by Muslims – racial as well as religious discrimination – yet it states “the issue remains that the discourse of Islamophobia among religious minorities has the potential to breed political extremism”. In other words, Muslims should grin and bear it and adopt a quietist strategy because protest against injustice would trigger a back lash.
Why is it that the robust campaigns one sees against anti-semitism could not be adopted in confronting Islamophobia? That there is a reluctance in treating anti-semitism and Islamophobia at par is no doubt – the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism rejected the proposal in 2009 that it should extend its mandate and recast itself as the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia’.
There is an expectation for well-connected public figures like Mr Mughal to speak up in the face of such prevarication, and influence those groups with which they are associated – in his case the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism – to show solidarity in the battle against Islamophobia. Why there is a singular silence from such quarters could perhaps be another study commissioned by the Adab ‘Respect’ research programme.
|Plassey's Legacy – Young Londoners explore the hidden story of the East India Company
Authors: Nasima Begum Ali, Ruhana Ali, Eklima Begum, Lothifa Choudhury, Imran Jamal, Atif Kazi, Asiya Khanom and Samia Rahman
Published by: Brick Lane Circle, London
Available from The Brick Lane Circle, 289 Manchester Road, London E14 [email: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Date: May 2010
‘Plassey’s Legacy’ presents the essays of young Muslims who explored the connections between their historical past and their present British-Bangladesh identity. The collection takes its name from the famous military encounter in Bengal in 1757 when Colonel (later Lord) Robert Clive defeated the last Nawab of Bengal, Sirajuddaula, thus opening the way for unfettered commercial exploitation of the land by the East India Company. The authors’ efforts were inspired by Dr Muhammad Ahmedullah, Secretary of the Brick Lane Circle in the East End of London, and project coordinator.
A dedication at the start of this collection captures a vision, “To all young minds who want to understand their past in order to bring about positive change in our world”. At a time when the majority of students at school drop History as a subject when moving from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4, and are thus unlikely to pursue it at ‘A’ levels and beyond, this publication is exemplary in demonstrating how the subject can be made absorbing, relevant and formative.
The Introduction, by Dr Ahmedullah notes, “the successes and benefits that the [East India] Company achieved for Britain also had devastating consequences for India and Bengal in particular. This book brings some of the shared history to light and hopes to generate wide interest through sharing knowledge about East India Company’s London heritage and the city’s historical links with Bengal and India….
The book starts with a chapter by Samia Rahman…she walks us through eight London-based East India Company sites and illuminates the history behind these places….Imran Jamal’s chapter Two on the evolution of the East India Company Army throws light on how the Company recruited its army of British officers and sepoys and the differential benefits and conditions experienced by them. Chapter Three is on Tea, written by Ruhana Ali, and is of particular interest to Bangladeshi people of Sylheti origin as the region is renowned for its beautiful tea gardens…the East India Company’s tea operations in Sylhet may explain the origin of Sylheti migration into London….Lothifa Choudhury looks in Chapter Four at the impact that the Company had back home in London. In Chapter Five Nasima Begum Ali looks at the main reasons why the East India Company declined, beginning with an exploration of mismanagement and taking in the failures during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857…Atif Kazi looks at the processes and mechanisms utilized by the government to disperse the assets of the Company in Chapter Six. In Chapter Seven, Asiya Khanum provides a brief report on an interesting project…taking a group of young people on a tour of East India Company sites…the last chapter is written by Elima Begum who discusses the personal impact of the project had on her and what she gained as a person, including relating her grandfather’s experience of working in the East India Docks in the 1930s.”
All the authors were under 25 when they participated in this venture. ‘Plassey’s Legacy’ is also to be valued for its rich collection of photographs of past and present.
|Sport, Muslim Identities and Cultures in the UK: Case studies of Leicester and Birmingham
Authors: Mahfoud Amara and Ian Henry
Published by: Institute of Sport Policy and Management, University of Loughborough
Available from The School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough
Leicestershire, LE11 3TU
Date: March 2010
Britain’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics has pushed sports up the national agenda, with numerous initiatives underway at schools and colleges to establish a mood of national celebration and participation. This University of Loughborough study is thus opportune in considering access to facilities within Muslim communities in Birmingham and Leicester. The first two chapters of the report are of a theoretical nature, reviewing the sociological literature on themes such as integration, otherness, types of Muslim identity and multiculturalism. A subsequent chapter, ‘Investigating Modern Sport in/and Islam, and Sport in Muslim Contexts’ identifies the ideological and value-laden underpinnings of ‘western’ sport – and includes the interesting quote “arguments around the deification of sport stars have transformed sport to a new religion with its own proclaimed ‘demi-gods’, ‘temples’ and prophets” – taken from W. Baker’s ‘If Christ came to the Olympics’. A significant proportion of the report – 54 out of 128 pages – comprises extracts from interviews with Muslim community organisations’ representatives and officials of local government and quasi-governmental bodies.
The authors cite a finding from Birmingham City Council in 2003 indicating that the BME communities participated less in sports than other city groups: “under a third used a leisure centre/pool/club/gym in the last twelve months, compared to 42.7 % of the overall city population. The proportion drops to 12.7 % for those of Bangladeshi heritage”. This lack of take-up of facilities is even more disturbing when considering the much higher proportion of young people in the Bangladeshi community (and the Muslim population in general) in comparison with the rest of the population.
This is not to say that Muslim organizations are indifferent to the problem: the report identifies twenty-two community associations in Birmingham and Leicester, including two mosques, offering sports activities to men and in some cases to women as well. However with a population base of at least 600,000 in these two cities, this is utterly inadequate. A number of interviewees point the way forward for Muslims to benefit from mainstream sports facilities: “integration of Muslims into local and national initiatives” and “the lack of understanding in terms of what Muslim woman requires”. The report comments on the lack of female representation in the organizations participating in the study.
The authors' interviews with policy makers and service providers – for example local authorities, county sports partnerships and Sport England – indicate an acknowledgment of the need for equity policies in sport, but there is "a lack of practical action". They note that policy documents such as the Sports Equity Index "made no mention of religion or faith groups, and did not articulate how inequity experienced by religious/faith groups was to be addressed. Similarly, the Equality Standard in Sport England (2007) makes "no mention of religious differences as being a dimension to which policy actions will be addressed. The document simply outlines ‘race specific duties’, and is silent on how these duties might entail engagement with faith groups".
The public expenditure cuts will inevitably affect sports funding, and lead to greater expectations from central and local government for community bodies to provide facilities and services.
The report has been funded by the British Academy. The project director is the Algerian academic Dr. Mahfoud Amara, lecturer in Sport and Leisure Policy and Management at Loughborough University since 2004; the report is co-authored with Professor Ian Henry.
|'You Can’t Put Me in a Box' - Super-diversity and the end of identity politics in Britain
Author/researcher: Simon Fanshawe & Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
Published by: Institute for Public Policy Research
Downloadable from: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/
Report titles with phrases such as ‘the end of….’ bring to mind Fukuyama’s vainglorious ‘The End of History and the last Man’, because they convey an illusory sense of certainty. As the case of Francis Fukuyama shows, his paen in praise of western liberal democracy composed in 1992 rings hollow in 2010, when revelations emerge of state sanctioned torture and other violations of international law. The authors of this IPPR report expound ‘the end of identity politics in Britain’ – a statement which cannot be allowed to slip into conventional wisdom without probing and challenge.
Muslims in Britain have been battered by neo-Con thinktanks for pursuing ‘identity politics’. In 2007 Munira Mirza, Abi Senthilkumaran & Zein Ja'far of Policy Exchange co-authored ‘Living apart together British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism’, which argued that Muslims should eschew identity politics because it perpetrated a sense of victimhood. The nub of the argument was that Muslims in Britain should not seek collective solidarity on the basis of faith, because in neo-Con thinking this is ‘Islamist’. In this IPPR study, authors Fanshawe and Sriskandarajah advance the ‘escalator theory’ one more stage: identity politics not only leads to a victim mentality, but “the politics of grievance” nourishes “recruitment to extremism”. We have seen the security argument trumping civil liberties; now it is being used to marginalize campaigns for social justice.
In this prejudiced agenda, Muslim representative bodies are specifically targeted: “It is not surprising that Muslim lobby groups are keen to encourage this [lack of recognition of Muslims as a disadvantaged group] as it gives weight to their demands for special religious and cultural provisions. It also reinforces their image as leaders of a victimized group…community groups are ultimately unrepresentative…”. A further report from Policy Exchange, ‘Choosing our Friends wisely – criteria for engagement with Muslim groups’, co-authored by Shiraz Maher and Martyin Frampton in 2009 continued the ideological war by quoting Amartya Sen and adding further embellishments: “Sen asks, ‘Why should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics and other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the Prime Minister’. Such a policy is counter-productive to promoting integration and progressive national identity because it encourages Muslims to see themselves as semi-detached Muslims”.
Unfortunately the IPPR in the report ‘You Can’t Put Me in A Box’ conveys the same line of thinking. It argues that because identity definition is complex, Muslims in particular should not be expected to ‘tick the box’. This is a stand that not only flies in the face of evidence, but is unjust and intellectually sloppy.
The fact is that the majority of Muslims in Britain are quite happy to tick a box that affirms their religious affiliation – 1.6 million did so in the 2001 Census in response to the religion question. They did not choose to tick off ‘None’ or ‘Other’ or even to exercise their right not to answer a voluntary question. In fact a central plank of the Muslim campaigns for the religion question in the Census, initially championed by the UK Action Committee for Islamic Unity and subsequently the Muslim Council of Britain, was that young Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and other first and second generation immigrants did not see themselves as ‘Black’ or ‘Asian’ as their primary identity, but as Muslim.
This was confirmed in the Home Office study ‘Religion in England & Wales: findings from the 2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey [Report 274, March 2004]; “in contrast to the 17 per cent of white respondents who said that religion was important to their self identity, 44 per cent of black and 61 per cent of Asian respondents said so…for Asian and black respondents religion was in the top three factors considered to be important in their personal descriptions…of 25-to-49 year olds, the largest proportion of respondents who thought religion was important were affiliated to Muslim (64%) and Sikh (58%) faiths. This pattern was also consistent among those aged 50 years and older”.
The IPPR study argues that “the complexity of what is going on in terms of identity in contemporary Britain is staggering. If we take, for example one of the most important but least well under-stood aspects of identity at the moment – what it means to be Muslim in this country – it seems we run a risk of identifying things. Making simplistic assumptions about who identifies as a Muslim or why they do so is dangerous. One recent report on engaging with Muslim youth highlights the complexity of identify formation….”.
So because identity is a complex issue, IPPR proposes to throw the baby out with the bathwater! While Policy Exchange raises the red flag of ‘semi-detached Muslims’, IPPR now ring the alarm bells of the ‘dangers’ of recognizing Muslim identity. Why not pose the question to other manifestations of collective solidarity: does trade union membership lead to ‘semi-detached’ Britons? Do fora such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the Hindu Forum of Britain promote ‘dangerous’ social trends’? Is defining Jewish or Hindu identity any less complex?
Shenaz Bunglawala, in a paper for the Muslim media body Engage offers an incisive rebuttal for this type of ‘identity politics is dangerous’ stance: “Muslim political activity is rarely placed on a spectrum recognised as legitimate political activity (on a left/right axis), and feeds the narrative devised around a reformed, rejuvenated British identity that brooks no compromise with other identities in the public sphere. The attempt to redefine the politics of identity to preclude and proscribe a Muslim identity is a shared agenda among ex extremists and the centre right think tanks that promote their works and ideas. By conflating concerns for security with cohesion and integration and rendering Muslim political activism as a direct and indirect threat to both, these groups seek to limit the parameters of democratic politics to explicitly exclude Muslims that carry and bear their faith in public with pride….
Those that denounce political Islam, or Islamism, do so on the basis that the ideology renders Muslims separatist, engaged only through the groups to which they owe their primary allegiance and never on the basis of a shared common platform with fellow citizens. It follows thus that Muslims can only be engaged in democratic politics if their entry into the public sphere is marshalled through a corridor that disposes of religion, and religious groups and organisations, as an influence on their agency. Political Muslims can only be political is they cease to act ‘as Muslims’, and if they act as independent agents, never through Muslim collectives….
The argument gains further support through the undermining of the representative status of those organisations that are criticised for pursuing political Islam. Organisations like the MCB frequently attract criticisms on grounds of its not speaking for the ‘silent majority’ of Muslims. Indeed, detractors argue that the silent majority are apolitical and therefore unlikely to fall behind the MCB’s leadership. The challenge is complemented by the overt support and promotion of other apolitical Muslim groups whose own representative status is rarely questioned and their internal democratic functioning never probed.”
In their report, Fanshawe and Sriskandarajah make reference to Muslims’ ‘rhetoric of grievance’, suggesting that the British Muslim experience of social disadvantage is exaggerated. They claim that Professor Ceri Peach, an expert on ethnicity data, has stated that “taking into account schooling, settlement, mobility and employment, there is little to sustain the charge of systematic exclusion of British Muslims”.
This is a travesty. In reality Professor Peach holds that there are significant internal constraints on Britain’s Muslim communities. He has published his arguments [ESR 2006] stating
“The young age structure ensures the rapid growth of Muslims as a whole, low educational qualifications and occupational concentrations
in restaurants and taxi-driving type occupations with limited opportunities for progress, suggest that it will be difficult for them to escape
from their current economic position. The very low participation rate of Muslim women in the formal labour market means that there are
fewer wage earners than in comparable Sikh and Hindu households. Low female economic activity is exacerbated by low male economic
activity compared to other groups and by high male unemployment rates. Young age of marriage for Muslim women, contributes to fewer
years of education and lower educational qualifications. Young age of marriage contributes to large average family and household size. All of
these factors unite to explain the extraordinarily high concentration of the Muslim population in areas of housing multi deprivation, with
55 per cent of Muslims in England living in areas containing the most multiply deprived housing conditions and where only 20 per cent of the
total population live….
Comparisons with other South Asian religions, though often unfavourable to Muslims, generally reflect premigration
conditions in the sending areas rather than unequal performance since arrival (Ballard 1990). However, British Muslims, taken as a whole, experience a vulnerable economic situation. That said, the known degree of ethnic difference within the Muslim population and the degree to which we do not yet have information on the characteristics of some of the Muslim groups, means that by presenting aggregate data we are capturing the characteristics of a heterogeneous group, defined by religion, but where the precise role played by religion is not clear. What is clear is that for South Asian Muslims specifically, religion is the variable that most distinguishes their vulnerable situation from the more successful positions of their Hindu and Sikh South Asian co-ethnics.”
In view of this, it is incomprehensible how the IPPR authors can state that in Peach’s view Muslims do not experience systematic exclusion.
There should be no doubt that without collective solidarity – or ‘identity politics’ – Muslims in Britain would have remained an invisible and utterly marginalized community. The religion question in the 2001 Census was a major landmark in achieving official recognition. The Census output has subsequently been the basis for better-informed policy making, for example:
Report from the Department of Work & Pensions, ‘Ethnic minority populations and the labour market – an analysis of 1991 and 2001 Census, March 2006: “An ‘ethnic penalty’ remains when comparing the labour market outcomes of different ethnic minorities who have the same age, qualifications and a range of family circumstances. This penalty means greater unemployment for Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Caribbean men and even more so for those born in the UK…the areas with the poorest outcomes from Indians are mainly made up of Muslim Indians…”
Report from the Office of the Mayor of London, ‘Muslims in London’, October 2006: “The 2001 Census included, for the first time, a voluntary question on religion, providing official statistics on faith communities…the Mayor will work with the London Development Agency and other organisations to investigate educational underachievement among Muslim communities in London schools, examine the effectiveness of the provision of training and skills to London’s Muslim communities and devise strategies to remedy any problems identified….the Mayor will work to improve representation of Muslims on the boards and workforces of the Greater London Authority group and work with the government and boroughs with a view to improving representation in all public services and public bodies in London…”
Another practical and immediate impact has been in the provision of government-funded spiritual chaplaincy services in hospitals following a recommendation from medical experts: “Inclusion of a question on religious affiliations in the 2001 Census allows us for the first time to accurately indicate geographical areas where particular religious groups are concentrated, for example, Hindus in Leicester, Muslims in Bradford, and Sikhs in Southall. It is therefore now possible to identify areas in which it would be sensible and feasible to employ specific faith chaplains.”
Perhaps the unwritten agenda for the neo-Con ideologues is that Muslims in Britain should remain invisible and marginalised. In a period of mounting prejudice and discrimination, Muslims will be ill-advised to abandon 'identity politics' on the say-so of sofa philosophers.
|Detention Immorality - The Impact of UK domestic counter-terrorism policies on those detained in the War on Terror
Author/researcher: Asim Qureshi
Published by: CagePrisoners
Available from: CagePrisoners, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX
Asim Qureshi has assembled a dossier of 71 individuals subject to judicial processes in the UK that are inconsistent with respect for civil liberties. It is an achievement that should not be underestimated, because information is not forthcoming from official sources. The recourse is then to media reports, which can often be incomplete and contradictory, or to face-to-face interviews with those concerned. Asim Qureshi is to be commended for using all the means at this disposal - conventional and unconventional - to document these trials and tribulations.
Sir Nigel Rodley, the distinguished human rights lawyer and professor, notes in his foreword to this report: "this disturbing publication reminds us of three things, what a wide array of techniques have been developed to detain or otherwise restrict people's freedom in the United Kingdom, without their having been charged or convicted in this country of any offence; two, how susceptible the techniques may be to error or even abuse; and, three, how destructive of the well-being of the affected individuals and their families, getting caught up in the maze of legal procedure can be...this publication will suggest to thoughtful readers that review of the system is called for".
Among the tragic cases documented by Asim Qureshi is that of Faraj Hassan:
"Faraj Hassan (aka Detainee AS) was not unlike many asylum seekers - fleeing the prosecution of a tyrannical regime (in his case, Libya) for the perceived safety and justice of the UK. Yet in May 2002, with scarcely a month having passed since his arrival in Britain, Hassan found his movements being shadowed. Not long after, officers from Scotland Yard's Special Unit and their immigration official colleagues paid Hassan an unexpected dawn visit at his brother's home. Despite Hassan displaying the Home Office papers as proof that he was not an illegal immigrant as alleged, he was given the optoin of going to the police station freely or in chains. He chose the former, and his journey through the injustices of false accusations of terrorism began.
After the discovery of the Italian passport that had at the time been Hassan's only hope of survival, immigration officials decided to transfer Hassan to a correctional facility in Leicester some 115 miles away, while they looked at his asylum claims. After repeated protestations of innocence to the anti-terrorism officers who interrogated him, Hassan was tempted with the promise of residency for himself, his wife and daughter, if he would comply with demands to supply the names of those he knew - something which he refused to do.
After two months, Hassan was returned to London and sentenced to two months (of which he had already served one) on account of the passport he had used to save his life. Being shuttled between prisons and having repeat bail demands refused, Hassan faced racism and prejudice. After 15 months of detention, he was charged under the Terrorism Act in June 2003 and faced extradition to Italy. Despite being found not guilty of terrorism-related crimes by the Court of Milan, Hassan's solicitor informed him that the Home Office were to extradite him to Italy by force. At the very last minute, the extradition order was suspended and he was faced with the new drama of SIAC (Special Immigration Appeals Commission). Following a period of incarceration in HMP Long Lartin, after more than four years of humiliation, Hassan was reunited with his wife and daughter in 2007".
The policy of 'Control Orders' was instituted in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. It provides for a wide range of limitations to be imposed - on a person's movement through curfew, monitoring and vetting of those they may associate, police powers to allow unannounced searching and removal of items from their premises - with breach punishable by up to five years in prison, and/or an unlimited fine. Examples of the kinds of restrictions documented by Qureshi in over 30 individuals range from the wearing of a tag, twenty-two hour curfew, restriction on visitors above the age of ten, no mobile or internet use, signing at a police station several times a day and being subjected to random police searches.
One of the cases best documented by Asim Qureshi is Cerie Bullivant's, a British citizen who converted to Islam in 2004 and lived with his mother and studied for a nursing degree in Southbank University. He was placed under a control order in July 2006 - "authorities alleged he was on his way to Iraq to fight Coalition troops, and therefore was a threat to national security. Bullivant was banned from travelling, was obliged to sign in at a local police station daily and made to live in a prescribed address. However after eight months conditions deteriorated further, with a prohibition against education and employment. Worse was to come, as Bullivant's mother was subject to house searches, and his recently married wife and her family were subject to regular police raids on their home." When Bullivant absconded the government lifted the anonymity order and he notes that he became "the most wanted man in Britain. I was the lead item ...of every national newspaper" with TV crews outside his home. The pressures affected his mother's health and he gave himself in. His control order was eventually overturned in the High Court, but he notes, "I just feel that the government has no basis for high moral ground anymore".
Qureshi's report calls the current state of affairs with detention without charge, the use of control orders and other measures as 'legislative immorality'. It calls for the use of control orders in particular to be removed from the statute book. The report is a sad account of official callousness and bullying of the vulnerable.
|Our Stories, Our Lives
Author/Editor: Wahida Shaffi
Publisher: The Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Available from: The Policy Press, University of Bristol, Fourth Floor, Beacon House, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1QU UK
The editor Wahida Shaffi notes, "...I see a number of Muslim women who have achieved positions of influence - in local government, business, further and higher education, charities and other organisations. Women who care about the society in which they live in and bring up their children; women who increasingly find a voice together to promote values and who work together to make things happen". Her book presents endearing contributions from twenty Muslim women of Bradford, who describe their often quite amazing life journeys from the late 1960s onwards. For insights into Muslim social history, this collection is an apt starting point.
Take for example the life of Barkat Bibi, in her 80s at the time of the interview, who recalled her arrival: "The government in England encouraged people to come to help work in the factories because they needed workers. They needed us and we needed them. It is still their country. Oh, we were in the tiniest aeroplane and my children were very small. And they were so scared they threw up all the way to London. And that's when I first saw Goray people at Heathrow Airport. I couldn't believe my eyes that these people had such fair skin! Back then I thought they were such beautiful people, so young and white skinned. I remember thinking God's creation is amazing! Over the years I've got used to looking away when they kiss each other or when they're legs all bare. You just have to try not to look. You're supposed to cover it all up aren't you, that's what the Qur'an says. It doesn't feel right, does it? But what do you do when everyone's at it now!
"My husband used to work in a factory where they make parts for aeroplanes, welding parts together or something...He used to come home really tired and his beard would be all joined up and greasy with bits that had melted away with the heat. Every week without fail, right up until he retired he would hand over his earnings to me. A lot of us women used to save money by joining a committee, it's usually managed by a group of women and you put money to one side every week and by the end of the year or however long you get what you saved..."
Another vivid account that captures the lives of these pioneering women is that of Arshad Begum Ajeeb "I never thought this shy little girl from a village would end up being the first ever Asian Lady Mayoress in Great Britain...I'd told my husband I wouldn't be Lady Mayoress if he got elected. For a start my English wasn't great...that year we were the second most photographed people in the country...I remember one of my first duties was to open a fair, you know like these mela's for English people, and that was my first TV appearance as well. I was so nervous. I kept reciting the kalima under my breath to calm my nerves. We had to go to church quite a few times as well and when the English people read from their holy book, I recited my kalima and darood sharif instead. I stood up like they did but I said my prayers and my husband would say, "Don't worry! They are just people as well like you and me!"
The other contributors to 'Our Stories, Our Lives' include a thirties-something Islamic activist, a widow who stepped into her late husband's shoes and successfully ran the family restaurant, a young revert from a Rastafarian background, a teeager who wishes to be a sports instructor....this is a collection which certainly challenges the perception that Muslim women are marginalised. The book comes with a DVD video. These are genuine voices to be cherished.
|Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study
Author: Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Dr Robert Lambert
Published by: European Muslim Research Centre, University of Exeter
Downloadable from: click here
The authors have dedicated their report to Yasir Abdelmouttalib, “a talented and committed PhD student, whose prospects of an exciting and productive academic career were cut short when he was brutally attacked and seriously injured by a gang of youths while on his way to Friday Jumma prayer at the London Central Mosque in June 2004. As a result Yasir was in coma for three months…as a result of brain injuries he has remained partially paralysed, partially blind, largely housebound, frequently bed-ridden, and reliant on constant nursing care provided by his family. Nevertheless, the commitment has showed before he was attacked still shines through the disabilities he has been forced to endure and he has made a small but significant recovery. We are therefore honoured to be working closely with Yasir and his family to establish ways in which we can help him recommence his academic studies and ensure that his legacy is a positive one, which serves to reduce the risk of other young Londoners becoming victims of anti-Muslim hate crime”.
The foreword by Peter Oborne rightly describes their as a “very powerful study” that exposes a shocking culture of contempt, “these violent attacks will get worse, and the anti-Islamic rhetoric will intensify, unless wider society takes action…”.
The authors note that their work “represents the beginning of a research project that is planned to investigate the adverse community impact of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes across Europe over a ten year period”. Their research unit, EMRC, is located at the University of Exter’s Streatham Campus in South London, and it has as its core value the belief that “a growing European Muslim population makes significant and valuable contributions to the safety, prosperity and cohesion of European communities and countries and to the well being of Europe as a whole”.
The report is described as an introductory one, and that “a more detailed analysis of our London data alongside an analysis of data from other UK towns and cities will be included in our next report…which will be published in July 2010. Whereas our first report is report is concerned with highlighting the problem of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime, our follow-up report will contain detailed proposals to facilitate long term solutions”.
The authors dedicate this report to Yasir Abdelmouttalib, “a talented and committed PhD student, whose prospects of an exciting and productive academic career were cut short when he was brutally attacked and seriously injured by a gang of youths while on his way to Friday Jumma prayer at the London Central Mosque in June 2004. As a result Yasir was in coma for three months…as a result of brain injuries he has remained partially paralysed, partially blind, largely housebound, frequently bed-ridden, and reliant on constant nursing care provided by his family. Nevertheless, the commitment has showed before he was attacked still shines through the disabilities he has been forced to endure and he has made a small but significant recovery. We are therefore honoured to be working closely with Yasir and his family to establish ways in which we can help him recommence his academic studies and ensure that his legacy is a positive one, which serves to reduce the risk of other young Londoners becoming victims of anti-Muslim hate crime.
They note, “whereas in the past Londoners became accustomed to attacks on vulnerable victims that their assailants described as ‘Paki bashing’ or ‘queer bashing’, it is now clear that ‘Muslim bashing’ has become an anti-social and dangerous London street phenomenon in its own right. Policy makers, police, public servants generally and academics owe it to Muslim victims and their families to analyse and response to the threat effectively.”
The authors observe that the motivation of anti-Muslim hate crimes stems from four sources: Islamophobic, negative and unwarranted portrayals of Muslim London as Londonistan and Muslim Londoners as terrorists, terrorist sympathizers; because perpetrators associate their victim with Osama bin Laden; the politics of the BNP, EDL and other groups in this arena; and local animosities between London street gangs and ‘Muslim’ gangs arising from a perceived threat to their lifestyle from local convert Muslims.
The authors provide a description of their research methodology, based on interviews, meetings and discussions conducted in London between September 2009 and January 2010, yielding over 150 hours of recorded or summarized interviews and discussion. There was then a two-staged transcription and “after carefully re-reading transcripts and notes line-by-line, inductively coding the documents according to themes and concepts…although still at an early stage in the process by January 2010 the researchers had assembled an index containing twenty five categories and fifty sub-categories arising from pre-established and newly emergent themes in the primary data”.
The report provides seven case studies of serious anti-Muslim hate crimes:
Neil Lewington, a violent extremist nationalist convicted in July 2009 of a bomb plot
Terence Gavan, a violent extremist nationalist convicted in January 2010 of manufacturing nail bombs and other explosives, firearms and weapons
a gang attack in November 2009 on Muslim students at City University
a gang assault in June 2004 on Yasir Abdelmouttalib
the murder in September 2009 of Muslim pensioner, Ikram Syed ul-Haq
a serious assault in August 2007 on the Imam at London Central Mosque
an arson attack in June 2009 on Greenwich Islamic Centre
|Seen and Not Heard: Voices of Young British Muslims
Author: Sughra Ahmed
Published by: Policy Research Centre, Islamic Foundation
Downloadable from: click here
The primary sources for this evidence-based policy paper were nine focus groups, conducted across the UK and comprising roughly equal numbers of young men and women, nine interviews with youth workers and other specialists, drawn from a variety of faith backgrounds and a roundtable discussion including academics. The empirical data was collected between October 2007 and August 2008.
The author notes that "it is not the intention of this report to provide conclusive findings which can then be used to generalise about British Muslims; rather the purpose is to map views and encourage a more open engagement with young Muslims that will allow scope for future research". The report includes the results of a literature survey which cites over 50 publications providing material and insights on policies and studies affecting Muslim youth. It has other chapters on 'Education', 'Identity, Belonging & Citizenship', 'Community Leadership', 'Media', 'Policing & Crime'.
Among the interesting findings emerging specifically from new data of this study is the streak of resilience amongst the 'young bloods'. For example in response to media misrepresentation, one remarks, "all that stuff, it does not put me off, it motivates me to go out and be more involved, to make a difference". There is also a sense of solidarity, experienced in settings such as prison life, where "in some parts of the country, a new inmate need not worry about his safety as he will come across many others from his area, community or town, and will have a support network should there be any bullying". Young Muslim women in Brixton, "predominantly of an Afro-Caribbean background, felt they were amongst the more engaged members of their local societies". Some of these interviewees were wearing the niqab which for some odd reason is referred to by the author as "plain back coverings, over their faces". Thanks to Jack Straw, the word niqab has entered common parlance and it can be used directly.
The disappointment of this report is that it is not possible for a reader to join the dots between the empirical evidence collected and its recommendations. The citations from other research studies, surveys and published work that are interwoven with focus group quotes could have been placed in the literature survey chapter, leaving the study's own findings to take centre stage.
This blurring makes it difficult to ground the Report's bold policy prescriptions. For example, the point is made that "the Muslim communities of Britain have yet to create a sufficient quantity of leadership figures that are respected by grassroots Muslims and at the same time can deal effectively with the political challenges of the day". It is not clear which focus group's statements point to this contentious assessment. Opinion or grounded observation?
Moreover, it believes that "a national Muslim heritage programme [should] be funded which looks at capturing the experiences of Muslim pioneers arriving post World War II and integrating into British life. The project would highlight lessons learnt from such experiences which can inform a sense of 'Britishness' for younger Muslims.....". However the chapter on 'Identity, Belonging & Citizenship' offers few clues as to how this recommendation came about. What does come across from some focus group quotations is the ability of many to accommodate both their Britishness with a deep connection with the global ummah. Given the effort that the Islamic Foundation's Policy Research Centre has invested in collecting empirical evidence, it would be welcome if the survey datasets would at some point be made publicly available in its archives in suitably anonymised form.
|Stronger Together - A new approach to preventing violent extremism
Author: Anna Turley
Published by: New Local Government Network
Downloadable from: click here
One month after 7/7, the Prime Minister of the day Tony Blair declared at his No.10 press conference , "Over the past two weeks there have been intensive meetings and discussions across government to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain, and today I want to give our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine". He then went on to outline a twelve point programme, ranging from new rules for deportation to extended detention periods without charge, the proscription of Hizb Tahrir, as well as the proposal to consult "on a new power to order closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism". He famously added, "What I'm trying to do here is, and this will be followed up with the action in the next few weeks as I think you will see, is to send a clear signal out that the rules of the game have changed". The autocratic Blair had not consulted widely - even colleagues in the Prime Minister's own party were left unawares. The Home Secretary was abroad on holiday at the time, while the respected John Denham, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was to describe the proposals as 'half-baked' [see page 10, Peter Oborne, 'The use and abuse of terror - the construction of a false narrative on the domestic terror threat', Centre for Policy Studies, 2006].
Blair's new world order for Britain spawned 'Prevent', a programme that conflated intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism with community services delivery. 'Prevent' had tremendous ambitions, seeking to rope in local authorites, spiritual chaplaincy in hospitals, and university authorities. Blair's loyalist Home Secretary John Reid even sought to induct parents : "I appeal to you to look for changes in your teenage sons - odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends" . The Muslim community found itself cast as the suspect community, under psychological pressure to take on collective responsibility for the loss of life on 7/7 and the planned atrocities of 21/7.
Anna Turley's report is politely phrased, but it stands as a devastating critique of the Prevent programme. It is now not enough to merely re-label 'Prevent' and carry on as business as usual. Her report should be the incentive for a root-and-branch review of policy pursued at Communities & Local Government (CLG). It is a timely intervention, given that policy is now in the hands of John Denham, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, known as a 'thinking minister'. His predecessor, Hazel Blears, often seemed to parrot out a message in machine-like fashion.
Anna Turley notes that the Prevent approach "alienates many within the community who feel they are being stigmatised by association with violent extremism and that this undermines the relationship with the very community on whose support delivery of this agenda depends... in several local authorities some Muslim communities have refused to engage with programmes or seek funding under the Prevent banner. In one area, the money has even been described as 'blood money'.....the perception around 'mainstreaming Prevent' is seen more as extending the security and surveillance aspects into wider civil roles". The author calls for a new community cohesion approach, noting "the LGA [Local Government Assocation] have voiced similar concerns, saying that they are keen to ensure there is a distinction between the efforts focused on dealing with terrorist threats and broader approaches to community cohesion".
Her report a vindicates the stand taken up by authentic representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain, which as early as January 2007 had called for a delinking of terrorism from the integration and diversity agenda .
The author also politely debunks NI-35, a performance indicator that assesses how well local authorities were tackling extremism. She observes, "we would query the need for a central target for this issue at all". She might have added that two-thirds of local authorities have been voting with their feet on this measure of performance.
Anna Turley documents how 'Prevent' has been controversial for local authorities. However there is also need for a separate study on its other aspects - the funding of bizarre organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation - believed to be a recipient of £1 million of funding! Government officials had sought to place such overnight creations at par with well-established broad-based representative bodies such as the MCB.
As the new Secretary of State takes stock of this critique, he might do well to reflect on his earlier observations on Blair's 'new rules of the game'. According to Anna Turley, Prevent has truly done "more harm than good".
This is an understatement for four years of wasted public monies and the deliberate and mischievous fragmentation of Muslim civil society. ! It is time to turn the page on the era of cohesion policies tainted by Prevent. Prevent - Rest In Peace.
|Understanding Muslim Ethnic Communities
Published by: Communities & Local Government (CLG)
Downloadable from: click here
The government department 'Communities and Local Government' commissioned the UK consultancy Change Institute in 2008 to prepare a series of reports "to enhance its understanding and knowledge of the diverse Muslim ethnic populations in England". Change Institute has now published its findings, with twelve reports placed in the public domain: on communities originating from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Turkey. A further report, on Iraqis, is presumably forthcoming.
The 2001 Census's question on religion provided a basis for demographic and socio-economic data on the main ethnic categories. While there was some provision for respondents to provide a 'fill in' answer if the main categories did not apply, this was not well taken up. It is disappointing that the Change Institute has not gone beyond the 2001 Census in seeking to provide better population estimates of the communities it investigated.
For example, its report 'The Afghan Muslim Community in Britain' merely indicates, "There are significant variations in the estimates of the Afghan population in England. The 2001 census estimated the total number of Afghans in the England, by country of birth, as being 14,481, with 73 per cent (10,832) of these residing in London. The only other region with a population in excess of 500 (according to the 2001 census) was Birmingham. ... However, the current figure of Afghans in England is likely to be considerably higher, primarily due to the large number of asylum seekers and refugees that have entered the country since 2001."
Anecdotal sources suggest that the London Borough of Harrow alone has an estimated 10,000 Afghanis!
The reports are better value for money in their qualitative sections, and some of the interview findings point to the realities of life in modern Britain. Thus the section on Pakistanis notes, "the use of the term integration is particularly resented, as it is felt to imply a one sided focus on minority communities, as opposed to being promoted as a two way process. There is also a widespread view that no matter how much minorities try, the majority community will never accept them as truly British. Some are also very critical about the low levels of awareness and lack of interest in the host community about minority communities and cultures. There is a high level of anger about the perceived increase in Islamophobia in British society and the stereotyping of all Muslims as potential terrorists or terrorist sympathisers. This makes people feel that their loyalty and British identity is being questioned. Most people in the community believe that, like mainstream society, the majority of Pakistanis view acts of terrorism as a serious crime and hence the exploitation of terms to link all Muslims with terrorism is a very serious issue."
Similarly the account of the Somali community's problems observes "there are said to be high levels of stress and mental health related illness in the community, the likely causes of which are lack of access to employment, racial harassment and isolation. The community also has to cope with the traumas resulting from many years of war and life in refugee camps, forced migration and family breakdowns. All these are believed to lead to a range of hidden 'health and well-being' issues, which are not being recognised or addressed by health and social welfare providers... Somali born migrants have the lowest employment rate and lowest levels of education
of all immigrants in the UK."
Change Institute settles for a population total of around 50,000 Somalis. Anecdotal information suggest that there may be between twice to four times that number in the country! The lack of better statistical data would result in a serious under-estimation in planning the allocation of public resources.
The Change Institute reports capture for posterity some of the political machinations of our times, " in more recent years it [the Muslim Council of Britain] had become the focus of controversy for its linkages to Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jama`at-i Islami. Consequently, the government distanced itself from the MCB and started a process of consulting, funding and endorsing other Muslim organisations. However, this led to the perception that the government was promoting sectarianism as well as making the formation of a vigorous, broad front against violent extremism more difficult, with some Muslim groups withholding active support...". Change Institute ought to have added that the key instigator of this fragmentation of Muslim civil society has been its paymaster, CLG. Nonetheless, these are welcome studies, and the CLG is to be commended for broadening our understanding of the truly diverse, multi-ethnic and multicultural nature of modern Britain.
|The Ultimate Separatist Cage? Youth Work with Muslim Young Women
Author: Gill Cressey
Published by: The National Youth Agency
Available form: NYA, Eastgate HOuse, 19-23 Humberstone Road, Leicester LE5 3JG
In her introduction, Dr Gill Cressey - a lecturer at the School of Education, University of Birmingham - explains that the phrase 'The Ultimate Separatist Cage' reflects the title of a workshop at the December 2005 Conference on Muslim Youth Work - and "remarks being made at the time by senior politicians about Muslims in Britain and about the position of Muslim women in families and communities". The report challenges this stereotype of Muslim women entering into the purdah of isolation. It presents numerous project reports and case studies where Muslim women have shown leadership and initiative where their preference for a single sex working environment has been respected.
Dr Cressey observes that "the orientalist construction of Muslim women as passive victims, particularly those who wear the veil is still a powerful discourse impacting on the politics of work with young Muslim women and their families." Too right.
As recently as March 2009 the Economist reported of "Labour women, intolerant of Islamist views on gender, [that] make up a disproportionate chunk of those demanding change [in Government policy dealing with Muslims]. Ms Smith and Ms Blears have backbench allies such as Kate Hoey, Ann Cryer and Ruth Kelly [26th March 2009]. The stereotypical view that by and large Muslim women are compelled into isolation because of an inherent misogyny in the religion thus has wider ramifications.
The aim of the report "is to introduce a range of reasons why youth work organisations engage in women-only work, particularly with young Muslim women...my aim is to provide examples of good practice and to draw lessons from the accounts of youth workers and young women about what works and what can make youth work accessible and effective in the lives of a variety of Muslim young women. I examine how some very different projects involve Muslim young women and how they deal with some of the issues face, and discuss the mix of gender specific and gender sensitive work that I believe is needed so that Muslim young women have choices of engagement with youth work and safe spaces for personal development and participation without being unhealthily 'separtist'."
Projects outlined include Ulfah Arts (Naz Koser), Birmingham Univeristy Islamic Society (Farida Chand), Saheli Women's Group (Rakhyia Begum), Bolton lads and Girls club (Nafisa Mallu and Alanna Rice), the SAFE project in Sparkhill, Birmingham (Manaf Alderwish) and other experiences in Birmingham, Leeds and London.
Dr Cressey has little time for the patronising attitude towards women she feels exists in many mosques. She also asks difficult questions, "Is the only acceptable environment for young Muslim women Women-only, Muslim-only and and educational programme designed to prepare them to be good wives and mothers and to know enough about Islam to be the first religious teachers of their children? Taqlid or emulation is a widely used idea in the Muslim world when it comes to children and young people ...and many Muslim parents have an expectation that youth workers and teachers must set a good example in their behaviour and conduct...[but] are we trying to socialise young women into existing roles perpetuating control over them by men and by elders or supporting their development by offering a space to be themselves and to make life choices of their own?"
She also asks, "the language of liberation from oppression, exploitation and poverty is out of fashion but is it not relevant to describe the needs of young Muslim women in Britain at the present time? Inferiorisation and exploitation of women are challenged in the Qur'an. The 'cultural need' that is thought to produce a particular need for women-only provision for young Muslim women is about not mingling with young men because of strict expectations not to be attracted to the opposite sex outside marriage. Separation should not be confused with control and subordination. It is the nature of the space allocated to young Muslim women that is important regarding whether the space is controlling or liberating, a place to feel safe, at home, valued an accepted or a place to feel restricted an contained...intentions matter and rather than creating a cage to trap ourselves we need to be really clear about when an why we need deliberately gendered spaces in youth work".
The report ought to be sent to all our dar ul-ulooms so that the next generation of imams are able to absorb these nuanced messages.
|Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) & PREVENT – a response from the Muslim community
Author: Khalida Khan
Published by: An-Nisa Society
Date: February 2009
Downloadable from: click here
This report has been prepared by a long-standing Muslim activist group based in North West London with deep roots in its local communities. The An-Nisa Society, "a women managed organisation working for the welfare of Muslim families" has a track record that dates back to the mid 1980s. It has displayed persistence and dedication in activities such as supplementary week-end activities for young Muslim boys and girls, increasing health awareness, tackling difficult subjects such as domestic violence, and conducting other service delivery programmes.
If an organisation like this reaches the conclusion that Government approach of overlapping a security agenda with community development is "flawed and fraught with perils", then it is time that the policy makers and civil servants stop in their tracks. It is no wonder that the Economist recently headlined an article dealing with Muslims in Britain 'How the Government lost the plot - A desperate search for a new policy towards Islam has yet to produce results' (February 26, 2009).
The conflation of tackling terrorism - a security and crime problem - with improving community cohesion - an issue of dealing with inequalities and social exclusion - stems from the Government's Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme, launched in April 2007 by Ruth Kelly, then Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government. At the time she announced a "new action plan to step-up work with Muslim communities to isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism", in a document entitled 'Preventing violent extremism - Winning hearts and minds'.
The An-Nisa Society report provides a critique of PVE, written with an insider's knowledge. The group itself was recipient of some funding, for a project on self-development work with Muslim boys in the London Borough of Brent. Its first-hand interaction with young Muslim boys led it to conclude that "the government needs to take on board that it is not possible to deliver 'security led' initiatives through Muslim community groups as (a) it damages trust and credibility in frontline grassroots work and (b) it does not address the wider issues that have created the problems in the first place. Security needs to be addressed separately by experts in this field" (project report 'British Muslim or Wot?', March 2008).
An-Nisa's 2009 report makes an impassioned plea for the need for a "resourced and experienced Muslim voluntary sector, which will work in partnership with local councils and other agencies...generally speaking we do not have a viable Muslim voluntary sector, which has the ability, due to lack of experience, sustained funding and capacity, paid staff and premises to (a) support the Muslim community in taking a 'lead' on matters/issues that concern it rather than having things 'done' to it; (b) make the government, local authorities, police and others accountable; and (c) lead on or work in partnership as equals with mainstream agencies such as providing expertise and support services within the community. As a result there is a danger that local authorities and the police will set the agenda and unaware and inexperienced local Muslim communities will allow actions to be taken without full knowledge of the implications and that may be possibly against the community's interests".
About £90 million of taxpayers money has been spent on PVE. It takes courage for a recipient to stand up and expose a flawed policy.
It is sad that warnings by informed commentators like Madeleine Bunting were not listened to years ago: "It is crucial to delink terrorism from the integration and diversity agenda. They have nothing to do with each other, so nail the myth - perpetrated by politicians and commentators - that integration is an anti-terrorism strategy....So go back to basics and reiterate that integration is about equality of opportunity, breaking down intergenerational cycles of poverty, and harmonious social relations. These goals may - or may not, depending on international affairs - reduce the appeal of terrorism in the long run, but any serious government should be interested in them in their own right, not simply as a means to the end of defeating terrorism" (writing in The Guardian, 4th December 2006).
The flawed PREVENT policy has led to the stigmatisation of a whole community as 'suspect' and potential terrorists.
|A Management Guide for Mosques and Islamic Centres
Author: Shukat Warraich & Kashaff Feroze
Published by: OAK Community Development
PriceB: £12.95 + £2.00 postage & packaging
click here for Toolkit Sample
Surveys of mosques in the UK in recent years record their evolution from places of worship to multi-faceted community centres. The Muslim Council of Britain's the 'Voices from the Minaret' report based on interviews and focus groups involving about 90 mosque imams and mosque trustees, found that 54 % of mosques had a community hall for general activities. The more enlightened institutions had embarked on mosque radio projects, hajj training, health advice and IT skills training. The Charity Commissioners' Faith and Social Cohesion Unit (FSCU) has also been surveying mosques, with largely similar findings. Given this widening orbit of activities and responsibilities, there will be demands for increased professionalisation in the management of mosque affairs, including governance protocols and evidence of other compliances.
This publication from the Oak Community Development consultancy is therefore timely and relevant. The authors note, "the necessity to service the multiple needs of 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims in the UK has reached critical levels....the purpose of this guide is to help foster better governance and to start the process of encouraging a greater insight to what the future mosque could potentially look like". The 76-page publication is accompanied with a CD, " developed as a follow-on tool... thus making it easier for mosques and organisations to practically put in place many of the essential and recommended requirements for running good and effective organisations. The CD includes a number of templates that can be downloaded and adapted for your organisation, information sheets and an e-copy of the management guide."
The publication and the CD are the outcome of work undertaken by Oak Community Development for the Muslim Council of Britain in 2008. Oak conducted numerous training and mentoring sessions in which "mosque managers were equipped with up-to-date skills in fund-raising, legislative awareness and policy-making and in the development of managerial infrastructure and educational youth schemes".
Topics covered in the Guide and CD include: The Mosques, its Structure and Management models; Policies & Procedures; Staffing/Personnel/Volunteers; Facilities Management; Finance & Fundraising; Communication; Accountability & Transparency; Mosque Madrasas; Community Development & dealing with local and national agencies. There are about 30 Word document templates, ranging from procedures for taking minutes of meetings to job descriptions of mosque employees.
This work was possible because of a grant from the UK charity Muslim Aid.
|The Thistle and the Crescent
Published by:Argyll Publishing
ISBN H/B:978 1 906134 14 3
ISBN P/B:978 1 906134 24 2
PriceB:£12.99 in UK
Bashir Maan builds on his earlier work 'The New Scots, The Story of Asians in Scotland' published in 1992. Here his sweep is far more comprehensive and well-researched. The book is "divided into six chapters and begins with a Prologue that briefly examines the advent of Christianity in Scotland with the rise of Islam and its spread in the Levant. The first chapter, Early Contacts between Islam and Scotland, deals with contacts through pilgrims and traders. Scotland had trading links with Egypt, North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula even before medieval times and before the arrival of Islam to those countries. According to the well-known legend of Scota, the very origin of the Scots is linked to Egypt....Chapter 2, The Crusades and Scotland, discusses the impact and influence of Islam on Scotland during the Crusades, spread over four centuries...Chapter 3, Diplomats, Scholars and Travellers, explores connections developed during the Middle Ages, between Scotland and Islam...William Lanark was a seventeenth century adventurer who was one of the Scottish travellers who ventured to the Islamic lands....Chapter 4, The British Empire, seeks to investigate the relationship between Islam and Scotland from the eighteenth to the twentieth century....Chapter 5, Islam in Scotland, relates a brief history of the settlement of the Muslim community in Scotland. It explores reasons why they came to Scotland, where they originated from, their early experiences in Scotland, their progress and their growth up to the beginning of the twenty first century...Chapter 6, What is Islam? briefly explains the essence of Islam..."
In pinning a date for Scotland's first contact with the Muslim world, Bashir Maan settles for "the discovery in 1912 of silver coins from a hoard at Talnotrie, Glen of the Bar, Kirkcudbrightshire, bearing the name of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkal Ala Allah (r. 847-862)". By the twelfth century, Scot merchants who came to trade in Alexandria had established their own hostel in the city. Among the remarkable vignettes gathered by the author is the one on King Edgar of Scotland, who after the First Crusade brought back with him a camel! The memories of the Crusades remains today in well-preserved talismans such as a red charm stone that was brought back, and which "had properties to cure sick cattle when they drank the water in which it had been dipped", or the legend about "the fairy banner of Dunvegan". Slightly mischievously, the author also notes the ease with which the Scots could be diverted from the Crusades to their "local 'crusade' against the English". At other points too, Mr Maan is unable to suppress his eye of the unexpected, and relishes in a rather risqué account of the encounter of one Usama Ibn Munqudh with a Frankish knight and his wife in the public baths of a Muslim city.
Bashir Maan also suggests that the first Scots Arabist was Michael Scot , born in 1175 at Balweirie Castle, who helped King Fredrick of Sicily negotiate peace terms with the Muslim ruler of Syria and Egypt in the early thirteenth century. "Better known as 'The Wizard'...he left for Spain to seek Arabic learning. He settled in Toledo...and began translating Arabic works into Latin...Scot died in 1232...according to some accounts in Scotland. He is buried in Melrose Abbey....his statue on his tomb....is shown wearing Muslim dress with a trimmed beard and Arab head-dress". The author recounts his adventure in tracing the statue.
King Jamies III (r.1460-88) "appears to be the first Scottish ruler who sent a diplomat [Anselm Adornes] to introduce Scotland and its ruler to a part of the Muslim world [North Africa and Egypt] with which it had trade and cultural links for centuries". During the fifteenth century, "some high diplomats and learned members of the nobility found Islam attractive and joined its ranks with conviction. A general in the Ottoman armed forces known as Inglis Mustafa was actually a Campbell from Scotland." Another Scottish girl, Helen Gloag from Perthshire, married the Sultan of Morocco in the eighteenth century.
The first institutional developments undertaken by Scottish Muslims in the twentieth century include the establishment of a branch of the London-based Jamiat ul Muslimeen in Glasgow in 1933. The community mainly originated from "a small area around both banks of the River Sutluj in India" - from the banks of the Sutluj to the banks of the Clyde. The first mosque was established in 1944.
'The Thistle and the Crescent' is rich in detail and is testimony to the wide reading and original research that underpins the author's labour of love. Moreover it is not only a historical account, but addresses common misconceptions about Islam and Muslim practices. The author himself is part of the history of the twentieth century Muslim settlement in Scotland - he emigrated from Pakistan in 1953 and was the fist Muslim councillor in Britain when he was originally elected to Glasgow City Corporation in 1970. In April 2003 he stepped down as councillor of Ferthill Ward, Glasgow, at the age of 75. He was also the Deputy Lieutenant of Glasgow.
|A Guide to Engaging Muslim Communities
Author: John Perry and A Azim El-Hassan
Published by: Matrix Housing Partnership
Downloadable from click here
The type of housing tenure varies considerably within Muslim communities in Britain. For example the Bangladeshis and Somalis in Tower Hamlets and Sheffield are mainly social housing tenants, while Pakistanis in Bradford live in older, owner-occupied neighbourhoods. Of the approximately 425,000 Muslim households in England and Wales, 52 per cent were owner occupied (owned outright or via a mortgage), 28 per cent were social housing tenants, 16 per cent were living in privately rented accommodation, while the balance were living in accommodation rent free (2001 Census, ONS Table 4.26).
This study of housing association tenants reports that Muslim households' satisfaction with their homes was lower than that of tenants overall. The report provides examples of some approaches that have been adopted by housing associations to improve awareness of needs. In one case study the lesson was "not to underestimate the role and power of women....in many cases it is women who take decisions and have control inside the family home". So much for the stereotype of Muslim households!
The report also cites good practice examples in the planning of sheltered housing schemes - "Bristol City Council consulted community organisations to build a careful picture of what would create an attractive scheme, sensitive to different needs. Some requirements conflicted (eg preferences for showers or baths); on others compromise could be reached (eg sharing a multi-faith prayer room). It was less difficult to ensure that several flats have WCs that are not oriented towards Mecca...".
This report notes that one reason for the high level of social housing "may be that few mortgage products are available in Britain which comply with Shariah (Islamic) law...however there is a gap in the social housing sector, as there are often no suitable products for low cost home ownership supported with Housing Corporation funding. In its response to the Home Ownership Task Force report, the government promised to resolve with the Housing Corporation how to make suitable products available. In the meantime a pilot mortgage is being trialed by the Metropolitan Home Ownership."
The propotion of Muslim households living in 'rent free' accomodation is twice the national average and points to adult children living with their parents. This ties in with other socio-economic findings from the 2001 Census, in particular the high proportion of Muslim women who are 'economically inactive' because they are 'looking after home/family'. The trend for Muslim households to include one or more elderly parent needs to be factored in house-building schemes, if they seek to be true to residents' needs.
|Valuing Family, Valuing work: British Muslim Women and the Labour market
Published by:The London Development Agency (research undertaken by The Young Foundation)
Date: November 2008
This study draws on 2001 Census data, interviews with 50 'second generation' Muslim women and other sources to examine employment issues facing Muslim women. It considers the factors of a 'Muslim penalty' resulting in high levels of economic inactivity for British Muslim women. It also considers the attitudes and perceptions that influence labour market entry and progression. The report makes policy recommendations to "increase the number of British Muslim women in the labour market, not least because British Muslim women represent 30% of the ethnic minority female working-age population".
Zamila Bunglawala's report helps to dispel some myths. Her interviews indicate that "there is little evidence to suggest second generation British Muslim women do not have support of their families or husbands to work. All (100 percent) of the women interviewed who work said they have the support from their families or husbands to do so. For women interviewed who do not currently work, 93 % of them said they want to work and that their families or husbands support their decision. Therefore, only seven percent said that they never want to work or do not have family support to do so".
The interview findings, conducted in Manchester, Leicester and London, also challenge "misconceptions about where or what types of employment British Muslim women would be willing to accept. Our interview analysis found that 85 per cent of second generation British Muslim women who do not currently work want to work in mainstream jobs. Only 15 per cent said they want to work in 'women only' or 'Muslim only' work environments....another popular misconception is that British Muslim women are not prepared to travel to work...our analysis found that the 93 per cent of women not currently in work were prepared to travel for up to an hour to get to work".
Given this willingness, what then is holding Muslim women back from participation in the labour market? The answer rests in a combination of Muslim religious and cultural preferences, lack of sources of advice, and prejudices at the workplace. Islamic values honour the role of the mother in a child's early upbringing. According to the report, "Pakistani and Bangladeshi mothers (who make up 75 percent of British Muslim women) are far less likely to be in employment either prior to having a baby or during the early years of their child's life than Indian, White or Black mothers". However "many young women highlighted that while their preference was to stay at home before nursery and full-time schooling began for their children or to use informal childcare such as family and friends, they might choose to access formal childcare and remain in employment if the childcare was faith or culturally appropriate".
Notwithstanding good educational qualifications, Muslim women face difficulties in finding employment because of "limited understanding of the labour market and being able to access and connect to it". The JobCentre service is not proactive enough with their Muslim 'customers' - "none of the women in work interviewed secured their first job through help or support from the Jobcentre. The author believes that local community focused and faith based groups could also do more in the provision of support and advice.
The report's section on religious discrimination notes that of women currently in work, "23 percent said they felt they were treated differently or encountered discrimination at interviews because they were Muslim. Thirty two percent said they felt they were treated differently or encountered discrimination while at work because they were Muslim. Forty three percent of women not currently in work said they felt they were treated differently or encountered discrimination at interviews because they were Muslim. These findings almost directly reflect the DWP analysis of between a quarter to half of the employment gap being caused by employer discrimination". The hijab remains the most obvious marker for Muslim women - 50 percent of the Muslim women interviewed were hijabis - but other factors also come into play. As one interviewee noted, "I'm not a hijab wearerbut I think they could tell by my name..I was made to feel very uncomfortable socially at work but I didn't want to get anyone into trouble...."
Zamila Bunglawala's well-crafted study needs to be read together with more recent work by
Miqdad Asaria at Birkbeck College, University of London that analyses the Census 2001 Sample of Anonymised Records (SARs) to provide a statistical basis for determining the size of the 'Muslim penalty'.
|Every Muslim Child Matters - Practical guidance for schools and children's services
Author: Maurice Irfan Coles
Published by: Trentham Books
ISBN978 1 85856 421 0
The UK Children Act 2004 abolished Local Education Authorities (LEAs) and replaced them with a 'combined service model' incorporating LEAs and Social Care and Health. Since 2006, Local Authorities have had to produce a 'Children & Young People's Plan' (CYPP) indicating how a number of key outcomes were to be achieved: 'Be Healthy', 'Stay Safe', 'Enjoy & Achieve', 'Make a Positive Contribution,' 'Achieve Economic Well-being' . The aim is joined-up working between statutory bodies - e.g. integrating educational, health, policing and social care services around the needs of children - captured by the new acronym ECM (Every Child Matters). There is also emphasis on giving children and young people a say, through school councils or other mechanisms. While the aims of CYPP/ECM are laudable, what is notably lacking in this new thinking is an appreciation of the need for an underlying 'spine' of moral conduct - preserving and respecting family ties, respect for teachers, sexual responsiblity, the brotherhood of man. Hence the particular importance of this contribution from Maurice Irfan Coles, which "maps the Islamic perspective against the five outcomes of Every Child Matters and offers a commentary to support schools, children's services and their many partners".
The author brings to the subject the perspective of a professional Muslim educationalist. He has served as senior educational advisor with the Birmingham Local Education Authority (LEA) and chief executive of the Leicester-based School Development Support Agency. He has thus direct experience of the changes in education administration in recent years, accelerated by the 2004 Act. The book begins with a helpful overview of demographic and related facts, with subsequent chapters on 'Muslims and Cultural Inclusivity: the quiet curriculum revolution'; 'Islamic Arts in the Curriculum'; ' Every Muslim Child Matters: Change for children - the five outcomes explained' and an appendix for school governors. The author notes that "the incorporation of a Muslim frame of reference into relevant policies and practices will support schools and LAs [local authorities] in fulfilling their statutory requirements under the Race Relations Act (2000), and the Education Act (2006), and help them to demonstrate active implementation of their 'positive statutory duty' to promote race relations and community cohesion".
The 'inculcation of a Muslim frame of reference' would of course be a tremendous boost to Muslim pupils' sense of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. Recourse to the RRA's 'positive duty' provisions for filling a lacuna in the ECM is an interesting notion, and not one made lightly by the author: "the history of racism appears to repeat itself indifferent guises. The argument that were fought and won (at least by many schools and authorities) in the 1980s and 1990s to persuade schols and LEAs to tackle direct,indirect and institutional racism have now to be restated within an Islamic context. Failure to tackle Islamophobia is another form of miseducation because of the alienation it causes. It wastes talent, causes hurt and grief to the victims and leaves the perpetrators with a false sense of their own superiority. A worldview that sees over 1.6 million of the UK's population as alien, different, 'the enemy within' is not sustainable in a multicultural, multi-faith inclusive society. Unless systematically tackled, it is likely to breed levels of resentment that lead to violent resistance, which in turn can lead to increased racism as the consequences of such violence. The cycle can and does all too easily repeat itself."
Maurice Coles' book should be made widely available to professionals dealing with children and young persons, particularly in those 20 local authorities in England and Wales where Muslims form more than 10 per cent of the population.
|Capacity Building of Staff in Mosques & Madressahs (Islamic Schools)
Author: Aisha Ali
Published by: Kirklees Council
Date: August 2008
Available from: Kirklees Children & Young People Service, Child Protection & Review Unit
Knowl Park House, Crowlees Road, Mirfield WF14 9PR
Tel: 01924 483749 Email: email@example.com
Batley, Dewsbury and Huddersfield between them have over 50 madressahs and supplementary schools where about 8,000 - 10,000 children receive religious instruction. This report, authored by Aisha Ali, is an evaluation of a project that aimed at improving governance practice and professionalism in this type of service delivery. The project developed a customised training programme attended by mosque imams and community workers - about 21 such sessions were conducted between December 2007-April 2008. It was directed by the Kirklees Supplementary Schools Coordinator, Shakeel Hafez, building on his earlier work on child welfare awareness within the supplementary schools network. The report describes the steps that were taken to gain community confidence and some of the participants' responses to 'culture change'.
At the outset, about 30 imams and mosque representatives participated in a consultation meeting to help define training needs. Five areas emerged: organisational management; classroom and behaviour management and safeguarding children; links and partnerships with public sector organisations; health and safety, including first aid; and a unit aimed at women teachers in the madressah setting. The training was delivered at mosque venues - "the cooperation between the larger and smaller mosques allowed increased links with the local community; by allowing smaller mosques to use the facilities of the larger mosques there was a real sense of collective participation".
The report highlights the positive role to be played by mosques and madrassas - they are definitely not 'part of the problem' , but rather 'part of the solution'. For example, the author notes, "if we can build upon these excellent community links that madressahs have, and then allow mainstream schools to share these links, then behaviour management within mainstream schools, especially those with a high population of Muslims pupils, will also improve".
The author also notes that "one of the most successful results of this programme is the inclusion and empowerment of female attendees. It highlights the hard work and commitment of female members of staff who regularly work in madressahs and contribute so much towards the learning and well-being of the children and young people".
"The capacity building training programme has shown that there is a lot of enthusiasm and scope within the mosques and madressahs themselves to improve and progress..."
Far from being 'incubators of extremism', mosques and madressahs provide the foundations for good citizenship.
|Looking beyond the veil - a research project into people’s perceptions of the Muslim veil in Kirklees
Authors: Peter Tarleton, Khalil Ahmed Kazi, Matthew Francis
Published by: North Kirklees Inter Faith Council; Muslims & Christians Working Together
Date: May 2008
Distributed by: Crescent Consultancy, P.O. Box 111, Batley, West Yorks WF17 6WU
During January – March 2008, evidence was collected from Muslims and non-Muslims in the Kirklees area of West Yorkshire on issues relating to the niqab – the face veil covering the face except for the eyes. Kirklees District has a higher than average Muslim population – around 10% of the total population, mainly of Indian Gujrathi heritage. It appears as if the study commences from the premise that the niqab is problematic and burdensome. This may reflect the position of the sponsoring bodies and also recent events in the area: in October 2006, classroom assistant Aisha Azmi was dismissed from a Dewsbury school for refusing to remove the veil in the classroom in the presence of a male teacher; at almost exactly the same time in nearby Blackburn, the veteran Labour Cabinet minister Jack Straw also sparked off a controversy
in demanding that Muslim women visiting his MP surgery should remove their niqab.
Data was collected through a variety of means, and the report usefully provides specimens of the postal questionnaire dispatched to individuals and organisations, and also the focus group questions. The individuals’ questionnaire was completed by 166 persons, of whom 58 were Muslims (47 women, 11 men). Among the opening questions in the section for Muslim women were ‘In your experience what are the difficulties for Muslim women wearing the veil?’ and ‘If you wear a veil, would you consider removing it? ’. Thus negative connotations are signalled at the outset. Much better the opening questions in the section to be completed by all respondents, Muslim and non-Muslim, which commences with the up-beat ‘Do you feel Muslims play a positive role in British Society’. The study found that 5% of Muslim women i.e. less than 3 in the sample wore the veil all the time they were out of their homes. Clearly much more has been made of the veil issue than is really warranted!
The research also conducted 8 focus groups and 20 follow-up interviews. The number of niqabi Muslim women participating is not documented. However, the report notes, “a common theme ...was that wearing the veil is not a matter of culture; it is a faith issue about self-respect and modesty. That said other focus groups of women could not agree about whether it was a religious issue or not, and felt that they needed the opinion of a scholar. What they did feel was that there had been an increase in women wearing the veil and many felt that it was a political statement rather a statement of belief. Also the feeling was that over the last few years there had been an increase in this type of dress and to the extent that many felt a need to wear it to prove a point: we are here to stay like it or lump it" (authors’ emphasis). It is ironical that the consummate politician Jack Straw could not read the political message being conveyed to him in his MP’s surgery.
About 40 per cent of Muslim respondents felt that the veil ‘hindered community relations and social cohesion’. This was close to 90 per cent for non-Muslim respondents. Interestingly, some even perceived the veil as a form of snobbery: “I find it a separatist signal – us and them. Like the upper-class looking down on the ‘great unwashed’.
Jack Straw’s intervention only served to polarise: over 60 per cent of non-Muslims perceived his comments (the veil as a “visible statement of separation and difference”) as sensible, in comparision with about 5% of Muslims. The researchers also comment on the damage to community relations caused by media coverage of the man who robbed a store wearing the niqab - established a link between the Niqab and hoodies.
Forty-five local organisations also participated in the study. “Most respondents (79%) felt they were familiar with the requirements for Muslims in the work place. Employers also felt comfortable with the performance of Muslim employees”. Perhaps the seeds of good community relations begin in work-place solidarity and employer good practice.
|Images of Islam in the UK - The Representation of British Muslims in the National Print News Media 2000-2008
Authors:Kerry Moore, Paul Mason and Justin Lewis
Published by: Cardiff School of Journalism,Media and Cultural Studies
Date: July 2008
Cardiff University's School of Journalism is renowned centre for the study of all aspects of journalism, mass media and cultural studies.
The School was commissioned by Channel 4 to conduct research into media coverage of British Muslims, which was undertaken via three approaches:
- a content analysis of 974 newspaper articles about British Muslims in the British Press from 2000-2008
- an analysis of the visuals/images used in articles about British Muslims in the British Press in 2007 and 2008.
- A series of case studies of stories about British Muslims in the British Press.
The Cardiff researchers note that "coverage of British Muslims has increased significantly since 2000, peaking in 2006, and remaining at high levels in 2007 and 2008. This rise is partly explained by the increase in coverage devoted to terrorism and terrorism related stories - 36% of stories about British Muslims overall are about terrorism....in recent years, however, we have seen the increasing importance of stories focusing on religious and cultural differences between Islam and British culture or the West in general (22% of stories overall) or Islamic extremism (11% overall). Indeed, 2008 was the first year in which the volume of stories about religious and cultural differences (32% of stories by 2008) overtook terrorism related stories (27% by 2008).
Coverage of attacks on or problems facing Muslims, on the other hand, has steadily declined as a proportion of coverage. In sum, we found that the bulk of coverage of British Muslims - around two thirds - focuses on Muslims as a threat (in relation to terrorism), a problem (in terms of differences in values) or both (Muslim extremism in general)".
The researchers observe, "we found a widespread use of police mugshots used in portrayal of Muslim men (with all the negative associations these carry), while two of the most common venues used for images of Muslim men were outside police stations and law courts".
Elsewhere the report notes that "to a great extent the impression created about British Muslims is likely to come from the context in which they appear: thus the fact that the stories tend to be about terrorism, cultural differences or extremism (especially in the tabloids) is likely to create associations in people's minds between Islam and these issues". While acknowledging that "the print media is just one site of representation through which ideas about Muslims in Britain are constructed, nevertheless, "it is an immensely important one".
"Discourses in defence of Muslim human rights have, on the whole become less prominent, while the idea that Islam is dangerous or irrational has become more commonplace. If we compare the discourses used in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, we see, once again, that similarities are more striking than differences. Nonetheless, some of the more negative discourses do appear to be more prominent in the tabloids. We found that the two most common discourses, 'Muslims linked to the threat of terrorism' and 'Islam as dangerous, backward or irrational' are both more common to tabloid newspapers...the idea of the 'clash of civilisations' with its negative connotations - also tends to be a broadsheet rather than a tablid discourse, placing Muslims in opposition to Western values in a more internationalist framework."
The report includes more detailed analysis of five events: the Phil Woolas suggestion in February 2008 relating to disability amongst Pakistanis stemming from inter family marriage; Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari's remarks in November 2007 in which he warned of Muslims in Britain being treated like Jews in 1930s' Europe; the Archbishop of Canterbury's Shariah speech of February 2008; reportage on the number of mosques in Britain; Bishop Nazir-Ali and others' comments on Muslim 'self-segregation' and 'no-go' areas.
The findings make disturbing reading, but confirm the study commissioned by the London Mayor's Office published in 2007. Both studies provide empirical evidence of anti-Muslim racism in contemporary Britain. There should be litte room for complacency in the face of this mass of data.
|Recovering the Calm - Best practice guide to prayer rooms and quiet space at work
Published by: St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace, sponsored by Barclays and The Mercer’s Company (and a number of other organisations)
Date: June 2008
Obtainable from: firstname.lastname@example.org
This short but informative guide should be essential reading for HR managers. It provides case studies of the quiet rooms - or prayer rooms - established at the Newham General Hospital, The Guardian News & Media Group, Transport for London, Citi at Canary Wharf, BT and the giant legal firm Norton Rose. In the last mentioned, it is noted that the multi-faith prayer room was established to "offer a space for prayer or quiet time to all their staff, and also for the many clients who visit the office, some of whom are Muslims. The room has integral washing facilities consisting of two low level sinks with a tiled floor and space for two seats. The room was replicated when they moved offices to their new buildings on the South Bank, and is much appreciated by their staff". The employer 'Transport for London' have "created rooms in over 15 different locations across London including offices, underground stations and bus depots...in the past, Faruk Patel, a driver from Woodford Green depot sometimes used to say his prayers in the back of his vehicle. After a room was allocated and repainted, the response from staff was very positive. 'It's good to know they are listening', he said 'it means a lot to us to have this facility'."
A section in the guide entitled 'The business case for prayer space' identifies eight valid reasons 'why it makes good business sense to offer quiet rooms to employees', including: demonstrating in a pro-active way a commitment to equality in diversity; the growing body of empirical research showing that meditation and contemplative forms of prayer have a range of benecial efects on health and well-being; providing a quiet room does not need to be costly for employers and in situations where demand for space is high, dual-purpose rooms are possible.
The guide's preface is by the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Hazel Blears MP, where she writes, "It is a privilege to commend this guide to the design, creation and management of prayer rooms and quiet space at work. No matter who we are, I believe we can all benefit from finding a little time to reflect and rise above the daily routine. I hope this guide will inspire many more businesses, large and small, to help people find their own moments of refuge in a busy day."
The guide includes links to two companies that provide design and architectural services: Quiet Room Designs (www.quietrooms.co.uk) and Jon Allen Architect (www.jonallenarchitect.co.uk). The author is Justine Huxley, Interfaith Projects Coordinator at St Ethelburga’s.
The provision of prayer facilities will bring great comfort to Muslims in the workplace. However this is not just good employee relations (that translates to improved productivity) but enlightened policies on the provision of inter-faith prayer areas - pioneered for example at City Hall in London - is a starting point for community cohesion.
|Review of User Requirements for Digitised Resources in Islamic Studies
Published by:University of Exeter & JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee
Date: May 2008
Downloadable from: University of Exeter DigiIslam Project website
The University of Exeter with its Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and an Arab World Documentation Unit is among the country's leading academic centres in its field, achieving a top grade in the last assessment conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council (2001). The resources available include a collection of over 100,000 volumes on Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and a team of committed and knowledgeable librarians. The subject librarian for Middle East and Islamic studies, Paul Auchterlonie and his colleague Ahmed Abu Zayed have led the way on issues relating to access to digitised Islamic resources, with the university on-line catalogue allowing searches using Arabic script. Dr Ataullah Siddiqui's report, 'Islam at Universities in England - meeting the needs and investing in the future' (June 2007) noted that "Islamic Studies courses currently being offered at universities in England should adopt a greater focus on theological and civilisational aspects of Islam which are relevant to practicising Muslims", thus placing an onus on both academics and support staff at institutions like Exeter to cast the net more eclectically and widely.
This report on user requirements for digitised resources in Islamic studies is a logical starting point in responding to challenges posed by Dr Siddiqui and also recent web developments - user requirements must precede the development of solutions. Funded by JISC, a team at the University of Exeter have attempted "to landscape existing digitised resources for Islamic Studies; to identify gaps in the provision of digitised resources in Islamic studies; to establish criteria to prioritise the potential materials and/or collections for digitisation". The resulting 66-page report thus provides a 'state of the art' view of what exists now, likely future developments and includes a number of invaluable appendices: 'Survey of reading lists and high use books in Islamic studies in UK universities' (Hourani, Esposito and Hodgson amongst the top); a 'Survey of recent doctoral dissertations (1997-2006) in Islamic studies in UK and Irish universities' (in the last ten years, 97 institutions have awarded 860 PhD theses); and a 'Survey of existing portals for Islamic studies, libraries of online primary texts, online manuscript catalogues and Islamic digitisation projects'.
|Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity: Towards better Engagement and Participation
Published by: Institute for Community Cohesion
Date: April 2008
Downloadable from: iCoCo
The Institute of Community Cohesion was established in 2005 drawing together consultants and academics in four UK universities - Warwick, Leicester, Coventry and De Montfort - with the mission of establishing itself as "the leading national and international proponent of the principles and practice of community cohesion... to provide a space to reflect upon different models of multiculturalism, try out new ideas and develop new policies. Its programme of work aims to contribute to the understanding of how communities can become more at ease with 'difference', multiculturalism and patterns of migration and what drives people towards the acceptance of diversity and the rejection of extremism". The Department of Communities & Local Government, in its response of February 2008 to the recommendations of the Dara Singh-chaired 'Commission on Integration & Cohesion' notes "we have [also] funded the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) over the last three years to assist and offer local authorities facing cohesion challenges to meet and learn from each other".
Given this connection, iCoCo reports need to be read bearing in mind the sort of preferences that its paymaster CLG has exhibited in recent years including the obsession to marginalise the Muslim Council of Britain.
This study is based on focus groups and interviews conducted in 15 cities and boroughs from September 2006 onwards, "involving more than 1000 one to one interviews with key stakeholders and more than 3000 individuals of all ages" within Britain's Muslim communities. The findings have been distilled into a 46 page report, suggesting that elsewhere there must reside a valuable dataset of interview notes and transcripts which should be made accessible to the academic community.
An important finding - and one that should be taken on board by Muslim community workers - is "the increasing propensity to withdraw into specific theologically based affiliations". Even "many young Muslims who had chosen a path of devout worship, [who] tended to be entrenched [reviewer's emphasis] with respect to their chosen form of Islamic practice". Muslim organisations should take heed of such trends towards insularity, and focus on the need for intra-faith, just as much as inter-faith, work.
The Muslim community in Britain is on the one hand developing positively through its own self-help efforts to create better institutions and further understanding within its ranks, but there are also centrifugal forces making this a more difficult challenge. Is the 'entrenchment' observed by iCoCo an outcome of the efforts by HMG to fragment Muslim civil society - note the creation of the Sufi Muslim Council, the enthusiastic endorsement of the British Muslim Forum and projects such as the Radical Middle Way?
The iCoCo study also notes:"We were struck by the extent to which overseas events had profound effect on Muslim communities. For example, the US backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia led to a significant increase in tensoin within the Somali community in the area where we were working at the time. From a situation of relative indifference to international events, four Somali boys from the area went to Somalia to fight: two were killed, one was missing presumed dead, and the fourth immediately arrested on his return to this country. Understanding and predicting the impact of international events therefore seems crucial and, as each local authority does not have sufficient resources and expertise, some sort of national co-ordination would appear necessary". The CLG has tended to dismiss this assertion when made by authentic Muslim voices within the community - perhaps they might take heed of their own consultants: make Muslims stake-holders in the nation's foreign policies.
The researchers' remark that "we were struck by the extent to which overseas events had profound effects..." conveys a sense that Muslims were somehow behaving exceptionally. This is bizarre, as foreign misadventures and injustices do not just stir one faith community, but broad swathes of society - just look at the anti-War marches!
The iCoCo reports contains numerous noddy diagrams seeking to 'map' the schools of thought within Muslims and the various theological influences in mosques, supported by generalisations such as "typically, Sunni Barelwi and Deobhandi Masaajid are mostly run by elderly all-male management committees...within both the Barelwi and Deobhandi Maslaqain Masaajid, control of the management committee is often the subject of rivalry and dispute". A lot of tax payers money is being wasted by going over old ground and known facts - for example see the Mehmood Nashabandi study on mosques or the MCB's 'Empowerment not control' report. Moreover the real problems - when a Muslim woman's job application is stonewalled after an interview because of her headscarf, or a Muslim child growing up in poverty - have nothing whatsoever to do with one's Deobandi, Barelwi, Sufi, MPAC, MCB etc affiliation - but everything to do with cultural racism and structural inequalities in society today. The iCoCo researchers justify their 'urban anthropological' approach by stating, "more detailed understanding of the circumstances of local Muslim communities can assist the identification of the most appropriate potential intermediaries from the voluntary and community sector. It may also help local agencies get a clearer sense of how best to develop strategies aimed at tackling crime/anti-social behaviour, such as gangs, as well as educational underperformance". This is a moot claim, firstly because it would have been more cost effective to ask long-standing community bodies for this information, and secondly there are already well-documented studies on educational underachievement and other social realities.
The iCoCo report offers this explanation of community development:"The early 20th century Indian Muslim scholar Abul Ala Mawdudi,incorporating Barelwi, Deobhandi and Salafi sentiments effectively processed a combined Muslim response to the advent of Modernity, culmininating in the establishment of Jamati Islam (Congregation of Islam) in India. The principles of Muslim unity encouraged by Abul Ala Mawdudi lay the originating basis of inspiration for British based Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, UK Islamic Mission and Islamic Society of Britain". The reality is that the MCB was the outcome of several years of planning and discussion within the Muslim community that commenced in the mid-1990s, involving a wide cross-section of Muslim activists and community bodies. The need for an umbrella body was staring them in the face - to press for the right for Muslim faith schools, for parity in legislation in matters relating to discrimination and incitement to hatred, for competent and informed representation in dealing with the media and government, and in political lobbying work.
Another generalisation: "Also during the early 20th century the famed Indian poet and writer Allama Iqbal is noted for the inspiration behind Mohammed Ali Jinnah's combined Muslim Secular approach leading to the eventual creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Both Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah are held in high esteem by first generation Pakistani heritage Barelwi Muslims both in Pakistan and Britain. The British Muslim Forum currently acts as the main representative body for a large section of Barelwi inclined British Muslims". Again the reality is that both Jinnah and Iqbal were champions of Muslim political unity no less than Mawdudi, and are held in high esteem by very many Muslims, both within the British Muslim Forum and without!
The iCoCo researchers are out of their depth in dealing with these types of subject matter.
|The search for common ground, Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media – an academic report commissioned by the Mayor of London
Published by:Greater London Authority
This is the second of two pioneering reports prepared as a result of initiatives of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. The 'Muslims in London' report published in 2006, provided the first systematic use of data from the 2001 Census to build a detailed profile of Muslim communities in the capital city. This second systematic study was commissioned by the Mayor to examine media coverage of Islam and Muslims. The investigation was coordinated by Angela Gluck Wood and Robin Richardson, and among other contributors are Christopher Allen, author of 'Islamophobia in the European Union after 11 September 2001, Hugh Muir of The Guardian and Laura Smith (both joint authors with Robin Richardson of 'Islamophobia: Issues, Challenges and Action - A Report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia Research (2004).
The research was carried out between May 2006 – April 2007, a time when topical issues included the Danish Cartoon controversy, the Jack Straw veil remarks , the lecture by the Pope quoting a 14th century Christian emperor who said the Prophet of Islam, had brought only 'evil and inhuman things’ to the world, the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary disparaging so-called 'Wahhabi' mosques, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a statement by the head of MI5 about the dangers from Muslims in Britain. The resulting media coverage of some of these issues is examined by the authors.
The report includes the findings of a quantitative study of how Islam and Muslims were represented in the British press during one week – 8th to 14th May 2006, detailed analysis of four episodes involving serious factual inaccuracies and distortions (including images of the sensationalist media headlines), interviews with six Muslim journalists to explore how they cope professionally, and a case study based on the notorious BBC Panorama programme prepaed by John Ware, 'A question of leadership' (August 2005).
The quantitative study found 352 articles that referred to Islam and Muslims during the week in question, "91 per cent were judged to be negative in their associations, and only four per cent were judged to be positive...in the tabloids, 96 per cent of all articles were judged to be negative. This compared with 89 per cent of broadsheet articles. The combined circulation of the tabloids is about three times greater than that of the broadsheets (May 2007 figures). It was judged that almost half of all articles represented Islam as a threat. Of these, about a third pertained to Britain and two-thirds to the wider world. The overall picture presented in the national press during the week in question was that on the world stage Islam is profoundly different from, and a serious threat to the West; and that within Britain Muslims are different from and a threat to 'us'."
These are sobering findings, given that 64% of the population admit they 'do not know very much' about Islam, while 66% get their information from media and television! [ 'Attitudes towards British Muslims, Yougov poll, 2002 commissioned by the Islamic Society of Britain for Islam Awareness Week, 2002]
Two of the six Muslim journalists interviewed observed that they were expected “to use any wiles they could in order to get the story, including their ethnic or religious identity....at least two had been asked, as a professional assignment, to infiltrate al-Qaeeda"! Another Muslim reporter noted, "after one of the terrorist attacks I was sent to door-knock a suspected extremist. The office knew it was a long shot but I was quite determined and I knew my Muslim background could get me in. I knocked on the door and said Assalamu Aleikum and told them I was a Muslim. After a few minutes they let me in. I was a journalist just beginning. I would have done the story very differently now but I didn't know what the paper was looking for then. I just took what he was saying at face value. What I wrote was exactly what he had told me without any slant on it. It was neutral.....the next day I looked at the paper and I was appalled. It had been rewritten in a way that made him really slippery. It was really cynically done...I felt very guilty because I was complicit in stitching him up".
The report concludes with a discussion on the notion of 'moral panic' – the construction of folk devils seen as the embodiment of all that is negative, deviant and evil - and it asks, "to what extent and what ways are Muslims the latest incarnation of folk devils in a lineage which since the 1950s has included also teddy boys....Afro-Carbbeans, welfare scroungers, dangerous dogs...?".
The report's recommendations include - optimistically - the plea for news organisations "to review their coverage of issues and events involving Muslims and Islam, and for codes of professional conduct and style guides about use of terminology". The guidelines on racist reporting issued by the National Union of Journalists form a model.
Much is made of the free media in Britain, but in practice content is shaped the prejudices of a handful of media barons - Richard Desmond (Express, Sunday. Express and Daily Star) and Rupert Murdoch (Sun and The Times). At a trade union seminar in February 2008, Tim Lazard of the NUJ, described the shop floor actions of workers at the 'Daily Star' who held up a production run because of outrageously Islamophobic content - including a 'Page 3 burqa babes special' and other mocking comments on the shariah. Apparently the original ideas for the story line had come from the very top.
|Citizenship Survey April - September 2007, England & Wales
Published by:Department of Communities & Local Government
Race, Cohesion and Faiths Unit, CLG
The Citizenship Survey is a face to face household survey carried out by a Government department - Communities and Local Government - covering a representative core sample of almost 10,000 adults in England and Wales each year, plus a minority ethnic boost sample of 5,000.
The most recent publication from this ongoing Survey reports on what respondents consider to be their most important values for living in Britain. 'Respect for the law' featured top for people in the White, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African ethnic categories. Another value highly placed by all was 'Tolerance and politeness towards others': second most important for Whites, Pakistanis and Black Caribbeans.
In the case of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis (a good proxy for the Muslim population), 'Respect for all faiths' also featured prominently - tied with 'Respect for the law' as number one for the former, and as the second most important value for the latter.
For respondents in the Black Caribbean category, the most important value was 'equality of opportunity'. 'Respect for all faiths' was not among the top five important values for people in the White category.
Of all the ethnic groups, white and minority ethnic, the value 'Freedom to follow a religion of choice' was most prized by Pakistanis - 35% - compared to 23% of Whites.
Amongst minority ethnic groups, Pakistanis are the most likely to think racial prejudice has worsened over the last five years. However those in the 'Indian' ethnic category are least likely to share this view. A reader of the Survey could therefore find supporting evidence for the 'religious penalty' which Muslims face in employment,over and above the 'ethnic penalty'.
The value 'Freedom to criticise the views and beliefs of others' featured among the top five values in only 6% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents, but amongst 21% of White respondents.
The Survey also highlights marked differences with respect to confidence in the political process. There is a level of detachment amongst Bangladeshis not shared with other ethnic categories. For example only 6% of Bangladeshis selected 'Everyone has a voice in politics through democracy' amongst their top five values. This general low expectation from political engagement may be reflected in poor levels of voter registration and turn-out on polling days.
|Race, Masculinity and Schooling - Muslim boys and education
Author: Louise Archer
Published by: Open University Press
ISBN:0 335 210 627
During the 1960s and 70s, Muslims were deemed a passive and industrious people who kept their heads down. In the post-Rushdie, post-9/11 era, they were recast as an emotional and subversive force. In both instances, the emergence of shallow stereotypes reveals how sociology is losing out to politics. Rather than delving into the social structures, migration and settlement issues and structural inequalities in society, it has been easier to construct stereotypes that dovetail into public policy, whether it be Britain’s need for immigrant workers in the past, or justifications for draconian legislation and military expeditions today.
Louise Archer’s work helps in reclaiming the ground for sociology. She notes, “young Muslim men have occupied a sensationalised and demonised position, at the forefront of the British popular imagination, for a number of years now and few would disagree that they are currently regarded as national 'folk devils'....the high-profile al Qaeda terrorist attacks this century have fuelled the popular imagination, and fear, of 'dangerous', 'angry' Muslim masculinity”. In order to provide a more “careful, sensitive analysis” she has undertaken a field study of four schools in north-west England, involving 31 Muslim boys aged 14 – 15 years (mostly of Pakistani origin, but including eight Bengali). The research design included inviting these pupils to create a photographic diary of their daily lives, an offer taken up by two. Her book also makes reference to research of nine Muslim girls.
Her findings indicate that "in contrast to dominant popular conceptualisations of 'Muslim' identities (which tend to be negative and homogeneous'), boy’s own identity constructions appear to be far more complex, shifting and contradictory”. However she has also found that "all boys in the study primarily identified themselves in terms of their Muslim identities....brotherhood and umma were integral concepts within the boys' constructions of Muslim identities". Archer believes that this should not be interpreted "as a sign [of] that they do not feel a strong sense of national belonging and/or that their loyalty cannot be counted on" but rather 'the boys' association between Muslim identity, unity and strength challenge contemporary western ideals of individualistic white masculinity".
Archer has also found that "across the discussion groups, boys described their family lives in overwhelmingly positive terms, associating home life with warmth, love and security". The boys were wise enough to explain that this was what distinguished them from their white counterparts. As one interviewee stated, "it's like once your parents are old its like your responsibility to look after them....whereas whites....it's like....we get the picture that...you are old you lead your own life".
There was a great hullabaloo when a Muslim community leader stated that "everybody can learn from everyone. Some of the Muslim principles can help social cohesion - family, marriage, raising children with boundaries..." (Dr Bari, Independent on Sunday, 10th November 2007). Archer's empirical data indicates that Muslim values have much to contribute to modern Britain.
Racism is a day-to-day reality. The boys interviewed "themselves raised the issue of racism before the interviewer had asked any questions about it". One noted, "..they [white people in his local area] do loads of things...throwing eggs at our windows...throwing rubbish in our garden...my little brothers and sisters they always go out to play in the evenings and they got beat up". In two of the schools the boys linked racism to physical bullying. Other boys interviewed described how white boys could be friendly with them at school, but would ignore them in public when they were with their friends and families. Boys also identified particular teachers as racist individuals on the basis of their interactions with them. Muslim boys complained that they were unfairly punished by the school, rather than the white boys, following incidents of 'fighting back' against racism of white pupils. When asked by the interviewer how they would bring up their own kids, one response was:I'm gonna say to them...when you're called 'you black bastard' - you deck them out - dec, dec, deck them! Kill them!
Muslim youth angst is clearly not irrational or because of some inherent psychological problem! Archer's work indicates a pathway to 'gangsta' identities. Her solution:"I would [thus] argue that there is plenty of potential scope for work to be undertaken with respect to addressing institutional racism(s), and indeed, critically interrogating the normalising assumptions that underpin many everyday practices and behaviours within schools".
In the concluding chapter she notes of her approach, "I wish to focus attention on representation of Muslim boys as thinking, agentic, complex human beings, rather than the simplistic, homogenised,negative stereotypes which currently abound in the popular imagination". At a time when money is pouring into studies of Muslim youth - a tranche of four million pounds will soon be made available to the Arts & Humanities Council's 'Religion and Society' programme - it is academics like Archer who should be on panels that set the research agenda and decide on the allocation of research grants.
|British-Pakistani men from Bradford - Linking narratives to policy
Author: M.Y. Alam and Charles Husband
Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
ISBN:1 85935 527 7
Bradford's largely Pakistani Muslim community has long-been the focus of national attention, beginning with the Honeyford affair of the mid-1980s and the notorious Satanic Verses book burning demo of 1989, extending to the Manningham riots of 1995 and the BNP-sparked disturbances of June 2001 - the last mentioned culminating in draconian jail sentences for the youths involved.
In the 2001 Census, 19 per cent of Bradford's population described themselves as 'Asian or British Asian', with a number of wards with a substantial proportion of black and minority ethnic residents: 79%, Manningham; 75%, Toller; 70%, Bradford Moor, 63%
City; 53% Little Horton and 42% in Keighley Central. There are currently over 80,000 Muslims in the Bradford metropolitan district, mainly in the inner city.
The authors of this competent report note that "economic and social indicators reveal that the Bradford 'Pakistani' communities do suffer from significant levels of deprivation and disadvantage. A good part of this disadvantage can be attributed to their location in inner city areas with relatively poor housing stock, educational underachievement, higher than average levels of unemployment and poor health. Measured against the index of Multiple Deprivation....in 2001, Bradford as a whole ranked thirtieth most deprived out of 354 local authority areas in England. And, taking much smaller areas of assessment - the Super Output Areas (SOAs) with a population of around 1,500, in 2004, 14 of Bradford's 307 SOAs, primarily around inner Bradford, were within the most deprived 1 per cent of areas in England...the city has an economic profile that reflects the catastrophic decline from a nineteenth-century affluent textile monoculture to a city seeking to regenerate its economic base in a highly competitive regional and national context".
The taxi and minicab business - hardly satisfying in terms of skills development and job satisfaction - has become one visible niche occupied by this displaced Pakistani labour.
The authors of this study consider it inadequate to discuss the dynamics of the community "solely in terms of 'some abstracted struggle of around 'a politics of identity'...behind the ethnic infrastructure...lies an all too concrete reality of economic determinism". This point of view is reinforced more explicitly in another report from the same JRF stable - Lucinda Platt's 'Poverty and ethnicity in the UK' (2007): "the concept of community cohesion...has emphasised the centrality of social relations at the expense of a focus on equality and economic integration".
This is an important policy debate, because those ideologically committed to assimilationist policies - and hence opposed to diversity, multiculturalism and the 'celebration of difference - see economic integration as a means to an end, while the JRF stable see the concern with tackling economic inequalities and seeking social justice as a worthy end in itself. As Platt notes, "inequalities and highly different risks of poverty are a concern for society in and of themselves...indeed the reduction of poverty may aid expression of difference: insofar as poverty limits opportunity, it also limits the ability to realise difference and felt identity". So it is a red-herring to blame multiculturalism for polarisation, and rather the emphasis should be on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.
In their interviews of 25 British-born Pakistanis aged between 16 and 38, Alam and Husband debunk the stereotype of a Bradfordian Muslim community that is self-segregating and isolationist. Interview after interview hightlight the sense of being "stakeholders, not only as members of particular communities, but also as operational and active members of civic society". These are people with immense reservoirs of talent and energy, but find themselves in dead-end situations: "Cabbing's something easy, something you can do. It's too easy for me not do it. I want to do something else but then I think, 'there's nothing that I can do'."
The study contains an amazing collection of searing and brutally true interview extracts that capture the view from the Bradford street. One further example: "There was this Muslim group - Muslim Council or something like that. I remember this, I saw it on telly and I remember having a right argument about it with one of my brothers. It was a little while after 9/11, and this group, they went and gave a sort of apology. I was sick, me. Why apologise? Why lower yourself? Why not apologise for everything else that's bad and been done by a Muslim? It's like telling the world: 'Us Muslims, we're alright. We won't bomb you or terrorise you or kill you. And, even though we got ****-all to do with 9/11, we're still sorry.' How stupid was that? My brother, though, he thought it was good because it was trying to show the world that we're not all like that, we're not all extreme. But we're not all extreme in the first place, that's what got me. Why should anyone take the blame for what someone else has done? That's wrong. It's double standards. I'll apologise when all Christians start apologising for all the black people they were lynched in America during slavery, or when they apologise for all the people that are still being killed today in Iraq and everywhere else".
In Alam and Husband's assessment , "the challenge to social cohesion lies, not in teaching Bradfordian, Pakistani/Muslim males the principles of British citizenship, but rather in opening up their routes to equitable and recognised participation in British life".
Charles Husband is Professor of Social Analysis at the University of Bradford, while co-author Yunis Alam is a researcher at the University of Bradford, interested in mass media, communications and popular culture. He is also a member of the Light Transports writers' collective.
|Islam and Muslims in Britain, A Guide for Non-Muslims
Author: Mehmood Naqshbandi
Published by: City of London Police
Downloaded from: www.muslimsinbritain.org
This Guide comes with a commendation from Bob Lambert, a police officer well-respected within the Muslim community: "essential reading for police colleagues engaged in policing Muslim neighbourhoods across the country."
The 88-page Guide comprises 11 chapters and a glossary. Topics covered include: essential beliefs and practices; Islam's place in the world and in Britain; the Mosque or masjid; Muslim routines and the Islamic calendar; Birth marriage and death; Integration and friction; Work, food, drink and social etiquettes; Hygiene; and Arabic language, personal and organisation names. The book utilizes an Arabic colophon - Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him - each time there is a reference to Prophet Muhammad. To a discerning non-Muslim reader this ought to convey the unique spiritual bond of love and respect which Muslims have towards their Prophet and thus place their disquiet over the Dutch cartoon incident or the ongoing promotion of Salman Rushdie in context.
Naqshbandi's observations on mosques and imams should be required reading not just for those engaged in community policing but also Muslim organizations committed to improving the quality of services and making these institutions more inclusive to young people and women. He is particularly severe on 'factionalism', both ethnic and ideological, and lack of transparency and good governance. Annual general meetings, for example, can be organised surreptitiously and "thus become very inaccessible, one of the many complaints of young Muslims about their elders. The paucity of mosque budgets also defines the calibre of their staff employed as imams, "there are no material incentives that lead anyone raised in Britain to choose this career and they cannot have expectations of British working conditions and wages".
The author is careful not to tar all mosques with the same brush. He notes that Charity Commissioners interventions have been rare: "in spite of the obvious problems of the vulnerability, management of masjids to take-over, only in one case out of 1300 to 1400 masjids, that of North London Islamic Centre in Finsbury Park, has this kind of power struggle had sinister consequences, and in that case the main factors were not constitutional but a weak committee stuck without a trained imam for significant period (they had sacked two), followed by sustained violent intimidation by the supporters of the ad hoc imam (Abu Hamza Al Masri)".
Perhaps in a subsequent edition, the author may consider adding a footnote to his reference to the North London Islamic Centre and Abu Hamza. According to one trustee, "we tried to get him arrested but he is never apprehended. I asked Scotland Yard what they were doing. There was suspicion the police had another agenda". At his sentencing in February 2006 (for race hate and possession of a terrorism manual) The Guardian noted that according to a former MI5 agent who infiltrated the mosque, Abu Hamza was allowed to operate by the security services as long as he did not threaten Britain's national security. "Both the agent and a close associate of Abu Hamza say the cleric was an unwitting informant on other extremist Muslims. It emerged that over a three-year period the cleric had met repeatedly with MI5 and Special Branch".
In a more recent intervention in The Guardian the author has noted that "mosques are generally run by ultra-cautious, elderly committees from an exclusive clan whose decision-making is not open to any other users, male or female. A cheap imam is employed full-time to prevent chancers from volunteering for the role. Their sermons tend to be amazingly bland, vague and irrelevant. Muslim youths complain that the mosques have nothing to offer them, and the extremists tend to hold their meetings in youth clubs, not in mosques, where they have no influence" [11th December 2006].
In October 2005 the Home Office published proposals for a law that would have allowed the Police to go to court for the issue of a 'Requirement Order' to persons 'controlling' a mosque to stop activities deemed 'terrorist (the Home Office's "Places of Worship' consultation in October 2005). The Government's premise was that mosques served as the incubators of tendencies to criminal activity. These proposals were eventually withdrawn after protests from a range of faith communities, but the episode indicated that policy during Mr Blair's watch was made without consulting the experts close at hand in the City of London Police.
The author provides a unique statistical table of mosques by various tendencies: Deobandi, Bareilvi, 'Maudoodi masjids', Salafi masjids, Arab-speaking, Shia masjids. The author's terminology of 'Maudoodi masjids' is quaint and unhelpful. He identifies 60 such mosques, presumably separate from 'Deobandi masjids' as "approx. 600". The term has been applied to mosques that form part of the branch network of the UK Islamic Mission, a national association established in the 1960s by Pakistanis settling in Britain with strong connections with their homeland's Islamic political party and reform movement, 'Jamaat Islami'. Maudoodi was of course the founder of the Jamaat, but he died in 1979 and the discourse has moved on. Moreover not a single mosque in Britain is named after him. If Naqshbandi is seeking to highlight mosques that are politically active- his terminology is "political-oriented Muslim groups" - then this is an example of the superficial stereotyping his Guide ought to be free of. Why stigmatise political activism in this way? After the Bradford disturbances of Summer 2001, it was the UKIM mosques, because of their very culture of political awareness, that were the first to conduct a post-mortem of events and work out ways of improving community relations.
If the terminology 'Maudoodi masjids' is a throw-away remark then fine, though it conveys the notion that a section of Muslims remain trapped in a 1960s/70s mindset unable to adapt to changing circumstances in Britain. This is condescending to say the least and not an accurate reflection of the type of debate and discussion that really goes on. However if the terminology reflects a disproval of Muslim political activism, then the matter is more serious. It would mean that there is one criteria for synagogues, mandars and churches, and another for mosques. What of Israeli ambassadors visiting synagogues and making rousing appeals? What of the Chief Rabbi rallying support round the IDF during the recent attacks in Lebanon? What of the Catholic Church's political pressure on government on the issue of agencies placing children for adoption with homosexuals? In any case Naqshbandi's terminology leaves non-Muslims with an erroneous impression, perhaps next expecting 'Sayyid Qutb mosques' or even 'Qaradawi mosques'!
The author is well-qualified to refine the mosque classification and establish a template for other researchers. For example it would be useful to distinguish between mosques that are solely places of worship, and the emergence of multi-purpose institutions like the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in West London, or the Whitechapel Mosque/London Muslim Centre in the East End. The Muslim community is evolving and adapting, and so too are its institutions. Professor Ceri Peach and Richard Gale's research offers further quantitative insights into the growth of the mosque network, particularly the take-off in mosque projects after 1985 . They note, "exotic religious buildings, some of exquisite beauty, have been built on unlikely inner-city sites". The community entered into a rapid phase of mosque building projects, but - as Naqshbandi's perceptive comments tell us - without adequate attention to the underlying infrastructure needed, such as imams training.
In the Guide's preface Mr Naqshbandi states that he converted to Islam in 1982. This has undoubtedly given him a first-hand feel for Muslim life. When describing Eid at the end of Ramadan he observes, "gifts of money are given by parents to children, nephews and nieces, cascading from generation to generation, leaving the youngest of the family flush and the eldest destitute, at least for the day". So the Muslim community does have a human face! With some revision and update, the Guide has promise to be a definitive document offering a well-rounded view of the community, warts and all.
 statement by Mufti Barkatulla on the Salaam web site, www.salaam.co.uk
 8th February 2006, The Guardian
 'Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the new religious landscape of England' Geographical Review, October 2003;93, 4
|Understanding the other Perspective - Muslim and non-Muslim Relations
Published by:Muslim Voice UK, P O Box 12637, Birmingham B28 1AH
This publication documents the findings of an internet-based survey undertaken by Muslim Voice UK, Dr Colin Irwin (Queen's University, Belfast) and Global Markets Insite Inc. in April-May 2006. The sample comprised three subsets, representing the general UK population (sample size 1002); the Muslim population (506) and the Jewish population (103). The survey set out to establish views in five areas: Islamophobia and the 'clash of civilisations', Discrimination and integration, the Muslim community, relations between the West and Muslim states, and Extremism and the 'war on terror'.
The report states that "to carry out meaningful analysis when polling ethnic minorities, an adequate sample size is required. Typically, a minimum of 500 is required….however for the Jewish sample, it was only possible to poll 103 Jews. As this sample size is small the results should be treated with caution". The report also notes that the survey would have excluded people without access to the internet and that 66% were university-educated. Though it does not clarify the steps taken to ensure persons did not make multiple entries, the author should be commended for transparency on the research design. The most reliable conclusions probably relate to what non-Muslims had to say about Muslims and Islam. The Muslim Voice UK report therefore is a contribution to the rapidly-increasing survey literature on Muslims in Britain particularly in the area of identifying issues on which there is either an alignment or dissonance in the thinking or perceptions of non-Muslims and Muslims in Britain.
The points of alignment are many. For example out of 21 different choices, both non-Muslims and Muslims most frequently selected the issue 'all religions should be treated the same under British law' as 'essential'. This is interesting as at present there is an anomaly in the law, with Jews and Sikhs - deemed ethnic groups - afforded greater protection under the incitement to racial hatred legislation. This law offers protection from insulting and threatening behaviour, which has been excluded from recent legislation relating to incitement to religious hatred - which offers protection to Muslims - on the grounds of protecting freedom of expression.
Both non-Muslims and Muslims most frequently cited the factor 'civilizations of the West and Muslim world should appreciate their differences and learn from each other' as the one 'essential to improve understanding - 46% for non-Muslims and 71% for Muslims. However a follow-up question indicated that many non-Muslims have less of a willingness to become engaged in this process: only 9% deemed it 'very significant' that there was a 'failure of non-Muslims to appreciate the contribution of non-Muslims to appreciate the contribution Muslims have made to civilisation'. Thus the sense of tolerance is accompanied by a stand-offishness and insularity. It is therefore important for Muslims involved in outreach work to take account of these attitudes.
There is agreement on the issue of 'misrepresentation of Islam by minority Muslim groups to justify violence'. Non-Muslims most frequently cited this as a 'very significant' problem (46%), which was matched by Muslims as well (51%). The study also offers hope on the emergence of shared values of mutual civility: 43% of non-Muslims stated that it was 'essential' that 'Muslims should not condemn difference but accept it with courtesy' - a view with which 49% of Muslims concurred.
Almost similar proportions of Muslims and non-Muslims agreed that it was 'essential' that groups that incited hatred and violence in the UK should be banned (52% and 57% respectively).
Some points of dissonance: Only 7% of non-Muslims considered it 'very significant' that there was a 'failure of government to protect the human rights of Muslims; for Muslim respondents, the comparable figure was 51%. Similarly only 6% of non-Muslims considered it 'very significant' that there was discrimination against Muslims by the Police; 30% believed that this statement is 'not even true'. In contrast, 32% of Muslims consider police discrimination 'very significant', and only 5% state that it is 'not even true'. Thus attitudes towards the criminal justice system are diametrically opposed.
There is also a much stronger perception amongst non-Muslims that it is right to blame Muslims for the London bombings. This is the impact on the man in the street of the continued Government rhetoric that the Muslim community and its institutions have been soft on extremism. Thus while 66% of Muslims 'strongly agree' that they have been 'unfairly blamed for the London bombings', only 23% of non-Muslims share this view'. Almost 1 in 2 non-Muslims believes it is OK to apportion blame in this way, or are ambivalent.
The Muslim Voice UK survey has also uncovered marked differences in response to factors significant to relations between the West and the Muslim world. The factor most cited as 'very significant' by non-Muslims was 'suicide bombings that kill Israeli civilians' (50%); for Muslims the most cited 'very significant' factor was the invasion of Iraq (80%). Interestingly, 38% of non-Muslim respondents considered it 'essential' that all UN resolutions should be enforced 'without favour or discrimination while only 2% deemed this unacceptable. Moreover 48% of non-Muslims considered the proposition that Israel should be exempted if the Middle East was made a nuclear-free zone as 'unacceptable'. There the public seems to have retained a sense of fair play, if not our Government.
|Towards Greater Understanding - Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools
Published by: Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)
Date: February 2007
It is estimated that there are about 400,000 Muslim schoolchildren, with
almost 96% in state schools.
The purpose of this guide is to provide background information on
relevant Islamic beliefs and practices and values and to deal with
issues arising within schools that are important to and may be of
concern to Muslim pupils and their parents. The information and guidance
document is intended to be used as a source of reference by schools when
reviewing their policies and practices in relation to meeting the needs
of their Muslim pupils.
The topics covered include: Dress in Schools, Halal Meals, Provision for
prayer, Islamic Festivals, Physical education Expressive Arts, Islamic
Resources in the School Library and Engaging with the Muslim Community.
The National Association of Head Teachers has welcomed the guidelines,
describing it as a " helpful and useful document...It rightly
acknowledges the considerable work done together by schools and
communities over many years and identifies established good practice. It
also developmentally points to further help and support that could be
given to Muslim pupils. NAHT welcomes the document in encouraging and
facilitating that debate. However, the Government must acknowledge that
if, 'Every Child Matters' that has to mean every child, and that
sufficient resources are given to schools to allow them to meet the
needs of their Muslim pupils.”
|Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia
Published by: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)
Date: December 2006
The EUMC has been conducting qualitative studies on anti-Muslim discrimination since 2001. This year's report monitors ten countries, including the UK. It notes that "although there is currently no legally agreed definition of Islamophobia, nor has social science developed a common definition, policy and action to combat it is undertaken within the broad concepts of racism and racial discrimination". Thus reports of 'racist violence and crime' provide the base source material. In most EU countries the criminal justice systems do not record the faith of the victim of a hate crime (this was adopted on a pilot basis by the Met Police but results have not been placed in the public domain) so it is necessary to use ethnic or nationality proxies. The Home Office British Crime Survey found Pakistanis and Bangladeshis consistently to be more at risk of being a victim of racially motivated crime than the other ethnic groups surveyed. The EUMC report notes that "the true extent and nature of discrimination and Islamophobic incidents against Muslim communities remains severely under-reported an d under-documented in the EU. There is a lack of data or official information on, first, the social situation of Muslims in Member states and, second, on the extent and nature of Islamophobic incidents".
The report includes a table of the Muslim population of 25 EU states (pages 27-29), providing a total of 13 million. However the figure is on the low side, because it estimates the French Muslim population to be in the region of 3.5 million. In reality France might have three times as many Muslims. It also notes the lower age profile of European Muslims - in the UK for example, the average age of Muslims is 28, eleven years younger than the rest of the population.
A section of the report deals with the non-Muslim population's perception of Muslims. It finds that positive opinions of Muslims have declined most sharply in Germany and Spain, in comparison with France and Britain. So interestingly, the parts of Europe where facism was strongest last century remain xenophobic today. These countries may be the touchstone of increasing intolerance across Europe. The report quotes a UK survey by York University in April 2005 that found that 43% of youth in regional towns and cities becoming more Islamophobic - 10% of 13-14 year olds supported the BNP.
The 118 page report documents findings in the areas of employment, education and housing. It concludes by calling on Member states to provide migrants, including Muslims, with equal opportunities, and to take steps to prevent their marginalization and exclusion from mainstream society.
The EUMC has also published a supplement - 'Perceptions of discrimination and Islamophobia - voices from members of Muslim communities in the European Union', drawing on 58 interviews, including young Muslims in Britain. It has found that feelings of exclusion can be more marked among European-born Muslims in comparison with their parents. It notes that "respondents in Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK reported that policies and public discourse in the last five years have negatively impacted on the sense of belonging. In the experience of some respondents, even those who had previously felt part of society, now feel increasingly alienated and rejected".
Pundits like Kenan Malik declare that "the degree of hatred and discrimination is being exaggerated to suit particular political agendas, stoking up resentment and creating a victim culture". The EUMC report thus warrants wider publicity. It also serves as a warning bell of increasing xenophobia across Europe. As noted by Liz Fekete in her essay in 'Race and Class' (Vol. 48, Issue 2, 2006): "the realigned Right...is using state power to reinforce fears about 'aliens' and put into place legal and administrative structures that discriminate against Muslims...central to such a process is a generalized suspicion of Muslims, who are characterized as holding on to an alien culture..."
|Bringing it Home - Community-based approaches to counter-terrorism
Author: Rachel Briggs, Catherine Fieschi, Hannah Lownsbrough
Published by: Demos
Date: December 2006
This is a radical study that jettisons much of Government policy and "reactionary" ministerial statements to the dustbin. It makes pointed refererence to the Government's search for quick fixes and its descent into authoritarianism. It notes that when objections were raised to the Home Office's choice of 'Islamophobia and Extremism' as a workshop title, these were faced down on the grounds that it reflected the Department's agenda. The authors note, "this kind of practice does not promote local engagement; it reinforces the perception that the government is interested only in talking and leading, not listening and partnering". It adds, "one of the reasons that the government is getting things wrong is because it has a shallow and partial understanding of the communities with which it needs to engage, which makes it behave schizophrenically".
The report has drawn on interviewees with Muslim community members, local police, community officials and national policy makers, and a conference at Wilton Park in March 2006. It quotes Salma Yaqub: "Excuse me but you're sitting here asking me about the causes of terrorism and we're going round the houses examining potential causes - but there's an elephant in the room: the war in Iraq. Look no further".
The report notes, "[but] the government’s actions in the last five years mean that effective community engagement will not be easy, and is certainly not a low-risk option. Building meaningful partnerships with Muslim communities will require the government to take their grievances seriously, which could open up difficult discussions and disagreements for the government, not least around foreign policy and the war in Iraq".
The report recognises a number of opportunities offered by Muslims in Britain. The younger generation in particular brings an "enormous energy and passion….whose political commitment is in stark contrast to that of the rest of the British public at the moment". Moreover, "given the interconnectedness of home and abroad and the tight links between Muslim communities and their countries of origin, British Muslims could provide vital insight and expertise, which could help the government to formulate effective policies. This resource is rarely tapped at the present time".
The report calls for the establishment of a British Muslim Youth Congress, which could "become the voice of young Muslims, making recommendations to the government and community represenative organisations, such as the MCB". The report however contains a number of glosses. First, it recommends the creation of a "cabinet-level minister with overall responsibility for the whole of the counter-terrorism portfolio". What are the guarantees that this would not lead to an increased authoritarianism? There are not many politicians one would trust with such powers.
Second, the work of the Radical Middle Way project is applauded while at the same time a call is made that government funding should be reflective of a 'representative governance test'.
Finally, the report’s section on 'The Bosnian Connection' notes that "during our research, a number of imams from mosques and universities reported seeing signs of radicalisation emerging from the early 1990s onwards, which could be linked to the activity in Bosnia...at the time, the intelligence agencies failed to see the significance of these events". This is disingenous to say the least. Former minister Michael Meacher himself noted , in his article 'Britain now faces its own blowback' (The Guardian, 10th September 2005) that "less well known is evidence of the British government's relationship with a wider Islamist terrorist network [in Bosnia during the early 1990s]. During an interview on Fox TV this summer, the former US federal prosecutor John Loftus reported that British intelligence had used the al-Muhajiroun group in London to recruit Islamist militants with British passports for the war against the Serbs in Kosovo. Since July Scotland Yard has been interested in an alleged member of al-Muhajiroun, Haroon Rashid Aswat, who some sources have suggested could have been behind the London bombings". It is now known that Richard Perle and Douglas Feith established the Bosnia Defence Fund that partly supported Al Qaeeda units in Bosnia.
On the whole the report is a welcome relief from the standard government line that has sought to 'problemetise' the Muslim community at every turn, best illustrated in the proposal in November 2005 to institute a system of discriminatory 'restriction orders' on places of worship (i.e. mosques) on the basis of what transpired at Finsbury Park.
It is refreshing that this report does not assign responsibility for the formation of the Muslim Council of Britain to New Labour! However parentage is this time ascribed to the Tories: "In the early 1990s, faced with the challenge of dealing with a complex Muslim community, then Home Secretary, Michael Howard encouraged the establishment of the Muslim Council of Britain to act as a one-stop-shop for government with Muslims". The truth of the matter is that the Rushdie Affair and the Bosnian tragedy brought together a large number of Muslim community organisations from across the country in joint activities - delegations, national marches, media responses and publications. Thus a network emerged across Muslim civil society culminating in the formation of the National Interim Committee on Muslim Unity (NICMU) in April 1994. It was a natural birth - in response to a wide-spread realisation that unless the community became united the outlook would be bleak (for details see 'An invitation to form the Muslim Council of Britain', 1997).
|The Rules of the Game - Terrorism, Community and Human Rights
Author: Andrew Blick, Tufyal Choudhury and Stuart Weir
Published by: Democratic Audit, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
Date: November 2006
also available from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust
In his foreword to this report, the Lib Dem peer Lord Smith notes that "the new outbreak of terrorism has been caused by Islamic jihadists both from abroad, and more recently, home grown. This has profound implications for the maintenance of a peaceful multicultural Britain. In pursuit of the terrorists, new laws and tactics have been devised and employed whose efficacy is a matter of genuine debate. One effect of the new measures, however, has been to increase the anxiety and alienation of British Muslims to the point where the entire Muslim community risks becoming demonized and that cannot be good for the health of civic society". The basis for the demonisation is a racist and populist agenda; the reason why society more widely will suffer is because the balance between public safety and fundamental democratic liberties and values is tipping towards greater state control and authoritarianism.
The authors observe that "ministers have failed to make the vital distinction between criminals and community strongly enough, as the police service actually did after 7/7...the combination of tough laws and tough talk [ministers have adopted] is divisive and directed too much at the majority population. There is a strong suspicion that some pronouncements are inspired by electoral considerations".
They add, "the actual 'trade off' that is occurring is not however between this or that right. It is between the rights of the majority population and those of the minorities, especially the Muslim communities. In a very real sense, and no doubt inevitably, apprehension of the terrorist threat has been 'racialised'. In our view, government statements, like those of Home Secretary John Reid [his call to Muslim parents to inform on their children] contribute to a divide that has been exacerbated for some years by Islamophobic reports and items in the media. An important part of the government's ability to pass its counter terrorism laws and developing police practice lies in the idea that these laws and their enforcement will not be employed against Tony Blair's 'law-abiding' majority: they will be used against 'them'. The way that the threat has been 'racialised' is key in drawing this boundary. These measures are possible in part because the general public does not feel vulnerable to being kept under surveillance, watching their words, being arbitrarily stopped, searched, raided, beaten, arrested or shot. By contrast, people in the Muslim and other minority communities do...this process - and the government's Manichean distinction between terrorists suspects and 'the rest of the British people' - enables and justifies the removal and reduction of key protections, such as the presumption of innocence...".
The report provides several useful reviews of the literature and also its own insights on issues such as the key motivations for joining a terrorist cell ("the desire for revenge", citing the work of Dr Andrew Silke), reasons why so many Muslim youth find it a problem to report their suspicions directly to the police ("because the information would not be handled with care and sensitivity and might lead to an over-reaction and misuse of powers") and multiculturalism ("our view is that a re-appraisal of multicultural policy is in order, but that the government should not abandon it or seek a more strongly assimilationist approach. Public policy should be as secular as possible within what is a historically confused situation - for example on religious schools. The state should not seek to 'impose a single British identity and culture' or impose restrictions upon cultural expression, except where activities break the law or violate human rights standards").
The report contains a sombre message on the future of Muslims of Britain: "for a variety of reasons, [they] are not beginning to prosper as new generations succeed the first settlers. There seems to be no 'second generation bounce' as there has been in other immigrant communities". It was not in the scope of the report to provide supporting evidence for this assertion. Is there empirical evidence that Muslims born in Britain are faring less well on socio-economic measures than their parents who were born overseas?
The authors believe that unless Britain's counter-terrorism efforts are proportionate to the risks that confront the nation, "our society may lose its way for two generations or more". Extremist ideologies that promote hatred and terrorism can ultimately only be defeated on ideological grounds in free and open debate with a nation that upholds the rule of law and values of democracy, equality and freedom.
To comment on this book, complete the form below:
Mandatory fields are marked with an asterisk (*)
|Muslims in London
Published by:Greater London Authority
Downloadable from http://www.london.gov.uk/gla/publications/equalities/muslims-in-london.pdf
This is a ground-breaking report and the first produced by a European city on its Muslim population. The report brings together in a single, easy-to-refer volume information from a variety of sources. It also identifies the needs of the community and provides a number of policy suggestions. It points out gaps in the literature and is thus a good starting point for new lines of inquiry and research.
The report is structured around six themes: demographics, socio-economic profiles, Muslims in public life - with reference to political participation, voluntary sector engagement and cultural life, the criminal justice system and Islamophobia. It contains a rich set of maps and intriguing glimpses of the capital city's first interaction with Muslims in the Elizabethan period.
The report should stimulate large employers to ensure - where appropriate - that their staffing and recruitment policies reflect the local population. The report indicates that in ten of London's 33 boroughs over 10% of the population is Muslim. There is no reason why this proportion should not be reflected in local government and in departments such as social services where it is so important for staff to understand Muslim ways of living and norms.
It draws largely on the 2001 Census statistics but includes data from university reports, the Open Society Institute and Government departments. It will serve as a useful snapshot of Muslims in London though there are a number of more recent reports that provide more detail on some specialist topics (e.g. the Equal Opportunities Commission’s interim report, 'Moving on up? Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black Caribbean women and work', October 2005; the TUC Report 'Poverty, Exclusion and British people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Origin', February 2006). However these serve to confirm the information provided in 'Muslims in London'.
Mayor Livingstone in the foreword to the report writes that: "Muslim communities in all their diversity play an essential part in the life of our city". The report also notes that "Muslims in London were keen backers of the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games...four of the London boroughs most closely involved with the 2012 Games - Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Hackney had a combined Muslim population of almost 191,500 people at the time of the 2001 Census...by 2012 the Muslim population will be over 250,000. There are tremendous opportunities for local communities to become stakeholders in the Olympics...". At the press conference launching the report the Mayor said that the 2012 Games would coincide with Ramadan. It was thus important that restaurants and similar facilities do not close down before the breaking of the fast. Consultations are underway to ensure the needs of spectators, volunteers and athletes for prayer facilities are taken into account.
|Muslim Women and Higher Education: Identities, Experiences and Prospects - a summary report
Authors: Dr David Tyler and Fauzia Ahmad
Published by: Liverpool John Moores University and European Social Fund
Downloadable from http://image.guardian.co.uk
"They [the media] sort of assume that Muslim women are just very docile, subservient, stay at home, don't have any external responsibilities, but I know that in my family that's not the case .I think its just because we are so distinctive, not just in terms of colour but the physical, you know, wearing the hijab, it's so explicit. You can't hide away from it and I think people have a lot of presumptions"
These comments, by a 20 year old History student of Pakistani origin, highlight the resilience and courage of second/third generation Muslim women seeking out that elusive but essential path of integration without assimilation. The researchers are to be commended for having obtained the trust of a large number of survey respondents and eliciting from them their real-life experiences.
There is a sufficient base of data to challenge certain stereotypical views on Muslim women: that they are discouraged from entering higher education by their parents, particularly the fathers or that they avoid making white British friends.
The research found that many Muslim women cited their families as key sources of encouragement and motivation towards higher education study and in thinking about future careers although for some there may have been some disagreements over the choice of subject studied at degree level and the university the core aim of degree attainment was shared by many women and parents. This represents one of the reports key findings The study also found a large proportion of Muslim women citing their fathers as key sources of motivation and encouragement. Interestingly, some women did express concerns that they risked being too educated for prospective suitors , and with more Pakistani and Bangladeshi women entering higher education than men, the inference for the future is that there will be increasing cross-cultural and cross-ethnic marriages within the Muslim community.
The researchers note that "for some of our respondents, being understood and accepted for their social preferences often came to mean finding other friends from minority backgrounds who would accept them without expecting them to justify or explain themselves ..for other respondents, finding white British friends who were able to understand the social choices they make (particularly if these choices involved rejecting alcohol), was also something appreciated".
Not without a sense of humour, the study finds that a number of respondents demonstrated considerable in-depth knowledge of halal city centre restaurants to visit.
The researchers found that experiences of Islamophobia varied greatly, and covered many aspects of university life. By far the most common manifestation reported by respondents was verbal abuse and harassment. While almost two-thirds of respondents reported feeling that racism and sexism would not be tolerated in their universities, only one in three reported feeling that Islamophobia would not be tolerated in their universities.
This is an illuminating empirical study and its findings have a ring of truth. It ought to be read not just to obtain a better appreciation of the day-to-day life of Muslim women in higher education, but also for its literature references and examples of institutional good practice.
Author Ehsan Masood
Published by: British Council, in partnership with the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS)
'British Muslims' is an easy read with a rich set of photographic images and up-to-date reference lists for further information. The subtitle of the book is 'Media Guide' and it is aimed at "those who write, and speak, about British Muslims". It seeks to demonstrate that "those of us who are Muslims hold on to as many different opinions as do those who are not". An underlying concern of the book is to dispel the notion that Muslims are a single, monolithic, homogenous entity. There is a tremendous diversity of ethnicity, schools of thought and outlook. 'British Muslims' succeeds in conveying this sense of variety and individuality.
Within this diversity there is also a strong desire for unity, though this seems to be played down. The book rarely uses the term 'Muslim community', more often preferring phrases like 'Britain's various Muslim communities'.
The author identifies various developments that have been "pivotal in shaping the political experience of Muslims in Britain. They are: the publication in 1989 of 'The Satanic Verses'... the election of a Labour government in 1997; the rise of Al-Qaeeda, and the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001, and subsequent attacks in London, Madrid and in other cities". There is no mention of the Bosnian War (1992-1996), an episode which not only politicised a generation of Muslims in Britain but launched numerous charity and relief projects, as well as volunteers for the front. There was widespread disgust with the Conservative government's policy of denying the supply of heavy artillery to the Bosnians while at the same time turning a blind eye to the involvement of the army of the Republic of Serbia in aiding the Serb rebels in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As much as Salman Rushdie, the Bosnian Crisis was a rallying moment that brought together individuals, local communities and organizations desperate for an informed and rational voice that could speak up on their behalf.
The author's view is that it is 'The Satanic Verses' that had the most lasting impact, because "it led to the formation of the Muslim Council of Britain", thanks to a helpful midwife : "The Conservative government of the time...did not want to ban a work of fiction...and they were also frustrated at having to deal with many (and often divided) community groups, which is why Michael Howard, when Home Secretary, suggested at one meeting that the many heads of community organizations that had come to see him might want to establish an umbrella representative body. This is one of the drivers to the setting up of the Muslim Council of Britain in 1997".
For the sake of balance and even-handedness, the author ought to have presented the MCB's own narrative of its genesis: "the MCB is the result of a long period of consultation within the community. For several years, there has been a keenly felt desire to have a greater degree of coordination among Muslims in Britain to deal with the many issues and problems that constantly face the community. Increasingly, coordination and unity is now seen as a question of the very survival of the community...on specific issues of common concern, various initiatives from time to time have shown the potential for a unified Muslim response. For example, events like the publication of grossly abusive and sacrilegious material have shown the need and the value of greater coordination within the Muslim community....it was this growing realization of the need for a greater degree of coordination among Muslims in the UK which led to a meeting in Birmingham on 30th April 1994. This meeting formed the National Interim Committee on Muslim Unity (NICMU) to find out the views and ideas of organizations and individuals on the problems facing the Muslim community and their role in wider society. A country-wide consultation followed....The Muslim Council of Britain is a practical outcome of this process of consultation" ('An Invitation to form the Muslim Council of Britain', 1997). The differences in narrative are important because they go to the heart of the question of whether there is such a thing as a 'Muslim community'. The account that the MCB was government-inspired suggests an imposed and artificial unity; the MCB's own narrative points to an organic and independent development.
'British Muslims' contains as many column inches on the British Muslim Forum, a relatively new and untested body as it does on the well-established MCB. Such attempts at a misplaced 'even-handedness' extends to other topics. For example the paragraph on the 2001 Census - which included a question on religion - is followed by a longer account noting that "not all Muslims welcomed the religion question".
In terms of proportionality the overwhelming majority of Muslims were in favour of the religion question in the Census, and only a handful against, including the late Shaikh Zaki Badawi. The reviewer can state this with confidence because he chaired a meeting of the AMSS in September 2000 in which this matter was put to a vote, and he also had separate private conversations with Dr Badawi. The majority in the AMSS meeting supported the inclusion of the question, while Dr Badawi's reservations were to do with fears that Muslims households might be targeted by racists. The census findings themselves confirmed support for the question: 94% of all Pakistanis and Bangladeshis chose to answer it, rather than make a null response. However 'British Muslims' gives the impression that both opinions had equal weight.
The references to the Danish Cartoons affair also convey an odd perspective: "There is a strong sense, and not only among Muslims that the repeated publication of these cartoons had had a strong element of bullying to it. But there is also a feeling that those Muslims who have reacted violently and threateningly have played into their antagonists' hands". The book's foreword, by Lord Kinnock alludes to "ill-considered" reactions and offers the example of Britain "in which rights are defended and promoted, but in which restraint is also prized". 'British Muslims' conveys a sense of apology or reservation that is not representative of the feeling on the ground. Muslims in Britain may put up with being demonized, but the portrayal of the Prophet as a terrorist causes deep,deep hurt.
Notwithstanding these observations, the British Council and its partners are to be commended for a publication that presents Muslims in Britain in a positive light. After the episode in which its employee writing under the pseudonym of one Mr Cummins
was found to be the author of Islamophobic articles (which included the statement "All Muslims, like all dogs, share certain characteristics"), this book serves to clear the air and reestablish the credentials of a flagship British institution.
|Urban Hope and Spiritual Health
Author Leslie J. Francis & Mandy Robbins
Publisher :Epworth Press
Professor Leslie Francis, Director of the Welsh National Centre for Religious Education, has pioneered the concept of 'empirical theology' and in particular a quantitative measure of 'spiritual health': "Spiritual health involves the whole person. Spiritually healthy individuals stand in right relationship with themselves, with other people, with the world in which they live, and with the transcendent, however they conceive it. Spiritually healthy individuals build purposeful lives, develop sound relationships, take responsibility for the world around them, and embrace the transcendent with confidence. Spiritually healthy individuals are needed at the heart of urban regeneration, to celebrate personal hope, to invest in social capital and to transform spiritual wilderness into centres of personal, social and economic creativity".
This book is based on an analysis of over 34,000 13- to 15-year old pupils in England and Wales, including 500 Muslims. It finds that "there are significant ways in which young people affiliated with the Islamic tradition enjoy higher levels of spiritual health in comparison with young people who belong to no religious tradition…in the environmental domain young Islamic affiliates display greater concern for world development issues…in the personal domain [they] express a greater sense of purpose in life…. there are however significant warning signs…they are more likely to experience low self-esteem and much more likely to be worried about being bullied at school…these findings demonstrate the significant contribution to urban hope which can be generated by the good spiritual health nurtured within the Islamic community".
'Urban Hope and Spiritual Health' includes chapters on pupils in various types of Christian denominational schools, and also on young persons in the Jewish, Hindu and Sikh faith communities.
Professor Francis's work ought to be replicated and extended in a larger scale study of Muslim adolescents, perhaps focussing on issues such as the different results obtained for boys and girls, the effect of the Islamic calendar - would surveys taken in Ramadan different from other times of the year? It would also be important to investigate differences in 'spiritual health' between young persons in independent Muslim schools and other schools.
|Voices from the Minarets - Empowerment not control
Published by the Muslim Council of Britain
Date: May 2006
Downloadable from MCB web site (900 Kb pdf file)
This is an empirical study based on interviews with over 90 imams and mosque trustees conducted in August-September 2005, mainly in the larger cities in the UK. It also draws on the literature on the role of mosques and imams. The study notes the changing role of mosques in the UK-setting. Britain’s over 1000 mosques provide a remarkable range of social welfare and educational services and often serve as an essential focal point through which many disadvantaged people access services. The report includes over 30 recommendations to be taken up by mosques themselves, bodies like the Muslim Council of Britain and Government. Though the sample size is limited, for the first time there is some data on imams' ethnic origins, qualifications, competence in the English language and other details on mosque structures and status. The reports title, 'Empowerment not Control' is a reference to recent attempts by Government to exert a type of control over Muslim places of worship not found in the case of temples, churches or synagogues. The first of these were plans to give police powers to temporarily close down places of worship 'being used by extremists' - this intrusion was rejected by all faith communities and subsequently withdrawn by Government. (click for details). The second was the proposal to set up a 'Mosques and Imams Advisory Body' (MINAB) that appeared to be masterminded by the Home Office in its first manifestation.
|Review of the Evidence Base on Faith Communties
Published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Date: April 2006
Downloadable from Department for Communities and Local Government
This overview of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh populations has been compiled for the ODPM - renamed the Department for Communities and Local Government after the May 2006 reshuffle - has been prepared by four of the leading academics with expertise in social geography and religious communities in Britain: Professor Paul Weller, University of Derby, Professor James Beckford and Dr David Owen, University of Warwick, Dr Richard Gale, University of Birmingham; and Professor Ceri Peach, University of Oxford. The professors have established an informal consultancy network, 'The Mercia Group'.
The report provides a comprehensive survey - over 600 references are cited in the bibliography - of publications and 'grey literature' in the last decade relevant to the Department's "strategic priorities of Housing Supply and Demand, Decent Places to Live, Tackling Disadvantage, Delivery Better Service and Promoting the Development of the English Regions" and "its bearing on the relationship between faith and other equalities strands in terms of ethnicities, gender, sexuality an disability". The review was conducted betseen January and July 2005
The evidence-based compilation confirms conclusions that have been drawn from the religion question in the 2001 Census: that Muslims live in the most deprived neighbourhoods of the country with the highest rates of unemployment. The report notes that "33 per cent of the Muslim population is located in the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods" (page 39). Their share of the population "broadly declines as prosperity increases".
Nearly 18 per cent of Muslims aged 16-24 were unemployed and nearly 14 per cent of those aged 25+ (comparative figures for Hindus are 7 and 5 per cent respectively]. Forty per cent of Muslim [and 26 per cent of Hindu, for comparative purposes] experience housing deprivation.
Interestingly, the report challenges the stereotype that Britain is becoming sharply divided along ethno-religious lines and that Muslims in particular are an insular and self-isolating community. For example it notes "the Muslim population is more ethnically heterogenous than the Sikhs or Hindus" and "there were only three wards in London [of around 900] in which Muslims formed over half of the population" (page 42). Moreover, "all Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in England are currently living in wards with mixed populations. They do not live in religiously exclusive wards....the Jewish and the Hindu populations, for example, have concentrations in areas of affluence" (page 43).
Clearly a policy implication is that when tackling problems of poverty and deprivation within the Muslim community, this should be done in an inclusive way, bearing in mind pockets of poverty within the Christian and ethnically white groups.
|The Muslim Faith and School Uniform
Published by the National Union of Teachers
Date: March 2006
Downloadable from www.teachers.org.uk/resources
The guidelines from the NUT provide advice for drawing up a school uniform policy, noting that "pupils have a right to dress in accordance with the requirements of their religious beliefs. It should be recognized that for Muslims in particular, the concepts of modesty and dignity in dress carry the status of a religious obligation". A school uniform policy "should be drawn up in consultation with parents, pupils, teachers and the wider community" and that if the school is unsure whether a particular choice of dress has religious or cultural significance, bodies consulted should include local religious groups.
The guidelines suggest that "in most lessons, the wearing of the hijab or jilbab would not present a health or safety hazard to either the wearer of the garment or other pupils". For PE and games, it advises schools to consider loose fitting clothing, including longer-sleeved shirts, leggings and tracksuits; smaller headscarves that can be fastened with studs or poppers; separate girls and boys groupings within PE, or if possible, separate PE lessons for girls and boys only; single sex swimming pools and separate changing facilities for boys and girls. Health and safety issues in science and technology lessons could also be addressed by wearing lab-coats or smaller headscarves.
The NUT is to be commended for taking practical steps in times when there is an urgency to clear the air and restore a sense of self-esteem and dignity across all sections of society and communities. A school's leadership should demonstrate there is room for Muslim culture and norms. It is only through nurturing Britain's diversity today that the nation’s future talent can flower tomorrow.
The NUT now joins the NATFHE (the university and college lecturers union) in preparing guidelines so that its members are better informed and equipped to deal with discrimination and situations that ostracise Muslims.
|'Preventing Extremism Together' Working Groups
Published by the Home Office
Date: August - October 2005
Downloadable from http://communities.homeoffice.gov.uk/
In August 2005, the Home Office invited about 90 Muslims to participate in a working group 'Working together to prevent extremism'. Seven task groups were set up: Education (chaired by Yusuf Islam); Engaging with Muslim women (Baroness Pola Manzila Uddin); Imams training and accreditation and the role of mosques as a resource for the whole community (Lord Nazir Ahmed); Regional and local initiatives and community actions (Nahid Malik); Community security - including addressing Islamophobia, increasing confidence in policing and lacking extremism (Muhammad Abdul Aziz); Tackling extremism and radicalisation (Inayat Bunglawala). The participants represented an informed and varied cross-section of the community with experience in community work, Labour Party political activity, the business sector, race and religious discrimination legislation, research and the media. There was a sprinkling of celebrities, some intellectual heavyweights and one or two non-Muslims well-known in interfaith dialogue circles. There was an element of oversight from Home Office civil servants observing and offering occasional advice.
The groups, varying in size from a dozen to over twenty, held a number of meetings including a week-end retreat (10-11th September) at Windsor . A draft report was presented to the Home Secretary on 22nd September and the final report, containing the task groups' eminently sensible 40 recommendations were published on the Home Office's website in November 2005. The Home Office has since announced its interest in pursuing three of these recommendations: a 'road show' idea - the establishment of an 'Islamic way of life' exhibition to tour schools to help increase understanding about Islam and "what Muslims actually believe and stand for"; the establishment of a national forum to tackle Islamophobia and extremism - it will "provide a forum for a diverse range of members of the British Muslim community to come together and discuss issues relating to tackling Islamophobia and harmful forms of extremism"; and finally and controversially, the establishment of a "new national advisory body/council of mosques and imams. This body would be inclusive and representative of the many traditions practiced in the UK, independent and lead by the instutions it serves".
The Government's intention to foster the advisory body of mosques and imams is likely to be seen as state interference in places of worship, unless it is genuinely independent of government and self-regulating. However the devil will be in the detail, and many imams are reserving comment until this is available.
The Government decided not to accept a recommendation most important to many of the Muslim participants: the need to establish and undertake a public inquiry (or a judicial inquiry) into the 'what, how and why' of the July bombings, including an enquiry into the root causes of, and the Government's and other public agencies response to, the atrocities". Presumably this was torpedoed because it would open up an investigation into foreign policy decisions that took the country into the Iraq misadventure. This rejection is a disservice to the nation, because a significant factor in tipping troubled young men into violent extremism have been the graphic images from that war and the resulting sense of injustice and hopelessness.
The Home Office task groups provided Muslims in Britain with an opportunity to engage with Government. The participants should be commended for their sense of public duty and responding to the challenge with creative hard work. This report should not be allowed to gather dust on some Whitehall shelf. Its more credible suggestions could form a basis for many useful projects carried out by community organizations themselves.
|Guidelines on religious discrimination & Islamic ethos - A guide for Muslim and Islamic organisations to explore religious discrimination legislation and organisational ethos
Published by: Faithworks and the Muslim Council of Britain
Date: August 2005
Suppose you are responsible for recruitment of staff in a Muslim school and you have an applicant who belongs to another faith or tells you he or she is an atheist. Do you have grounds for rejecting the application because you perceive this as detrimental to the religious ethos of your institution? The question also has other variations - suppose the applicant has a life-style on sexual matters that you find unacceptable in a work colleague? What do you do in these circumstances?
These questions have come to the fore as a result of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations (December 2003). The Guidelines' publishers are to be commended for providing a document that navigates through the issues and finding a legal expert (the author is unnamed) who has bravely endeavoured to seek a seamless join between liberal secular and religious values.
The new Regulations offer protection to those who might be victims of inferior treatment, harassment or discrimination because of their faith (or no faith). The Race Relations Acts of 1976 and 2000 are applicable where discrimination is on grounds of colour, race or nationality. Some faiths, like the Sikhs and Jews were able to obtain this protection because they were deemed to be ethnic groups. Muslims, not being an ethnic group, thus stood exposed and this lacuna, with respect to recruitment and employment, was removed by the 2003 Regulations.
The Regulations however do not just confer rights, but bring with them responsibilities, for employees and employers alike. The Guidelines are essential reading for managers and trustees of Muslim organizations and will help in addressing the questions outlined in the opening paragraph. The Regulations provide for Genuine Occupational Requirements (GORs) - the terminology to be used if a Muslim organisation seeks to appoint a Muslim employee and not anyone of another faith. Crucial to the application of GORs is the distinction between an institution part of 'organised religion' (this is the terminology of the Regulations) and one that might be deemed a 'religious organisation'. The former could be applied to institutions and service providers such as mosques and undertakers. The latter would be appropriate for Muslim schools, Muslim charities and civil society bodies including the Muslim Council of Britain itself.
The Guidelines provide advice on how both groups could justify GORs on the grounds of religious ethos. It notes, "identifying your organisational ethos is vital because it will be impossible to claim a GOR unless you can demonstrate that your organisation has a religious ethics...if the need for a Muslim in a certain post has nothing to do with the organisation itself being Muslim, then the need for a Muslim cannot be valid....in other words, the law says that if the organisation does not practice an Islamic ethos, then the need for a Muslim in any post cannot exist".
Three key extracts from the Guidelines:
"Ethos can be defined as the spirit or shared motivation of an organisation. It's why people do what they do. In other words it is the unique flavour or essence of an organsisation - what makes it tick. It is the distinctiveness that makes it different from another organisation and gives its identity. It is the environment within which the organisation's functions and activity are formed and delivered".
"The distinctive aspect of a Muslim organisation is that it is guided by universal Islamic values. This provides an ethical context in which all people, Muslims and Muslims alike, can co-operate in it order to fulfil the objects of the trust".
"Part of the ethos of an Islamic organisation is that there (a) is a personal relationship between human beings and God; and (b) individual responsibility before God for intention and action. This translates into the value of privacy which is guaranteed to Muslims and non-Muslims in their individual decisions on how to think and act".
"Family life has a central place in the life of an individual Muslim and within a Muslim community and provides an essential part of the values that maintain the religious ethos of a Muslim organisation. Marriage between a man and a woman is the central pillar for supporting the Islamic vision of family life and is the only proper context for sexual relations between people. Other forms of sexual relations are prohibited from an Islamic point of view. Part of the religious ethos of a Muslim organisation is that sexual relationships other than within marriage between a man and a woman are not an appropriate mattter for accomodation in the workplace. However, Muslim organisations will need to accept that private sexual relationships are outside the control and jurisdiction of the employer. They cannot be the basis of penalty or harassment within the workplace. A Muslim organisation can endorse support and advocate their view within the organisation, within the wider Muslim community and within wider civil society as part of its ethos. This can be seen to be part of the general religious ethos of a Muslim organisation".
Copies of the Guidelines can be obtained from the Muslim Council of Britain www.mcb.org.uk
|Islam, Race and Being British
Edited by Madeleine Bunting
Published by: The Guardian in association with the Barrow Cadbury Trust
Date: October 2005
ISBN: 0 85265 056 6
We are indebted to The Guardian, and one of the paper’s finest writers, Madeleine Bunting, for this timely collection of over twenty essays on themes of multiculturalism and the British Muslim identity. Since 9/11, The Guardian stands out as a newspaper that has encouraged the expression of a variety of views and interpretations on world events - an oasis of independent journalism and comment. The Guardian's progressive instincts led it to play host to a Muslim youth forum in January 2005, at which 50 people were brought together and presented with some big questions on religious identity and ethnicity. The editor notes that "this book reflects this debate, giving space to the reflections of several of the participants and reprinting key contributions to this debate which have appeared on the Guardian's comment pages".
The book is essential reading for those seeking to dip their toe in the national conversation on Britishness or the future direction of a multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Britain. The essays are grouped around three themes: 'What am I? The politics of identity'; 'What are we? The politics of belonging'; 'Habits of solidarity: the politics of living together'. Contributors include Tariq Modood, Paul Gilroy and Herman Ouseley, Gary Younge, Safraz Manzoor, Tariq Ramadan, Dilwar Hussain, Sunder Katalwal, Seaumus Milne, Polly Toynbee, Tinoth Garton Ash, Jonathan Freedland, Maleha Malik, Shareefa Fulat, Geoff Mulgan, Sukhvinder Stubbs, Tahir Abbas and Phoebe Griffiths, Ted Cantle, Ann Cryer, Azhar Hussain, Indra Adnan and Madeleine Bunting.
Memorable quotes: "I am afraid what will happen to us Muslims now. I wonder if we can find a hole big enough to hide in" (Ajmal Masroor - comment after the London bombings of 7/7);"One participant to the conference prefaced her remarks with the statement 'I believe in God'. You could hear, in the quality of the silence in the room, the shock that religious belief is unapologetically trespassing into manstream debate for a generation. And it is triggering profound anxiety in the secular left...." (Madeleine Bunting); "The emergence of a 'politics of difference' out of and alongside a liberal assimilationist equality created a disonance. Similarly, the emergence of a British Muslim identity out of and alongside ethno-racial identities has created an even greater dissonance because it challenges the hegemonic power of secularism in British political culture, especially on the centre-left" (Tariq Modood).