In a speech to the UK’s House of Commons in March 2017, actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, a Muslim, delivered a message about the importance of diversity and representation in the media:
What people are looking for is a message that they belong. Every time you see yourself it’s a message that you matter, that you’re part of the national story.
But when it comes to the “national story”, the one about Muslims is pretty grim. The pressing issue of Islamophobia is both fuelled and defined by the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Muslims in the media. Instead of challenging the images of the “oppressed” Muslim woman, or the violent Middle Eastern man that propagate our media, mainstream films often reinforce them. But films are also platforms with the potential to create change through alternative narratives. Our visual culture can play a crucial role in the way we understand the world. So the question is, what do our visual platforms tell us about our cultural perceptions of Muslims? In other words, how are Muslims represented in our stories?
With backgrounds in education research and tech respectively, Sadia Habib and Shaf Choudry have kickstarted a project that not only asks this question, but also strives to offer evidence-based answers. In an attempt to quantify the representation of Muslims, the duo has coined what they call the Riz Test. Inspired by the Bechdel test, (which challenges viewers to consider the way women are represented in whatever they happen to be watching) and Riz Ahmed’s speech, Habib and Choudry use five points to measure the depiction of Muslims in films and TV shows.
In their own words, the Riz Test: “is a project to measure the portrayal of Muslims in film and TV. What’s new is that we’re creating a data set that measures how poorly Muslims are represented.”
On Christmas Eve, churches all over the country will welcome into their midnight mass services people who rarely take part in acts of Christian worship but find candlelit carols irresistible.
In the pews of St Alban’s in North Harrow there will be a special group of visitors: about three dozen Muslims from a nearby mosque.
For the past 10 years, worshippers at the Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex have been attending midnight mass at St Alban’s as a way of meeting their neighbours and taking part in Christmas festivities.
“For us, attending midnight mass is a great chance to participate in an important part of Christmas celebrations and meet people from our local church, many of whom have become our friends,” said Miqdaad Versi, an executive committee member of SICM.
“Ten years ago, this was one of the first times we met, and now it has flourished into a much stronger and long-lasting relationship as we meet regularly, work together and organise joint events.”
The Christmas visits were initiated by young members of the mosque. The executive committee checked with the church that they would be welcome, and every year since up to 50 Muslims have attended the midnight service.
Versi said that most Muslims enjoyed Christmas celebrations and the focus on family. “There are differences in belief, of course, but in the Islamic faith Jesus is revered as a major prophet.”
Pressure builds on party leaders to recognise racism targeting ‘Muslimness’
Muslim organisations are urging Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and all other party leaders to adopt a newly proposed working definition of Islamophobia in an attempt to put pressure on a reluctant Home Office to follow suit.
The Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamic groups want the Conservatives and Labour to take the lead in the aftermath of a week marked by public outrage over the alleged racist bullying of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Huddersfield.
The definition was set out in a report published by a cross-party group of MPs last week and says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
However, a Home Office minister said earlier that the department had no intention of adopting a definition, in response to a question from one of the chairs of the cross-party group, the Conservative MP Anna Soubry. Victoria Atkins told the Commons in March that there were “many definitions of Islamophobia”, but added: “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring systems of all race-hate crimes.”
Traditional Jewish dish is prepared at East London mosque on day of social action.
It is a beloved Jewish dish, served at Shabbat dinners to family and friends and reputed to have powerful medicinal properties. It is not normally cooked or served in a mosque.
But on Sunday, vast quantities of chicken soup – often known as “Jewish penicillin” – were being made at the East London mosque by Jewish and Muslim volunteers to be distributed to homeless centres.
Mounds of carrots, garlic, onions and celery were peeled and chopped on long benches by Muslim scouts, volunteers from Muslim Aid, members of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation and the New Stoke Newington Shul.
Tahir Iqbal, events director of Elite Caterers, was in charge of preparing 90 halal chickens for the pot. His company, which caters for Asian weddings and corporate events, donated the ingredients, equipment and transport for the cookathon.
“This is a new experience for us. I’ve never made Jewish chicken soup before, but I’ve been practising for two weeks, including on my family,” he said. The nearest Asian equivalent was chicken yakhni, a spicy broth, he added.
Young Christians, Muslims and Jews at the forefront of interfaith cooperation in the UK are honoured today in a unique collaboration between media outlets from the three faiths.
British Muslim TV, Church Timesand Jewish News, together with Coexist House, joined forces for the 21 for 21 project to identify inspiring individuals aged under 40 who are increasing dialogue and breaking down barriers – particularly as volunteers but also in their working lives.
After receiving around 100 nominations, our expert panel of judges representing the various strands of each of the Abrahamic faiths selected our list of 21 – seven from each faith – that we publish today across the three outlets, alongside a group of ‘highly commended’ nominees. They include a Hip Hop artist, radio presenter, community cafe owner and a Muslim Hebrew teacher.
It is believed this is the first time media outlets from different faiths have cooperated in such a way anywhere in the world. Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said: “At a time of concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia, this initiative between media outlets of different faiths is more important than ever.
Despite the challenges, we have much to be proud of when it comes to the depth and breadth of interfaith cooperation in this country. It is right we should celebrate those leading the way now and in the future.”
A new project is trying to get Christians, Muslims and people of other religions working together more closely to tackle crime.
Faith and Police Together wants to see more projects like the Street Pastors initiative – which help make our streets safer.
Paul Blakey MBE is a Christian and one of the founders.
He told Premier’s News Hour the group wants to promote good work the Church is already doing.
“As a Church, as Christians, we’re really good at engaging with our police,” he said.
“In some way we need to kind of support and celebrate and encourage and equip other faith communities to do similar things.”
The new initiative has identified addiction, homelessness, youth related crime and loneliness as four priority areas to concentrate on and to encourage faith communities to engage with over the next year.
Deputy Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Paul Netherton said in a statement: “Often faith groups have a high motivation to help within our society but sometimes don’t know how they can help or even how they talk to the police to find out what the problems are or how they can assist.
“My experience of working with groups and churches is that once you start the conversations you unlock massive social capital that can transform an area or make a real difference to a problem.
“This is a great initiative and is welcomed by the police and will lead to some transformational change to some of the most challenging social issues across the country.”
Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups have joined together to celebrate the way young people are promoting interfaith collaboration.
In a world first, three media outlets serving the three Abrahamic faiths have joined forces to set up the 21 for 21 project, which is aimed at finding “21 leaders for the 21st century”.
The project is looking for 21 young people who have made a significant difference to understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths.
“There is a widely held perception that faith communities in this country and elsewhere are in constant conflict. I think that’s actually not the case,” Justin Cohen, the news editor at Jewish News who set up the project, told The Independent.
He said although there were examples of spikes in community tension, “particularly at times of conflict in the Middle East”, overall relations between communities in the UK are “a beacon, an example, for other communities in other countries”.
The project, he said, was “an example and a way of highlighting that as well as celebrating young people who are the future of interfaith understanding and cooperation in the UK.”
The 21 young people – seven Christians, seven Muslims and seven Jews – will be chosen from a range of nominees.