The battle for the soul of British Islam

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Fresh arrivals to any country feel blind and weakened: they seek jobs, housing and familiarity. Newcomers yearn for memories of their old nation state – Italian olive oil, south Indian dosas or Turkish kanafeh. Laws that appear foreign, and values that were never particularly strong at home, are slowly adopted through experience and navigation. Faith provides a shelter from tumultuous change.

In recent years, in no regard has the narrative about immigration and values proved more volcanic than in addressing the role of Muslims. Three new books attempt to cast a light on modern Islam’s contract with the West. Letters to a Young Muslim is a collection of missives written by the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Russia to his elder son, Saif, now aged 16. The author, Omar Saif Ghobash, was six years old when his own father, the UAE’s first foreign minister, was shot and killed by a teenage Palestinian assassin at Abu Dhabi International Airport in 1977. The intended target was the Syrian president Hafez al-Assad’s foreign minister, who was visiting the UAE; the 19-year-old gunman was later executed.

Ghobash’s book is part memoir and part instructional guide to the liberal values he would like to see flourish in conservative Islamic societies. He gives special prominence to educated imams, higher education and a greater tolerance of antithetical views. In the 40th-anniversary year of his father’s death, Letters to a Young Muslim is also a synthesis of grief and purpose. As he writes, “For me . . . it has been impossible to leave my father behind. I have carried his memory with me through the years, always imagining what he might have said to me, or done in my place.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW STATESMAN 

‘Good Muslims’ or ‘Good citizens’: how Muslim women feel about integration

UK muslimsA great many things have been said about Muslims as UK citizens, mainly by non-Muslims. The prime minister, David Cameron, believes that if more Muslim women became proficient in English, for example, it would help beat extremism and terrorism. Meanwhile, Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says that UK Muslims “See the world differently from the rest of us”.

Phillips also presented a controversial Channel 4 programme called What British Muslims Really Think, which put across the message that Muslims are more conservative than the majority population and don’t want to integrate into wider society.

The debate is often highly intemperate – and both Muslim and non-Muslim voices alike have suggested it contributes to further stigmatisation of an already marginalised and disadvantaged Muslim population. In this highly politicised climate, the relationship between Islam and citizenship has also come under scrutiny by Citizens UK, a charitable voluntary organisation with churches, mosques and unions among its members.

In July 2015, Citizens UK launched its Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life headed by conservative MP Dominic Greave. Greave somewhat unfortunately framed the Commission’s work as aiming to “help tackle extremism”.

The commission is holding a series of public hearings throughout the UK, asking Muslims to speak about barriers to their participation in society but also asking how “the Muslim community” can improve its participation. Although commendable for speaking with and soliciting views from Muslims around the country, there is also a problem with the approach chosen by Citizens UK, in that it only focuses on the Muslim population. In a febrile political atmosphere, it risks legitimising the isolation of Islamic faith and the prejudiced idea that Muslim citizens in Britain are uniquely problematic and a “one-voice” community.

FULL ARTICLE FROM UK ECONOTIMES 

Muslims like me are asked the same questions after any terrorist attack. For the record, here are our answers

muslim-prayer-getty-2“The Donald” has once again reared his head, this time in an interview with Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. After being called out last year for his lie about no-go areas in the UK by the Chief of the Police, he claimed today that Muslims are sheltering terrorists and not reporting suspected terror cases to the police.

The problem with Donald Trump – other than the fact that his statements on Muslims seem to be a classic case of political fear-mongering: conflating issues of terrorism, criminality, refugees and migration to gain votes with no regard to its consequences  – is that he seems to makes claims based on very little real evidence.

 Trump says British Muslims are “absolutely not reporting” suspected terrorists

Let’s break this down into some simple questions and answers: do British Muslims condemn terrorism? Do British Muslims report terrorism when they see it? Can British Muslim communities do more?

Do British Muslims condemn terrorism?

If you find yourself asking this question, you may have failed to look for the answer. Muslim communities across the UK have and will continue to condemn terrorism unequivocally. See, for example, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) website for a list of such statements. In fact, the MCB even issued a full page advert in the Daily Telegraph to underscore this point.

Bradford (UK) synagogue saved by city’s Muslims

Bradford-Synagogue-012It was around this time last year that the trustees of Bradford’s final remaining synagogue faced a tough choice. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking; there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls; and there was no way the modest subscriptions paid annually by the temple’s 45 members could cover the cost.

Rudi Leavor, the synagogue’s 87-year-old chairman, reluctantly proposed the nuclear option: to sell the beautiful 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship.

It was a terrible proposition, coming just after the city’s only Orthodox synagogue had shut its doors in November 2012, unable to regularly gather 10 men for the Minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish male adults required for certain religious obligations.

But rather than close, Bradford Reform Synagogue’s future is brighter than ever after the intervention of Bradford’s Muslim community, which according to the 2011 census outnumbers the city’s Jews by 129,041 to 299.

A fundraising effort – led by the secretary of a nearby mosque, together with the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate – has secured the long-term future of the synagogue and forged a friendship between Bradfordian followers of Islam and Judaism. All things being well, by Christmas the first tranche of £103,000 of lottery money will have reached the synagogue’s bank account after some of Bradford’s most influential Muslims helped Leavor and other Jews to mount a bid.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK) 

Not in My Name: Young British Muslims Protest ISIS

n-NOTINMYNAME-large570These young British Muslims have a message for the so-called “Islamic” State: Don’t murder innocents in my name.

Activists led by Britain’s Active Change charity are spreading peace online, using the same social media platforms that the terrorists are using to propagate hate.

The young people are openly lambasting the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, for “hiding behind a false Islam.”

“Young British Muslims are sick and tired of the hate-filled propaganda the terrorists ISIS and their supporters churn out on social media,” the charity’s founder, Hanif Qadir, told Huffington Post UK. “They are angry that the criminals are using the platforms to radicalize young people and spread their poisonous words of violence in the name of Islam.”

The Islamic State claims its reign of terror in Northern Syria and Iraq is rooted in faith. But the group’s actions prove otherwise. The terrorists have beheaded three Westerners in recent weeks, recording and sharing the gruesome acts online. A fourth victim, former British cabdriver Alan Henning, is next on the group’s hit list.

“Islam teaches us respect, mercy, peace and kindness, a faith we strongly believe in and one we want to protect from radicals and fanatics whose very existence threatens our religion,” one young Muslim told Huffington Post UK.

The Muslim Council of Britain roundly condemned the Islamic State’s actions and called for Henning’s release.

Islam’s ability to empower is a magnet to black British youths

Muslims pray at the Central London mosqueA seminar was hosted last month by Christians Together in England to consider ways to “stem the flight of black British youths to Islam and radicalisation”. In an unprecedented move, Muslims were invited to attend – and they did. Together, both faith groups discussed the reasons why a growing number of young black people are choosing Islam in preference to Christianity. According to this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, one in nine black Christian men are converting to Islam.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Sunday mass regularly as a child. I also attended a Roman Catholic secondary school – initially a cultural shock as I found myself the only black student among a predominantly white class. The religious focus of the school was, however, a refreshing contrast to my urban, street background. Teachers and students were more serious about God than at my previous schools. A student was not considered “nerdy” or “odd” due to their religiosity. I was therefore able to excel in religious studies and was successful in my final O-level exam.

During these lessons, the more we learned about religion, the more we questioned and challenged particular concepts, particularly relating to Christianity. Questions about the concept of the trinity – the Godhead being three in one – caused many debates as some of us; myself and others did not find this logical or feasible. Our religious studies teacher became exasperated by persistent questions on this topic, and arranged for the local priest to attend and address the question. His explanations did little to remove our doubts in this very fundamental and important area of faith.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN