By Qari Muhammad Asim – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
This week The Prince of Wales has called British Muslims to follow “values that we hold dear”. The call was made by Prince Charles in an interview ahead of the start of his six-day tour to the Middle East.
The Prince of Wales also spoke of his anxiety at the number of young British Muslims being radicalised by extremist preachers and the internet and the continued persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
These concerns are deeply shared by British Muslims and British Imams have been very vocal in propounding that a sincere, intelligent and robust strategy should be adopted to deal with radicalization. In order to defeat extremism from amidst us, communities need to work harder at implementing the principles of ‘Love of God’ and ‘love of neighbour’ in their lives.
British Muslims are tremendously grateful to The Prince for his continuous efforts, through the Princes charities, to find alternatives for young people to “channel their enthusiasm, their energy, that sense of wanting to take risks and adventure and aggression” in a more constructive manner so that the tiny minority of young impressionable individuals, that are on the risk of being radicalized, feel an integral part of British society and become active contributing agents to our society.
Prince Charles’ comment that: “You think that the people who have come here, born here, go to school here, would abide by those values [ie British values] and outlooks.” is manipulated by the Far Right to incite hatred towards Muslims. Unlike the Far Right’s understanding of this statement, the comment is aimed at the tiny minority of individuals who are radicalized and not the overwhelming majority of British Muslims, who also hold dear British values.
In a recent letter, from Eric Pickles and Lord Ahmad, to over 1,000 Muslim leaders, it was acknowledged that “British values are Muslim values”. These British values include freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law and belief in personal and social responsibility. During his last Christmas message, the Prime Minister mentioned that the Christian values of “giving, sharing and taking care of others” at home and around the world were something Britain could be proud of.
Such “British Values” are also core Islamic values that are clearly enunciated in the Islamic tradition. It may surprise some but these values are no more than those normally observed by Muslims: they are part of our social and our religious identity.
In the current climate, when Islam has been widely associated with violence and Muslims are labeled as terrorists, it may sound strange to many that Islam’s core values include tolerance and acceptance of ‘the other’. Yet Islam encourages its followers to go beyond tolerance and embrace those outside the Islamic faith. Just as a Muslim would like to live in a peaceful, harmonious and prosperous society, similarly it is part of his or her core values to strive to bring harmony, prosperity, comfort and ease to others in society.
The stereotypical media portrayal of British Muslims – as bearded men gesticulating outside mosques or veiled women walking silently behind their husbands, somehow apart from British society – does not truly represent the British Muslim community. British Muslims are fully part of our society and make very significant contributions to it.
British Muslims are confident and comfortable with their religious and national identity; they do not see any contradiction in these identities and that is what our faith teaches us. We are proud of our faith and proud of our country.
Last year, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, reaffirmed the critical role of Islamic values in British society. He stated at the annual Living Islam Festival that Islam was helping to restore traditional British values.
With the challenges facing Britain today, faith communities have huge potential to make positive contributions to society. Muslims are actively involved in giving, sharing and taking care of others. In my home city of Leeds, the ‘Give a Gift’ scheme has seen hundreds of Muslims donating toys and gifts for youngsters being treated in hospitals. Every last Friday of the month, we hold a gathering outside Leeds Town Hall where people bring food and clothes for the ‘Leeds With the Homeless’ initiative.
Further afield in Birmingham, local parish churches and mosques work together to provide family services and youth activities. In Blackburn, a food donation drive hosts collection bins for the town’s Trussell Trust food bank. Across the country, British Muslims are running blood donation campaigns and giving to non-religious charities such as Macmillan, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, particularly during Ramadan, as part of our tradition of Zakat, or alms-giving.
British values are at the core of the Islamic faith, and are very much cherished by Muslims.
There is no doubt that the values held by British Muslims have much in common with those held by past generations of this country as well as those held by British citizens today. I hope that this spirit of positive contribution to society, and caring for the vulnerable, may long continue – for the benefit of all in Britain. It is these values that make Britain great, and make this a country that I and my fellow Muslims are proud to call home.