By, Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari, OBE
Chief Executive – Karimia Institute, Nottinghamshire
There is a massive trust deficit in our society today, particularly between the bankers, journalists, politicians, estate agents, police and some other professions. There is also a deficit of leadership that has worsened over the last four years of a coalition government. This now has led to the wider mistrust in the society mainly of the immigrants and in particular those of the Islamic faith. A Muslim psychologist has summed it up as follows:
“In the midst of continuous negative portrayal of Muslims, there seems to be a genuine fear in wider society that ‘Islamist aliens’ are taking over this island. Whilst many Muslims feel under siege and tend to think they are probably subject to a witch hunt, others still question Muslims’ place in this land and if they are part of a ‘Trojan Horse’ plot.” (M. Abdal Bari)
I believe both these claims are false, Muslims are not about to take over Britain and neither are the Brits carrying out a witch hunt.
The problems faced by Muslims
After 50 years of living in Britain its third and fourth generations have comfortably integrated by adopting British cultural values, speaking English, playing and supporting football teams, being cricket fans, loving fish and chips and working hard for their livelihoods. As well as embracing citizenship, democracy and tolerance. However, there are still serious issues:
- Muslims are religious people who are expressive of their faith without fear of criticism, even in the public square. Whilst Britain is a secular society that at best tolerates bit of religion in public but at worse dislikes it. Perhaps it is this aggressive secularism, atheism and humanism that is making Muslims anxious about preserving their faith, moral and spiritual values.
- British Muslims come from all over the world, just in my mosque in Hyson Green I counted 13 nationalities in my Friday congregation. It is a diverse community more accurately communities. This diversity is of course a source of richness that can be difficult to manage. As everyone has come and brought their cultural, regional, sectarian and historical baggage.
- The Muslim community is mainly working-class: factory workers, transport, small businesses and now a growing number of professionals in various fields. However, on the socio-economic deprivation indices they appear to be at the bottom of the national league. For them the British society is still not a level playing field.
- Majority of Muslims have close links with their country of origin and therefore are keen observers of the global problems facing Muslims, particularly in the Middle East. The chaos and almost anarchy created by terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram and Taliban and now, ISIL/ISIS in Muslim countries is having a devastating impact on Muslims here.
As a result there is a victimhood mentality amongst Muslims. There is wide spread feeling that the majority is being unfair, oppressive and a bully, the tyranny of the majority. But I believe Muslims should realise that in a democratic society where the media is absolutely free, we must learn to accept a rude, ruthless and a reckless media, sadly as a minority we have to face the torrent of misinformation and untruth.
The problems of mainstream society; Islamophobia
“There may be practical difficulties in pinning down what Islamophobia is, as it is not based on race or colour. Islamophobia is in reality cultural racism. Some in the academic world call this anti-Muslim bigotry. Criticism of Islam and Muslims is perfectly acceptable in an open society. But in a civilised society no-one should be allowed to hide behind acceptable criticism and display phobia to others. Whatever this is called, spitting at a Muslim woman because of a hijab, arson attacks on mosques and Islamic centres, desecration of Muslim graves, discrimination in the job market just because someone is Muslim should not be tolerated.” (M. Abdal Bari)
The frightening aspect of Islamophobia is that it is gradually being accepted as the norm in British society. I have lots of anecdotes from my personal life as well as from listening to other people who have experienced Islamophobia, they all support this view. I believe that the resignation of Baroness Warsi was a result of Islamophobic behaviour of senior politicians. Undoubtedly there is a well organised group of rightists and neo-conservatives who openly champion the notion of Islamophobia and some budding journalists make scary documentaries for BBC and ITV that give appalling image of Muslims.
Similarly I believe the Department for Education’s recent scandal about Muslim parents, governors, teachers, pupils and Muslim schools is an example of public sector following in the footsteps of the Islamphobes. Including my own experience of the departments shambolic handling of the free school given to the Muslim community in Nottingham, then withdrawn and given to a church of England school and the list goes on.
What can Muslims do?
I believe that the only way forward for Muslims is to build trust between people, structures like the public sector are enablers, work has to be carried out by the people. Muslims have to convince the wider community that they truly care for Britain, and have their best interests at heart. The role of civic society is now far more important and greater than ever before. The potential is also much greater. The reason being, there is the trust deficit with politicians. I recommend that Muslims should protest little but work harder at winning the trust of the wider society by doing the following:
- Do not feel a sense of victimhood because of current events, it is important this is not overblown.
- Do not overuse the term “Islamophobia” since the issue becomes desensitised.
- Present a good image of Muslims by excellent behaviour, exemplary citizenship and positive contribution to socio-economic life of your city.
- Setup trust building groups that will organise events for bringing people together, working in particular to raise Islam awareness. To complain about Islamophobia is important but it would be far more useful to raise awareness, through training police officers, journalists, public sector workers and teachers. This costs money, is the Muslim community willing to invest in its image?
What can politicians, public sector and the Press do?
Britain is the mother of democracy and has a mature and liberal democracy that is robust enough to cope with the extremists of all kinds; the far left and right of the political spectrum, as well as religious bigots and extremists. Not to be coerced by the extremist following their agendas. Recently, our governments have failed to give the right leadership with regards to community cohesion and tackling Islamophobia, here are three recommendations for politicians that could help to build trust:
- Play a fair game, not give in to extremist right wing elements.Due to a massive change of attitudes and anti-discrimination laws passed over the last few decades, we now rightly see a zero tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism. There is now a revulsion against colour or race-based bigotry; this is embedded in our social norm.
- Not to refer to criminals or violent extremists as Muslims. They are criminals,thats it!
- Encourage an open, honest and trust building exercise through dialogue through interfaith as well as multicultural activities.
This is not about giving Muslims any favour, but having a level playing field is important for Britain to progress as a fair nation. A lack lustre and a jaded response to Islamophobia will only make things worse. The equality act of 2010 requires public authorities to carry out equality duty, requires them to:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act
- Advance equality of opportunity between people
- Foster good relations between people
We should ask the city councilors how well they are fulfilling this duty. Do their Board members – senior managers, equality and diversity staff know their responsibilities clearly? How well are they delivering it?
Are Muslims the new Irish?
The possibility of Muslims taking over Britain is no more than a figment of the imagination. Sadly this idea has gained prevalence, thanks in part to a relentless effort by far-right and neo-conservative aligned media. “The description of Muslims as a demographic time-bomb bent on creating a ‘Londonistan’ or ‘Eurabia‘ has been infused in our national psyche.” (M Abdal Bari)
I think most of us do not recognise this kind of Britain, yes it is diverse, particularly in a dozen or so major cities where there is a large concentration of Muslims, but this apocalypse scenario is a sign of paranoia. In Britain – from Bradford to Birmingham – we see ordinary people and hardworking communities living side-by-side peacefully. Britain’s pluralism and diverse society is something to be cherished. It is a proud achievement of five decades of diligence by all.
The questions is, are the Muslims ready to seriously engage in tackling Islamophobia and help educate the wider community about themselves to all areas of society? This requires courageous and forward-looking leadership and an important partnership – a dialogue involving the politicians, the media and the Muslims. Are we ready for this challenge?