By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Masjid, Leeds
The Prime Minister David Cameron stressed his commitment to “Christian values” as he delivered his seasonal message at Christmas. The Prime Minister said “giving, sharing and taking care of others” at home and around the world was something Britain could be proud of. “Across the country volunteers and workers from charities and other organisations will drop in on the vulnerable and elderly so they are not isolated this Christmas”, he continued.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister came under fire for stoking “alienation and division” when he insisted that Britain is a “Christian country”.
The religious landscape of Britain has changed more in the past 30 years than in the preceding 300. Most young people these days are agnostic or atheist. British Muslims, like any other civilized individuals who believe in the values mentioned by the Prime Minister, want to see values such as “giving, sharing and taking care of others” playing a more prominent role in our society.
British Muslims have a broad range of experiences and interests and the values of giving, sharing and taking care of others are at the core of the Islamic faith, and are very much cherished by Muslims. The Glorious Qur’an asserts:
“Virtue is not that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the relatives and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the Zakah (poor-rate)” [Qur’an 2: 177].
The Qur’an inspires Muslims to follow high moral values.
Broadly speaking, the media’s portrayal of the “Muslim community” involves referring to them as terrorists and backward, a succession of veiled women walking silently behind their husbands or bearded men gesticulating outside mosques. But such a stereotypical portrayal does not truly represent the Muslim community, and they are often portrayed as not being willing to follow universal shared values. In the wake of Birmingham’s Trojan Horse controversy in the Summer of 2014, British Muslims were told to follow “British values”; these being freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, and belief in personal and social responsibility. These much debated and loosely defined “British Values” are four core Islamic values that are clearly enunciated in the Islamic tradition.
These values are nothing other than what is normally observed by Muslims and have become part of their socio/religious identity. There is also no doubt that the values held by British Muslims have far more in common with those held by past generations of this country than those held by many British citizens. Family breakdown and incivility are part of the normal experience of modern Britain, and Muslim families are not immune from this experience. However, Muslim families and communities are incredibly strong and cohesive and have a sense of civic responsibility. It is easy to dismiss Muslim parents as old-fashioned and traditional but when we are trying to respond to family breakdown and a culture of rampant disrespect amongst teenagers, it is worth considering whether we can learn from Muslim values. Muslim parents also tend to be less interested in child-centred parenting and more into parent-centred parenting.
In August 2014, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams acknowledged the critical role of Islamic Values in British society. He stated at the annual Living Islam Festival that Islam was restoring traditional British values.
With the challenges facing Britain today, faith communities have huge potential to make positive contributions to society and Muslims are actively involved in giving, sharing and taking care of others. Some recent examples of British Muslims working together to give, share and care for others include:
- In Birmingham a local parish and a mosque combining together to provide family services and youth activities. In Blackburn, a food donation drive organised by One Voice Blackburn during Ramadan last year led to five mosques permanently hosting collection bins for the town’s Trussell Trust food bank.
- The ‘Give a Gift’ scheme, run in Leeds, has seen hundreds of Muslims donating toys and gifts for youngsters being treated in hospitals. ‘Leeds With the Homeless’ is another Muslim volunteered based project with the ethos of people helping each other. Every last Friday of the month, there is a gathering outside Leeds Town Hall where people bring food/clothes/charitable items and help the needy.
- Al-Mizan provides grants of up to £500 to individuals in crisis across the UK and offers support to anyone in need, regardless of religion or ethnic background. The Sufra food bank, run from a small community centre on a north-west London housing estate, sees a constant stream of people coming to claim food packages.
- ‘I’m a Muslim & I give blood’ and many other such like campaigns are run by Muslims across the country to urge people to donate blood.
- The Muslim Association of Croydon has organised a Friday evening “feed the homeless” soup kitchen on the forecourt of a hostel near the Croydon mosque.
- JustGiving, an online charity platform, has reported an increase in digital giving by British Muslims, particularly during Ramadan, over the last couple of years and the trend seems to continue. They went on to note that “Muslims also gave large amounts of Zakat to non-religious charities such as Macmillan, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.”
The values such as giving, sharing, caring, freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law are shared human values across different faith groups. Faith communities have a long history of contributing to social action, and this cannot be done more effectively than by different groups coming together to work as one in implementing shared values. They are able to impact on areas of high social needs, respond to local priorities, increase volunteering and have a history of working in the spirit of localism. Let’s hope that this spirits of sharing and caring may long continue for the benefit of all in Britain.