umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming | 2015.01.21 | 28 Rabiul Awwal 1436
The War on Terror has had too many outcomes to name. Among the most underplayed are those of creating the Muslim other. The psychological impact of being the most scrutinised, profiled and hated leaves more than a bitter aftertaste: it’s oppressive. That is why The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has raised objection to a letter urging senior Muslims to explain how Islam "can be part of British identity".
In a letter sent to more than 1000 Islamic leaders, Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles stressed that he was proud of the way Muslims in Britain had responded to the Paris terror attacks, but added that there was “more work to do” in rooting out extremists and preventing young people being radicalised. In the letter, co-signed with Muslim peer, Lord Tariq Ahmad, Pickles told British Imams: “You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility, in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.” Radicalism “cannot be solved from Whitehall alone”. Prime Minister David Cameron strongly defended Mr Pickles' remarks made in the letter sent to mosques in England - saying they were "reasonable, sensible and moderate" and that anyone who took issue with them had a problem.
The Muslim Council on the other hand said that Muslims should not have to go out of their way prove to loyalty to Britain and rejected suggestions that they were somehow "inherently apart from British society" while Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said he was dismayed by Mr Pickles' letter, which was "typical of the government only looking at Muslims through the prism of terrorism and security". He added that his comments were "patronising and factually incorrect". "We do not need a patronising letter from ministers to tell us to campaign against terrorism, promote values and do more against extremism when all the evidence points to Muslims organisations doing just that," he said.
According to the BBC, the government has always worked closely with the Muslim Council of Britain till about about 10 years ago when ministers began to seek out other more “moderate” Muslim partners.
The letter has been criticised by other religious leaders too. The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, said it should have asked "how Muslims can contribute to our values, not just have asked how Islam can be part of British identity".
Muslims make for around 5.2% of the overall British population of 63 million. Muslim hate-crime in London has shot up by almost 65% in the last year. Metropolitan Police figures show that incidents of hate crime rose from 344 to 570 in the last year, and women are key targets because of their identifiable Islamic dress.
Muslim community leaders in the past have condemned terrorism committed by Muslims in language clouded by the rhetoric of minority grievance. And yes, it is natural that the departure of a hundred young Muslims to fight for ISIS raise questions about community loyalty.
The big question remains on how the “ordinary” Muslim reacts to all this: treat the sneering left and the Muslim-baiting right with equal contempt?
The best answer is not to become despondent, but to reexamine the individual role of living as a purposeful Muslim. As a manual for daily living, the sunnah is something to be proud about. It is easily transferable. Despite all the negatives, Islam is Britain’s fastest-growing religion, having doubled its numbers to around three million since 2000. One in ten children under the age of four is a Muslim. Sure, racial hate and savagery by militant thugs may dampen the overall atmosphere but it’s time to examine a relationship with ordinary Britons.
There are academic studies which challenge the link between religion and war. Research published from the New York and Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace looked at all of the wars that took place in 2013. It found no 'general causal relationship' between religion and conflict.
In fact, religious elements played no role at all in 14 (40%) of the 35 armed conflicts in the research, and only five (14%) had religious elements as their main cause, the report showed. All of the wars had multiple causes, and the much more common motivation was opposition to a government, or to the economic, ideological, political or social systems of a state, which was named as a main factor in nearly two thirds of the cases studied.
The positive role of religion in maintaining peace is often overlooked in the media. Last year March, St. John's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, Scotland, became the first church in the United Kingdom to share its premises with Muslim worshippers. Church officials now welcome hundreds of Muslims praying five times a day in their building because the nearby mosque is filled to overcapacity and Muslim worshippers are forced to pray outside.
The ordinary “Zaid Bakr and Amr” can take solace in knowing that indeed, some of the most iconic advocates for peace are, or were, deeply religious: Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It never too late to examine a relationship with ordinary Britons, it is time to counter the mainstream narrative: Islam deserves so much more than being analysed through the prism of terrorism and security. Every Muslim is a worker.