When British Islamists killed 52 people with suicide-bombs in London in 2005, the government worked closely with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) to co-ordinate public reaction to the attack. The council, an umbrella group for Islamic organisations, described its revulsion at such acts being carried out in the name of Islam. Tony Blair, then the prime minister, welcomed the response. By contrast, the MCB’s description of the recent murder of Alan Henning, a British taxi driver, by Islamic State as a “despicable and offensive act” was met with silence from the Conservative-led government. Once the chief interlocutor between Muslims and the government, the MCB has fallen from favour, and so has the whole idea of the government having a privileged Muslim partner.
The council presented itself as a diverse Muslim body. But Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arab Islamists held a big share of the top positions. From 2006, the Labour government began to seek other partners, especially among more moderate Pakistani Sufi groups who had felt frozen out. Those within the council blame the declining relationship between officials and organised Islam on the coalition government. They resent the belief of some influential Tories that religious conservatism leads seamlessly to violent radicalism. Seeing Muslims through the prism of terrorism is unhelpful, says Shuja Shafi, the MCB’s current secretary-general.