Britain, Let’s Talk, Say Muslims

By Dominic Casciani The organisers insist it is a coincidence, but the fact that IslamExpo fell on the first anniversary of the London bombings was the powerful symbol British Muslims needed to say very publicly what they stand for. The $1.8m show at London’s Alexandra Palace could have been just another event where Muslims talks to Muslims about being Muslim. But instead the organisers found a simple formula of exhibitions, market stalls, and robust debate that very successfully managed to bring in a healthy proportion of white, non-Muslim people and, critically, create some dialogue. And so, while the two-minute silence came and went, and Britain reflected on how we find, in simplest terms, a way to all get on, the many different people at IslamExpo just got on with it. For Ihtisham Hibatullah, co-ordinator of the massive enterprise, this was what it was all about. Taking his guests through the entrance hall of a Bedouin-style tent, and a very lavish interactive history of Islam, he said the show’s mission was to give confidence to Britain’s Muslim communities.
Black in the Union Jack Stopping at a gallery of work by British Muslim artists, he said the images were a perfect way of understanding the reality of the modern world. “Islam is not just part of the East anymore,” said Mr Hibatullah. “It began there, but is now very much part of Europe, part of Britain. “Look at these pictures. Here is one of the Union Jack in the style of Islamic calligraphy. I don’t think the flag is the trade mark of the British National Party anymore, is it? “We are trying to give people a sense off Islamic history, of identity but, crucially, we are trying to provide means through which British Muslims can show how they have contributed to our society.” Among the thousands trooping through the doors of Ally Pally were an estimated 4,000 school children from all over the UK.
History comes alive In the marquee of Exhibition Islam, a touring organisation that takes historic artefacts into schools, children of all backgrounds crowded around Imtiaz Alam as he showed them a 16th century Koran. “It has been fantastic to be here and see the non-Muslim kids taking an interest,” said Imtiaz, who has received invitations from American and Australian organisations. “I am really glad that so many people have taken the time to listen and learn. “Every time we do our show, and we must have taken it to 250,000 people by now, we find a good reception. People want to learn and understand and appreciate what Islam means to Muslims.” And this was key for the diverse audience. While the tough lectures and deep thinking went on in some of the marquees, the biggest attraction for the children were workshops with a lighter touch. Khayaal Theatre Group was among those holding music and dance shows for the kids, drawing on traditional Islamic stories from around the Muslim world. Luqman Ali, founder of Khayall, has long campaigned among Muslim communities for them to use the arts to both understand themselves and forge links with wider society. “It is through story-telling and the universal values that they contain we can improve inter-cultural understanding and start dealing with issues like alienation, isolation and segregation,” said Luqman. “It’s through stories that people and civilisations better understand each other, rather than through dogma and doctrine.” Luqman said however that he had mixed feelings a year on from the bombings. “The consequences were not uniform – in some parts of society it’s been a catalyst for much more dialogue and for individuals to bridge the gap of understanding. “In other ways it has increased anxieties – I have times when I am optimistic and times when I am very pessimistic.”
New generation Intissar Khreeji-Ghannouchi shared Luqman Ali’s mixed feelings, saying the past few years had been an “emotional rollercoaster”. A recent Cambridge law graduate, Intissar is representative of a new emerging generation of confident Muslim women determined to take on prejudices stereotypes. “I think there is a lot of optimism created by this event – it shows how we can all overcome the actions of individuals [the bombers] who want to break the Muslim community away from the rest of society. “We need to find ways of having a genuine dialogue with each other and I feel IslamExpo is a very important step. Look at what you have here today – you have an opportunity to properly introduce people to Muslim culture. The public perception is very negative but if we are open, we can combat it.” Intissar said that she had personally found it frustrating to sometimes explain to non-Muslims why she wears a headscarf. “Then I started reminding myself that while it is a normal part of me, I should put myself in their shoes – they are curious and may not understand. I would be naturally curious about another culture and what it means. “I think since 9/11 we [the British] have had to think more deeply about identity. “This has been an invigorating experience but also one of urgency because Muslims now recognise that it is not enough to be passive.” And the pro-active stance taken by people such as Intissar was one that went down well with the non-Muslim visitors who had come to learn and talk. South London A-level students Laura Burtonshaw, Lucie Robathan and Katie Carpenter were among the significant number of non-Muslim visitors. They said they had been enormously enthused by the experience which had helped them understand the relationships between Islam and Christianity. “We really think it has been brilliant,” said Katie. “It is really what we all need to see and hear. I just can’t get over how friendly everyone has been.” Laura said the trio had been studying the roots of religion at school but the show had given them a real opportunity to really understand the daily lived-in culture of Islam. “The most important thing is that we find a way to learn and understand each other,” she said.

40 Pct Of Uk Muslims Back Sharia – Poll

LONDON (Reuters) – Four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia, or Islamic law, introduced in predominantly Muslim parts of the country, a poll showed on Sunday. One in five of those polled for the Sunday Telegraph also said they sympathised with the “feelings and motives” of suicide bombers who killed 52 people in attacks on the London transport system last July. British Muslims emerged from the poll as becoming more radicalised and alienated from mainstream society but 91 percent did say they feel “loyal” to the United Kingdom. Sharia is implemented to varying degrees in several Muslim countries including Iran and Saudi Arabia, where religious courts can impose punishments including stoning, amputation and execution. In other countries sharia is applied to specific areas such as family law, banking, or religious rituals. The poll came just one day after 10,000 Muslims took to the streets of London to express their anger and hurt over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad. They were first published in September in a Danish newspaper and were then reprinted by papers in other countries but not Britain. The publication prompted uproar in the Islamic world, with thousands taking to the streets to protest. Five people were killed in protests in Pakistan and 10 people were reported to have died in clashes in Libya. Sixteen died in Nigerian riots. Many Muslims believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet. In London, a small demonstration in front of the Danish embassy earlier in the month provoked outrage as masked men called for those who insulted Islam to be beheaded.

Muslim Group Attacks Mosque Plan

Government plans that could see the closure of mosques suspected of inciting extremism have been attacked by Muslim leaders. Sir Iqbal Sacranie said the move would “criminalise an entire community for the criminality carried out by a few”. The Muslim Council of Britain secretary general made his comments in a speech to an east London conference focusing on the role of Muslims in the UK. But he added loyalty to the UK was not incompatible with the Muslim faith. Met Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer are among the other figures addressing more than 20,000 people at the Global Peace and Unity conference. Wider community Sir Iqbal described the government proposals designed to tackle terrorism the “single most dangerous piece of legislation”. Under the plans, police could seek a court order for the temporary closure of a place of worship if extremist behaviour or terrorist activity was believed to be taking place. Mosques were not specifically singled out in the proposal but most people would see the proposal as referring to mosques and trustees of mosques, the MCB has said. The comments follow a recent warning by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the plan could be seen as an attack on religion. Assistant Chief Constable Rob Beckley, who is responsible for community relations at the association, said if officers had suspicions about a particular mosque they would want to identify those responsible rather than close it down. Sir Iqbal also used his speech to call for a public inquiry into the 7 July London bomb attacks. The MCB’s Sher Khan said the gathering at the Excel centre fulfilled a “very important need to clarify to the wider community that British Muslims are part and parcel of the wider community”.

For Britain’s Muslims, Uneasy Days

By H.D.S. Greenway I met Sher Khan in a caf_ near Leicester Square. It was Ramadan, so, although I had a coffee, he made do with nothing, waiting until sundown to break the fast that is obligatory for observant Muslims the world over. Khan was born here, but his family came from Bangladesh. His day job is in investments, but he works with the Islamic Society of Britain, an umbrella group that keeps tabs on how Muslims are faring in Britain. According to Khan, the minority problem in Britain used to be perceived in racial terms more than religious. But since 9/11, and especially since the suicide bombings of July, “we have a new identity marker, Muslim.” But Khan is quick to say that, although the majority of Muslims in Britain may originally have come from the Indian subcontinent, there are Arabs, Africans, Central Asians. Since the British empire was more diverse than other empires, so are the Muslims of Britain today. Khan and other British Muslims I have talked to mostly say that Britain is as good a place as any in which to be a minority. Since the English had to first absorb the Scots and the Welsh, and some of the Irish, multiculturalism had a head start here, they say. And just as Scots and Welsh are always annoyed when foreigners lump them together with the English, so does Sher Khan remark that even here in Britain, Muslims are lumped together as one. More often than not, ethnicity trumps religion among Muslims in Britain. Bangladeshis, on the whole, are further down on the social scale – and more discriminated against – than people from Pakistan, I have been told. Other Muslims, such as the Arabs, have felt swamped by the total numbers of those who came from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and some complain that most of the Muslim organizations are run by Pakistanis who, they say, don’t really speak for them. In France, the Muslim population is more homogeneous, for, although you find Muslims from every climate, North Africans predominate following the retreat of the French empire. Some Muslims have found it easier to adjust to the majority culture than others. Professor Philip Lewis, who teaches at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies, for example, told me that a very large proportion of Muslims in his former mill town, as well as in Britain as a whole, originally came from a few villages in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, according to Lewis, not far from the epicenter of the recent earthquake. They were originally rural people who might have had difficulty adjusting to life in Karachi, never mind in Britain. They have kept a very close-knit community, with even British-born second and third generations sending back to the old country for their imams and even for their spouses, making it harder for them to integrate. Lewis contrasts the Kashmiris to the Indians and Pakistanis who were expelled from East Africa. Having adjusted to being a minority once, the latter were more adept at it the second time around. Is it harder for Muslims to adjust in Britain than other minorities? Faisal Bodi, a freelance writer, says maybe it is. “Our two popular soaps, ‘East Enders’ and ‘Coronation Street,’ both take place in pubs, for example, and it is difficult for an observant Muslim to relate to the pub culture.” According to Sher Khan, the goal in Britain should be integration, not assimilation as in France. “Assimilation always requires a measure of coercion,” he says. Most British Muslims are feeling the post-suicide bombing heat, however, as the government rushes to introduce even tougher antiterrorism laws. Some of these proposals have been questioned by legal authorities, and it is hard to miss the uneasiness that British Muslims are beginning to feel. I asked Fred Halliday, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics, what he thought about the new legislation. He said that such laws were necessary only to make people feel good. Governments had to show that they were “doing something,” but as for thwarting terrorism, such laws are useless. What it takes is “good police work and luck.” Terrorists, Halliday said, come from a tiny, transnational minority who, from perceived injustices and humiliations in their formative years, have found an answer in extremism – not unlike the way youths were drawn to and recruited by the Communist Party. “They want to change the world,” and understanding them has as much to do with the psychology of young people as it does with Islam.

Establish Body To Train Imams: UK Muslim Leaders

British Muslim leaders called on the government to establish a national body to oversee mosques and imams as part of efforts to combat extremism following the July bombings in London. Working groups advising the government said that the proposed National Advisory Council of Imams and Mosques could recommend ways for mosques to prevent extremism, train Imams and encourage British-born Muslims to become clerics. Lord Ahmed, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords who headed one of the groups on Thursday, said that 1,700 of the estimated 2,000 Imams in Britain were educated and trained abroad. “As British Muslims we need to be prepared to modernise the way we operate, encouraging integration and helping our children to feel proud to be British,” he said. “I and my colleagues believe that the establishment of this Advisory Council is an important step towards this goal.” European governments seeking to counter the spread of extremism within some mosques are concerned that sermons are often not conducted in the country’s predominant language and that many clerics come from abroad rather than from local Muslim communities. The Dutch government earlier this year revoked the residency permits of three Imams whom it accused of preaching hate. In France, where a third of the 1,200 Imams do not speak French, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy recently called for better oversight of mosques in order to root out radicals.

Most British Muslims back the government’s plans to deport radical Islamist “hate preachers”

Most British Muslims back the government’s plans to deport radical Islamist “hate preachers” it says could inspire bombers like those who attacked London in July, a poll published on Sunday showed. The ICM poll found that 65 percent of Muslims backed the new government measures and 27 percent opposed them. Ninety percent said they would immediately tell police if they suspected someone was planning or had carried out a terrorist attack. Just over two thirds of those questioned said Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims bore “a lot” of responsibility for rooting out Islamist extremists, 19 percent said they bore “a little” responsibility and nine percent said they bore none. ICM interviewed 500 Muslims by telephone between Sept. 1 and 7 for the poll, published in the News Of The World newspaper. Home Secretary Charles Clarke has published a list of “unacceptable behaviours” which would prompt immediate action — either deportation or a ban on entry. Last month, Britain said it was detaining 10 people, including the alleged spiritual leader of Al Qaeda in Europe, Jordanian national Abu Qatada, and would deport them. It has also barred hardline Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who left for Lebanon last month, from returning to Britain. Civil liberties campaigners say they are worried Britain will deport people to countries where they might be tortured. The government responds that it is seeking agreements with other governments — like one it struck recently with Jordan — to guarantee the safety of deportees.

Quarter Of British Muslims Sympathise With Bombers’ Motives: Poll

LONDON (AFP) – Around a quarter of British Muslims have some sympathy with the motives of the London bombers, if not their methods, while a third believe Western society is “immoral,” according to a new poll. The survey in the Daily Telegraph asked the Muslim-only respondents whether they felt the July 7 blasts in which 56 peopled died, including the suicide bombers, were “justified”, to which six percent said they were. In contrast, 71 percent said they were not justified at all, with 11 percent saying they were “on balance” not justified. However, when asked whether they had sympathy with the “feelings and motives” of the four British Muslim bombers, disregarding their methods, 13 percent said they had a lot of sympathy and a further 11 percent had a little. While 81 percent said they were fairly loyal or very loyal to Britain, the survey also found some equivocal feelings towards Western society more generally. Just one percent of the respondents agreed with the statement: “Western society is decadent and immoral, and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end, if necessary by violence.” However, another 31 percent backed the sentiment when the reference to violence was replaced by “but only by non-violent means”. In a similar poll for The Sun newspaper, 91 percent of the all-Muslim respondents said they did not feel the suicide bombings were justified by the Koran, the Islamic holy book. Just over half felt Islam was compatible with modern British society, but a similar number felt that the attacks ran the risk of turning other communities against British Muslims.

A Defiant Islam Rises Among Young Britons

Thursday’s Attacks Turn Attention To A Group Alienated From British Society. By James Brandon LONDON – Thursday’s coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 49 people have underscored competing forces within Britain’s Muslim community: a minority that advocates violence against Western targets, and those who want to coexist peacefully with Britain’s multifaith, multiethnic society. Since the bombings, the media and Muslims have been at pains to explain that most of the country’s 2 million Muslims are peaceful. “The Muslim community in Britain has a long history and is enormously diverse,” says Anas al-Tikriti, a member of the Muslim Association of Britain. But the attacks are turning attention to the increasing numbers of young British Muslims who are rejecting their parents’ traditional culture in favor of a radical and expansionist Islam. This strikingly Western version of Islam combines an independence of thought with a contempt for established traditional scholarship and a theme of teenage rebellion. “Getting involved in radical Islam is an emotional thing rather than a rational decision,” says Abdul-Rahman al-Helbawi, a Muslim prayer leader. “And it’s not a matter of intelligence or education – a lot of these radicals in Britain are very well-educated.” In Dalston market in north-east London on Thursday, “Abdullah,” a Muslim watch-mender and evangelist, was in a pugnacious mood. “We don’t need to fight. We are taking over!” he said. “We are here to bring civilization to the West. England does not belong to the English people, it belongs to God.” Two days later in a prosperous West London cafe, Mr. Helbawi pondered the attacks. “It’s not a surprise but I am still shocked,” he said. “How can they do this? London is a city for all the world. This is not Islam.” Hours after the bombings, Helbawi logged onto an Internet chat room run by British Muslim extremists. “They were all congratulating each other on the attacks,” he said. “It was crazy. They were talking about how they had won a great victory over the infidels, as if they had just come back from a battle.” Although so far, there is no evidence that British Muslims were involved in the bombs, there is little doubt that many British Muslims feel that Britain “deserved” the attacks for supporting the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Because Muslims explain the conflicts in Iraq, Kashmir, and Israel through Islam, every Muslim feels involved,” said Helbawi. “People watch television and see Palestinian women being hit and pushed around by Israeli soldiers, and get angry and feel that they have to do something.” But beyond anger, a sense of alienation often drives radical Islam. Many second- and third-generation immigrants find themselves cut off not only from their parents’ cultures but also from a British one that includes alcohol and looser sexual mores. “If you don’t drink, it really cuts you off from English society,” says Ummul Choudhury, a London-based Middle East analyst for the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies. “The view of the older generation is also that you do not integrate. If you do, you are told you are betraying your culture and religion.” The resulting isolation makes it easier for young Muslims to develop a contempt for British society. “There is also a lot of racism toward white British people,” says Ms. Choudhury. “It’s not really something that people want to talk about, but there are definitely some things that Muslims say between themselves that they would never say in front of white people.” For frustrated and isolated young Muslims, radical Islam is not difficult to find. Girls in particular are often prevented from going out at night and can be easily drawn into online Muslim communities where they come into contact with other disillusioned Muslims from across Europe. One leading analyst of the Islamic diaspora even compares the lure of extremist Islam to 1950s teens listening to Elvis in an attempt to shock their parents. “The son of a Pentecostal preacher in Brixton was recruited by the radical Muslims,” says Nadhim Shehadi, acting head of the Middle East program at Chatham House. “This young man initially tried to upset his parents by becoming a rapper,” says Shehadi. “But when his parents stopped objecting, he became a jihadi instead.” The antiestablishment nature of this new Islam and its apparent status as an alternative to capitalism and secularism is also winning converts among native Britons. “People come to Islam from all walks of life. It’s not just middle-class people but also electricians, judges, and taxi drivers,” says Sara Joseph, the editor of “Emel,” a lifestyle magazine for Muslim women, who converted to Islam at age 17. “The main catalyst for conversion is often going out with a Muslim, although the primary factor is usually a search for spirituality.” While the estimated 1,000 British Christians, atheists, and members of other faiths who convert to Islam every year are often attracted by Islam’s clearly defined teachings, this minor trend is overshadowed by Muslims’ highbirth and immigration rates, which tomany Muslims promises increased political and social influence in the future. Indeed, taking advantage of Britain’s rapidly expanding and increasingly Muslim population are new parties that aim to promote ethnic and religious agendas. One is Respect, a left-wing party founded by former Labour MP George Galloway, that aims to unite Muslims and socialists around opposition to American foreign policy and globalization. Linked to the desire for increased political power are attempts by some radical Muslims to begin a process of Islamicizing British cities. Last month, Muslim groups in Glasgow petitioned the City Council to ban an Italian restaurant from serving alcohol to diners seated at outside tables. Hospitals in Leicester considered banning Bibles from hospital wards to avoid offending Muslim patients. In Birmingham, a group called Muslims Against Advertising began a campaign of painting over billboards that they deemed offensive to Islam – targeting ads for Levi’s jeans, perfume, and lingerie. But these small campaigns are polarizing public opinion along ethnic and religious lines – and creating support for Britain’s far-right groups, who present themselves as defenders of Britain’s hard-won freedoms.

Police Reveal Attacks On British Muslims

By James Blitz and Jimmy Burns in London Senior police officers on Sunday revealed that they had recorded several incidents of “hate crime” following the London bombings – including one that had led to “serious injury”. As one of Britain’s leading Islamic figures insisted the London bomb attacks had been “contrary to Islam”, the police acknowledged that the terrorism had triggered reprisals against Muslims in recent days. “We have had some incidents of hate crime – racially and religiously motivated offences – and we take those kinds of offences very seriously,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick said in London. “But thankfully none of these has been the cause of major damage, although there was a serious injury reported in one of those incidents.” Senior government figures have been concerned about the possibility of reprisals against ethnic minority groups because of the London bomb attacks. However, leading religious figures from across the faiths on Sunday met in London to stress their common values and to condemn the attacks. Sheikh Zaki Badawi, head of the Council of Mosques and Imams, said the attacks were “totally contrary to Islam”, adding: “Anyone claiming to commit a crime in the name of religion does not necessarily justify his position in the name of that religion.” Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, said the fact that Britons were worried about reprisals after the bombings was a sign of the “normality” of inter-faith relations in the country. Some senior government officials expressed concern about the possible impact on community relations after Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police commissioner, warned that the London bombers were “almost certainly” British and that there were many more born and bred in the UK willing to attack. Sir John said last Thursday’s bombers were “totally aware of British life and values” and although international terrorists might have provided the expertise, it was “wishful thinking” to suspect the perpetrators came from abroad. In an article entitled “Young, clever . . . and British” written in the News of the World newspaper on Sunday, he said: “I’m afraid there’s a sufficient number of people in this country willing to be Islamic terrorists that they don’t have to be drafted in from abroad.” Such a warning, while privately shared by some security officials, is condemned by others as politically dangerous when uttered in these terms and publicly. “The British police and government are very worried about community tensions getting out of control. These kind of comments risk being counter-productive,” said one European police insider. Senior police officers and security chiefs believe the support of British Muslims could be critical in finding those responsible for last Thursday’s bombings. They believe that information provided from within the Muslim community could provide intelligence on the bombers’ movements since the explosions. But police are also appealing for information on individuals who might have been acting suspiciously in recent weeks, including those arriving from abroad. While MI5, the security service, is thought to have boosted its recruitment of individuals with specialist cultural and language skills since the 9/11 attacks on the US, the current search for the bombers – thought to be supporters of the aims of al-Qaeda – is likely to be aided if they are not provided with safe havens.

Islamic Banking ‘Goes Mainstream’

The bank has taken advice from Islamic scholars A new High Street bank account compatible with Islamic sharia law is due to be introduced. The Lloyds TSB account will offer no interest or overdraft facilities, as under Islamic law the receipt and payment of interest is forbidden. The introduction of the account follows the opening of a specialist Islamic bank in the UK last year. Gordon Rankin of Lloyds TSB said its new account would make Islamic banking “mainstream”. “Our research shows that over three-quarters of British Muslims want banking services that fit with their faith. “However, until now their banking needs have been largely uncatered for and many British Muslims have often had to bank in a way that is against their principles,” Mr Rankin said. Scholars’ Guidance Ibrahim Mogra, the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s Mosque and Community Affairs committee, agreed that many of the UK’s two million Muslims have had little choice but to use interest-paying accounts. I think all High Street banks will take this route sooner or later because there’s a huge Muslim market in the UK. “What the sharia scholars tell us to do is whatever interest you gain you get rid of it without the intention of gaining reward from God. “Even though at the end of the year I just take the interest out and give it away, I’ve still, in a way, handled money from interest which I really shouldn’t be doing,” he said. Until the opening last year of the first UK-based specialist financial institution – the Islamic Bank – Muslims were able to access sharia-compliant current account facilities only through Middle Eastern banks with branches in the UK. The Islamic Bank opens its third branch in Leicester on Tuesday and plans to open five more by the end of 2005. Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB believes other high street banks will now follow Lloyd’s TSB’s lead: He said: “The high street banks want to hang on to their customers and now there is an Islamic bank available they may be anxious they might lose their customers. “I think all High Street banks will take this route sooner or later because there’s a huge Muslim market in the UK.”