England’s Forgotten Muslim History

London — Britain is divided as never before. The country has turned its back on Europe, and its female ruler has her sights set on trade with the East. As much as this sounds like Britain today, it also describes the country in the 16th century, during the golden age of its most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

One of the more surprising aspects of Elizabethan England is that its foreign and economic policy was driven by a close alliance with the Islamic world, a fact conveniently ignored today by those pushing the populist rhetoric of national sovereignty.

From the moment of her accession to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth began seeking diplomatic, commercial and military ties with Muslim rulers in Iran, Turkey and Morocco — and with good reasons. In 1570, when it became clear that Protestant England would not return to the Catholic faith, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth and called for her to be stripped of her crown. Soon, the might of Catholic Spain was against her, an invasion imminent. English merchants were prohibited from trading with the rich markets of the Spanish Netherlands. Economic and political isolation threatened to destroy the newly Protestant country.

Elizabeth responded by reaching out to the Islamic world. Spain’s only rival was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad III, which stretched from North Africa through Eastern Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans had been fighting the Hapsburgs for decades, conquering parts of Hungary. Elizabeth hoped that an alliance with the sultan would provide much needed relief from Spanish military aggression, and enable her merchants to tap into the lucrative markets of the East. For good measure she also reached out to the Ottomans’ rivals, the shah of Persia and the ruler of Morocco.

The trouble was that the Muslim empires were far more powerful than Elizabeth’s little island nation floating in the soggy mists off Europe. Elizabeth wanted to explore new trade alliances, but couldn’t afford to finance them. Her response was to exploit an obscure commercial innovation — joint stock companies — introduced by her sister, Mary Tudor.

As money poured in, Elizabeth began writing letters to her Muslim counterparts, extolling the benefits of reciprocal trade. She wrote as a supplicant, calling Murad “the most mighty ruler of the kingdom of Turkey, sole and above all, and most sovereign monarch of the East Empire.” She also played on their mutual hostility to Catholicism, describing herself as “the most invincible and most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all kind of idolatries.” Like Muslims, Protestants rejected the worship of icons, and celebrated the unmediated word of God, while Catholics favored priestly intercession. She deftly exploited the Catholic conflation of Protestants and Muslims as two sides of the same heretical coin.

Despite the commercial success of the joint stock companies, the British economy was unable to sustain its reliance on far-flung trade. Immediately following Elizabeth’s death in 1603, the new king, James I, signed a peace treaty with Spain, ending England’s exile.

Elizabeth’s Islamic policy held off a Catholic invasion, transformed English taste and established a new model for joint stock investment that would eventually finance the Virginia Company, which founded the first permanent North American colony.

It turns out that Islam, in all its manifestations — imperial, military and commercial — played an important part in the story of England. Today, when anti-Muslim rhetoric inflames political discourse, it is useful to remember that our pasts are more entangled than is often appreciated.

New imam promises improved links with community

March 13, 2014

 

Nine months after two men tried to set fire to a mosque in Gloucester, a new imam has promised to improve links with the local community. Imam Hassan is among a growing number who were born in Britain, and teach Islam in the English language.

 

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-wiltshire-26557453

“Contextualising Islam in Britain” Enters Second Phase

The views of leading UK Muslims on some of the most contentious issues affecting Muslims in Britain are to be compiled and published online in the second phase of a groundbreaking project.

The initiative, called “Contextualising Islam in Britain”, first ran in 2009 and will bring together about 30 Muslim scholars, academics and activists to address a range of topics. These include, among others, Islamic faith schools, Islam and gender equality, the relationship between the individual and the community, and political participation.

It will be hosted by the University of Cambridge, working in association with the Universities of Westminster and Exeter. The group’s findings will be released to the public in a full report which it is expected will be published online and made available for free download in June.

The project is the second phase of an initiative originally conceived and funded by the last Government as part of the “Prevent” strategy, which is currently under review, to combat extremism. It will, however, be fully independent of both the Government and of the Universities involved.

Number of Converts to Islam in Britain has Doubled in the Past 10 Years, Study Finds

The number of Britons choosing to become Muslims has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to one of the most comprehensive attempts to estimate how many people have embraced Islam. Following the global spread of violent Islamism, British Muslims have faced more scrutiny, criticism and analysis than any other religious community. Yet, despite the often negative portrayal of Islam, thousands of Britons are adopting the religion every year.

Estimating the number of converts living in Britain has always been difficult because census data does not differentiate between whether a religious person has adopted a new faith or was born into it. Previous estimates have placed the number of Muslim converts in the UK at between 14,000 and 25,000.

But a new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests the real figure could be as high as 100,000, with as many as 5,000 new conversions nationwide each year. Asked why people were converting in such large numbers, Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, replied: “I think there is definitely a relationship between conversions being on the increase and the prominence of Islam in the public domain. People are interested in finding out what Islam is all about and when they do that they go in different directions. Most shrug their shoulders and return to their lives but some will inevitably end up liking what they discover and will convert.”

British Muslims urged to boycott Israeli dates during Ramadan

4 August 2010
British Muslims are being urged to boycott Israeli dates when breaking their fast during Ramadan in protest at the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. Campaign organisers Friends of Al Aqsa hope the boycott will dwarf previous attempts to hit Israel in the pocket, capitalising on the attention afforded to the plight of Palestinians by the deadly Israeli attack on a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza at the end of May. The focus is on dates because of their symbolic importance to Muslims, who traditionally eat them at sunset during the holy month to break the daylight fast.
The check-the-label campaign is supported by a number of groups, including War on Want and Jews Boycotting Israeli Goods. Pro-Palestinian activists say dates account for about 15% of exports from Israel to the EU and its income from the fruit each year is approximately €80m (£66m). The boycott organisers believe a large proportion of that income comes from Muslims buying dates during Ramadan, and with more than 2m followers of Islam in Britain, they say they have the economic clout to harm a lucrative Israeli industry.
But the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, appeared to take the threat of a boycott lightly. “Israel will continue to successfully export dates, whilst others choose to export hate,” he said. “We encourage Muslim shoppers to ignore this nonsense, and instead double the quantity they usually purchase, to help bring about a two-date solution.”

“Muslims in Britain: An Introduction” by Sophie Gilliat-Ray (Cardiff University) Cambridge University Press, June 2010

Archaeological evidence shows there was contact between Muslims and the British Isles from the 8th century. Beginning with these historical roots, Sophie Gilliat-Ray traces the major points of encounter between Muslims and the British in subsequent centuries, and explores Muslim migration to Britain in recent times. Drawing upon sociology, anthropology, politics, and geography, this comprehensive survey provides an informed understanding of the daily lives of British Muslims. It portrays the dynamic of institutions such as families, mosques and religious leadership, and analyses their social and political significance in today’s Britain. Through the study of the historical origins of major Islamic reform movements, it draws attention to the religious diversity within different Muslim communities, and sheds fresh light on contemporary issues such as the nature of religious authority and representation. It also considers British Muslim civic engagement and cultural life, particularly the work of journalists, artists, sports personalities, and business entrepreneurs.

Contents
Acknowledgements; Preface; Part I. Historical and Religious Roots: 1. The roots of Islam in Britain; 2. The development of Muslim communities; 3. Middle Eastern religious reform movements; 4. South Asian religious reform movements; Part II. Contemporary Dynamics: 5. Profiling British Muslim communities; 6. Religious nurture and education; 7. Religious leadership; 8. Mosques; 9. Gender, religious identity and youth; 10. Engagement and enterprise; Epilogue; Appendix: Source notes for researchers; List of references; Glossary; Index.

UK’s Islam Channel TV chief insists: “We are not extremists”

The Islam Channel, which is watched regularly by three in every five British Muslims despite allegations that it panders to extremism, is aiming to expand its services to other countries where it feels there is a need to counter negative coverage by western media.

In the cases of three countries with large Muslim populations – Malaysia, Nigeria and Kenya – the channel plans to begin by providing programs already available to viewers in the UK, according to the channel’s chief executive, Mohammed Ali Harrath.

Mr Harrath said “extensive negotiations” were also in progress to launch transmissions in North America – he did not specify whether the United States or Canada, or both – with immediate use of locally produced content.

After accusation of a Quilliam Foundation report that Islam Channel showed extremist programs, Harrath replied: “We do not promote extremism at all. What they qualify as extremism may be something else. If someone is opposed to abortion, are you going to say that is extremism? If a trade union argues for better conditions for workers, do you accuse it of promoting Karl Marx, and Lenin, or communist ideology?”

General Election and UK Muslims

Hugely excited about Britain’s first televised party leaders’ debates, the British media have paid limited attention to the vicious electoral battle being fought in the East London borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Yet the outcome of the general and local elections there on May 6 could have troubling consequences, not least for Britain’s 2.4 million Muslims. For it is in Barking and Dagenham that the leader of the far right British National Party, Nick Griffin, has a fighting chance of winning what has long been a safe seat for Britain’s governing Labour Party.

In Dagenham, as throughout Britain, the whole issue of immigration has never been more emotive. But it is Muslims, portrayed as the “enemy within” bent on Islamizing Britain, who are the chief target of the BNP. From the Muslim perspective, the desirability of voting for the Labour Party to keep the far right out seems clear. Yet such is Muslim disaffection, especially over British foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, that many Muslims appear disinclined to vote at all. Alarmed by the possibility of a triumphant BNP, prominent Muslims are backing a campaign in Dagenham, “Hope, Not Hate”, aimed at mobilizing the Muslim vote. Jewish businessmen, mindful of the threat posed to the Jews of East London by the fascist black shirts led by Oswald Mosley in the 1930s, are backing it, too, for the BNP’s historic anti-Semitism is manifesting itself anew in the area, with Margaret Hodge, who is of Egyptian Jewish parentage, being vilified on grounds of both her race and wealth.

Respect Party candidate Salma Yaqoob spearheads quiet revolution to get Muslim women involved in politics

Salma Yaqoob is one of the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life. She wears a headscarf, a powerful symbol of a faith she has accommodated with her passionate left-wing politics. She is standing as a candidate for the tiny and fractured Respect Party.

In some streets around the new constituency of Hall Green in Birmingham, her poster is on every window. Since her narrow defeat for Westminster in 2005, she has built up support through her work as a local councilor, as well as building a national profile through her appearances on BBC’s Question Time.

Yaqoob was wooed by Labour after 2005. She acknowledges that “My values are traditional Labour, but New Labour has gone to the right”. She was even courted by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, a tribute to her rare capacity for fair-minded plain speaking, most evident in her Question Time appearance earlier this year, at Wootton Bassett, when she earned respect for her handling of questions about British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a war she opposes.

Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture – not just because she is a woman, but because she is not afraid to speak her mind.

Sikh will be first non-white in far-right BNP to fight Islamic extremism

An Indian-born Sikh pensioner is hoping to become the first non-white member of the far-right British National Party (BNP) because he wants to fight Islamic extremism. Rajinder Singh, 78, is joining the BNP — whose policies include stopping immigration — after the party voted Sunday to change its constitution to admit ethnic minorities for the first time, following a court ruling.

Singh said he had seen the “potential of Islam”, witnessing extensive violence after partition in 1947, and wanted to “save” Britain by working to prevent similar scenes here. “Islam is global, it has zero loyalty to Britain,” he said. The BNP are sons of soil and they are standing up for their soil. I wish we had a counterpart of the BNP in India in 1946.”

This is an exceptional case of the transfer of a conflict (Indian-Pakistani) to the situation of contemporary Islam in Britain, and of a representative of an ethnic minority joining a far-right party.