Last week, religion has dominated an important discussion in the UK. Following a High Court rule banning prayers from formal council meetings, Conservative MP Baroness Warsi, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister, has urged the British people to embrace their (Christian) religion and to not let a “militant secularisation” take hold of British society. In an official meeting in the Vatican with six other British ministers, Baroness Warsi has called for religion to be given a greater role in public life to push back a wave of “intolerant secularisation”. Warsi has complained that religion is being sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in Europe. Overall, she would like to see Europe to be more confident in its Christian roots, rather than denying its religious heritage. Warsi considers religion and strong religious identities to be particularly important in order to encourage social harmony.
Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister said on Thursday it was “humbling” to join the government, after taking part in new Prime Minister David Cameron’s first full ministerial meeting. Sayeeda Warsi is the Conservative Party’s chairwoman and minister without portfolio in Cameron’s new coalition government.
“For anybody to serve in government is a privilege,” said the 39-year-old of Pakistani origin, after Cameron held his first Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street. “But to be born the daughter of an immigrant mill-worker in a mill town in Yorkshire, to have the privilege of serving in Cabinet at such an important time in Britain’s history I think is terribly humbling,” she told the BBC.
Baroness Warsi is one of the extremely few exceptions of the predominantly male and white Cabinet.
Larry Shaben, 73, was Canada’s first Muslim cabinet minister. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Shaben was born in Hanna, Alberta and eventually settled in the north of Alberta represented Lesser Slave Lake. This article in The Globe and Mail chronicles how Shaben spent much of his youth at Canada’s first mosque, Al Rashid in Edmonton. Shaben became involved in politics early in his life in High Prairie, and retired in 1989 and returned to Edmonton to focus his energies on ecumenical groups like the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities, the Islamic Academy of Edmonton and the endowed chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Alberta. The cabinet minister is also known for miraculously surviving a deadly twin-engine plane crash in 1984.
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One of the first two Muslims appointed to a Dutch Cabinet post, Ahmed Aboutaleb calls himself a “foot soldier” in the cause of immigrant integration. And as a foot soldier, he expects to be a target, he said Wednesday. Since being sworn in last month as junior minister for social affairs, Aboutaleb and fellow Muslim Cabinet minister Nebahat Albayrak have come under sustained political fire over their dual nationalities. Anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party won nine seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament in elections last November, claims their dual passports – Aboutaleb has Moroccan and Dutch nationality, Albayrak Turkish and Dutch – mean they also have split loyalties. Aboutaleb rejects the idea, pointing out that Dutch citizens who collaborated with their country’s Nazi occupiers during World War II only had one passport.