About 5,000 people in the UK convert to Islam every year, the majority of whom are women. It is a religious and cultural choice still largely treated with suspicion, but a new play opening at London’s Tricycle Theatre is aimed at shedding light on the journey of conversion and British perceptions of Islam as a whole.
Multitudes is the debut work of John Hollingworth, an actor who has appeared in productions at the National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Tricycle, and is set in his hometown of Bradford, West Yorkshire, just after the forthcoming general election.
With characters ranging from a British tutor who converts to Islam and a moderate British Muslim councillor, to a teenage girl who has become radicalised and wants to join the Islamic caliphate, it is a play that grapples with varied and often ignored facets of the Muslim experience in modern Britain.
The leader of the English Defence League has said he “utterly condemns” attacks on Muslims, and called for the internment of Islamic extremists. Tommy Robinson’s comments, made on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, come the day after six extremists were jailed for a total of more than 100 years for plotting a gun and bomb attack on an EDL rally in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. He also denied claims his group had firebombed an Islamic community centre in north London on which “EDL” was spray-painted. He called for the internment of Islamist extremists and the outlawing of all aspects of Sharia law. “I’d stop the building of mosques in this country until Islam reforms in such a way and works in this country with Western democracy and freedom,” he added.
Sabir Hussain, a hard line Muslim scholar and volunteer religious teacher at a mosque in West Yorkshire, has been sentenced to serve 10 weeks in jail for kicking and slapping young boys during religious classes at the mosque. The assaults were secretly filmed for a Channel 4 documentary, which was shown in February and subsequently led to a police inquiry. Hussain admitted to the charges of assault. While he emphasised that the attacks were not gratuitous, he admitted that he had gone too far in his attempts to chastise the boys. According to the Guardian, the District Judge Sue Bouch considered his action a gross breach of trust and a serious offence. Yet, while she originally intended to jail Hussain for 26 weeks, she reduced the sentence to 16 and then to 10 weeks, due to his early guilt please and a glowing series of references from ex-pupils.
Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, London University, said the Gaza convoy incident could prove to be a “tipping point” similar to the publication of U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, credited by analysts with deepening Arab and Muslim opposition to Western intervention in Iraq. “I’d expect a significant impact from this on radicalisation,” he told Reuters.
In Britain, Muslim activists reported fury at the incident. “My streets are in danger, and I say ‘streets’ meaning not just Bradford but the whole UK. This makes trouble for us peacemakers,” said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in the London attacks of 2005.
Abu Muaz of Call2Islam, a radical British-based Muslim group that seeks uncompromising opposition to Israel, said in the past two days there had been “a lot of anger among the youth.” “They ask what’s the point of just demonstrating? In the mosques, the imams don’t have a solution.”
The British anti-radicalization strategy called Prevent aimed at Muslim communities to detect and prevent early signs of radicalization, among youths and others. But Security officials are struggling to stem a tide of unease among Muslim communities about the program, which seeks among other things to identify people most vulnerable to recruitment by al Qaeda-aligned groups and wean them away from extremism.
“People fear Prevent. They misinterpret it. They think it’s spying on us,” said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in suicide attacks in London in 2005. Jahan Mahmoud, a community worker and academic in the Midlands city of Birmingham, said there were large segments of the community that felt Prevent, led by the Home Office, was prying into their lives.
Prevent Director Debbie Gupta thinks there was “great confusion” about Prevent’s link to wider efforts to strengthen Muslim communities. Prevent spying was a myth, she said. “Prevent is focused on Muslims because that is where al Qaeda’s focus is. They deploy their distorted version of Islam onto Muslims.” She said one solution might be to reduce the role of the police and boost that of community organizations.
The British writer Hanif Kureishi decided to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rushdie affair by adapting for the stage his 1995 second novel “The Black Album”. The novel is set in 1988/89 and the Rushdie affair and radicalization of young Muslims are its central themes.
The Black Album charts the cultural and political development of impressionable Asian teenager Shahid, who moves from suburbia to college in London and is subsequently torn between two disparate lifestyles and loyalties – the Western liberalism of his lecturer Deedee, with whom he has a relationship, and the fundamentalism of his new Muslim friends led by the charismatic Riaz.
In the course of the story, the Islamist group burn a copy of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses”, of which Shahid is appalled.
The play is being discussed in the context of whether or not Rushdie’s critics have succeeded. British lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik claims that the critics have lost the battle – as Rushdie is still being published –, but won the war, because it has become much more widespread not to offend another religion. The Black Album is on tour throughout the country, showing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Oct 20 to 24 and Liverpool Playhouse from October 27 to 31, among other places.
Under the rules, swimmers — including non-Muslims — are barred from entering the pool in normal swimming attire. Instead they are told that they must comply with the “modest” code of dress required by Islamic custom, with women covered from the neck to the ankles and men, who swim separately, covered from the navel to the knees.
The phenomenon runs counter to developments in France, where last week a woman was evicted from a public pool for wearing a burkini — the headscarf, tunic and trouser outfit which allows Muslim women to preserve their modesty in the water.
But across the UK municipal pools are holding swimming sessions specifically aimed at Muslims, in some case imposing strict dress codes. Swimmers were told last week on the centre’s website that “during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists”.
Labour MP Anne Cryer, whose Keighley, West Yorkshire constituency has a large number of Muslims, said: “Unfortunately this kind of thing has a negative impact on community relations. It’s seen as yet another demand for special treatment. I can’t see why special clothing is needed for what is a single-sex session.”
The founder of the British Muslim Forum has said hate-filled Islamic extremists should leave the country. Senior Muslim scholar Sheiykh Allama Shahid Raza Naeemi OBE was speaking at an event to bring Kirklees (West Yorkshire) communities together.
He said: “To those extremists who are using and abusing the name of Islam by making silly ill-thought out statements, my message to you is leave this country if you are not happy. If you hate pork, if you hate other non-Muslims, if you hate the police, if you hate moderate Sufi Muslims, if you hate the British Government, then feel welcome to leave this country. We do not need you here to stir up hatred. There is no place for racism and extremism in Islam.”
Manchester’s first Muslim Lord Mayor was among the local heroes saluted in today’s honours list. Councillor Afzal Khan was made a CBE for unstinting services to local government and race relations. Mr Khan, who was born in Pakistan, said: “I was a bit shocked when I was told about the award but I feel genuinely honoured, and not a little humbled.” The solicitor moved to Britain when he was 12 and started his working life as a mill worker. He resumed his education before joining Greater Manchester Police as a constable and entering politics. Also honoured were Riaz Ahmad, JP from Oldham who made an OBE for services to local government, the administration of justice and to the community in Oldham. Iqbal Bhana from West Yorkshire received an OBE for services to community relations in West Yorkshire.http://themuslimweekly.com/newsdetails/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=3D246E972CB89FC4CF14BED5&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News
A Muslim support teacher suspended for wearing a veil in class says it was never a problem for her pupils. Headfield Church of England Junior School, in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it hard to understand her during English language lessons. But Aishah Azmi, 24, said: “They never complained.” She added she was willing to take the veil off in class, but not in front of any male colleagues.