Whatever the outcome of the election on May 7th, as HA Hellyer recently wrote on Cif, Muslims around the country are likely to play a significant role in influencing the outcome of dozens of seats. The second largest faith community, which constitutes no more than 4% of the total population, has come of age and become quite astute in dealing with the elections according to interests, priorities and concerns, many of which are shared by a majority of the British people.
On the 20th of April, The Cordoba Foundation (TCF) facilitated a public meeting between the Hammersmith and Fulham Council (and related public service providers) and members of the Moroccan community, following the tragic murder of 17 year old Sofyen Belamouadden, a 3rd generation Moroccan who was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Victoria Station as part of a suspected gang ‘turf war’ battle.
TCF were invited by the community as independent facilitators to initiate a dialogue between the local authority and members of the Moroccan community who despite there being a large number living around North Kensington, feel that they are marginalised because of the ignorance about them, a fact that was further highlighted by one of the local authority officials who admitted he was unaware of the numbers.The meeting which was mainly attended by mothers (including the family of Sofyen) voiced concerns about the safety of the youths on the street.
Mothers repeatedly echoed the view that ‘they were not comfortable when their children left home because they were not sure whether their children would be stopped by the police or be attacked by gangs’.Members at the meeting highlighted the following as key concerns for them:
1) Children of Moroccan origin are over represented in the youth criminal justice system.
2) The current ‘Children & Young People Services’ were not adequate in meeting the needs of the young people.
3) The current extracurricular and youth activities were not accessible by the whole community thereby leaving youth with a lot of time on their hands and falling prey to bad elements.
4) A lack of communication between the authorities and parents due to miscommunications on both sides.
5) A lack of basic security systems (such as CCTV not working properly)
All this was leading to ‘a climate of fear in London’ according to one community outreach worker who urged ‘A government response to the problem even to the level of establishing an emergency response team to deal with the matter’.
Commenting on the meeting, the CEO of TCF Anas Altikriti said, ‘Meetings like this give you an insight into the issues faced on a daily basis by youth and their families. Understanding the failure to address concerns of services for the youth are important because these are often some of the catalysts for extremist and anti social behaviour’
The meeting came up with practical steps that would be taken by the local authority and the community (with support from organisations such as London Citizens, Street, Al Mannar Centre) to bridge the gap of miscommunication and identify ways of meeting the needs of the community including setting up mentoring programs and establishing more liaisons between the police and the community.
What was particularly striking was that though some of the concerns raised were directly related to the Moroccan community they were also generic to other parts of London.
This issues deals with ‘Islam and Voting: The Case of British Muslims’ and was presented by Shaykh Michael Mumisa at The London Muslim Centre.
Sheikh Michael Mumisa has seen it all before. As the general elections draw closer, the same old debates in the Muslim community start to resurface.
The debates have nothing to do with which party or candidate to vote for but with the very premise of voting and getting involved in the elections. For some Muslims voting in a Western democracy is considered to be ‘an act of apostasy’. In 2005, things were so complicated that “some Mosque ‘elders’ and Imams had their beards and turbans pulled by small groups of angry young men who argued that voting in what they believed to be a ‘kufr system’ was a ‘violation of the Shari‘ah’.” Things got to such a difficult point according to Sheikh Mumisa that he was approached to clarify the issue, releasing an article which could hopefully clarify the matter. His article, “Muslims in Britain and the Elections: What does the Shari‘a say?” was then carried by the Muslim Council of Britain amongst other organisations.
5 years on despite the debate still existing, Sheikh Mumisa is confident things are getting better. ‘At least people are less violent and moving beyond the basic arguments ’ he said as he once again addressed the issues of Muslims and elections on the 12th of April at the bi-monthly Cordoba Seminars organised by The Cordoba Foundation.
Addressing a sizeable gathering at the London Muslim Centre, Sheikh Mumisa approached the issue in a different manner. “When it comes to the question of ‘Islam and Voting’, incontrovertible textual evidence should be produced to prove that it is not permissible for Muslims in Britain to vote. We do not need proof to argue that it is permissible for them to vote since that is the asl (original state of affairs)”. By saying this, Sheikh Mumisa is confident that the detractors will at least have to think twice before trying to engage in a debate on the subject, since “the burden of proof is thus upon those who argue that voting is not permissible”.
The principle behind this is very simple. The Islamic legal maxim ‘al asl fi al-ashya’ al-ibaha’ [the doctrine that “all matters of human and social activity are considered a prioripermissible (mubah) under Islamic law unless clear and incontrovertible textual evidence from the primary sources of Islamic law (Qur’an and Sunnah) exists to prove otherwise] has historically been the basis of all acts of ijtihad (legal reasoning) within both the Sunni and Shi‘ah schools of law. Thus according to this principle, we need not look for proof from the sources of Islam to argue the case for Muslim participation in the British general elections, rather what is needed is incontrovertible proof that voting in such elections isharam (not permissible) since as a general principle “all matters of human and social activity (mu‘amalat and mu‘asharat) are originally permissible” as defined by the theory above.
This has been the norm adopted by classical jurists who were very much aware that texts accommodated multiple meanings and possibilities. According to Sheikh Mumisa, it is not enough to say “God says so” or “the Prophet says so.” A number of factors have to be taken into consideration such as: the context of the revelation of the text; the language of the text; the special circumstances of the addressee of the text; other texts on the same topic; the local customs (‘adah and ‘urf) of the addressee and how they may differ from the contemporary reader.
The problem as Sheikh Mumisa explained is that contemporary Muslims, particularly those now living in non-Muslim societies, have not properly explored or understood the principle. Sheikh Mumisa impressively drew on the works of a number of classical scholars like Ibn Abidin and Ibn Taimiyyah to highlight the precedents that have been set in Islamic Jurisprudence. However it is al-Shatibi, in the Sheikh’s opinion, whose work (al-Muwafaqat), makes the case that the texts of law are considered open, dynamic and subject to re-interpretation. By employing other hermeneutical tools in the study of the texts, Sheikh Mumisa argued that scholars like al-Shatibi show that the Qur’an and Sunna are not closed texts, and that interpretation is contingent upon the historical context, the cultural situation and level of development, and the philosophical presuppositions of the period in which that interpretation is taking place.
In other words, early and later Muslims jurists always treated the kulliyyat(universal principles) as the spirit and the intention of the Law-giver (qasd al-Shari‘) which could override the specific legal rulings (juz’iyyat) and other interpretations of law that were seen to be at odds with the spirit of the law. It is safe to say that according to this theory, as the Sheikh highlighted “the purpose of law in Islam is not necessarily to follow the letter of the law but to fulfil a higher goal and great purpose (maqasid):that of establishing a just society. Thus whatever moral and just method adopted to reach this goal is considered ‘Islamically’ correct”. Hence any political and legal system that fulfils the kulliyat is acceptable and considered as fulfilling the requirements of the Shari‘a. The question thus becomes, “Does the British and political systems fulfil the kulliyat as required under Islam?”. Sheikh Mumisa came to the conclusion that the British legal and political systems as they stand at the moment meet the goals of the Shari‘a.
As he concluded his speech Sheikh Mumisa warned that “Muslims will have no advantage in isolating themselves from the mainstream of political life and becoming a marginalised community”. The Muslim community would thus have to commit themselves to a system of cultural and religious pluralism within which they are free to assert their religious freedom. While maintaining their specific religious identity in the Western democratic order, they must remain conscious of their British identity
The Cordoba Foundation (TCF) welcomes the publication yesterday of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee report on its enquiry into the Government’s Prevent program, which concluded that Prevent “stigmatized and alienated those it is most important to engage with, and tainted many positive community cohesion projects”.
Anas Altikriti, TCF Chief Executive said “the report puts credibility to what a lot of community leaders have been saying all along about rising distrust and suspicion about the Prevent program, namely allegations of spying on Muslims and the specific targeting of the Muslim community”.
After the initial allegations emerged as a result of investigations carried out by the Institute of Race Relations, TCF convened a roundtable in October 2009 at the House of Lords where prominent academics, human rights groups, community leaders and experts discussed their concerns which were later forwarded to Dr Phyllis Starkey, chair of the select committee. “We are happy that we were able to contribute some of our concerns and suggestions to the CLG Select Committee” said Altikriti. Moreover, “the proposed independent review of Prevent operations is a welcome sign and will improve confidence in the community”, added Altikriti.
TCF supports some of the recommendations that were made by the committee to the Government which includes:
- Research on risk factors for radicalization;
- Investments to tackle socio-economic deprivation;
- Avoiding interference in theological matters;
- Need for the Government to engage with those who demonstrate a desire to promote greater understanding, cohesion and integration.
In the light of the upcoming elections, it is hoped that these recommendations will be taken forward by the new Government in a bid to repair damage done to community cohesion through the Prevent program.
For more information about TCF’s roundtable on the Prevent Program, please click here
For more articles on the Prevent program, please click here
Notes to editors
- For further information, please contact Amjad Saleem, Head of Communications on 020 89913372 or email@example.com
The Muslim Council of Britain hosted a special closed-meeting to discuss the growing spate of attacks in all its forms against British Muslims on March 3rd at the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons.
The event entitled ‘Tackling Islamophobia: Reducing Street Violence Against British Muslims’ brought together distinguished Parliamentarians, academics, journalists, police, public servants, and community representatives who all endorsed calls for the establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Islamophobia with a view to holding a parliamentary inquiry on Islamophobia in the UK.
The meeting took contributions from experts and responses from parliamentarians and was concluded with a Q&A session with the audience who comprised of individuals from over 80 organisations.
Mohammad Sarwar MP who sponsored the event said ‘Islamophobia is a big challenge’ and offered his full support for an All-Party Parliamentary Group.
Internationally renowned journalist and political commentator Peter Oborne said ‘tolerance defines our constitution and the British people. If the UK is to live up to its tradition of tolerance, this needs to be taken seriously. Islamophobia needs to be abolished’. He added that the committee had a ‘big job to do’. Mr Oborne previously presented a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 in July 2008 called It Shouldn’t Happen to a Muslim where he argued that the demonisation of Muslims has become widespread in British media and politics.
Robin Richardson former director of the Runnymede Trust who was the Editor of the groundbreaking report Islamophobia: a challenge for us all (published in 1997), highlighted the various forms which encompass Islamophobia: ‘discourse, violent behaviour, discrimination and social exclusion.’
Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee fully endorsed the initiative and emphasised the importance of focusing on ‘respect’ as opposed to ‘tolerance’.
Shadow Minister for Justice, David Burrows MP urged people to contact their local MPs to motivate them to get more involved. ‘The community must show the extent of the problem and make politicians act’.
The Liberal Democrat Communities and Local Government Minister Dan Rogerson MP said that a parliamentary group is an ‘excellent way forward for these issues’ adding that ‘it would be a means of defending UK values of tolerance and respect for human rights’.
Other Parliamentarians who spoke in support of the initiative included Baron Ahmed of Rotherham who said ‘demonisation of Muslims and Islam has become fashionable’, Baron Sheikh of Cornhill who said the ‘media and politicians need to refrain from inflammatory reporting: freedom of expression must be exercised with responsibility’ and the cross-bencher Baron Hylton of Hylton who stressed the need to ‘promote good community cohesion and civic involvement’.
Other messages of support were received from Jeremy Corbyn MP and Diane Abbott MP.
A host of academics added to the discussion: Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer from the European Muslim Research Centre who in January published the report ‘Islamophobia and Anti Muslim Hate Crimes: a London case study’ said discrimination is becoming ‘privately rationalised and understood’. Islamophobia and Anti Muslim Hate Crime have ‘tangible affects on the UK as a whole’ and that ‘anything done to tackle this will benefit the whole of the UK’. Co-director Dr Robert Lambert MBE added that ‘the Far Right’s position of making Muslims the enemy is being rationalised by what is portrayed by the media’. He said that recommendations from the community would provide a ‘clear driver’ on this issue.
Maleiha Malik, from Kings College London, emphasised that ‘British history teaches us that minorities should not be feared’, while Dr Chris Allen from Birmingham University academic mentioned that despite Islamophobia being a ‘real experience’ it is still not taken seriously enough. ‘For the past 15 years we have had a number of reports, from a number of sources of the ‘hardening of attitudes and perceptions’ and there is still a lack lustre response. Why?’ He welcomed the call for a parliamentary group, saying it was ‘long overdue’.
‘Practitioners who work in this area also added to the discussion. Abdurahman Jafar, Chair of the Muslim Safety Forum said there is a ‘lack of institutional recognition and understanding’ regarding these issues while the President of the National Association of Muslim Police Zaheer Ahmed reiterated the fact that ‘Islamophobia and Anti Muslim Hate Crime have been affecting the Muslim community for years’. ‘Today is the start of raising awareness of these issues at a national, strategic level’.
In his keynote address, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said ‘at a time when Muslim communities are being exhorted to do more to tackle violence by a handful of extremists who purport to be Muslims, it is vitally important that our government and police are equally pro-active in seeking to tackle extremist violence against British Muslims and the Islamophobic climate that gives rise to it.’
He added, ‘the need for fair and equal treatment for British Muslims is even more pressing because many Muslims do not have sufficient confidence to report attacks against them to the police. There is therefore an urgent need to restore Muslim community confidence to tackle the problem of under-reporting of violent crime in much the same way as has been achieved with other minorities in the recent past. Time has come for politicians to finally take this issue as seriously as racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia’.
He ended by saying ‘the formation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes would be a crucial step and one that would inspire confidence in Muslim communities’.
The event was co-ordinated by Kawsar Zaman from the Muslim Council of Britain and supported by the Muslim Safety Forum, the Cordoba Foundation and the European Muslim Research Centre.
For more information, please check the MCB website`