Standard continues ‘great Muslim debate’

The great Muslim debate

Evening Standard, 7 September 2006

Our poll this week found the vast majority of Londoners think more should be done to combat Islamic extremism. It also raised concerns about faith schools, community leaders and the Government’s response to terrorism. Today we ask six writers and Muslim to give us their views on the future of Islam in Britain.

‘The Muslim leadership is incapable of halting the rise of extremism’ – MARTIN BRIGHT New Statesman political editor

DESPITE their claims to the contrary, the self-appointed leaders of British Islam are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the crisis of extremism within Muslim youth. Representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain, which claims to act as an umbrella organisation for more than 400 institutions, are seen as “sell-outs” by many young Muslims. Yet the ideological links of the organisation to the sectarian politics of Pakistan and Bangladesh alienates most mainstream members of the Muslim community too.

The new “secretary general” of the MCB, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, does not inspire greater hope. Indeed, East London Mosque, where Bari is president, has played host to a number of radical Muslim clerics.

Other organisations, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, the Federation of Islamic Student Societies and the UK Islamic Mission all have well-established sympathies for overseas groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East or Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, which believe in the establishment of an Islamic state. This is an ideological dead end for the young Muslims of Britain.

There are, however, signs that new organisations are emerging with a genuine brief to tackle extremism. The Sufi Muslim Council, launched in July, claims to speak for the “silent majority” of British Muslims; Progressive British Muslims, founded by the lawyer Farmida Bi, speaks up for secular, liberal values, as does Muslims for Secular Democracy. So there is still hope, despite the Government and some on the Left seeing Islamists as the only authentic voice of British Muslims.


‘Islamic schools make as valid a contribution as any other faith school’ – SARAH JOSEPH Editor of Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel

I DON’T personally send my children to Muslim schools. I wanted them to experience children from a diverse range of faiths, giving them the opportunity to learn to respect others and to learn that they are worthy of being respected. My personal choice is not a reflection on Muslim schools, however. I know many wonderful children who attend Muslim schools. And many Muslim schools have excellent relationships with other schools and have policies in place to foster interaction.

Like all schools, there are good Muslim schools and those working on weaknesses.

There are Christian schools and Jewish schools just the same. I went to a Catholic school. Even though it was at the height of IRA terrorism, nobody pointed the finger at Catholic schools and said: “That’s where the problem is.”

The reality is that our current crises are not rooted in Muslim faith schools. Did any of the 7/7 bombers attend Muslim schools? No. Did the two Tel Aviv bombers? No. Did the killer of Daniel Pearl, Omar Sheikh, attend a Muslim school? No, he attended Redbridge Grammar.

Parents want, and should have, the choice of where to educate their children. Muslim schools, like other faith schools, continually come at the top, or close to the top, of league tables. Faith schools offer discipline, an ethos of respect for learning and for authority.

Do Islamic schools play a role in community cohesion as do Christian and Jewish schools? They are turning out well-adjusted, well-educated young people who are making a valuable contribution to Britain as a whole. How can this be wrong?


‘We should shut down Islamic schools. They create cultural ghettos’ – MICHAEL BURLEIGH Historian and author of Sacred Causes (HarperCollins)

EARLIER this week in the Standard (4 September), Patrick Sookhdeo said that we should stop according Islam the rights that we have granted Christianity or Judaism. I agree.

Christian and Jewish faith schools teach a broad curriculum based on the culture and values of a society that historically both those faiths have contributed to. By contrast, Muslim schools teach ultimate loyalty to the worldwide umma (community) of believers, as well as contempt for the “decadence” of the wider Western world. We are being constantly encouraged to explore the riches of Islamic culture; perhaps it is time that people who have elected to live here return the favour?

The example of Northern Ireland already illustrates the way in which schools can contribute to the formation of communities with virtually no interaction, as indicated by remarkably low levels of interfaith marriage. How much more will this be the case if Muslim schools just teach Islamic studies, and a culture of globalised Muslim victimhood?

The purpose of education is to expand the mind’s horizons, not to contract them to a grimly narrow view of the world.

Education is one of the foundations of society and state, and it concerns every single citizen. Neither schools nor universities are places where anyone can just do what they like. A future consisting of antagonistic monocultural ghettos is looming; this time around, all of us have the right to say we do not want it.


‘British Muslims have the best of both worlds’ – IQBAL WAHHAB Chairman of the Government think-tank the Ethnic Minority Advisory Group and founder of London restaurants Roast and The Cinnamon Club

THE solution to the harmful notion that Muslims hate the British, hate non-Muslims and hate this beautiful country of ours lies so close to our eyes that we have not seen it.

As somebody born a Muslim, I have thrived from the education and opportunities Britain has afforded me. And why not? After all, this is my country, the place where I was born.

What we need today is more input from those other Muslims who have shown how wonderful it is to have the best of both worlds which also being British offers. Stand up, the likes of Art Malik, Konnie Haque, Amir Khan and Nasser Hussain, and Britain be proud of these individuals.

The majority of British Muslims are, of course, appalled by the sinister element within our communities. The problem is, we don’t say it enough and we don’t act upon it – and when we do, it doesn’t come to the attention of the mainstream media. We should have had more Muslim voices shouting: “Not in my name” at the extremists. Those of us living in areas with large Muslim populations need to be vigilant of extremists and prepared to co-operate with the police when they become aware that trouble may be brewing.

These people need to be exposed and when we have information that can be used to break the terror code, we have to come forward. At the moment, the extremists feel they can get away with a lot because no one among them would dare turn them in.

But, equally, we shouldn’t be chucked off planes and barred from the London Eye if we have beards or speak with Arab-sounding accents. We cannot allow new forms of discrimination to be the outcome of this cultural crossroads.


‘The Government must urgently examine its foreign policy or face a growth in Islamic militancy’ – DR MUHAMMAD ADBUL BARI Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain

NO CAUSE can ever justify the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. This is why the Muslim Council of Britain and other leading Muslim organisations have consistently called for full and active co-operation between British Muslims and the police to counter the terror threat we face.

We accept that some Muslim youths have become radicalised in recent years. The key questions are: why has this happened, and what can now be done to prevent more young people falling prey to extremist ideas?

Al Qaeda’s vision of the Muslim world is hardly an attractive one. Bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, have consistently shown that they are far more interested in destroying than in building. Their glorification of the deliberate killing of non-Muslim civilians renders them beyond the pale.

This is indisputably counterproductive for the educational and cultural renaissance of the Muslim world for which so many ordinary Muslims yearn.
It is all the more tragic, then, that with their aggressive policies in the Middle East, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have, in the words of the veteran BBC journalist Peter Taylor, “gifted Osama bin Laden with a jihad he could only dream of”.

We must rethink our approach urgently.


‘Islam is a moderate, inherently pluralistic religion’ – AJMAL MASROOR London imam

ISLAM is inherently pluralistic: it embraces differences and encourages positive interaction and partnership in building better societies. There are some who would like Islam not to have a position on issues and have its followers behave as timid people focusing on rituals and dogmas. This is not Islam. It does not submit or turn the other cheek when greed or materialism wags the finger.

One is right to point out that Islam challenges godless, materialistic, immoral lifestyles. It argues for checks and balances against multinationals exploiting the poor by creating giant monopolies and destroying local businesses.

Islam is categorical that its followers shall not impose the religion on others. However, it does confidently argue that when Islam is properly understood by people, they would naturally want to live by its values. Is this not true for any lifestyle that believes in its own message?
The Koran is emphatic about Muslims being a moderate people. Their duty is to stand up for justice and oppose extremist ideologies.

Muslims living in the West are not responsible for fuelling extremism. I am afraid the neocon-influenced White House and the Blair government are directly responsible for making our world unsafe. To blame Muslims for the actions of extremists is like blaming the whole of British society for the vile rhetoric of the BNP. We must all stand together against extremism and terrorism, whether it is perpetrated by misguided individuals or by governments.

The situation will improve when we can accept that Islam is an important stakeholder in shaping our future, even in the West.