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Islam and Muslims in Britain: Young Muslims in Scotland seek to set an example

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  • Zafar Khan
    Young Muslims in Scotland seek to set an example 27/06/2008 10:00:00 PM GMT http://www.islamonline.com/news/newsfull.php?newid=134657 The Scottish Islamic
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2008
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      Young Muslims in Scotland seek to set an example
      27/06/2008 10:00:00 PM GMT


      The Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF) hopes that young Muslims can play a bigger role in their community.

      The Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF) is promoting the activities it’s organizing more than following the rest of the world in denouncing terrorism.

      The organization, which is looking for more involvement from Scottish Muslims, is primarily led by youth and hopes that young Muslims can play a bigger role in their community.

      Among its many targets, the foundation is working on education by improving its standards especially religious schools in Scotland.

      Osama Saeed, the chief executive of the SIF, said that Scottish Muslims were comfortable with their identities and this meant that Scotland could be an example for other countries.

      “We don't need to have the same debate about integration we see elsewhere, and it means we can talk about how Muslims can now further deepen their contribution to the country”, he told the BBC.

      Saeed then talked about problems hampering their targets in the country.

      “We need to sort out our youth and secondly fix the image of Islam in the public mind. This is exactly what we're going to set about doing”, he said.

      Many view this new organization as a plus for Scotland’s image that would benefit the Muslim community.

      “This foundation would strengthen Scotland's Muslim community and Scotland's reputation around the world as a role model of diversity and understanding between communities,” said Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, when attended the launch of the Scottish Islamic Foundation.

      Among its events, the organization is planning a huge festival in 2010 called “IslamExpo” that is described as the biggest Muslim event to be held in Scotland.

      The Scottish Islamic Foundation is already attracting non-Muslims, who consider it as a step forward for Muslims in the country and worldwide, among which were Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and the Scottish Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders.

      “We will talk to the entire country. Not only that, but we believe this will be an opportunity to reach out to the Muslim world. Some talk about a 'clash of civilisations'. Scotland is uniquely placed to help avoid this happening”, Saaed told the BBC.

      “Glasgow Airport showed us we can't stay out. The festival will show the world how Muslims and non-Muslims can co-exist”, he added.

      Saeed would like to see the country talk about Islam without linking it terrorism, which has been the trend worldwide lately.

      The SIF has participated with churches in calling for peace between Palestine and Israel in their decades-old conflict.

      In addition to that, the organization provides programs with abseiling, air rifles, archery and fencing in their attempt to provide activities with knowledge and skills needed to clarify the basics of their way of life while improving understanding between communities.

      UK Muslim Role in Next Decade
      IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
      Sat. Jun. 7, 2008


      CAIRO — Eyeing progress of the Muslim minority in Britain, the umbrella British Muslim Council will discuss Sunday, June 8 the role of British Muslims in the coming decade, reported the Chester Chronicle daily.
      "We will be looking at what is the preferred way forward," Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said.

      "It has been very much focused on the terror issue, we want to look beyond that to see where the community will be in 10 years' time."

      Held at the London Muslim Center in Whitechapel in east London, 300 British Muslims, including imams and community leaders, will discuss a raft of issues such as Muslims' education and integration in the European country.

      "If there are any obstacles and what are the challenges facing British Muslims," said Bunglawala.

      The MCB spokesman said complaints by Muslim parents that Islam is not being taught properly in state schools will feature high on the agenda.

      "We know that there is general concern about the teaching of faith issues and whether schools sufficiently teach the Muslim faith in schools."

      Bunglawala said there had been some "interesting proposals" about teaching Islam in state schools such as inviting imams into schools.

      "Some Muslim faith schools have got state funding. We will be looking at why people are turning to this sector, why parents are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the state sector."

      The British government has unveiled plans to send Muslim imams into schools to teach students against extremism and lecture them about citizenship and multiculturalism.

      Detention Bill

      The MCB meeting will also discuss government plans to extend the pre-charge detention of terror suspects to 42 days.

      Bunglawala said it was inevitable that the 42-day detention limit would be raised as it was likely to affect the Muslim community.

      Prime Minister Jordon Brown has proposed extending the current 28-day period, during which an individual can be held and questioned by police without trial, to 42 days.

      But the plans have drawn widespread fire.

      "No-one has been able to show us that it would have stopped any previous atrocity or that it could prevent any future atrocity," former prime minister Sir John Major said in a rare foray.

      "It appears to be a time plucked from the air for no good reason without yet being certain that 28 days isn't sufficient.

      "There is too much of this erosion of personal liberty in one form or another and parliament -- the guardian of our liberties -- should step back and look at it again."

      The plans, to be voted by the House of Commons on Wednesday, have already drawn fire from the cross-party Joint Select Committee on Human Rights as "flawed" and "alienating" to minorities.

      Britain's Muslims, estimated at some 2 million, have taken the full brunt of anti-terror laws since the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London underground system.

      Muslims have repeatedly complained of maltreatment by police for no apparent reason other than being Muslim.

      Continuous police crackdowns, searches and arrests have entrenched fear in the minority that it is being targeted.

      UK Eyes Imams to Fight School Extremism
      IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
      Sat. May. 31, 2008


      CAIRO — The British government will unveil new plans to send Muslim imams into schools to teach students against extremism and lecture them about citizenship and multiculturalism, reported the Telegraph on Saturday, May 31.
      "A very small number of young people of school age may already be at risk of being drawn into criminal activity inspired by violent extremists," said Schools Secretary Ed Ball.

      The plans, to be announced on Tuesday, envisage sending British-born imams to schools to teach students about citizenship and multiculturalism.

      The imams will also instruct students about equality between the sexes, the sanctity of life and the rights of the individual.

      "Extremists of every persuasion tend to paint the world as black and white ... exploiting fears based on ignorance," said Ball.

      "Education can be a powerful weapon against this."

      The plans are part of a £90m-a-year government scheme to fight extremism.

      The scheme also includes extra funding and support for imams working in prisons and training for prison staff to prevent radicalization of Muslim inmates.

      Britain's prisons watchdog has warned that a deep sense of alienation and insensitive treatment of staff push Muslims at the high security Belmarsh jail towards radicalization.

      Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said last month that the British government plans to invite Asian imams to help fight extremism.

      "Balanced" UK Muslim Women


      CAIRO — The majority of British Muslim women live a contemporary lifestyle, want to marry their soul mate and tap into consumer trends while sticking to Islamic values and tenets, the Guardian reported on Sunday, June 1, citing a new poll.
      "We're British and we love it here," said Talat Ahmed, a mother of three.

      "I become so English when the Rugby World Cup is on," added Ahmed, who works in human resources for a charity.

      The poll, by the Muslim women's magazine Sisters and Ummah Foods, a halal food business, found that 58 percent of Muslim women don't consider the racial background when making a marriage decision.

      Two-thirds of respondents said it is important for their future husbands to be knowledgeable about Islam.

      "But Asian culture confuses things too much and sometimes people get too involved with caste and background, which just isn't right and isn't anything to do with religion at all," said Farah Mulla, 27, who lives in west London and works in marketing.

      The poll also showed that 37 percent of Muslim women see success as being a good Muslim while 32 see it as a combination of work and family life.

      Fifty-two percent of respondents said they want to run their own businesses.

      Seventy percent said issues affecting the Muslim minority in Britain, estimated at more than two million, are a priority for them while 21 percent said the Middle East is the most important.

      Proud Muslims

      Some Muslim women complain that society is growing intolerant towards Muslims.

      "It's complex because living in the West we feel alienation," said Ahmed.

      "The media and the government categorize Muslims."

      A recent British study accused the media and film industry of perpetuating Islamophobia and prejudice by demonizing Muslims and Arabs as violent, dangerous and threatening people.

      "We choose to be Muslim and we want to be respected and we want people to understand," she said.

      "A lot of things get misconstrued because Islam is a private thing. I totally respect people of all religions. Sure we are British. We choose to live here."

      The survey also showed that half of British Muslims see hijab as about dressing modestly.

      "I'm proud of my religion, and being British as well as Muslim is important for my identity," said Mulla.

      "I don't hide my religion though - I'll do things like pray at work, even if there are people around - that makes no different to me," she added.

      "The Qur'an gives me guidance and praying puts me at peace. It gives me a sense of belonging.

      "My faith is so important to me and I wouldn't want any misunderstandings or conflicts arising from that."

      Amazing glimpse into ordinary yet extraordinary lives
      Na'ima B Robert, editor of Sisters Magazine The Observer, Sunday June 1, 2008


      As a Muslim woman in the UK, I am used to my voice not being heard. I am used to people making assumptions, making judgments, making light of the values I hold dear.

      Believe it or not, there are many Muslim women like me, frustrated at the ignorance and bias that so often accompany our society's attempts to address any issue surrounding Islam and, in particular, Muslim women.

      That is just one of the reasons why this survey is so refreshing. Somehow it manages to be both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary in the sense that the questions we asked were about daily life, about human details, details that, while making up the majority of our lives, rarely hit the headlines. It is also extraordinary in its size compared with previous surveys, the response we received and the value of those responses - to us as individuals, as businesses, as a community and as a society.

      It is refreshing to see individual Muslim women being asked the questions for a change. We didn't ask community leaders or spokespersons or organisations.

      I love the fact that Islam is still central to our values. I love the fact that we still believe in finding our soulmate and that marriage and children are important, in the face of high divorce rates and a general move away from marriage. I love the fact that we are making our mark, either in employment, as students or full-time mothers, in spite of the dire statistics about low achievement among Muslims. I love the fact that we cook fresh meals and eat out, that we entertain at home and travel abroad, that we embrace hijab and shop on the high street. I love that we are so ordinary, and yet so extraordinary.

      When we launched Sisters Magazine, we coined the phrase 'fabulous Muslim women'. I am so grateful to the fabulous, ordinary-extraordinary women who offered us a glimpse into their lives.

      Inside the world of UK Muslim women
      A major survey shows most want to marry their soulmates and enjoy high street fashion, while keeping a delicate balance with their Islamic values
      Nick Mathiason and Huma Qureshi The Observer, Sunday June 1, 2008


      She wants to marry her soulmate, shops in Primark, TK Maxx and Topshop, and dreams of starting her own business. Meet the typical Muslim woman in Britain today.

      A thousand women throughout the country have responded to the biggest lifestyle study of Muslim women undertaken in the UK. It appears to show that Muslim women have established a delicate balance between a desire to live a contemporary lifestyle and tap into consumer trends while sticking to values underpinning the Islamic guide to life.

      The survey shows that 58 per cent of Muslim women do not think the racial background of a partner matters, although two-thirds believe it is very important for their man to be knowledgeable about Islam.

      Success to 37 per cent of women means being a good Muslim, while 32 per cent say it is about combining work with family life, with 52 per cent wanting to run their own businesses.

      When asked which Muslim causes were most important, 70 per cent of women said matters affecting Muslims in their own community or in the UK were a priority against 21 per cent who said that the Middle East was the most important issue facing Muslims today.

      Talat Ahmed, 32, from Redbridge in east London, is a married with a three-year-old daughter and works in human resources for a charity. She said: 'I become so English when the Rugby World Cup is on. We're British and we love it here.

      '[But] it's complex because living in the West we feel alienation. The media and the government categorises Muslims. We choose to be Muslim and we want to be respected and we want people to understand. A lot of things get misconstrued because Islam is a private thing. I totally respect people of all religions. Sure we are British. We choose to live here. To me it's terrible being told to go back where you come from.'

      Half of British Muslim women polled for the survey - carried out by Muslim women's magazine Sisters and Ummah Foods, a halal food business - say the hijab is about dressing modestly, with 19 per cent equating it to 'covering up completely'.

      More than half the women polled never go on holiday in Britain for fear of not being welcome in coastal resorts, lack of halal food outlets and uncertainty over where the nearest mosque would be. Eighty-two per cent of Muslim women want shops to sell products that are halal- and sharia-compliant - a desire mainstream retailers largely fail to satisfy.

      'I'm proud of my religion, and being British as well as Muslim is important for my identity, but as I've got older, I've started to feel like I don't belong here,' said Farah Mulla, 27, who lives in west London and works in marketing. 'I don't hide my religion though - I'll do things like pray at work, even if there are people around - that makes no different to me.'

      For Farah, praying and reading the Koran is part of her daily routine. 'The Koran gives me guidance and praying puts me at peace. It gives me a sense of belonging.' When it comes to marriage, she says she would only ever marry a Muslim although some members of her family have married out of Islam. 'Mixed-faith marriages can work, but it just wouldn't work for me. I wouldn't feel comfortable if I didn't marry a Muslim.

      'My faith is so important to me and I wouldn't want any misunderstandings or conflicts arising from that. But Asian culture confuses things too much and sometimes people get too involved with caste and background, which just isn't right and isn't anything to do with religion at all.'

      Nabila Pathan, 25, from Leytonstone, east London, presents Women's Voice, a woman's chat show, on Press TV, an English language channel funded by the Iranian government.

      She says: 'The government is always funding these quite contrived attempts to "understand" Muslims, but to be honest I think a lot of Muslims are fed up with that. Sometimes it's better to read things about ourselves if it's come from ourselves - that way, it's on our terms.'

      Muslim gangs 'are taking control of prison'
      Jamie Doward, home affairs editor The Observer, Sunday May 25, 2008


      Prison officers at one of Britain's maximum security jails are losing control to Muslim gangs, according to a confidential report obtained by The Observer. An internal review of Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire warns that staff believe a 'serious incident is imminent' as several wings become dominated by Muslim prisoners.

      The report, written by the Prison Service's Directorate of High Security, says there is an 'ongoing theme of fear and instability' among staff at Whitemoor, where just under a third of the 500 prisoners are Muslim.

      It claims: 'There was much talk around the establishment about "the Muslims". Some staff perceived the situation at Whitemoor had resulted in Muslim prisoners becoming more of a gang than a religious group. The sheer numbers, coupled with a lack of awareness among staff, appeared to be engendering fear and handing control to the prisoners.' The situation has become so acute that white prisoners are routinely warned about the Muslim gangs by staff on arrival.

      The report says that apprehension about Muslim prisoners has potentially damaging consequences and is in danger of 'leading to hostility and Islamophobia'. It serves to highlight the growing concern about extremist activity in the UK's jails. The Home Office is concerned that young male prisoners are being radicalised by Muslim gangs and that the prison system is becoming a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda sympathisers. Similar problems have been experienced at Belmarsh prison in London and Frankland in Durham. A number of high-profile al-Qaeda sympathisers at Frankland have been moved as a result of increased tensions within the jail.

      Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said she was alarmed at the report's findings. 'The difficulties of running a high-security prison such as Whitemoor cannot be underestimated, but much of what this internal report uncovers is extremely disturbing,' she said. 'It is vital that the problems uncovered at Whitemoor are addressed as a matter of urgency.'

      The report was commissioned partly as a response to the deaths of five prisoners at the jail within 12 months. Muslim prisoner support groups have also complained that Muslims are suffering harassment from staff. Recently a number of Whitemoor staff have been suspended on unrelated corruption charges.

      The tense stand-off between staff and prisoners is causing problems, the report warns. 'Staff appeared reluctant to challenge inappropriate behaviour, in particular among BME [black and ethnic minority] prisoners for fear of doing the wrong thing,' the report states. 'This was leading to a general feeling of a lack of control and shifting the power dynamic towards prisoners.' It adds: 'A wing itself felt particularly unstable with a general lack of confidence among staff.'

      The emergence of gang culture in Whitemoor has alarmed some prisoners. The team that compiled the report found that over the Christmas period the segregation unit was full as inmates sought refuge from the gangs over debt problems and drugs.

      Henry Bellingham, the Conservatives' shadow justice minister, who has raised concerns about the running of Whitemoor in parliament, said he welcomed the report. 'However, I'm very concerned about some of the findings,' he added. 'They point to a systematic breakdown in the chain of command. It's in everyone's interests that these problems are sorted out soon. Whitemoor holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country.'

      In recent months the Prison Service has unveiled a series of initiatives to combat extremism in the UK's jails through the supervision and monitoring of imams and better training for staff. 'It is vital that prison staff are equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure they have the confidence to identify and challenge behaviour that is of concern,' said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice. 'A programme of work is planned at Whitemoor to increase mutual understanding between staff and prisoners, including a development day for staff on the Muslim faith, focus groups in which staff and ethnic minority prisoners will discuss prison community issues, and diversity events.

      'The prison will continue to work closely with the Prison Service's Extremism Unit and the police to monitor and assess issues around extremism, and work will be undertaken to examine the management of gangs and terrorist prisoners within the prison.'

      Muslim Girl Death Shocks Britain


      CAIRO — The death of a seven-year-old Muslim girl of starvation has shocked Britons over failure of social workers to check on the young child, reported the Daily Mail on Friday, May 23.
      "The fact the social worker was not allowed into the house should have set the alarm bells ringing," Labour MP Khalif Mahmoud said.

      "There should have been a follow-up visit because no contact was made."

      Khyra Ishaq and her five sisters and brothers were found starving to death at their home in Birmingham.

      The 7-year-old Khyra was breathing her last when ambulance crews tried to resuscitate her.

      The other kids, aged between four and 12, were lying on mattresses severely emaciated.

      The children were withdrawn from school by their mother after being bullied for wearing a Muslim dress.

      The mother was said to have made arrangements for them to be taught at home where she had lived on benefits for more than a decade.

      Two weeks after their withdrawal, an educational social worker went to the children's house to check on them but got no reply.

      Since then, no more visits were made.

      "I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the incompetence of the council," said MP Mahmood.

      The mother, which reverted to Islam two years ago, and her partner have been charged with neglect and remanded in custody till Wednesday.

      Do Stamford Hill's Jews need integration?
      An extraordinary portrait of a closed community explodes the lazy rhetoric of social cohesion
      Rafael Behr The Observer, Sunday June 15, 2008


      The Haredi Jews of Stamford Hill in north London are a sober bunch. They only binge-drink once a year, at Purim, when there is a religious obligation to celebrate exuberantly the salvation of Babylonian Jews from a sixth-century genocide. Children wear fancy dress, men get drunk and dance boisterously. But the police don't get called out to break up fights in the synagogue. When it comes to law and order, the Haredim are model citizens.

      But if the ultra-orthodox Jewish community doesn't go in for antisocial behaviour, in relations with people of other faiths they are not what you could call sociable. A Haredi man will not shake hands with a woman who is not his wife. It would be an impropriety verging on lasciviousness and, besides, he can't be sure she isn't menstruating, which under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law makes her unclean. Haredi women avoid eye contact with strangers. The community as a whole eschews contact with modern secular society. Television is frowned upon. The dress code for men - long, black coats, tall, black hats, white stockings on the Sabbath - is imported from eastern European ghettos of the 18th century.

      The media don't pay much attention to the Haredim and they like it that way. But this week, BBC4 will screen a documentary by Vanessa Engle, an award-winning film-maker who gained unprecedented access to this hermetically sealed community. It is the first in a series of three films titled Jews, portraits of very different members of Britain's oldest religious minority. Engle's films are made of simple inquiry and observation. They are, like their subjects, not political.

      But in 21st-century Britain, a minority that refuses to commune with the rest of society cannot hide from politics. Gordon Brown wants to promote public expressions of 'Britishness'. New arrivals will be expected to avow their loyalty, while established Britons will wave flags and hug each other on a new public holiday.

      As a rule, policy only exists as a solution to a problem. In this case, the problem is a lack of what wonks and Whitehall call 'integration and social cohesion'. That deficit was brought to the government's attention by opinion polls that consistently show voters unhappy about high levels of immigration, and by the 7 July bombings, which showed how members of one community were so alienated from Britain as to be capable of treason. Since then, promoting 'integration' has become the shared aspiration of all mainstream parties. It is one of those lazy virtues that are easy to promote because no one in their right mind stands for the opposite. Who has a manifesto calling for disintegration?

      The Haredim pose an interesting challenge to this tidy consensus. If separateness in Muslims and immigrant communities is bad because it leads to crime and disorder, would it be fine as long as the ghetto was trouble-free? If people obey the law, why should they integrate and, if they must, with whom? Rich and poor Britons don't mix socially. They don't even drink in the same pubs.

      An effective policy is one that changes behaviour. If the problem is people driving too fast, make them slow down. But what, on a day-to-day basis, are devout Muslims or Haredi Jews expected to do to integrate in modern Britain. Take their children to the local playground? Shop at Ikea? They already do that. The same is true of 'social cohesion'. You can't put a bunch of people in a room with instructions to 'cohese'. It isn't even a word.

      Last year, the government's Commission on Integration and Cohesion defined 'integration' vaguely as 'the process that ensures new residents and existing residents adapt to one another'. The commission also found that in most of the country that was already happening. Seventy-nine per cent of those polled thought that people from different backgrounds got on well in their area. That was equally true for areas with a high ethnic mix and more homogenous quarters. There was, however, a clear correlation between a lack of 'cohesion' and deprivation. Poor areas suffered higher crime, which made people suspicious of one another and less enthusiastic about racial diversity.

      Anyone who tries to measure 'integration' ends up relying on definitions that are either banal (how many members of a minority speak English) or economically functional (how many have jobs). If politicians want something more profound - a convergence of behaviour towards shared habits and a limit on egregious displays of difference - the correct word is assimilation.

      But to minority ears, that sounds like a threat of cultural annihilation. In another of Engle's films, we meet Jonathan Faith, a wealthy businessman who is devoting his retirement to halting the decline in Britain's mainstream Jewish population. In 1950, there were 450,000 Jews in the country; now, there are fewer than 270,000 and the rate of decline is accelerating. The problem is simple. Jews marry non-Jews and end up having non-Jewish children. 'Integrated' secular Judaism is dying.

      The Haredim are bucking the trend. They number between 20,000 and 45,000 today, but are prolific. Families of eight or more children are not unusual. Is there a numerical point at which their cultural distinctness offends the secular liberal principle of 'integration'? Is it 100,000? A million? Is there a threshold beyond which the state will turn around and say, as it does of Muslims, 'the Jews must be integrated'?

      If government wants to change the status of minorities, it can choose between two policy menus, one cultural and one economic. The cultural one is assimilation: setting a goal of a unified national identity and pushing people towards it, by shutting faith schools and banning public officials from wearing headscarves, for example.

      The economic one is redistribution: addressing the problems of social mobility and poverty that actually cause tension between communities. Or it can go à la carte and try a bit of both. What it can't do is talk loosely about a policy of integration because, noble though it sounds, it doesn't actually mean anything.

      Johann Hari: When two sides of Islam go head to head
      Monday, 23 June 2008


      As a country, we can spend countless hours discussing rival teams of men kicking a piece of plastic into a net. But we are all supposed to be shame-faced about discussing the fantastically complex dramas called Reality TV. Well, I'm not.

      Have the sinews of racism and snobbery been more truthfully traced than in the showdown between Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody? Has the reality of sexism in the workplace been laid out more rivettingly than in Alan Sugar's annual picking of amiable, malleable men over competent, dynamic women to be his apprentice? Now this glorious genre has dramatised the clash within British Islam – between secularisers and fanatics – with the same concision.

      Reality TV has long shown a face of British Islam that contrasts with the murderous smirk of the Tube-bomber Mohammed Sidiq Khan. It gave us Chico Slimani, the buff, rippling ex-Chippendale who blagged his way through The X-Factor; Kemal Shahin, the smart, tart young gay man who dominated Big Brother 5; and Saira Khan, the feminist entrepreneur from The Apprentice who refuses to let her religion be hijacked by "bearded old men from the Middle East". They represent the first fragile shoots of a secularised Islam that – like most Christianity and Judaism in Europe – can be shrunk until it is a matter of custom and private conscience.

      But on our reality TV shows, this has always been a one-sided fight. Fundamentalists, by their you're-all-damned nature, are not inclined to take part in reality TV. Until now.

      If you were told the biographies of Big Brother contestants Mohamed Mohamed and Alex De-Gale, you wouldn't find it hard to guess which one is the fundamentalist. Mohamed was born in Somalia in 1985. When he was five years old, he saw his mother being held at gunpoint, and thought she was going to die. Since then, he has spent most of his life fleeing from one civil war to another – until, finally, he was granted asylum in Britain. De-Gale was born in the same year in south London, to black British parents. She is now a lithe accounts executive with high cheekbones, short skirts, a BMW, and a seven-year old daughter she brings up on her own.

      You guessed wrong. They wouldn't use these terms, but Mohamed became a convinced secularist on the run from Somalia, while Alex learned a Wahhabbi interpretation of Islam on the streets of Tottenham. This emerged, as everything does on Big Brother, through a thicket of trivia. Mohamed's birthday fell a week into his stay in the Big Brother house, so the producers threw him a party, and let him pick the theme. Remembering a fun night he'd had at university, he said he wanted the male housemates to dress as women, and vice versa. Everyone cheered and howled for alcohol.

      Except Alex. "First and foremost," she said, "I am a Muslim." And that meant the idea of a man dressing as a woman "made me feel sick". Jabbing her finger and shouting, she said to Mohamed: "Tell it to Allah [that] it's all in the name of fun. It's bad enough that we drink and smoke ... You're supposed to be a Muslim man, someone I can look up to for guidance. You will have my friends and family in uproar. I am disgraced by you ... 85 per cent of the people I know are Muslims. And trust me – the sheer horror they would have experienced ... [You have] disgraced Islam."

      "You can't tell me I'm a bad Muslim," Mohamed replied. "I am old enough to be responsible for myself. Don't bring religion into it!" She snapped back: "It is! There's nothing else!" Alex was so enraged she announced she has "gangster friends" and, if she was evicted, "I get to go out [and] see everyone's friends, I get to see their family. I get to do the shit that I wanna do. Pow, pow, pow." This threat wasn't necessarily idle: Alex has a restraining order against her after she waged a "hate campaign" against a former friend.

      In that little exchange, you see the contrast between two understandings of Islam. I live in the middle of the Muslim East End, and I see this raw, rubbing conflict being played out every day.

      Alex believes that Islam offers Absolute Judgements, immutably cast in stone in the Koran. These are (of course) hellishly patriarchal, since they were formulated by illiterate desert merchants in the seventh century AD. She has been taught there is "nothing else". Later, she explained to another housemate that Islam forbids drinking and smoking. "What can you do then?" he asked. "Pray." That's all. If you see somebody acting in a way your pre-modern system judges to be "sick", is it perfectly moral to threaten to kill them?

      Mohamed, by contrast, sees the religion as consisting of metaphors and moral guidance – and he thinks it has limits. There are places it shouldn't go. "She always brings religion into an equation that religion has nothing to do [with]," he said angrily. But what makes this argument even more fascinating – turning it from a scene by George Bernard Shaw into one by David Mamet – is the ambiguities within Alex's character. She howls about the morals of seventh-century Arabia, when they would have her stoned to death. Almost every Islamist I have met has this dissonance running through them. The 9/11 hijackers went to a strip-bar and got drunk before staging their cry for the construction of a Caliphate that would kill them for doing just that. The "moral" vision they believe in is so inhuman even they can't follow it.

      So how do we make sure relaxed secularists like Mohamed, Chico, Kemal and Saira beat Alex's wing of Islam? They have answers of their own. They all start with us ceasing to show multicultural politeness towards fanatical theocrats. Saira Khan – who as a teenager was whipped by her father with a coat-hanger for letting her legs show – says we need to call misogyny and gay-bashing by their proper names. Muslims are not a homogenous block represented by the elderly Saudi-trained Mullahs who taught Alex their totalitarian model of Islam.

      But we are handing more and more Muslim children over to them to indoctrinate. Faith schools herd the kids of Muslim parents away from the rest of us and pickle them in stale dogmas. Khan – who has spoken at many Muslim schools – says they "encourage segregation and women to be submissive". When I called Kemal, he was even more emphatic, saying: "I would have died in one of these Muslim-only faith schools." There, the Alexes can mass and shout down the Mohameds with the backing of their teachers. (Our oil-addicted foreign policy makes it easier to tell them the democratic society outside is evil.) Yet the Government is not dismantling faith schools – it is building more of them.

      So watch that row between Mohamed and Alex again. It is a shouting match – "This is nothing to do with religion!" "Tell it to Allah!" – playing out in a million variations in souqs and madrassahs and Muslim homes across the world. Now that's what I call reality television.


      Do More to Convert UK Muslims: Bishop
      IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
      Sun. May. 25, 2008


      CAIRO — A senior Church of England bishop has accused church leaders of failing to do enough to convert British Muslims to Christianity out of fear of a backlash, reported the Daily Mail on Sunday, May 25.
      "I think it may have gone too far and what we need now is to recover our nerve," Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester in southeast England, said a day earlier.

      He claimed that church leaders were shying away from converting Muslims as part of efforts to welcome ethnic minorities.

      "Our nation is rooted in the Christian faith, and that is the basis for welcoming people of other faiths," he said.

      "You cannot have an honest conversation on the basis of fudge."

      Pakistan-born Nazir-Ali, the Church's only Asian bishop whose father had converted from Islam to Christianity, is infamous for his repetitive attacks on Britain's Muslims, estimated at nearly two million.

      In January, he accused British Muslims of turning some parts of Britain into "no-go" areas for people of other religions.

      Amid wide condemnations from across the political spectrum, the government immediate refused his claims of no-go areas for non-Muslims.

      Nazir-Ali had earlier claimed that a "radical Islam" was being taught in mosque schools and asked the government to restrict overseas Muslim scholars.

      Contrary to his argument, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced during recent visits to Pakistan and Bangladesh plans to invite Asian imams to help fight extremism.


      Some members of the General Synod, the Church’s "parliament," share the passion of Nazir-Ali, who in 2002 was tipped to become Archbishop of Canterbury before Dr Rowan Williams took over from Dr George Carey.

      They are forcing the highly sensitive issue of converting British Muslims on the agenda of the July meeting.

      Paul Eddy, a General Synod member, is sponsoring a motion calling on bishops to clarify their strategy on conversion of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or followers of other religions.

      He accuses many bishops of downplaying the Church's missionary role, insisting that converting adherents of other faiths had always been a Biblical injunction on Christians.

      Eddy claims that by "allowing the rise of another religion in our country, all that Britain stands for is up for grabs."

      But he admits to having received angry emails and telephone calls from opponents, including four bishops, leaning on him to drop his controversial campaign.

      The new controversy coincides with recent warning by Christian groups that the number of mosque-goers will overtake that of church-goers by 2050.

      Many Muslims believe such reports are meant to intimidate the public, and particularly Christians, by depicting Muslims and their faith as a threat to the Church and Christianity in Britain.

      First Arabic Book Fair in London
      By Amina Satour
      Mon. May. 26, 2008


      In London, the number one multiethnic European city, you can easily find Arab Muslims and non-Muslims organizing a music concert of a multicultural theme, an international conference that has to do with Islam and Muslims all over the world, etc.
      But when it comes to fairs, the first Arabic book fair of its kind in London was really a unique cultural and social experience to many British Muslims. The Fair, which has taken place at the Royal College of Art in London in April 2008, had a very beneficial influence on many British Muslims who are willing to get acquainted with Arabic as the Language of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book. Moreover, a lot of British non-Muslims who are interested in learning Arabic as a new culture found the fair a remarkable opportunity to serve this purpose.

      This unique event, whereArabic language books for children were on sale to an audience of predominantly Arabic speakers and people seeking to learn Arabic, was organized byFe Britannia Ltd., a company formed by a group of British-Arab mothers motivated by the frustration of not being able to find high-quality Arabic books for their children.
      The event aims to create a platform to connect the Arab and Muslim community in Britain and people seeking to learn Arabic, with primarily leading publishers of children's books from the Middle East — such as Dar El Shorouk, Dar El Ilm Lilmalayeen, Kalimat, and Elias. The Arab community in Britain, estimated at nearly 700,000, faces the challenges of not only acquiring Arabic children's books but books that capture the imagination of young readers.


      A varied selection of children's stories, activity books, educational CDs and DVDs, and the latest language-learning tools were exhibited in an effort to dispel the wildly held perception by children and parents alike that Arabic is boring, the vocabulary is difficult, and the books are ugly.

      The fair also highlighted the emerging trend of young female Arab publishers determined to engage children in reading Arabic.

      The event was truly a fun day out for all the family, with kids' activities, learning sessions for adults, writing competitions, and a chance to meet the renowned Lebanese honorary guest Chef Ramzi.

      There was a considerably large turnout at the event, predominantly by Arab parents eager to find Arabic books for their children.

      "I am quite picky with Arabic books, especially when it comes to the soundness of the chosen words, and since we don't have many options here in London, the Arabic Book Fair was an unmissable opportunity," said Ahlam Yankssar, an IT Unit Official and mother of a four-year-old son whom she teaches Arabic at home. She added, "I'm glad the need for Arabic books in this country is finally recognized and someone has taken the initiative and invited publishers from the Middle East to take part in the fair."

      Thorayah Ammar, also a mother, commented, "It is such a rare occasion that I find Arabic books for my son. I was so impressed by the fantastic range and high quality of both educational and fun books."

      No Embarrassment

      The event was also attended by a sizable number of adults seeking to learn Arabic.

      Mohammed Negm, a systems analyst , told Islamonline.net that, "I attended the event to appreciate my origin and improve my Arabic." He continued, "I greatly enjoyed the event, and the focus on children's books allowed me to get books to suit my level of Arabic without embarrassment!"

      Meriem Rachedi, a British student of Moroccan origin currently learning Arabic, visited the fair to explore language-learning books and "was impressed by the range of books exhibited."

      The fair also attracted non-Arabs who came to the event specifically to purchase study material for learning Arabic.

      Given the success of the event, many participants expressed their desire to see more events like this in the future.

      Have you attended this event? Do you encourage such events to continue in London?

      Amina Stour is a British Muslim freelance writer. She may be reached at euro_mulisms@....
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