The religious landscape of Britain has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, with Islam becoming Britain’s fastest growing religion. Having doubled in numbers to around three million since 2000, 47% of Muslims are UK born, 33% are aged 15 and under and it’s estimated that one in ten children under the age of four is a British Muslim.
Despite this we know very little about the people behind these statistics other than what the media tell us – do they really want to ‘Islamify’ the UK, can you really be both British and Muslim and what is the truth behind all those scary headlines?
I spoke to two very different British Muslims to find out more…
Social commentator and civil rights activist, Mohammed Ansar lives in Hampshire with his wife and children. He says British Muslims are facing mass discrimination on many levels, with far-reaching and devastating effects:
“British Muslims are having a civil rights crisis. We’re being overwhelmingly and disproportionately discriminated against in terms of employment, housing, health and education – meaning that we have a whole section of society being pushed to the edge and marginalized.
The removal of EMA for example means that the hardest up families in the UK are going to struggle to send their kids to college. When we have eighty percent of British Muslims on or below the poverty line, the removal of this one benefit will have a disproportionate impact on that community.
We need to define our narrative. With foreign policy and global events, the media today is defining Muslim life in Britain using people that we would consider to have more in common with terrorism, far removed from Islam and the true Prophetic traditions. Then we have a whole other group at the other end of the spectrum; not really upholding authentic ideals of Islam but at the same time are very secular progressive – so much so that they themselves are quite happy to be drinking and going to strip clubs while defining ‘counter radicalization’ and pressing very hard on British Muslims in a bid to try to reform Islam by telling people how to live. I think there’s a real hypocrisy there.
We’ve had, and continue to have an onslaught of Islamophobic propaganda in the media, aligning the Muslim faith with immigration, terrorism, in fact, when it comes to British Muslims we can be conflated with anyone; child sex abuse claims, drug trafficking, sex trafficking – all the worst aspects of society are being pushed towards the Muslim ‘issue’, helping to demonize British Muslims on an almost daily basis.
Don’t panic – I’m Islamic (and British of course)
As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, British Muslims are constantly being called on to ‘prove their loyalty to the UK’ and I for one am sick and tired of it. I try not to lend myself to it and have refused to support campaigns calling for such action because it just doesn’t help. It creates a false narrative and takes away from the real issues we’re facing. Sadly, it seems to be the younger generation of British Muslims who, being sometimes less experienced in terms of understanding the political dimensions, are drawn into the debate and see it as being a modern-day ‘Cool Britannia’ – almost like a ‘Cool Muslimia’. Young British Muslims seem to think ‘I can be Muslim, I can be inclusive and contribute to British society but I must be able to put clear water between myself and those with different values.’
We never see this with non-Muslim communities – when there’s a paedophile ring, which has a dozen people in it who are white Christians, we don’t then see those communities marching on the streets saying ‘not in my name’. We don’t see outrage on Twitter or other social media where people feel the need to say these people don’t represent me. We certainly never see outrage when Britain bombs Libya or performs airstrikes in Iran and Syria to support president Assad and we don’t get Christians feeling the need to put clear water between themselves and David Cameron.
The British Muslim community is disproportionately targeted and we’re not treated on the same equal footing as everyone else. It has to change. British values include a sense of fair play and equality but this isn’t what we’re getting. There’s been some really ugly, neo-conservative interests infiltrate both the government and the media, that’s why we’re seeing influence on foreign policy both here and abroad, as well as the media agenda. We need to shine a light on this and ask the people to wrestle it back to some form of fairness.”
Rucksana Malik is a 38-year-old self-employed British Muslim who lives in Manchester with her husband and 2 young sons. Rucksana says British Muslims do face discrimination in the UK but they bring much of it on themselves and should do more to integrate:
“The biggest issue the British Muslims in the UK are facing is lack of cohesion. Nobody pulls together and it’s frustrating, we can’t even agree what day Eid is on most years so it’s no wonder that he non-Muslims are confused about what Islam really stands for.
The perception most people have of British Muslims is only what the media show them; the Muslim girl in the pub on Eastenders, comical community leader Mr. Khan in another slapstick scene, or the founder of Quilliam visiting a strip club for his stag night. We need to all pull together to show a more accurate picture of what we’re really about because this is not it.
This misrepresentation has had a massive impact on British Muslims on many levels, including the rise of Islamophobic incidents reported recently. The majority of people who have strong opinions on Muslims and immigration (yes, they go hand in hand now, thanks to the media) tend to get their information from either sensationalist shows on TV or hate filled stories in the paper.
Disinformation stops unity and any good that is done by the British Muslim community doesn’t get reported on. However, there’s a lot more that some of us could do to integrate better. I know Muslims that, although they’ve lived here for over forty years, still don’t speak English and I have a big problem with that – they don’t wear English clothes, won’t eat English food but still want to live over here. That I have a problem with, and I can understand why people who are spoon fed the misinformation on top of seeing this have a huge problem.
Some British Muslims could do well to chill out and put their own affairs in order before getting all stressed about having Sharia patrols outside mosques to stop couples holding hands and other ridiculousness. We need to remember that there’s still places in the world where it’s illegal to practice as a Muslim, and just be grateful for the freedoms we have in the UK.
Some of the blame for how we are portrayed must lie with us, the British Muslims. Yes, we want to keep our identity, so I’m not going to integrate to the point where we go down to the pub together and I have a pint with you, but, if you’re my neighbour or
Rucksana and her son
in my local community, I want to know what you’re called, I want us to have enough of a rapport to have a chat. I want you to take an interest. I want to know if you’re not well or if you need any help with anything. Yes, it’s nice that you send me a Christmas card. I don’t celebrate it and I’m not going to send you one back but I’m going to find a nice way to tell you to tell you that.
I’m not just going to come out with ‘Kafir this, kafir that’ which, incidentally just means disbeliever, not the bad, almost swear word the media have alluded to. British Muslims seem to over react to a lot of things, like when it’s Christmas and some nitwits will start a petition to ban the lights because ‘we don’t do Christmas’. The reality is that it doesn’t matter, even if they are all over your street it doesn’t mean that you’re participating. Incidents like that do get a lot of media coverage and, in turn, does a lot of damage.
Some of the scaremongering headlines have even got people terrified that we are trying to ‘take over’ the UK. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I wouldn’t say I was a ‘moderate’ Muslim, I’d probably fall into the category some would label ‘extreme’ but even I have no wish to ever try to make this an Islamic country and don’t know anyone that does. It’s nowhere on the Muslim agenda and I wish the media would stop implying that we are some kind of imminent threat to British civilisation.
Some of the things that so many British Muslims make priority are rather strange too, like cartoons. They organize big marches and get everyone all fired up about things like that. Yes, as a Muslim I do find it offensive and I don’t agree with it but there’s far more important things to focus on, like educating the Muslim youth and getting them out of the houses, the bars, the strip clubs, and into a mosque. It’s hypocritical the things we choose to make an issue out of. They’re like sheep, everyone jumping on the bandwagon ‘I’m a Muslim, I’ve pride in my religion but I don’t pray or go to the mosque’. I wish they would save their breath and stop making it difficult for the rest of us.
I’m proud to be British and Muslim; anyone who says you can’t be both has clearly misinterpreted the religion, there’s no conflict and I’m happy to be both a fully practicing Muslim and a totally integrated member of British society. I don’t expect anyone to make allowances for me as a Muslim in any way. If I go somewhere to eat and they don’t have halal meat I’m not going to make an issue, complain or even start a petition – I’d either choose something else or choose not to eat there. There is literally nothing that I have to do as a Muslim that being British would prevent.
I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore but I don’t have a problem being off for the festive holidays. I don’t have an issue with seeing a Christmas tree in the town centre, the countless fairy lights or even hearing carols for the 3 months before and during the event. I don’t find it offensive because it’s not offensive – it’s just what other people do and we’re supposed to be the religion of tolerance after all. These are all examples of what could show British Muslims in a really good light with how we choose to react.
As with any community, we do have issues, one of the most worrying is the number of British Muslim youths being radicalized by UK foreign policy. It’s given them a channel for their aggression and their free time, because, let’s face it, nobody is encouraged to work. There’s no incentive for anybody to do anything positive then comes along the perfect excuse to get fired up and excited about something. These ‘Muslims’ don’t have a purpose or focus because religion isn’t taught enough at home so they have no fear of anybody, whether it be God or the police; they have no boundaries in that respect and are just looking for trouble, it’s more a political issue than religious uprising.
The government needs to stop interfering with things that are nothing to do with us; we’re not at war with anyone and I would have no problem fighting with the British Army if we were, regardless of whom that was against, but we’re not at war. That’s not to mention that the millions of pounds spent meddling in these distant lands could be much better spent over here.
Maajid Nawaz – before the strip club ‘incident’…
My biggest fear as a British Muslim living in the UK is not my racist neighbours or the lads who shouted abuse at me when I visited the park with my children. It’s not even the group of ‘men’ that spat on me as I was walked home from the supermarket just last week. What really scares me and makes me fearful for my children’s future in the UK the most is Maajid Nawaz and other so-called moderate Muslims; those that seek to vilify the rest of us that don’t fit their self-styled mould. We have more to fear from them than any non-Muslim as they undermine everything the rest of us are trying to achieve. Nawaz was the one who said that Muslim women don’t need to wear hijab in this country because ‘you’re putting yourselves in danger’. No, we’re not – you’re putting us in danger by coming out with idiotic comments like that, and then you’re caught in a strip club!
The reality is that real Muslims, the ones who follow the religion correctly, are not the ones you should be concerned with. We’re the ones that don’t try and impose our views on other people, respect other religions and, despite what the papers say, manage to integrate perfectly well in our society – yet we are labeled as extreme. It’s the ones that don’t pray 5 times a day or go to the mosque that are the deemed ‘moderate ones’ and yet they’re far more dangerous than we could ever be.
They’re the ones that breed the idiots who want to go and join ISIS, thinking it’s the answer to their prayers, not us. All this goes undetected while the ones they have monitoring these people, like Quilliam, focus instead on people like me that are just trying to live a peaceful life in the way I see fit. It’s the ‘non-Muslim Muslims’ that are a real danger to society, not the ones truly following Islam – it’s about time the media realised that.”