About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

Speaker’s corner: A double divorce in a divided union: what’s going on in Brexit Britain? by Farrah sheikh

A double divorce in a divided union: what’s going on in Brexit Britain?

by Farrah Sheikh

Farrah Nazh

The Referendum

 

 

British voters made the momentous decision to leave the EU in an in/out referendum held on 23 June 2015. The results were extremely close, with 52% voting to leave compared to 48% voting to remain in the EU.

 

The demographics are important here: almost ¾ of young people aged 18-24 voted to remain compared to 60% of older persons aged 65+ who voted to leave. In general, the older the voter, the more likely they were to vote leave. Those with the least formal qualifications, and lower incomes were more likely to vote to leave compared to those with degrees and either full time or part time jobs. Around 2/3 of voters identifying as Asian and ¾ identifying as Black voted to remain.

 

The top three reasons cited in the Ashcroft Exit Poll for leaving the EU included: reclaiming control over immigration and UK borders (33%), sovereignty (49%) and concerns over EU expanding their membership and powers (13%) compared to the reasons for remaining in the EU cited as risks to economy, jobs and prices (43%), having access to a single market without having the Euro or being part of Schengen (31%) and concerns that the UK would become isolated (17%).

By nation, and region, the results become even further polarized. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Gibraltar voted to remain in the EU, whilst Wales and the vast majority of England, save for London voted to leave the EU.

 

There are questions around the quality of information transmitted by the Leave and Remain campaigns as many Leavers showed ‘buyers remorse’ once they realized the implications of Brexit. Cornwall and Wales overwhelmingly voted to leave, and yet have demanded that their EU funding should not be cut as a result of the referendum. The Leave campaign reneged on its promise of investing £350 million a week into the NHS, and has confirmed that leaving the EU will not necessarily reduce immigration. Approximately 4 million people signed a petition calling for a second referendum, which the government has now rejected.

 

Negotiating Britain’s exit

 

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty must be triggered before Britain can formally begin its exit negotiations with the European Union. These talks can take up to two years and will hash out a deal on immigration & the free movement of people within EU borders, the fate of EU migrants already in the UK, access to the trade bloc, what laws and regulations will cease or continue to apply and a host of other key issues affecting the everyday lives and business of people living and working in Britain.

 

David Cameron refused to trigger Article 50, instead tendering his resignation, passing on the responsibility for managing these difficult divorce proceedings to his successor, who we now know will be the previous Home Secretary, Theresa May. Ironically she will also be unelected by the British public. In refusing to deal with these difficult negotiations, Cameron has the last laugh at the Leave camp by passing on a poisoned chalice.

 

Theresa May who instantly becomes our new Prime Minister as she takes on leadership of the Conservative Party will have to deal with the economic and social consequences of Brexit which are likely to include a fresh round of even tighter austerity measures, and a possibility of recession on an already-exhausted population.

 

In the meantime, the leaders of the Leave camp, Boris Johnson & Michael Gove, having betrayed each other in the Conservative Party leadership contest, are nowhere to be found. Several weeks have passed since the referendum result, and we are yet to hear the details of their plans for a successful Brexit. Despite Johnson’s initial insistence that the UK will retain access to the single market, EU leaders have made it absolutely clear that Britain cannot retain this access without agreeing to the freedom of movement. Britain has already been excluded from the decision-making table as EU leaders held a summit in June to discuss Brexit without the now outgoing Prime Minister, David Cameron.”

 

The fall out from the decision to ‘Brexit’ has been immense. Within hours, and days, the pound dropped to a 30 year low, the UK economy has dropped to 6th place in the list of the world’s largest economies, many banks are beginning to move their business out of the UK to offices in the EU, some companies have announced recruitment freezes in Britain, losses in EU funding threaten academia, our leadership status in science, and much more.

 

As Theresa May prepares to take the mantle of premiership, she has said:  “Brexit means Brexit.” However, it is important to understand that the referendum is not binding in law. It still has to be passed through Parliament, and then once Article 50 is finally triggered, there will be a 2-year process before we finally get clarity on how, and when Brexit will happen. Despite this, Brexit already has far reaching implications, and has exposed the fragility of our society.

 

Damage to the Union

 

As Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that she will do all that she can to ensure that Scotland retains its membership of the EU. This includes holding a second independence referendum, and leaving the Union if necessary. Sturgeon has held meetings with various European leaders this week, gathering intelligence and support for how Scotland might achieve this aim. Another suggestion has been to renegotiate the Union itself, transitioning to a federal system where each nation remains autonomous.

 

The riskiest consequences of Brexit are likely to be felt in Northern Ireland, where a fragile peace between the two Irelands is likely to be disturbed if the border comes into question once again. Northern Ireland contains Britain’s only fully open border with the EU (the Republic is part of the EU) and there has been a common travel area between the two for almost a century. People live and work on both sides of the border, and this freedom of movement comes into question if Brexit comes into force.

The risk of violence, even another round of the Troubles as a result of a militarized border, checkpoints, or efforts to close the border have been at the forefront of Irish concerns about Brexit, and have barely received any attention in either Leave or Remain campaigns. Peace has been hard won here, and it is clear that any risks to the Good Friday Agreement were not taken into consideration when the referendum was announced. As part of the Agreement, Northern Ireland is able to hold a referendum on gaining independence from the UK, and unify with the Republic of Ireland. As long as there has been an open border, and Catholics and Protestants have been able to move freely between the two, this freedom of movement, as well as trade enabled by the EU have allowed Catholics in particular to keep ties to a country they love without needing formal re-unification. Brexit throws all of this into question, and with it, the entire Union, and the narrative of Britishness.

 

Criticized for being Anglocentric, the notion of Britishness – who qualifies, what it means, how it is lived finally gets restricted to Little England. Britishness has always been linked to Englishness, whiteness, and excludes narratives from the nations, and in the past, its empire. As Little England finds itself isolated from its European friends, abandoned by its sibling nations, colonial hangover chokes those older Brexiteers who voted to ‘take back control’ of a country that had never lost it in the first place, nor known the pain of a true independence battle.

 

Legitimising racism in Brexit Britain

 

There has been much focus on White European migration, and the impact of Brexit on the Poles, Germans, French etc and very little discussion on communities of colour with strong links to Europe. Our sizeable Somali community comes under threat as a direct result of the referendum. Many Somalis started their journeys to Britain as refugees via other European countries, especially the Netherlands. Freedom of movement allowed many Somalis to pursue life, work and love in the UK where it has been reported they have felt more accepted compared to the racism experienced in other European countries. As nationals of other European countries, their fate remains undecided as Brexit negotiations decide what to do with them. Whilst politicians dither, the lives of real people hang in the balance, the uncertainty causing frustration, confusion and fear.

 

It is not difficult to understand these emotions when we note the 57% rise in hate crimes in the 4 days after the Leave result was announced. This has included a wave of bigotry against White European migrants including the Polish community, who have seen the first ever targeted attack on their cultural centre. As White European migrants realize that they are slowly losing some of their privilege as a result of Brexit, discussions on prejudice and racism are slowly opening up although much of the discussion is framed through the paradigm of Whiteness.

 

White British, and White Europeans now have to come to terms with a problem that people of colour, and people of faith, especially those who wear visible signs of their faith like Muslims and Sikhs, have had to contend with since decolonization. Whilst many Brexiteers may not be racists, a Leave vote based on a xenophobic campaign has certainly legitimized the racist narratives of English nationalists. As British-born people of colour, and their migrant counterparts are being attacked in the streets, on public transport and told ‘we voted leave so you need to leave,’ Britain risks regression to some of its darkest days in history, the days of Enoch Powell, rampant racism, and violence of the seventies.

 

As Britain faces the prospect of a double divorce in a divided union, our leaders must be held accountable. We are in dangerous territory, littered with broken promises and a string of untruths from a referendum campaign based on division and fear on both sides. A lack of clear leadership from our government, and a poor opposition to hold them to account is causing restlessness, fear and uncertainty across our communities and threatens to strike the very heart of the Union, as we know it.

Farrah Sheikh is a SOAS-CIS PhD Nohoudh scholar.

 

Speaker’s Corner: Beyond Citizen Khan: Muslim Representation as Political Struggle, by Dr Nadya Ali

Beyond Citizen Khan: Muslim Representation as Political Struggle.

Dr Nadya Ali

 

In the recent BBC One documentary ‘Last Whites of the East End’ one participant outlined the reasons for why she would be unhappy if her child came home with a non-white partner. Amy Oakman said, “You see it on Eastenders with the Masoods […] I can’t think of the storyline now but they did bring a white girl home and Masood was going mental.” Masood is the father of the first Muslim family in the long running popular soap opera Eastenders. This fictional character serves as the point of social reference for Oakman: she believes she has the right to object to an ‘interracial’ relationship in an effort to preserve her cultural heritage because Muslims on television like Masood, do so too.

Her comments throw into sharp relief the constitutive power of hostile  media representations of Muslims and how they contribute to the production of opposing and antagonistic local and national identities evident in the ‘Last Whites of the East End’. Unsurprisingly, the question of how Muslims are represented in the media has become a source of enduring discussion in recent times with many asking the question of how this can be addressed to provide a more balanced view. However, what television producers must understand is how these (mis)representations serve wider political functions in UK politics and that the demonisation of Muslims is not merely the product of ‘negative stereotyping’.

‘The Last Whites of the East End’ is instructive in this sense. Shot in the ‘super diverse’ London borough of Newham, home to the second largest Muslim population in the UK, the documentary reveals the political function played by the (mis)representation of Muslims. The BBC bills the documentary as an examination of ‘a tight-knit white working-class community who have lived there for centuries. But over the past 15 years something extraordinary has happened to this cockney tribe – more than half of them have disappeared. Now the few who remain are struggling to hold on to their identity in the place they have always called home.’

An hour’s worth of footage is replete with references to ‘our identity’, ‘our way of life’ and ‘our own kind’. Participants were unhappy about how white working class East End life was disappearing because of the influx of specifically  Muslim immigrants who are accused of ‘sticking together’ and not wanting to be part of traditions. Within this overarching context, appeal of the Muslim bogey man is unsurprising. Participants also spoke about local unemployment, the dissolution of community ties, and failing infrastructure. These long-term social changes experienced by white working class communities across the UK are being made comprehensible and manageable by locating their causes and symptoms, at least partially, onto Muslims.

The depiction of Muslims as murderous fathers, religious fanatics, or as a wholesale subversive force on television is then decidedly political and linked to broader structural tendencies noted above. In short, this is not simply a case of misrepresentation or negative stereotyping of Muslims but an exercise in power which asserts the very conditions of possibility upon which Muslim representation can be articulated. The idea of Muslims as alien others who present a preeminent challenge to the security of UK citizens lives and to their cultural identities is sustained by popular representations but also determines the representations that are possible. Muslims are caught in a double bind where their loyalty to the UK is constantly called into question and thus they can occupy one of two spaces: terrorist or non-terrorist. Good Muslim or Bad Muslim. This cannot be ‘corrected’ by producing benign or ‘friendly’ images of Muslims as is the attempt with strangely dated BBC sitcom Citizen Khan. Even Nadiya Hussain, winner of the Great British Bake Off, an emblem of multicultural success has been subjected to Islamophobic abuse which she claims worsens after every terrorist attack.

This view also complicates the desire to create an ‘accurate’ or at least a more pluralist image of Muslims in television as BBC’s diversity commissioner Fatima Salaria has argued for. Neither plurality nor representativeness will dislodge the good Muslim, bad Muslim dichotomy. Therefore, those who are frustrated with and wish to change depictions of Muslims as a monolith of terrorists, extremists, or the socially backward should recognise television as a political terrain. The struggle over how Muslims are represented and by whom is ultimately then a political struggle. The proliferation of Good Muslim characters or more Muslims won’t cut it: changing the discourse will. We need a national conversation regarding the social and political changes taking place in the UK and how Muslims have become the scapegoat for the anger, bewilderment and unhappiness people feel about this. The ‘Last Whites of the East End’ is a powerful testimony as to how urgently this debate is needed.

 

Dr Nadya Ali

University of Reading

n.ali@reading.ac.uk

Question time: Cultural cold wars: The risk of anti-‘extremism’ policy for academic freedom of expression – Alison Scott-Baumann and Hugh Tomlinson QC

Cultural cold wars: The risk of anti-‘extremism’ policy for academic freedom of expression – Alison Scott-Baumann and Hugh Tomlinson QC

Universities are under increasing pressure from government to prevent students coming into contact with “extreme” ideas. The view is that students exposed to any kind of views designated “extreme” could be drawn into terrorism. But the risk to freedom of speech and academic freedom is obvious. Society needs to avoid a climate in which ideas are seen as dangerous, deviant and extremist if they differ from views that are believed to be held by the majority.

Many university administrators now appear to believe that in order to prevent terrorism, the law requires them to curtail the freedom of academic debate. This approach is not only wrong in principle and in practice but also illegal.

The Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places certain duties on higher education authorities but, contrary to what is often assumed, it does not place a statutory duty on universities to monitor or record information or to ban certain kinds of lawful speech. It merely imposes a duty to “have due regard” to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The act gives the business secretary the power to issue guidance about how the duty should be exercised. Universities must “have regard” to such guidance. But it nevertheless remains just that―guidance.

And the official guidance intended to clarify the 2015 act is unclear and potentially misleading. Broad definitions of extremism seem to be linked to equally imprecise definitions of “terrorism”, “non-violent extremism”, “radicalisation” and “fundamental British values”. These definitions could be understood to mean that people who are, for example, critical of British foreign policy, are at risk of radicalisation and to suggest that academics and students accustomed to expressing personal views at university would need to be warned of the risks of discussing certain issues. But this is not correct, and universities should not let the imprecise and unclear language of the guidance draw them into placing unlawful restrictions on academic freedom and freedom of speech.

It is crucial to understand that in addition to imposing the Prevent duty to “have due regard” to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, the 2015 act also emphasizes freedom of academic expression. A university is also under a duty to “have due regard” to the duty to ensure freedom of speech.

The “duty to ensure freedom of speech” is found in the Education Act 1986 and is expressed in the widest terms. The 1986 act confers on universities not just a duty to “have regard” to freedom of speech but a much stronger duty to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees… and visiting speakers”. Universities must ensure, insofar as is reasonably practicable, that no individual is denied use of their premises on any ground connected with “the beliefs or views of that individual”. The only basis on which the duty to ensure freedom of expression can be overridden is if what a visiting speaker is likely to say is not “within the law” or it is not “reasonably practicable” to allow use of university premises (because, for example, no room is available or there is likely to be disorder at the public meeting).

In other words, a university cannot, lawfully, ban a speaker just because he or she says something opposed to “fundamental British values”. Those defined as “extremists” in the guidance have to be given a platform unless they are advocating violence or some other illegal conduct.

And there is more. Universities are public authorities and, as such, it is illegal under the Human Rights Act 1998 for them to act in a way that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This includes a right to freedom of expression that can only be restricted if the restriction is legal, for a proper purpose and if the restriction is necessary and proportionate to achieve that purpose. Restrictions on visiting speakers or on the expression of ideas by students or staff are only legal if they comply with these rules. The fact that a speaker may say something provocative or offensive does not mean that his or her rights can lawfully be interfered with. Provided that what is said does not incite, threaten or provoke violence or is otherwise contrary to the criminal law, it would be illegal for a university to prohibit or restrict it.

It is important to remember that the provisions of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 do not place any strict or absolute duties on universities. They require a university to do three things: to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech for students, staff and visiting speakers; to take into account the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism; and to take into account the guidance issued by the business secretary. A university would need to consider how far people risk being drawn into terrorism or being upset about any issues (including gender and politics and international relations) by the views likely to be expressed. But if the speaker is going to stay within the law then the event must be allowed to proceed, even if there is no opposing speaker. Any restrictions or prohibitions on speech that does not break the criminal law are likely to be illegal.

The message is clear. Universities need carefully to monitor events, considering each one individually, and they must keep proper records. They should record the fact that they have considered the risks and explain why they have decided that a particular event should proceed. But they would be in breach of their duty to ensure freedom of speech and of duties under the 2015 act if they adopted rigid rules and applied them to every situation without specific consideration of individual circumstances. And they would be acting illegally if they refused a platform to speakers whose actions were unlikely to break the law.

In short, the guidance cannot set down any hard and fast rules. Other factors to be taken into account are existing “duty of care” criteria and the criminal law. Both are already well understood and implemented by universities and should be sufficient to safeguard university staff and students. Every university has a well-developed duty of care policy.

University life is being depicted as fraught with danger―potential and actual―because of a perceived terrorist threat and also the implication that many ideas are dangerous, deviant and extremist. There is a risk that this depiction will eventually have a real and detrimental effect on university culture. These phenomena form part of a new cultural cold war in which universities are at risk of mirroring the deviance that they are tasked with monitoring. It is urgent to consider what can be done in the interests of freedom of speech and academic freedom, before universities are told that thought itself is too radical.

Alison Scott-Baumann is professor of society and belief in the Centre of Islamic Studies at SOAS, University of London. Hugh Tomlinson QC is a practising barrister at Matrix Chambers who specialises in human rights and freedom of expression.

This post first appeared on Research Professional and is re-published with the permission of the authors.

Speaker’s Corner: the blessings of Ramadan, by Ziad A.

The blessings of Ramadan

By Ziad A.

Ramadan is a gift. Not only because of the most obvious and important sense of increased reward and multiplied blessings, but also for its ability to re-structure our environmental patterns. Negative habits within us usually feed off our established sense of routine, not stand alone impulses – since impulses are almost always based on our environment. The misunderstanding leads to a conceptual underestimating of the workings of the shaytan, who is merely and mistakenly seen as one who only ‘whispers’, rather than one who is hell-bent on the more subtle task of manipulating our routinely environment, to institutionalise within us negative habits and mental states that occur automatically. If the ball is already rolling downhill, there is no need to apply another push. In other words, many of us are running on our own habitualised momentum of self-limitation, or worse, self-destruction, and not much further effort from a malicious, external source is needed. This would explain why it is natural to carry some of our negative impulses into Ramadan, despite the shayateen allegedly being chained.

Herein lies the genius of Ramadan for those who seize the opportunity. The holy month, if followed properly with all its recommended requirements, breaks normative patterns and demands personal improvement. A re-structuring of our daily environment is combined with a dramatic incentive to do good, making the blessed month a unique opportunity to strive, more easily, for personal excellence. Our eating and sleeping patterns are altered by the times of iftar and suhour, re-orienting the flow of our day. Aside from increased self-restraint and patience cultivated from a lack of bodily consumption, not eating and drinking also causes a physiological change which can break (or make it easier to break) psychological patterns. Nights of Ramadan, ideally spent performing taraweeh/night prayers, or spent with the Qur’an, are also routine-changes for the vast majority of us, bending our nightly patterns towards something inherently soul-disciplining. I’ve often marvelled at how clever the faith is to practically oblige all its followers to recite or hear the entirety of the Qur’an, systematically, every year; not only a powerful way to make a religious faith and revelation survive across centuries, but to repeatedly pull its believers back to its complete, core message. These environmental changes make us more susceptible to spiritual transformation, particularly in a month so sacredly rich. Furthermore, emphasis on better character invites a moral cleanse in the knowledge that the fast is compromised by the one who still gossips, backbites, lies, or gives into anger. Multiplied good deeds are an incentive to give more in smiles, love, generosity, charity, and service to others, while multiplied bad deeds are a stern reminder to avoid engaging in what really works against your soul this month. And of course, any intentional sexual release, whether alone or with a partner categorically breaks the fast, building further self-restraint and patience. All such components of the month open opportunities to collapse old negative habits and patterns in replace of better ones.

That Ramadan lasts for around 30 days adds to its positive value. A month is a good amount of time to organise, expel and instil certain patterns of behaviour. In this way, it can be used as a periodical ‘springboard’ to leap you into the person you want to be. However, it would be most effective to psychologically prepare for the month prior, and to continue its positive momentum once it has passed. Since old environmental structures of life often immediately resume after Ramadan, it is easy to instantly fall back into old habits, even if one had been, for the most part, successful in giving them up for the month. Therefore, a continuation of some of the daily and nightly practices of Ramadan become vital, particularly after the crescent moon has waned. Similarly, a sudden jump into Ramadan with no psychological or physiological preparation might cause the first portion of the month to feel uncomfortable and somewhat daunting. This, in my opinion, might be a reason why voluntary fasting is particularly encouraged in the preceding and consecutive months of Ramadan. Fasting in Sha’ban and Shawwal, eases us into and out of the pinnacle of blessed months, to help the graduation and maintaining of optimal character and excellence.
So if you’re someone who is keen on bettering the self, do not waste this paramount opportunity. The birth-month of the Qur’an comes once a year, and for many of us, will be the only time we get to work on ourselves so effectively. Finally, regarding the fast, be wary of what you consume with your eyes and your ears, not just your mouth. For some of these things are respective equivalents of poison to the stomach; subtler, but no less hazardously intrusive. May the sight of grateful believers and the speech of God fill your eyes and ears this month. God bless.

Speaker’s Corner: Reflections on the 48 mile ruling – Huda Jawad responds

Reflections on the 48 mile ruling

by Huda Jawad

Huda Jawad

Despondence and frustration were the initial feelings that came over me after reading the article published on 4th May 2016 regarding advice given by the Blackburn Muslim Association about women travelling alone.

Then a number of questions arose like, such advice was given because it was sought..why would such a question be asked? Why 48 miles? That is almost the distance from London to Bedford. Why not 47 or 57? How did we arrive at this specific number?

Then I wondered in what context would David Davis, Conservative MP for Monmouth highlight this particular incident, of a group in Yorkshire, to the Secretary of state for international development. In addition, for such a story to appear in the Telegraph a day before Londoners elected their first Muslim Pakistani Labour Mayor can only be interpreted cynically. Here was yet another example of how Muslim women were used to stoke up fear, prejudice and hostility. This is part of the persistent phenomena of women as subjects and tools for debate and ideology. Any ideology whether it be progressive, Islamist, far right, ‘western’ conservative or traditional Muslims.

What is clear is that women in the above examples were never the setters of the agenda for debate and discussion.

The consequence of this, particularly in the realm of religion and faith is that patriarchy becomes the sole interpreter and producer of religious knowledge and practice. In doing so, alienating the right of female believers to worship and practice religion in a way that honours their gender and contribution to society. Apart from enabling the power and control over women, the absence of women from the production of knowledge leads to the belief and perpetuation of a world view that disconnects women from their divinely ordained role of bringing alive the values of Qur’anic message of justice, equality and self actualization leading to the elevation of the human condition for all.

A spokesman for the MCB stated that such a ruling is not only offensive but also an edict that was no longer relevant or even used in modern society. This may well be the case but again illustrates the extent to which women themselves, and all who defer power and knowledge to the clerical class, have given up responsibility for their own conversation with God, purely by feeling the need to ask this question.

There is no denying the importance and function of clerics, scholars and expertise in Islamic theology but has this inevitably led some to think of Islam as a list of dos and don’t? As a separate value system or set of rituals that impact our lives but not in meaningful and relevant way?

In trying to imagine the woman who posed the question, I wonder whether she was a single parent or a married woman? Whether she was the main breadwinner for her family or was a student travelling to a course or placement? Did she simply want a break? Was she being told that as Muslim woman her worship of and adherence to Allah was mediated through her husband? Whatever the answer, who ever she is and whatever the circumstances may have been, she is clear in her religious commitment and sincerity in wanting to do the right or ‘halal’ thing . However, there is a part of me that feels disappointed she was perhaps not confident enough with her own ability and reasoning to come to a conclusion that reflected the values of the Islam and the Quran which see men and women as being created from a single ‘nafs’ (self or soul) from which its Zawj, pair or partner was created. Sadder still, it perhaps never occurred to her that she can exercise that choice or worse was not allowed to.

The 48-mile ruling also illustrates the danger of our personal and collective disengagement with Qur’anic and prophetic message. If we assign sunnah and the process of understanding the Qur’an to specific time and place then of course our religious understating and practice will not be ‘fit for purpose’. The Almighty has on numerous occasions warned readers of the Qur’an from blindly accepting the traditions and practices of our forefathers. It continuously invites us to ponder, reflect and understand the examples, parables and stories that are told in the Qur’an. To what extent do we practice this daily? Have we created spaces in our lives and religious institutions for such a processes of reflection and learning or have we reduced the Divine message to a list of dos and don’t, a rule book by which we disengage spiritually, intellectually and hope someone with more “expertise” and time can tell us “what to do”?

 

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Huda Jawad was born in Baghdad and left Iraq at the age of two. She travelled the Middle East throughout her childhood eventually settling in the UK in 1988.

​ She​

 has a combined Honours Degree in Sociology and Psychology from Roehampton University and a Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Huda has worked for over 21 years in the Third Sector. She has held various positions in local government, national and international NGOs and charities tackling a wide range of issues relating to social exclusion, justice, equality and conflict resolution. 

​She is passionate about tackling Violence Against Women and Girls. She works with communities and professionals to raise awareness and develop strategies to better support survivors.

Speaker’s corner: Women are the first to pay the price of Islamophobia in Europe, by Sarah Isal – European Network Against Racism’s (ENAR)

Women are the first to pay the price of Islamophobia in Europe

By Sarah Isal

Sarah

 

Muslim women experience the same inequalities as other women in employment and in relation to verbal and physical violence, but additional factors such as (perceived) religion or ethnicity deepen these gender gaps. However, very little is done to collect comprehensive data and tackle this intersectional form of racism. This is the conclusion of the European Network Against Racism’s (ENAR) new report “Forgotten Women: the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim Women”, covering eight European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

 

ENAR initiated this project because we realised that Islamophobia directed at women was primarily a gender issue as well as a racial or religious one and that Muslim women deserved the support of feminists and anti-racists alike. Yet Muslim women have until now been ‘forgotten’ as much by decision and policy makers as by anti-racism and feminist movements, in large part due to the negative stereotyping they are facing within the mainstream public discourse. This project aims to change this by documenting the disproportionate impact of Islamophobia on women and strengthening alliances between the anti-racism and feminist movements in order to better address the intersectional discrimination affecting Muslim women or those perceived as such.

The report is the result of one and half year of research and dialogue in the eight countries bringing to light the very specific – and horrific – experiences of discrimination and hate crime affecting Muslim women. In both employment discrimination and hate crime, the headscarf (or other garments such as long skirts) acts as a trigger, because it is perceived as a visible marker of Muslim and woman identity.

 

It finds that Muslim women are subject to three types of penalties in employment: gender penalties, ethnic penalties and religious penalties. Discrimination in the labour market is often related to perceptions of ‘Muslimness’, and especially the clothing of Muslim women. For example, in the United Kingdom, 12.5% of Pakistani women are asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews whereas 3.3% of white women are asked such a question, i.e. nearly four times more. The headscarf is an additional obstacle in finding and keeping a job. In Germany for instance, 18% of the companies invited applicants with German sounding names to an interview, while only 13 % invited applicants with Turkish sounding names. For applications from Muslim women with a headscarf in the CV photo, only 3 % of the companies invited them to an interview.

 

When it comes to hate crime and speech, in most countries, Muslim women are more likely to be victims than Muslim men, especially if they wear a headscarf. For example, in the Netherlands, over 90% of the victims of Islamophobic incidents reported to the organisation Meld Islamofobie in 2015 were Muslim women. In France, 81.5% of Islamophobic violence recorded by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France in 2014 targeted women, most of them wearing a visible religious symbol. Tell MAMA in the UK reports that 54% of the off-line victims of threats and verbal abuses were women. Verbal and physical violence often mix, as well as racist and sexist insults or gestures, and incidents mainly occur in public spaces.

The report also shows that prejudices and stereotypical representations about Muslim women are spread by media and public discourse, including some politicians. It results in denying the diversity of Muslim women. This negative attention to Muslim women in media and political discourse also contributes to creating a fertile ground for discriminatory practices and violence on the ground and creates structural inequalities.

 

We now hope these findings will spur decision and policy makers at national and European levels into action. The European Union can’t afford to exclude and forget about Muslim women if it stands up for gender equality and the fight against racism. The multiple discrimination and intersectional discrimination they face must be addressed in laws and policies, acknowledging the combined effects of discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity and religion, among others. EU and national laws protecting against discrimination in the labour market and hate crime must also effectively protect Muslim women.

In addition, this project has achieved something equally important: it has initiated a dialogue between the anti-racism and feminist movements and has encouraged partnerships between the two. We therefore also hope that it will mark the start of fruitful future collaborations to eradicate discrimination and racism for all women.

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Sarah Isal is the Chair of the European Network Against Racism since 2013. She was previously Deputy Director at the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. She ran Runnymede’s European and international programme, including coordinating the UK Race & Europe Network – a network of UK based non-governmental organisations interested in European race equality policies. Sarah has led Runnymede’s criminal justice work and written reports including Equal Respect: ASBOs and race equality and Preventing Racist Violence; Work with Potential Perpetrators: Learning from Practice to Policy Change.

Ripostes: Spreading Confusion, Potentially Inciting Hatred – Trevor Phillips’ Route to ‘Active Integration’ by Professor Gus John

    Spreading Confusion, Potentially Inciting Hatred – Trevor Phillips’ Route to ‘Active Integration’

 

by Professor Gus John

 

Anyone reading the recent ‘Civitas’ publication Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence by Trevor Phillips (with commentaries from David Goodhart and Jon Gower Davies) who knew nothing about Phillips, could be forgiven for assuming that he was a protégé of or speech writer for Donald Trump, or at least a spokesman for UKIP. His credentials as given in the profile of authors are indeed impressive: writer and television producer, chair of Green Park Diversity Analytics, deputy chair of the board of the National Equality Standard, founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, president of the John Lewis Partnership Council, the chair of the Workers’ Educational Association, a Fellow of the Migration Policy Institute (Washington DC) and of Imperial College London, co-author (with Mike Phillips) of Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multiracial Britain.

Without those credentials, however, especially his association with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and before that with the Commission for Racial Equality, it is doubtful to say the least that Phillips would have been regarded, especially by the British media, as having the authority to say and write the dangerous guff that he does.  But, those credentials place upon him a far greater responsibility to be accurate, intelligent and not indulge in febrile diatribes against Muslims and against multiculturalism.

The title of his essay is Race and Faith: the Deafening Silence, but he displays a lamentably poor understanding of race in Britain historically, of the interface between British society and its migrants from former British colonies whose ethnicity is not white British since the Second World War, of migration and settlement of populations, of the impact of British colonialism on ‘Faith’ and the practice of religion in post-war Britain, and especially of Islam generally and in Britain and Europe specifically.

I have lived in Britain since 1964, having come here as a student of theology and a trainee Roman Catholic priest.  I studied comparative religion and I know a great deal about Christianity, race and religious Christian fundamentalism, especially among Roman Catholics.  I was active in the Ecumenical movement that sought to tackle such fundamentalism and acknowledge that Jesus the Christ was laughing out loudly at the stupidity and arrogance of those who sought to imprison Mother, Father, Spirit God within their own man-made structures and belief systems.

So, although Phillips purports to address the intersection of Faith and Race, his exclusive focus is on Muslims.  He says nothing, for example, about racism in the structures and practices of established Christian churches that is arguably more sophisticated and benign today but that led in previous decades to the establishment and exponential growth of Black-led churches whose members were once Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc.  He says nothing about the fact that in many urban areas, the membership of those established churches, including Seventh Day Adventists is 100% African, even though the resident minister is invariably white.

As Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and later the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Phillips had overall charge of the work of both those watchdog bodies in Northern Ireland.  One would therefore expect him to have some knowledge of the complexity of the relationship between religious fundamentalism and extremism in that context and about the fact that to see ‘The Troubles’, 100 years after 1916, simply as a function of religious beliefs would be to misunderstand that history totally. Phillips has to explain, therefore, why in examining the issue of race and religion/belief in today’s Britain, he argues as though Muslims are the only faith group in Britain whose ethnicity places them in potential conflict with what he calls ‘our fundamental values’, values which presumably Muslims as an undifferentiated group, united in a common belief system, massed together and segregated by choice do not share.

Phillips begins his essay thus:

Britain is not a racist nation. But it is a society with a deep sensitivity to the dangers posed by ethnic and cultural difference. So touchy have we British become that we even find speaking of these topics difficult.

As in his diatribe against multiculturalism, Phillips argues as though white Britain is and always was mono-ethnic and mono-cultural, with a homogeneity characterised by consensual values and ambitions that are contested and put under strain only by ‘ethnocultural groups who do not share their outlook..’.

Extraordinarily, Phillips claims that the liberal establishment avoids

‘confronting an inconvenient truth: that some minority groups hold very different values and ambitions than those commonly held amongst the dominant majority; that those values and ambitions are even further away from liberal ideals than the average; and that because they are sincerely held by those groups, they aren’t going to change any time soon…

Increasingly, the world-views of very different social identity groupings are colliding. Incompatible attitudes to sex, religion, belief and the rule of law are producing frictions for which the tried and trusted social lubricants seem just too thin’.

 

Consequently, he argues, those ethnocultural groups are incapable of integrating in ‘a country used to stability and gradual change’ but where ‘the frictions being generated by our increasing diversity threaten our historic tranquillity’. He had no need to have read, for example, E P Thompson’s ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ to know that Britain was multicultural long before post-1945 migration from the former colonies, or that ‘the dominant majority’ was always differentiated and diverse and never held ‘common values and ambitions’. Phillips argues as though class has never been a dominant structural factor shaping social and economic relations in the society and as such the source of major conflict between social groupings who share whiteness and Britishness in common

He attributes the ‘deafening silence’ to the reaction to Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, while himself parodying Powell:

We maintain a polite silence masked by noisily debated public fictions such as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘community cohesion’. Rome may not yet be in flames, but I think I can smell the smouldering whilst we hum to the music of liberal self-delusion….

In Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech, he too summoned up echoes of Rome with his reference to Virgil’s dire premonition of the River Tiber ‘foaming with much blood’. (That speech) effectively put an end to Powell’s career as an influential leader. Everyone in British public life learnt the lesson: adopt any strategy possible to avoid saying anything about race, ethnicity (and latterly religion and belief) that is not anodyne and platitudinous. Of course, denial comes in several disguises’.

But, what is arguably Phillips’ most dangerous caricature of Muslims is his depiction of them as a collective threat to the society and its history of successfully integrating ethnocultural groups, while having no other impact on the development of Britain and its political, economic and cultural life.  Having isolated them as ‘other’ in pretty much every sense, he fails to acknowledge their role in labour struggles, in reforming trade unionism, in combating racism and halting the rise of the Far Right, in defence of communities against racist attacks and racist murders, in advancing feminism, in the struggle for quality education and against the hegemony of whiteness and eurocentrism in curriculum and pedagogy, in the advancement and decolonising of the arts in Britain, in struggling against the very forms of violent extremism to which Phillips assumes all devout Muslims subscribe.

In other words, Phillips would have us believe that the only identity Muslims in Britain have is that of irredeemable jihadists or potential jihadists who have no interest whatsoever in building a society with the hallmark of equity and justice, where every child, every woman, every young person and every elder could feel safe and valued and would not face discrimination on account of their faith, gender or ethnicity.  He shows no regard for the many Muslim teachers in mainstream schools who diligently guide students of any ethnicity to embrace the responsibility of building such a society, or for the thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical staff who discharge their commitment to save lives, relieve suffering and promote health and wellbeing.  He places Muslim youth, born and bred in Britain, outside the struggles of youth for quality education at school and university, equal employment opportunity, fair and just treatment by the police and other agencies of the state and the right to self expression in any number of media.

That, I would suggest, is the lived experience of most Muslims and how they see and have always seen themselves as an integral part of British society, a society which they help to mould and which in turn moulds them for better or for worse.

They and their parents’ and grandparents’ generation did not simply sit back waiting to be accepted or ostracised in British society.  The society found it convenient in the 1970s and 1980s to view young Asians, Muslims and otherwise, as conformist, law abiding, sharing the traditional values and customs of their elders and generally not as rebellious and badly parented as ‘those West Indians’ who were felt then to pose the greatest threat to ‘law and order’.  That was until the Bradford Twelve and the growth of the Asian Youth Movement with their uncompromising rallying cry: ‘‘Come what may, we’re here to stay. Here to stay and here to fight’.”

In the last 50 years, Muslims in Britain, like migrants from the Caribbean and the African continent, have built their social, educational and cultural institutions, fought for racial and social justice, civil liberties and human rights, contributed immeasurably to the British economy and made Britain home to their children and their children’s children.  The future of the society belongs as much to them as to anybody else.  If Britain fails them or, like Phillips, keep them othered and demonised, it will have a helluvah job saving the rest of itself.

Before Phillips’ indulges his spurious notion of ‘active integration’, built upon a foundation of fear and Islamophobic prejudice as it clearly is, he will do well to review his warped understanding of British society as it is now, Muslims and all, and stop imposing a false identity on the entire Muslim population on the basis of the conduct and predispositions of certain sections of it.  Against the background of decades of racist attacks and racist murders perpetrated against Muslims from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, as against Asians of other faiths, Phillips has a moral and a legal obligation to consider the potential impact of his outrageous demonization of Muslims upon those who see it as their civic duty to rid the society of them. It is both naïve and irresponsible of him to suggest that because the British National Party has not sustained its electoral gains, the Far Right are a spent force in British politics and in the lived experience of ordinary people in communities up and down the country. The relentless harassment of Asian, Roma and refugee and asylum seeking families by ‘Britain First’ in South Yorkshire and by the English Defence League in various parts of England should give neither him nor anyone else the slightest cause for complacency.

Phillips argues that the ‘denial’ which in his view constitutes ‘the deafening silence’ in his words ‘comes in several guises’.  I would suggest that so too does incitement to racial and religious hatred which too often translates into hate crimes.

 

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 Professor Gus John was born in Grenada, Eastern Caribbean in 1945 and has lived in the UK since 1964.

He is an associate professor of education and honorary fellow of the Institute of Education, University of London, and Director of Gus John Consultancy Limited.

He has worked internationally as an executive coach and a management and social investment consultant since the 1990s.

He is an educationalist with a deep commitment to life long learning and a social analyst specialising in social audits, change management, policy formulation and review, and programme evaluation and development.

He became the first African Director of Education and Leisure Services in Britain in 1989.

 

 

Question time: Islamic relief “SubhanAllah” bus campaign – the charity responds to its critics

The Islamic relief “SubhanAllah” bus campaign – the charity responds to its critics

By Martin Cottingham, Islamic Relief, Head of communications

Martin C

What’s in a word? A lively and sometimes heated debate, it seems, if that word is ‘SubhanAllah’ and it appears on London’s iconic red buses.

Islamic Relief is advertising on 180 buses in London this Ramadan, as well as 460 more in Manchester, Bradford, Leicester and our home city of Birmingham. The advertisements encourage supporters to ‘gather the rewards of Ramadan’ by giving generously. They also proclaim ‘SubhanAllah’ in decorative script – declaring glory to God both for the opportunity to do good in this most blessed of months, and for the generosity that has enabled Islamic Relief to assist over 100 million people in its 32-year history.

We chose bus advertising in cities with large Muslim populations partly because this is a very cost-effective way for our fundraising appeal to be noticed in the Muslim community. In London alone it is estimated that our message will be seen by over 10 million people.

We also wanted to secure these big, red mobile billboards to engage with a wider public and create a talking point. We wanted to draw attention to an aspect of Ramadan that is not widely reported and appreciated – the extraordinary generosity of the British Muslim community in charitable giving.

Bus-Advert-480x280

Our own research into this area two years ago found that British Muslims give over £100 million in Ramadan to Muslim international aid charities alone. The real figure for charitable giving may even be double that amount, once giving to non-Muslim oganisations and charities that operate solely in the UK is added.

Despite this generosity, too much of what we see and hear in the media about Muslims is negative. There is also a lot of negativity in some media around international aid – something we want to challenge and change.

There will be a debate in parliament on June 13 about whether the UK should stick to its pledge to spend 7 pence in every £10 of national income on international aid. Islamic Relief believes passionately that we have a duty to support those less fortunate, and we declare ‘SubhanAllah’ for the progress that has been made on this front. In the past 15 years extreme poverty has been halved, while numbers of children dying before their fifth birthday have been cut by a third.

We did not expect to attract quite so much attention before the first ‘SubhanAllah’ bus had even appeared on the streets. Our plans have been reported by a wide range of media in the UK and around the world – 500 items of coverage so far, and still growing. For more than 24 hours Islamic Relief was trending as the Number One topic on Facebook in the UK, which is extraordinary.

From the Muslim community the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many seem pleased, even proud, that a Muslim organisation is wearing its Islamic heart on its sleeve in such a positive way. A small minority have expressed concern that the campaign might inflame tensions or cause divisions in an already Islamophobic climate, but we are finding that the media debate is giving us a great platform to counter prejudices and communicate what Islamic Relief and the British Muslim community really stand for.

Some non-Muslims hear Islamic Relief’s name and assume either that we are a proselytising organisation, or that we are concerned solely with Muslims helping their own. We have been able to challenge these prejudices. Islamic Relief is a purely humanitarian organisation and assists people of all faiths and none – people in need are the people who count.

It has been suggested in some quarters that advertising on buses in London has given Islamic Relief a privilege denied to some Christian organisations. But we have to abide by the same regulations as everybody else. A Core Issues Trust advertisement that is sometimes mentioned in this context was banned not because it was devised by a Christian organisation but because the language it used was thought likely to cause serious offence to gay people.

Islamic Relief advertising at Ramadan is similar to a charity like Christian Aid advertising at Christmas. The word ‘SubhanAllah’ is an expression of thanks and praise that has entered into the everyday language of British Muslims, much as ‘Hallelujah’ is common parlance among Christians.

The core of our work is charity and empowerment – supporting people to lift themselves out of poverty. We never cease to be amazed at the resourcefulness and resilience of the communities that it is our privilege to serve.

Our sincere hope and prayer is that we may eventually be able to put ourselves out of a job by banishing poverty from the communities we work in for generations to come. That will be worth the loudest and heartiest ‘SubhanAllah’ of all.

 

 

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2011 as Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015. He has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011), famine in Somalia (2012), disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85), then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97), for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006). From 2006 to 2012 he worked for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant, including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Forum for the Future, Christian Aid and Cafod. At Christian Aid he was responsible for a campaign that helped changed the law on child sex tourism, while at the Soil Association he helped develop the influential Food for Life school meals campaign.

In his spare time Martin helps run a children’s club and enjoys reading, cinema, walking, football and the natural world. 

Ideas Hub: THE WORLD OF ISLAM FESTIVAL 40TH ANNIVERSARY, by Dr Ahmed Keeler

 THE WORLD OF ISLAM FESTIVAL 40TH ANNIVERSARY

by Dr Paul Ahmed Keeler

The World of Islam Festival was unprecedented in scale and participation; a dozen major exhibitions, held in the most prestigious venues including the British Museum, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Hayward Gallery, assembled 6,000 manuscripts and objects from 250 public and private collections in 32 countries; a Quran recital held at the Royal Festival Hall; 20 concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Rooms and Horniman Museum; 23 seminars and over 100 lectures taking place in universities and learned societies; a series of 6 films produced, broadcast on the BBC twice during the Festival, and over 50 books published. A comprehensive press and media coverage ensured the Festival took up centre stage during the three months from April to June 1976 and received global attention. The Festival was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen, and the Quran Exhibition was opened by His Eminence the Sheikh Al Azhar. 

Since the 40th Anniversary event at SOAS I have been asked on several occasions if the Festival of 1976 could be done again today. I believe there are two critical differences between the UK of 1976 and the UK of today which preclude that possibility. The first is institutional. In the early 1970’s scholars in the universities, curators in the museums and librarians in the libraries ran the show. As a young man in his twenties I could ring up a curator or even the director of a national institution and within two weeks I could be sitting in front of him or her making my pitch. Scholars, curators and librarians had time to think and could take the initiative. It is incredible, looking back, to see how quickly during 1972 and early 1973, I was able to seed the projects which three years later produced the Festival. We were very fortunate as at that time there were outstanding officers at the Arts Council of Great Britain, which played a key coordinating role, leading to an unprecedented collaboration between the institutions. This was further fostered by the Festival Trust after it was set up in October 1973 to coordinate the whole Festival. The freedom that the institutions enjoyed allowed for an amazing manifestation of creativity which was further enhanced by the enthusiasm engendered in taking part in a great collaborative event.

During the last twenty to thirty years the way cultural and educational institutions are run has been completely changed. The corporate structure of business has been imposed upon them. This has spawned layers of management in an attempt to control everything, including the future by subjecting everything to “risk assessment”. Under this new regime, it is the god of the bottom line that rules. The scholars, curators and librarians cower under this growing and alien weight of administration. Time seems to have evaporated, and just getting an appointment to meet someone is a challenge. The distrust and fear that is endemic in the corporate world is now infecting the cultural and educational spheres. In such an environment it is hard to imagine how it would be possible to recreate the Festival of 1976.

The second reason that makes it impossible to envisage such an event taking place now, is the change in the political situation and the perception of Islam over the last forty years. In 1970, when the Festival was conceived, Islam was not an issue in the West. It was known that it was a religion, but the idea that there was a cultural world of Islam spreading from West Africa to China was non-existent. The world was divided between Arabs and Persians, Indians and Pakistanis, Malays and Indonesians, and was defined by the nation state. In early 1972, I approached the BBC with the proposal for a series of films on the world of Islam. They had enjoyed a global success with “Civilisation”, a 12 part series devised by Kenneth Clark, and were looking for ideas for the next blockbuster. My proposal, after careful consideration and several meetings, was turned down. The reason given was that there was no interest in the subject, nobody knew or cared about the world of Islam, it was a non-starter for television viewers. Instead they chose a series on British architecture. However, the reception from other major cultural and educational institutions was very positive. By the middle of 1973 the Festival had been deeply rooted in the institutions and was perceived as a cultural event of national importance that would be inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen, who had already been pencilled in for the occasion. And then in October 1973 the price of oil quadrupled and the Festival Trust was able to raise the money required to create the most comprehensive event of its kind ever held in the West.

In the 1970’s we only had to deal with the residual historical prejudices which were attached to Islam and had faded to a large extent. The Festival came out of a blue sky, or as the Americans say from the left field. It was rooted in the cultural establishment, and supported by governments who did not affect the cultural programme because it was set by the time they became involved. In this auspicious environment we were able to present our vision of the beauty and unity of the cultural world of Islam. Today, global warming and Islamic terrorism are seen in the West as the two greatest crisis facing humanity. The world of Islam has been rent asunder. In 1976 there was little knowledge about the world of Islam, now it is permanently before the public, and images have been set in the imagination that are a terrible travesty of the glorious truth of Islam. In such an atmosphere of conflict and disintegration the World of Islam Festival of 1976 could not have been realised. Today, however, if we are to penetrate the thick layers of confusion, distortion and prejudice that swirl around Islam, we need an initiative that presents a far deeper and more illuminating understanding of the beauty and unity of Islam and its glorious cultural manifestation in history.

 

Ahmed Keeler was born in 1942 and christened Paul Godfrey. He was brought up during the 1940s and 50s in a conservative, upper middle-class, Anglo-Catholic family. He belonged to the last generation that was educated to serve an empire which, however, was in the final stages of dissolution. On leaving school he became deeply involved in the cultural movements of the 1960s that were in open revolt against the society that had nurtured him. A chance meeting with a master musician from India introduced him to a wonderful new cultural realm; in response he formulated and organized The World of Islam Festival that took place in London in 1976, was opened by Her Majesty the Queen, and was the most comprehensive exposition of Islamic culture ever to have taken place in the West. Six months before the festival opened he embraced Islam. He has spent his working life since the festival in establishing and engaging with projects that explore and present Islamic culture as a holistic environmental manifestation. Residing in Cambridge for the last 22 years he has had a profound impact on a number of students passing through the University. At a time of growing instability he is now lecturing and participating in seminars encouraging us to judge the success of human culture through the criteria of Mizan, which is at the heart of the Islamic unfolding.

Announcement: Centre of Islamic Studies contributes to the The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) information paper on examinations in Ramadan

Centre of Islamic Studies contributes to the The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) information paper on examinations in Ramadan

Dr. Matthew L N Wilkinson, CIS  Research Fellow in Islam in Education & Law and Director of Curriculum for Cohesion, was one of the scholars and signatories on the working group convened by The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) to produce an information paper for schools and colleges over the observance of Ramadan during this summer’s exams. Ramadan falls within the examination season in 2016 and will do so for the next few years.

The information paper is aimed at giving school and college leaders information to initiate discussions with Muslim students and their families on how Muslim pupils can best balance their Islamic obligations and exam performance during Ramadan, following the flexible and humane principles of Islamic law. The paper has received widespread media coverage in Britain and in the Muslim-majority world and endorsed by leading Muslim community organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain.

The ASCL paper can be found at: http://www.ascl.org.uk/news-and-views/news_news-detail.ascl-produces-paper-over-ramadan-and-exams.html