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.




 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.



Ideas Hub: The Problem with the Marrakesh Declaration, By Michael Mumisa (Shaykh)

The Problem with the Marrakesh Declaration

By Michael Mumisa (Shaykh), Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge




In January this year (2016), the “Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities” was launched in Morocco amid much fanfare. It was described as a response to the persecution of religious minorities by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Key among the declaration’s proposals, and as a solution, was the development of constitutional laws based on the objectives of the Charter of Medina “in countries with Muslim majorities.” It was also argued in the same declaration that “the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), are in harmony with the Charter of Medina.” If this is indeed the case, then why not just call for the strict implementation of the UDHR in all Muslim countries?


When I first heard about the Marrakesh Declaration, I did not pay it any attention or bother reading it because I knew what to expect.  This is not the first declaration of its type.  After much campaigning against the UDHR by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Pakistan on grounds that it did not reflect the diversity of UN member states in terms of their histories, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, member states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) in 1990. It still remains the only Muslim declaration which has been formally endorsed by almost all Muslim governments. However, it is also a very flawed declaration which was not designed to protect fundamental human rights.

There has since been many similar Muslim or interfaith “declarations” including the “First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land” in 2002 which, like the Marrakesh declaration, brought together Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians, activists and political leaders to declare their “commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right of life and dignity” in Israel and Palestine.  Yet today, relations between Arab and Jewish communities are at their lowest point. Similarly, in March 2014, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam, alongside Al-Azhar University and representatives of a few NGOs, launched the “Alexandria Declaration on Women’s Rights in Islam”.  However, none of all these declarations has so far resulted in concrete positive measures to achieve their stated goals. Instead, they have unwittingly provided PR cover to the various governments and religious establishments which signed them in the worst violations of Islamic principles and fundamental human rights.


It was only after I had been asked for an opinion on the Marrakesh Declaration that I decided to study the documents’ contents. It is our duty and responsibility as scholars not to be seduced by the usual razzmatazz that often accompanies the launch of such declarations, and to be able to see through the PR hype. Since what follows is not an academic paper but a think piece for publication on an academic site accessible to general readers, I am going to dispense with the usual academic conventions and analyse the Marrakesh Declaration documents with a non-specialist audience in mind.

Some of the documents are freely available on the Marrakesh Declaration’s official website. As someone who has always been suspicious of translations, I decided to closely read the original Arabic documents alongside their English versions, and here is what I discovered:


  • There is what is described as the “Executive Summary of the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities”. This is available in English (2 pages), Arabic (2 pages), Dutch (3 pages) and Italian (3 pages).
  • On a different page, on the same website, there is what is described as a “Booklet”. It is available in Arabic (32 pages) and English (16 pages). Oddly, the “Booklet” is not the original version of the declaration. It is Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah’s lecture notes. The lecture notes of the other speakers who attended the Marrakesh conference are not included in the “Booklet” or anywhere on the official website.


The original version of the Marrakesh Declaration upon which the “Executive Summary” is based was not available online. On 23 April, I sent an email to the organisers of the Declaration asking whether it existed. I finally received a copy of the original Arabic declaration on the 1st of May. After studying all the documents, it is clear that Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah’s lecture notes (the “Booklet”) form the basis of the declaration. This brings us to his “Booklet”.


The English version of the “Booklet” is described as an “Abridgment” of the Arabic “Booklet” and, as such, significant sections which are found in the Arabic version have been edited out of the English version, or have not been translated. This is understandable.


The sections edited out of the English version include an important but brief discussion on the basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) well known to students of classical Islamic law and Qur’anic hermeneutics. There is also a section on traditional definitions of Jihad, ahl al-dhimma and jizya. The key hermeneutical principle discussed in the section on usul al-fiqh in the Arabic “Booklet” concerns the intertextual unity within the Qur’an, hadith corpus, and intertextual relationships between different parts of the Qur’an, hadith and other texts. It emphasises the need to meticulously study and examine all texts and sources on a topic in their original Arabic, and the relationship between them, before rushing to conclusions. Genuine scholars (al-rasikhun), argues Abdullah bin Bayyah, pay special attention to this important research method.  On the other hand, the “juhhal” (dunderheads), a term used by Abdullah bin Bayyah in the Arabic “Booklet” (p.12), engage in selective reading of sources to support their positions.

While the methodological point that Abdullah bin Bayyah makes in his lecture notes is known to any student of classical Islamic disciplines, it has surprisingly been missing in all the publications produced in Britain, for example, among government sponsored Muslim groups and think tanks claiming to be committed to the fight against extremist ideologies. We have recently seen the proliferation of mediocre reports, documents and policy papers on aspects relating to Islam and Muslim written in a manner that betrays a shocking ignorance of the key Islamic sources and texts on the subject. The worst offenders in this practice have been among the self-styled “imams” and “shaykhs” working on the government’s Prevent programmes. Perhaps this is why Abdullah bin Bayyah prefers to use the term “al-rasikh”, not merely an “alim”, to describe the ideal scholar who is intimately familiar with the intertextual interrelationships between various texts.


Unsurprisingly, the methodological point highlighted by Abdullah bin Bayyah is also missing in the conceptualisation of the Marrakesh Declaration itself! The Declaration is primarily focused on the Charter of Medina as “the best suited primary basis for the institution of citizenship.” It is a selective reading of historical sources which betrays a careless approach to the Sira (biography) of the Prophet of Islam. And here lies the crux of the problem. Thus, we have the highly curious situation of a group of Muslim scholars meeting in Marrakesh to call for the adoption of the Medina Charter as a source of Muslim constitutional law in response to the brutality of ISIS, about two years after ISIS invoked the same Charter of Medina as a basis of its own constitutional proposals, producing horrific results!


The Charter of Medina is without doubt an important historical document. I teach it to my students as an example early Islam’s pluralism. However, the fetishisation of its contents (not the processes that produced it) as the basis of Muslim constitutional law among modern Muslims is part of the reason why Muslim countries whose constitutions are supposedly based on “Islamic principles” can still claim to believe in the Charter of Medina while at the same time producing laws which violate its general principles (kulliyyat).


For me, the most important lesson modern Muslims should learn from the Charter of Medina is not its contents, as the Marrakesh Declaration and similar proposals suggest, but the processes that produced such contents. Although the Charter of Medina makes references to God, it is a product of deliberations, consultation and consensus between the various communities of Medina, not of divine revelation. In that sense it is a purely secular document. It did not fall from heaven like the tablets of Moses as mentioned in the Qur’an and the Bible, nor were the contents of the Charter revealed to Muhammad through Gabriel. Thus, the real general message (kulliyyat) of the Charter of Medina is that modern Muslims should be able to develop their own constitutional laws through deliberation, consultation and other democratic processes without the need to invoke divine revelation.


The Marrakesh Declaration entrusts that responsibility into the hands of “Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of citizenship”, with the Charter of Medina and “Islamic tradition and principles” as the basis.  This is based on the assumption that Muslim jurists around the world reading the same Charter and “Islamic tradition” will produce the same inclusivist meanings needed for a modern age. As someone trained and qualified in classical Islamic law and jurisprudence, I know too well that this is a fantasy.


For example, how would Islamic jurists reading the contents of the Medina Charter in Mauritania, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, to mention only these few countries, interpret article 14? It states that:


“A believer will not kill a fellow believer for the sake of a disbeliever.”


How might jurists working within the Shafi‘i, Hanbali, Shi‘a Imamiyya and Zahiri schools of Islamic law interpret the clause while developing their “jurisprudence of the concept of citizenship” as proposed by the Marrakesh Declaration? For centuries, Muslim jurists and traditionists (hadith scholars) have debated (without coming to any agreement) what article 14 of the Medina Charter means.  They wanted to know whether this meant that a Muslim could not be punished for killing a non-Muslim citizen living under an Islamic jurisdiction, if the life of a non-Muslim citizen was worth that of a Muslim and whether the blood money paid for killing a non-Muslim citizen should be equal to the blood money paid for killing a Muslim. According to Shafi‘i, Hanbali, Shi‘a Imamiyya and some Maliki legal traditions, article 14 meant that the death penalty could not be applied upon a Muslim found guilty of murder if the victim was not a Muslim.


On the other hand, classical Islamic jurists operating within the Hanafi school of Islamic law strongly opposed this interpretation on grounds that exempting a Muslim from punishment for killing a non-Muslim citizen undermines the very concept of justice enshrined in the kulliyyat (universal principles) of Islam. They argued that according to their reading of Islamic texts, Islam makes no distinction between the life and property of a non-Muslim and that of a Muslim. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad famously said:


“Whoever harms a non-Muslim citizen, I shall bear testimony against him on behalf of that citizen in front of God on the day of judgement?” (This tradition was narrated through various chains of transmission, some of them stronger than others)


Thus, if the Prophet promised to represent a non-Muslim citizen against a Muslim on the day of judgement it suggests that their blood is the same/equal in the eyes of God and the law.


We can see from the above brief discussion that having a text as the basis of law, and a group of jurists “entrusted” with the responsibility of interpreting that text, does not guarantee equal rights and justice for all citizens.


The approach adopted by the Marrakesh Declaration is part of a post-9/11 trend which saw Muslim organisations and communities adopting sophisticated public relations strategies which involve emphasising and focusing on disseminating the “positive” or “inclusive” meanings of Islamic texts while avoiding any public discussion on the “problematic” or “exclusivist” ones. While this approach may have been successful in presenting a “favourable image” of Islam to “outsiders” and the media, it has at the same time been alienating young and inquisitive Muslim men and women who feel that their Islamic scholars are failing to engage directly with the primary texts and sources of Islam in a manner that interrogates and enriches the received tradition while producing new meanings informed by people’s lived realities, here and now. Only Islamic feminist scholars of Qur’anic and legal hermeneutics have felt the fierce urgency to engage directly with both texts and the readers’ lived realities (al-waqi‘). A good example of this is the recently published book entitled Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (2015). There are other numerous examples.


The Marrakesh Declaration is based on the assumption that relations between the various communities of Medina which signed the Charter of Medina remained the same. In fact, war did eventually break out between the signatories of the Charter. Anyone who studies the Qur’an, the history of the Medina Charter and other early Islamic sources will find that while the Qur’an adopts what appears to be a firm and uncompromising stance against the Quraysh Arab tribes of Mecca who were at that time engaged in war against Muhammad and his followers,  its position towards the ahl al-kitab (People of the Book) reflects the shift in relationships between the Prophet, his early followers, and the 7th century Jewish and Christian communities with whom they came in contact in Medina and surrounding areas.


The idea that the contents of the Medina Charter should form the basis of Muslim constitutional laws and concepts of citizenship in modern Muslim states predates the Marrakesh Declaration. It has been a recurrent theme in twentieth century Muslim political theories. In the aftermath of the so-called “Arab spring”, it has become a favourite topic of discussion and debate among some Islamic scholars.


In 2010, Rached Ghannouchi, founder and leader of Tunisia’s Islamic political party, Ennahda Movement, wrote an Arabic essay entitle al-Islam wa al-muwatana (Islam and citizenship) invoking the Medina Charter.

In 2011, the then grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, wrote a short Arabic article in Al-Ahram on the Medina Charter as an example of coexistence. He also went on to discuss “The Concept of Citizenship in the Medina Charter” on Irqa’ TV.

Similarly, Yusuf al-Qardawi discussed the same topic on his popular programme al-Shari‘a wa al-hayah (Sharia and Life), on Al Jazeera TV.


The Marrakesh Declaration and Abdullah bin Bayyah’s lecture notes focus primarily on the contents of the Medina Charter and its inclusive message. A lot of space is dedicated to this in the Arabic “Booklet”. The Charter should have been analysed alongside “problematic” and “exclusivist” hadith traditions which speak of the expulsion of Jewish communities from the Jazirat al-Arab. For example, the traditions in Sahih al-Bukhari under the title Bab ikhraj al-yahud min jazirat al-‘arab [3768]; Sunan Abu Dawud, under the same title [3029]. These are the kind of traditions often cited by groups like ISIS. It is therefore not enough to simply speak in general terms about the need to engage in contextual reading without demonstrating how to engage with such “problematic” texts.


And finally, the Marrakesh Declaration states that:


“The Charter was not borne of war or conflict, rather, it was the result of a contract between groups living peacefully together to begin with.”


This is not entirely true and it contradicts established historical accounts (e.g. early commentaries on Qur’an 3:103) and what Abdullah bin Bayyah himself states in his lecture notes in the Arabic version of the “Booklet” (p. 25/line 32 – p.26/line 1-14) that the Charter was born of a long war and conflict between the various communities of Yathrib (Medina) prior to the arrival of the Prophet and his followers. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad was invited by the residents of Medina to come and broker a peace deal between the warring tribes in exchange of protection from his Meccan enemies. The war between the Banu Aws and Khazraj Jewish tribes had been going on for 120 years before Muhammad’s arbitration.


It is true, as Abdullah bin Bayyah warns that selective reading of texts is dangerous. The problem, however, is that declarations such as this, by their very nature, are exercises in selective and decontextualised reading of sources. They tend to privilege one set of texts over others. In this case, it is the Medina Charter and its “inclusivist” message which was privileged over other “problematic” and “exclusivist” texts.


Michael Mumisa (Shaykh) is a Cambridge Special Livingston Scholar at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. His research profile is available here:

Idea’s Hub: Prof Jonathan AC Brown on “How Much Does Islamic Law Change When Customs Change?”

How Much Does Islamic Law Change When Customs Change?

By Prof Jonathan Brown

Not long ago one of my students approached me asking my opinion on a small text that had been circulating on social media, particularly amongst advocates of Progressive Islam.  The snippet of text was fascinating, since it touched on a major question of Islamic law and legal reform, namely the competing authority of the original proof texts (nass, plural nusus) of Quran and Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) on one hand, and the authority of changing custom (‘urf) and convention (‘ada, the two terms are often used interchangeably) on the other.  I offer this short analysis not to discuss the merits of Progressive Islam but only to assess the provenance of the text and explore both what its author intended and how Muslim jurists have received it.

The snippet claimed to be a quote of Qadi Abu Yusuf (d. 798), one of the three founding scholars of the Hanafi school of Islamic law.  Here I will paste a screen grab of the snippet from the Facebook post of a very vocal advocate of Progressive Islam, since this scholar translated the section well:

JB text pic

This text appears in a commentary by the Ottoman judge and legal scholar Ali Haydar (d. 1935) on the nineteenth-century Ottoman civil law code known as the Majalla (Turkish, Mecelle), promulgated by the Ottoman sultan between 1870-1875.  The text appears as part of Haydar’s discussion of one of the five main maxims of Islamic law, ‘Convention is a probative source of law (al-‘ada muhakkima).’  This means that local customs are determinative on matters left undetermined by scripture or the strong stances of schools of law (ex. how much dowry should a groom pay his bride?  What constitutes reasonable care for an item left for someone to guard?  How do we interpret the clauses of a contract, and what sorts of conditions are acceptable to set in a contract?).  As the Majalle, Ali Haydar and indeed countless previous Muslim scholars all stress, this maxim does not mean that custom can justify disobeying or abandoning a proof text (nass) from the Quran or the Hadiths.  Because Muslims believe that these texts come from the infallible sources of God and the Prophet, they cannot be based on falsehood.  Custom, meanwhile, is a human product and therefore enjoys no such guarantee.  As affirmed by generations of scholars from the Hanafi school of law, the school of Abu Yusuf, the Majalle, Ali Haydar and the Ottoman state overall, “the strong cannot be left in order to act according to the weak.”  But how then should we understand Ali Haydar’s provocative quote from Abu Yusuf.  It seems to contradict this very assertion.

On its face, the Abu Yusuf quote seems incredibly consequential.  Abu Yusuf was not a minor figure.   He was the senior disciple of Imam Abu Hanifa, is seen as one of the founders of the Hanafi school of law and was the first chief judge of the Abbasid caliphate.  In this quote, he seems to be saying that, in the case of ruling derived from the Quran or the Hadith of the Prophet, if that Quranic verse or Hadith was based in the customs of Arabia at the time, then that ruling needs to be adjusted based on the characteristic of custom and convention today.  We can easily imagine some examples: Arabia was a patriarchy in which men dominated public life and the distribution of resources; the Quran states that a son should receive twice the share of inheritance that his sister receives; since the Quran’s inheritance ruling is based on a patriarchal culture, and modern Western culture today advocates gender equality, then the customary basis of the Quranic ruling needs to be abandoned and the ruling altered to meet the custom of our time.  Similarly, the Prophet instructs Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr, that a mature woman should cover her whole body except her hands and her face around unrelated men; since the Prophet’s ruling is rooted in the notion of appropriate dress in his particular time and place, it must be altered to fit its appropriate basis in our time and place, namely our modern notions of modest dress.

Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more Abu Yusuf’s quote seemed to offer an eighth-century mandate for the approach advocated by the late Islamic modernist Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), whose theory of the ‘double movement’ had Muslims today looking at the details of a Quranic injunction, identifying the moral rule behind it, then figuring out how to apply that moral rule in our own, modern context.  In effect, one should look at the spirit, not the letter, of law because the letter was fixed in a distant time and place.

This interpretation of Abu Yusuf’s alleged statement, however, raises one major problem: it is difficult to determine where it would not apply.  Almost every ruling in the Quran and the Prophet’s precedent is based in some way in the culture of the Prophet’s environment.  The opposite of custom and convention would seem to be something originating totally with God and with no clear worldly connection, like the details and mechanics of Muslim worship (ibadat).  But these are also quite often bound up in culture and convention.  Fasting, notions of ritual purity and the idea of certain foods being impure were all deeply ingrained in the Near East and Arabia of the seventh century.  But they are totally foreign to twenty-first century Western Europeans and Americans, whose Christianity was founded on a rejection of Jewish dietary laws (“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” says Jesus in Matthew 15:11) and who have no notion of ritual purity being essential for prayer.  Should we conclude that the Quranic rulings on ritual purity and prohibiting pork are based in the custom of the Prophet’s culture, and therefore that the rulings based in those proof texts should be abandoned in favor of reliance on our own custom?

There is an even bigger problem with Abu Yusuf’s quote, namely that he did not actually say it.  I have searched all the databases I know of, but I have not been able to find this exact quotation from Abu Yusuf anywhere but Ali Haydar’s commentary. Abu Yusuf did say something similar, but his actual statement is much less clear and categorical than what appears to be no more than Ali Haydar’s creative paraphrasing.  In the discussion of whether certain commodities can be traded by weight or by volume, which is intimately connected to the potential taboo of Riba (interest bearing transactions), Abu Yusuf said, “what is considered in all [such] things is custom, in contrast with what is specified by proof text.”[i]

In order to understand Abu Yusuf’s statement here one must look at both the specific question he was addressing and the larger issue of the authority of revealed texts versus custom.  First, the larger issue.  The question of how much authority was really vested in the temporal and cultural surroundings of the Prophet has always been salient in Islamic thought.  On the one hand, Muslim scholars always recognized that many aspects of how the Prophet and his companions lived were totally incidental and had no binding normative claim on other Muslims.  Thus we find it stated in early Sunni theological texts that ‘There is no problem with praying in trousers.’[ii]  This seems like an inane tenet to find in a summary theological text, but it was extremely important.  It drew a line delimiting the normative power of Arab custom on non-Arab Muslims.  Arab clothing was not part of Islam.  The Arabs did not wear or know of trousers during the time of the Prophet, but the Muslims discovered them soon after the Prophet’s death when the Muslim armies conquered the lands of the trousers-wearing Persians.

On the other hand, the Quran was phrased in the language and idiom of the Hejaz in the seventh century, so it was impossible to read the text without taking that context into consideration.  Moreover, sometimes the Prophet forbade something because of its meaning in his society.  This then raised the question: If the social significance of such a thing changes, does the ruling on it change too?  To a great extent, this depended on how explicit the reason behind a ruling was.  The Prophet condemned Muslims letting their robes extend down below their ankles.  But he also showed why he did this in his rebuking those who drag their clothing in the dust to show how wealthy they are (since they have spare clothing).[iii]  The Prophet forbade Muslim men from wearing gold and silk (though he exempted cloth that was a silk blend or that only had a stripe of silk on it), presumably but not explicitly because this was a sign of conspicuous consumption.[iv]  In the case of wearing long clothing the Prophet made the cause for his ruling clear, and he exempted people whose clothing kept going below their ankles because of how their body was shaped or because of how they walked.  Because modern Western trousers generally extend below the ankles but in doing so do not indicate any display of wealth, most Muslim scholars today see no problem with adopting this custom of dress.  Because the Prophet did not qualify his prohibition on silk with a clear cause, however, Muslim scholars have upheld the prohibition on silk even in times and places where wearing silk is not seen as a clear sign of wealth (most ties available in stores today in the West are made of silk, for example).  Because of the link to display, however, custom has managed to create adjustments around the edges of this ruling.  Muslim scholars have generally allowed men to use silk in their clothing for such purposes as insulation if such uses become customary.  Silk ties are often justified under the license for the silk stripe allowed by the Prophet.

Specifically, it is in the context of what the Prophet’s affirmation does to local custom that Abu Yusuf’s quote must be understood.  The Quran and the Prophet forbade usury.  In fact, until the late nineteenth century, Muslim scholars were in agreement that this prohibition included all interest-bearing transactions, not just ones with exploitative interest rates.  The details of this prohibition come from Hadiths prohibiting two things.  First, two parties exchanging like commodities could only do so in the same amount.  Party A could not trade 1 pound of dates to Party B for 2 pounds of dates.  Second, one could generally not delay payment (the Prophet made exceptions for this, however, which are the basis for much of Islamic finance).  What relation do these two practices have to interest or usury?  It seems that, in pre-Islamic Arabia, a poor person desperate for food would offer almost anything to feed his family.  He might offer a seller 10 pounds of dates, paid whenever he could get them, for just 1 pound of dates right away.  In this way, the poor would become horribly indebted to the rich.  In the Prophet’s commands that commodities only be traded in like amounts, he specified what form of measurement should be used.  In one Hadith he explains “gold for gold, silver for silver, by weight.  Wheat and barely, mady by mady (a mady being a certain dry volume measure).”[v]

The question arose amongst Hanafi jurists: What if people started trading gold or silver by volume instead of by weight, or if they started trading grain by weight instead of by volume?  The fear in this was that Party A, desperate for money right then and there to buy some necessity, might accept 10 coins made of only 10% gold in exchange for paying the ‘lender’ 10 coins made of 90% gold later on.  Since the volume of the coins was the same (coins of the same size being, in effect, a measure of volume, not weight), this could become a means of allowing exploitative usury.  This is where Abu Yusuf’s quote fits.  Abu Yusuf was stating that, in such a situation, one should adjust the legal ruling to meet the change in custom.  The Prophet had been trying to forbid interest-bearing transactions.  Because gold was exchanged by weight according to the custom of his time, his prohibition used that language.  If the custom changes, so must the units of measurement so that interest does not suddenly become allowed.

Almost all Hanafi scholars vehemently disagreed with Abu Yusuf’s statement, but this was not because they wanted to leave open some backdoor to usury.  Rather, it was because they considered it impermissible to indulge a change in the weight/volume conventions to begin with.  Muslims could not just switch from measuring gold by weight to volume and say this was custom.  The Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d. circa 1096) explains that the Prophet’s affirmation (taqrir) of these means of measuring had the effect of making that custom into a revealed command (nass).  The Prophet was, in effect, commanding Muslims to measure certain commodities by weight and others by volume.  This custom had become prophetically codified and was no longer subject to change.[vi]  Critiquing Abu Yusuf’s comment became standard in Hanafi books of law, and the Ottoman scholar Birgili (d. 1573) reminds his readers that Abu Yusuf’s opinion was ‘weak’ and could be taken in the face of the weight of opposing opinions.[vii]  One scholar who actually embraced Abu Yusuf’s position was the influential Damascus jurist Ibn Abidin (d. 1836), who wrote an entire treatise on custom in law because of the confusion surrounding Abu Yusuf’s statement.  Ibn Abidin appreciated that, since coins had for many centuries been the means by which precious metals were counted or measured in exchange, Abu Yusuf’s principle actually “closed off a great door for usury.”  Although the main purpose of states minting coins and stamping them with their imprimatur was to assure people using them that their weight and purity was standardized, in theory Abu Yusuf’s rule would provide a solution in case such standards broke down.[viii]


At first, Abu Yusuf’s quote seems like a clear mandate for changing the rulings of Islamic law, even if those rulings come from scriptural sources, if the rulings in those scriptural sources were determined by local custom at the time of the Prophet.  Since Islamic modernists like Fazlur Rahman understand the Quranic revelation and the Prophet’s teachings to be almost entirely bound up in that custom, this would mean that a revered classical Muslim scholar was advocating a revolutionary reform in Islamic law.  Upon examination, however, the quote attributed to Abu Yusuf was a murky modern paraphrase.  His original statement dealt specifically with conventions of measurement and the specific rules prohibiting usury.  Even in that specific context, traditional Muslim scholars criticized Abu Yusuf for his position, and those who embraced his stance did so because it would provide a backup if Muslim had engaged in an impermissible indulgence in favoring local custom over Shariah injunction.

Jonathan AC Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding.  He received his BA in History from Georgetown University in 2000 and his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2006.  Dr. Brown has studied and conducted research in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Iran.  His book publications include The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (Brill, 2007), Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World (Oneworld, 2009), Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld, 2014), which was named one of the top books on religion for 2014 by the Independent.  He has published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, Arabic lexical theory and Pre-Islamic poetry and is the editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law. Dr. Brown’s current research interests include Islamic legal reform and a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari with commentary. 



[i] al-muʿtabar fī jamīʿ al-ashyā’ al-ʿurf ʿalā khilāf al-manūṣ ʿalayhi: al-Sarakhsī, al-Mabsuṭ (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, 1978), 12:142.

[ii] Al-Barbahārī, Shar al-sunna (Beirut: Dār al-Ṣumayʿī, 2000), 72.

[iii] aīḥ al-Bukhārī: kitāb al-libās, bāb mā asfal min al-kaʿbayn fa-huwa fī al-nār, bāb man jarra thawbahu min al-khuyalā’.

[iv] Sunan of Abū Dāwūd: kitāb al-libās, bāb fī al-ḥarīr li’l-nisā’; bāb al-rukha fī al-ʿalam wa khay al-arīr.

[v] Sunan al-Nasā’ī: kitāb al-buyūʿ, bāb bayʿ al-shaʿīr bi’l- shaʿīr.

[vi] Al-Sarakhsī, ibid.

[vii] These included the opinions of Abū Ḥanīfa and al-Shaybānī; Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Birkilī, al-Ṭarīqa al-Muammadiyya (Istanbul: Āsetāne, [n.d.]), 213.

[viii] Ibn ʿĀbidīn, “Nashr al-ʿurf fī banā’ baʿḍ al-aḥkām ʿalā al-ʿurf,” in Majmūʿat Rasā’il Ibn ʿĀbidīn (Damascus: [Muḥammad Ḥāshim al-Kutubī], [1907], 2:118.

Ideas Hub: A Historic Perspective on Contemporary British Muslim Fiction, by Hannah Kershaw

A Historic Perspective on Contemporary British Muslim Fiction

by Hannah Kershaw

 Hannah pic

Today’s British media outlets, particularly the tabloids, are saturated with claims that Muslims living in Britain have had a negative influence on society. Immigrant communities from traditionally Muslim regions in Asia and the Middle East has been targeted as potential enemies of ‘the West’, framed in popular discourse as a threat to supposedly intrinsic British values, such as democracy, gender equality, and freedom of speech. My current doctoral research aims to offer an alternative perspective to this damaging narrative through the study of contemporary British Muslim literature (loosely defined as authors who are writing in Britain and are from Muslim heritage, often with varying degrees of religiosity). Considering this exciting and growing body of literature as an alternative narrative allows us to consider how British Muslim writers, such as Leila Aboulela, Nadeem Aslam, Robin Yassin-Kassab, use an imaginative craft embedded in reality in order to challenge and re-imagine what it means to be both Muslim and British.


This area of scholarship is continuing to grow, with recent publications in this field including but not limited to Anshuman Mondal’s Islam and Controversy: The Politics of Free Speech after Rushdie (Palgrave, 2014) and Rehana Ahmed’s Writing British Muslims: Religion, Class and Multiculturalism (Manchester UP, 2015). However, my research specifically asks how these authors explore Muslims living in Britain through the use of history and cultural memory. Theories of memory and trauma are often used when researching literature and testimonials around the Holocaust, but I argue that using this approach can benefit us in two ways. Firstly, it can help us to understand how British Muslims authors place their and their characters’ identities within a postcolonial and global framework, and secondly, it allows us to strive towards an understanding of British identity as historically and inherently multi – not mono – cultural.

At this point, it helps to ask: is there really a meaningful relationship between literature and social reality? In considering literature as a form of aesthetic representation, it is clear that there are benefits to using it as a way to understand everyday political and social conflict. George Von der Muhll  describes the act of reading literature as an activity that allows the reader to understand social conflict ‘from the inside out’, meaning we not only engage with a novel’s characters through empathy, but also through its construction of political and social conflict through dialogical relationships – or simple inter-character dialogue and action.


Salman Rushdie was particularly vocal about the potential of literature back in 1984, although after the furor of the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, his position has become somewhat more inward looking. In his essay ‘Outside the Whale’, Rushdie argues that it is wrong for authors not to wish to engage with contemporary politics, claiming that ‘works of art, even works of entertainment, do not come into being in a social and political vacuum’. However, it became apparent to Rushdie in the late 1980s during Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, that both political and authorial intention does not always result in the desired response from the reader (or, in this case, non-readers too).


Much of the British Muslim fiction being produced today is of social and political importance because of the themes that are touched upon: the struggle to maintain the Muslim faith in Britain; everyday and structural forms of racism; the trauma of migration; a perpetual sense of non-belonging. However, let’s not forget the positives that some of these authors explore, namely the actualization of new relationships, new communities and places of worship, and new opportunities.

(Above: Depiction of the Amristar massacre)

One of the novels that I discuss is Nadeem Aslam’s 2004 Maps for Lost Lovers, which narrates the everyday lives of a South Asian family living in a relatively working-class and economically deprived unnamed northern town in England. The novel, which is framed around the supposed ‘honour killing’ of a young woman, considers how domestic structures and Pakistani traditions are disturbed and made problematic in a post-migration setting. Of particular interest is the novel’s analepsis to the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre near Amritsar, when crowds of non-violent protesters were subject to random shootings by the British army. It was here that one of the novel’s protagonists, Shamas, remembers how his then-Hindu father was caught in the violence, became injured, lost his memory and lived as a Muslim for the rest of his life. This act of colonial violence is remembered and re-imagined throughout the novel, and is a crucial reminder of the impact of the British Raj on today’s clashes between white and South Asian communities. By weaving memories of the British Raj and the 1947 Partition of India into the present-day British narrative, Aslam employs a fictional but deeply historical narrative that acknowledges anti-Muslim sentiment as stemming from Britain’s long history of colonial rule and fear of the non-Christian, and the non-white.


Hannah Kershaw is a third-year PhD student and is co-supervised by the Department of Politics and the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. Her research project into British Muslim literature is funded by the ESRC WRDTC network ‘Reshaping Multiculturalism through Cultural Practices’, a highly interdisciplinary network supported by academics at York, Leeds and Sheffield.

She tweets @HCKershaw

Speaker’s Corner: Flying while Muslim – Abdul-Azim Ahmed

Flying while Muslim

by Abdul-Azim Ahmed

Have you heard the one about the Muslim at the airport? “Muslim while flying” jokes have gone from being cutting edge political commentary, to trope, to cliché in the last few decades. I groaned out loud when I heard plans of a ‘Citizen Khan Goes to America’. But while airport jokes are beginning to feel dated, international travel remains a site of discrimination and exclusion for not just British Muslims, but even those presumed to look like they might be Muslim.


In recent months, a number of cases of Muslims being denied flights or escorted off planes have come to light. Most recently, Zabir Ali was told to leave a plane en route to his honeymoon, which followed the high profile case of Imam Ajmal Masroor being denied a US visa in the same week as Mohammad Tariq Mahmood was denied entry to the US with his family. The racialization of Muslims means that isn’t just those who profess Islam as their religion who are subject to stringent and discriminatory practices. Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia was barred from flying after he refused to remove his turban. When flights are made, interrogations are commonplace, such as that reported by Amreet Surana, or that described by Hanna Yusuf.


None of this is entirely new. Cases of Muslims, or those presumed to be Muslim, being subject to arbitrary checks and discriminatory barring can be found dating back years, and there are plenty that don’t make the news. Within my admittedly small circle of friends, I know dozens who have faced some level of discrimination at airports.


What it tells us is that Muslims remain a suspect community. In the days following 9/11, the fear was predominantly about terrorist attacks. More recently, the implicit guilt of supporting, and potentially joining, the Islamic State, is the dominant theme. Despite their being no clear signs of radicalisation or extremism, or perhaps because of it, a Muslim identity is often taken to be enough of a warning sign.

The ubiquity of airport checks also tells us that this isn’t simply the odd case of discrimination, but something that is structural, arguably even a tacit policy. Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Security and Intelligence has suggested ‘Muslim passengers should be prepared to give security at airports more detailed explanations of why and where they are flying’, claiming that profiling at airports was ‘obvious and rational’. It seems flight services, airport security and governments in Europe and the United States are in agreement with Professor Glees statements.


In the British context, there is also the concerning lack of response from the British government. British citizens, Muslim and otherwise, are routinely subjected to indignant and discriminatory stops, searches and bars. This occurs both abroad and in the United Kingdom itself, and the UK government has taken no steps to record the data on the stops, let alone the address the issue. It wasn’t long ago that Cameron made a tacit call for loyalty from British Muslims, contending that ‘because if you walk our streets, learn in our schools, benefit from our society, you sign up to our values: freedom; tolerance; responsibility; loyalty’. Citizenship of course works two ways, and the British government could do more to show loyalty to their citizens when it comes to the discrimination faced at airports.


Perhaps the most significant, and most disheartening, thing that the prevalence of discrimination faced by British Muslims at airports tell us, is that not much has changed since 9/11. There is no better understanding of radicalisation and extremism, Muslims are still guilty by association, there are no improved forms of security, and there is no desire by the British government to address the abuse of the rights of their own citizens.


Abdul-Azim Ahmed is a PhD student at the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University. He is also Editor of On Religion, a current affairs magazine with a focus on religion and theology.

Speaker’s Corner: Testing Times – Fear and Fasting in Secondary Schools

One anonymous British school teacher provides some insight on the responses among his student to proposed changes to Exams timetabled to accommodate Ramadan, in order to assist fasting pupils

Testing Times: Fear and Fasting in Secondary Schools.

by Sami Piperdi (pseudonym)


Exam room

As a Secondary school teacher who works in an establishment with approximately 50% Muslim students, I was particularly interested in the news story that appeared on the BBC website with the headline “Exams timetabled to accommodate Ramadan”.

Ramadan is set to coincide with the public examination season over the next three years, and so could potentially have a significant impact on the exam performance of Muslim students nationally.

A number of my students had already voiced their concerns about this dilemma: whilst some pledged that they would fast throughout their exams and others reluctantly conceded they may have to break their fast, all spoke of this issue with a sense of conflict and trepidation.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail had a completely different angle on the same story. The front page warned that “hundreds of thousands of teenagers” would face an “exam timetable shakeup… to help Muslim pupils fasting for Ramadan.” I thought that the discrepancies in the reporting might make for a thought-provoking lesson on media reporting and bias, and so I planned a lesson where students would be shown both headlines and stories in turn, and then be invited to respond to each. The response was fascinating, giving me both cause for concern and hope.

I started by showing students the following slide. Upon seeing the headline, almost all of the non-Muslim students chimed “aww that’s so nice!” heart-warmingly in unison. Some of these non-Muslim students told me they felt proud that our exam boards were trying to “include everyone” and make sure all students had a fair chance.

The Muslim students, however, wore grim faces. Most remained silent, though one Muslim girl put her hand up and spoke of her fear that this might upset people, making Muslims look like they’re always causing trouble for others (I had not shown them the Daily Mail article yet!). Other Muslim students murmured in agreement, commenting that they didn’t want to seem like a burden on society, and that people ‘don’t like us Muslims too much nowadays’. At this juncture a plucky non-Muslim student intervened to reassure her fellow classmates: “No! We’re all in it together. Why is this even a news story?”

Although it was deeply upsetting to see young, vulnerable Muslim students express concerns about their negative portrayal, I cannot say I was surprised. Though many adults have grown accustomed to the constant negative media portrayal of Muslims and Islam, we don’t often think about the impact it has on young Muslim schoolchildren. Certainly, since the heightened introduction of the Prevent strategy in schools, I have noticed a discernible hesitation among Muslim students to contribute fully in classroom discussions. I have lost count of the number of times I have witnessed the most boisterous of Muslim students suddenly shut down when we talk about an issue where their cultural or religious background might inform their opinion, from topics as diverse as religious imagery in Shakespeare, to the representation of women in poetry. Undoubtedly, Muslim students feel that they have to tread carefully in this current clime, fearing that they are being monitored by teachers who may misunderstand or misconstrue their convictions, meaning trouble for them (or worse – their parents) with school authorities. With endless examples of students as young as 4 being reported to Prevent Officers for innocuous comments – who could blame them? And yet, if schools can no longer be safe-spaces where students can air their views and be challenged – how can we as educators truly broaden our students’ minds?

I then moved onto the next slide featuring the Daily Mail front page, which was met with a collective gasp.

Appalled, one non-Muslim student shouted out “Sir, how can they say that? That’s so horrible!” I scanned the room, once again to find my Muslim students quiet.

“Why is it horrible?” I asked. Students perceptively noted the violence associated with the word “shake up”, and how the imperative phrase “Sit exam early” implied that Muslims were ordering the whole country to follow their rules, rather than the accommodation coming from the Exam board. A quote from the group ‘Christian Concern’ cited in the Daily Mail article particularly disturbed my students: ‘We don’t live in Saudi Arabia where they need to fit the exams around sharia principles. It’s wrong imposing this festival on everybody else.’

“Sir, that’s just racist, and not very Christian!” No prizes for guessing whether this comment came from a Muslim or non-Muslim student.

This lesson left me in a reflective mood. I was impressed at the open hearts of my non-Muslim students, but concerned at the palpable fear felt by young Muslims. A cohesive society can only arise when every member of that society can reach out to other people, whatever their background, and celebrate our differences. How can we achieve this when our own young Muslims have been left so disenfranchised by the media and Prevent that they are too scared to speak up for themselves and reach out to the generous hands offered to them?

Sami Piperdi is a teacher and educator, who has worked in educational research and practice for six years. Sami currently works as a Secondary English teacher in an inner-city comprehensive. Alongside this role, Sami also works as a teacher coach and teacher trainer.


Speaker’s Corner: Donald Trump and the attack of the Muslims – Rafik Ayaz

Rafik Ayaz writes for Media Diversified – full time Dysxlexic and part time Muslim commentator and founder of #VeggieMuslimForum

He tweets @1Rafz

Who remembers when Dr Ben Carson was the kinder face of Islamophobia in the Republican race for 2016? Good times.

Instead like an annoying spray tan mark on your pristine white towel or the accumulation of hair in your plug-hole; Donald Trump is not going away and is on track to become the Republican nominee.

Not only is Trump here to stay, so are the far-right Evangelical talking points he has helped mainstream.

So what can be so awful that it unites Paul Ryan, Republican House Chair, Owen Jones, The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, London Met Police and Jeb Bush amongst many in a worldwide alliance of Anti-Trumpists?

Whatever it is you know now is a good time to hunker down in the bunker when Dick Cheney the ‘fifth’ horseman of the Apocalypse, friend of the Middle East and shooter in the face of a colleague with a shot gun says Trump is too extreme with his latest comments.

Yes but what has he said?

Well Donald Trump, the burning twitter outrage and meme generator, wants to ban all Muslims from coming to America. Not just Islamists, or ISIS, but all Muslims including American Muslims who might happen to be out of the country at the time of his presidency.

This plan is so crazy it makes me hanker for simpler times, when Trump was only suggesting things like internment camps for Muslims in the US.

Sane minded folk will interject and say his policy of banning all Muslims at the US border will never work because as Richard Dawkins constantly reminds us like a sherry swilling pub bore “Islam is not a race.”

True, Islam is not a race and as such would make airport securities job in picking out Muslims-Chaff from the wholesome Christian-wheat difficult if not impossible (not all Muslims helpfully dress up like the baddies from Homeland).

So how can we negate constitutionally mandated rights afforded to all Americans, including Muslims?

Well I’d start by ignoring the likes of Foreign Policy Analyst, Faris Ali Khan, on Sky News, saying you can attribute Trumps joined up thinking in regards to Muslims to the Centre for Security Policy, an organisation that the Southern Poverty Law Centre has cited as a virulent Anti-Muslim hate group.

But if your heart is still set on anti-Muslim fuelled paranoia as promoted by the likes of Pam Geller, you should apply the following Religious tests:

Foreskin Test: If it’s ribbed they’re Muslim and must be stopped at the border. Because everyone knows circumcised equals ISIS.

What about Muslim women?

Nando’s Test: Upon arrival to the US from Muslamistan. Muslim women would be asked to choose between Lemon & Herb or Extra Hot for their chicken. If they opt for Extra Hot they are Muslim and you should be denied entry.


Trump Apartment Test: Muslims are credit checked at airport arrivals. If they can afford a Trump Condo in Dubai or Turkey, then they are let into the US. If not, they’re branded Muslim and kicked out.

Because every billionaire Republican presidential candidate knows Black Amex wielding Muslims are better than black flag wielding Muslims.

These tests may sound ludicrous, but as Donald Trump says “We have to be tough, we have to be smart, we have to be vigilant.” He was talking about Islamist-extremism, but in late 2015, ‘extremism’ and ‘Muslim’ have become increasingly interchangeable terms.

So why are Trumps opinion polls on his suitability to be a candidate for President in charge of the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world not going down? Media backlash against Trump’s latest brain fart have been universal, well, apart from Melanie Phillips in The Times.

Because Trump is no ordinary politician, but a show man and more importantly, appeals to a demographic within America which resides in a far-right echo chamber. This group has become increasingly antagonistic, if not openly hostile to American Muslims over the past decade and a half. So when Trump says things like warrantless surveillance of Muslims is a good idea, it becomes a ratings winner with this demographic.

Trump has hit the sweet spot with the Evangelical Christian and Far right voters in the States White-ISIS or CR-ISIS for short.

CRISIS is the puritanical cult of the GOP that has made Republicans like Rand Paul seem moderate. It is also why increasingly Republican candidates have lurched to the far right, to appease this vocal minority.

It has to be said CRISIS adherents are not only fearful of Muslims but also Mexicans, African Americans and women who want autonomy of their own ovaries and in Trump they have found a candidate who speaks for them. Just like Al-Baghdadi does for a certain demographic of Muslims; in Trump, CRISIS has found a leader to rally around and support.

For CRISIS, Donald Trump is the only candidate who can protect from the triple threat of a pregnant-Mexican-Muslim.

Donald Trump is not the cause of CRISIS or anti-Muslim hate; he is merely espousing views that have become increasingly acceptable within American society.

Ask yourself this, do you see any Republican candidate for president posing for a selfie inside a Mosque in 2015. Like George Bush did as President after 9/11?

No, I didn’t think so.

That is because Islamophobia fuelled by an industry that spends vast sums annually to demonise Islam and Muslims in general, and has made suspicion of Muslims the norm. You can’t even blame just the right wing media; it has become homogenised across the spectrum covering Muslims in an ever more sensationalist manner.

Some commentators have said a Trump candidacy is the death throes of white supremacy, before it fades into history. But I am less optimistic, especially living in Europe, where the right has been making electoral gains cumulating in a win for Le Pen party in France recently.

So why did the UK care so much about Trump this week?

Well, Trump has said there are parts of London that the Metropolitan Police officers are scared to enter because of Islamic extremism. A claim denied by Metropolitan Police and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.

There has been #TrumpFacts #MassiveMuslimProblem where Brits have rallied together to mock claims made by Trump about London.

But that is not all, the United Kingdom has responded to this slur by Donald Trump in the most British manner possible. It has started a petition in Parliament to talk about banning Trump from coming over here (over 400k signatures).

However, most hot takes by the British media on how the crazy Trump is symptomatic of all that is wrong with American politics miss the point, because we have our very own pound shop Trump: UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the serial election losing, but mainstreamer of the same anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric that Trump spouts in America. We also have the likes of Douglas Murray, a man who stood up and made a speech about how conditions for Muslims must be made tough across Europe.

In the case of Murray, his organisation Henry Jackson Society has just been cited as fuelling anti-Muslim hate by Hope Not Hate in The Guardian.

It is also important to add both Farage and Murray feature regularly as guests on various BBC platforms to espouse their bigoted anti-Muslim rhetoric.

What can the rest of the world do about the impending ISIS rivalling presidency of Trump, the walking Daily Mail comment section, given life to run for the most important job in the world, reverse-caliph or anti-caliph, if you will? What can we do about the rising tide of far right parties in Europe which will rally around Donald Trump?

Well, we need to talk about how a UN intervention or a strategic missile strike of GOP headquarters and Trump towers may not sound so farfetched. At this point that surely could be the only way to stop this OOmpah Loompah of hate from sitting in the Oval Office (It’s a joke Theresa May).

I bid you adieu, as I’m going to my safe place, with my tin foil hat on, to ride out this storm of hatred.


Ripostes: When it comes to ISIL/Daesh, ideology is important, but context is critical – Maria W. Norris

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

Mostaque’s post highlighting the importance of Isil’s ideology is timely and important. As a nihilistic death cult intent on taking the Middle East back to an Islamic ‘year zero’, there is no room for negotiation. Consequently, addressing their ideology is paramount. Nonetheless, Isil should not be reduced to ideology alone. Isil presents a complex problem, where ideology is intertwined with issues of both agency and structure. As such, in order to fully address it, we also need to locate Isil as a symptom of  much bigger geopolitical problems in the Middle East.


As Mostaque points out, Isil is a direct result of the Iraq War. As the US led invasion dissolved the Iraqi army and banned the Ba’athist party, it created a huge power vacuum. The division of power between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds was done in a way that disenfranchised a large majority of Sunnis, who had real grievances against the new system. At the same time, tens of thousands of young men flooded the region to fight the occupiers, which soon led to the first Al Qaeda movement in Iraq. This provided the perfect conditions for Isil, originally an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq.


As such, Isil is part of the wider Sunni-Shia tensions in the region, which have been exacerbated by the conditions of post-2003 Iraq. It thus also mirrors the mounting tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia as both countries compete for influence. Wahhabism, the extreme form of Sunni Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia, forms the roots of Isil’s ideology. Further, both Saudi Arabia and Iran are implicated in the civil war in Syria, with Iran supporting Assad and strong indications that Isil has Saudi funding.


An additional ingredient in the geopolitical dysfunction that enables Isil, is the deep institutional crisis in the Middle East, where the wealth of resources is in sharp contrast with poverty and the lack of democratic accountability. The Middle East is constantly in the top rank of global measures of poverty, education, corruption and unemployment. This leads to intense social grievances that make entire populations susceptible to extremist narratives that provide perceived solutions. Non-state groups therefore fill the gap of legitimacy and provide individuals with a way out.


Finally, the conditions that support Isil to not just exist, but endure, are not exclusive to the Middle East. The problems of Western intervention continue to this day as the US, France and now the UK continue to bomb the region. Bombs are indiscriminate weapons which will likely lead to a huge amount of civilian suffering, which in turn feeds Isil’s narrative of a permanent Crusade. Further, oppressive counter-terrorism policies in the West and rising Islamophobia lead to increased alienation and resentment amongst Muslim communities living in the West. Isil depends on this alienation and resentment when it comes to international recruitment.


  • This is not to dismiss the importance of ideology, but it is equally important to emphasise that challenging the ideology alone is not enough to defeat Isil. Isil requires a multi-dimensional solution that addresses both its ideas, but also the structures which allowed for it to exist. Mostaque correctly says that when it comes to Isil, once an individual is radicalized, addressing grievances is unlikely to lead to de-radicalization. This makes it even more crucial to address the underlying conditions that both enabled and strengthened Isil in the first place.

Ideas Hubs: The Sun and the dangers of made-up statistics – Dr Khadijah Elshayyal

Above: Dr Khadijah Elshayyal
Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Muslims in Britain)
The Alwaleed Centre
University of Edinburgh

Exclusive: shock poll – ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis’ –  screamed the recent front page of The Sun newspaper. It seemed that the tabloid notorious for giving us inflammatory ‘Muslim stories’ in the past[1] had hit a new low.

Over the past week, criticism for the headline, the poll, and indeed the article as a whole has been mounting, and rightly so. The anonymous piece by an individual who had helped conduct the poll for Survation being particularly telling, in terms of the clear intention of the newspaper to pursue a ‘headline’ above all other considerations. Its use of questionable techniques to obtain the data, followed by a clearly misleading interpretation of the results, render the article and the ‘statistics’ within it absolutely useless in terms of providing information of any value to the reader. As Maria Sobolewska and Matt Singh have pointed out, the use of any sort of polling to determine the level of support from Muslims is a futile exercise. Results can vary hugely depending on the wording used for questions, and ultimately, ‘what we receive as a true picture of what Muslims think is mostly an artefact of what they get asked’.[2]

But the problem does not stop at the article’s lack of utility. A more serious concern is the very real damage that misleading headlines based on patently false ‘statistics’ can cause to social integration. Headlines and ‘stories’ such as these provide easy reference material for far-right groups who typically capitalise on crises to ‘blame’ Muslims for current social problems (be they real, exaggerated, or imagined).[3] In fact, they do much of their work for them.

Even beyond the influence of the racist far-right, among the wider public, opinions, and sadly, prejudices, will already have been formed when reading the headline. One would even be forgiven for thinking that this (or similar headlines) may have subconsciously influenced our Prime Minister, as he emphatically asserted in the House of Commons last week that those opposing military action in Syria were ‘terrorist sympathisers’. Comparatively, very few people will have noticed the ‘correction’ that so often sheepishly follows such sensationalist headlines, in this case, not even from The Sun, but from from its sister paper, The Times.

And while this is irresponsible journalism at the best of times, we are not living in the ‘best’ of times by any measure. Indeed, local and international factors, not least the impact of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, have all contributed to strained community relations in many parts of the country, and a dramatic rise in Islamophobic hate crime, of the type that we have come to routinely expect in the wake of terrorist incidents. Those who carry out these attacks regularly cite an association between their Muslim (or ‘Muslim-looking’) victims with ISIS, or terrorism, and British Muslims, particularly women, have expressed unprecedented feelings of vulnerability. Newspapers like The Sun should not be able to get away with publishing untruths that are ultimately fear-mongering about a minority that is already under intense pressure, and in the age of terrorism and securitisation, increasingly viewed as suspect.[4] While it is heartening to see that concerned members of the public have held them to account, it should not be their job to do this.

Therefore, the recent move by MPs led by Birmingham Ladywood’s Shabana Mahmood to discuss this headline and its dangerous wider impacts with The Sun’s editor is to be welcomed. Certainly, media outlets and journalists do need to take greater responsibility for the accuracy and reliability of their reporting, and acknowledge the very real-world effects of their content.



[1] Including ‘Ramadan-a-ding-dong’, which claimed in 2013 that Channel 4’s daily broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer ‘could inflame tensions’.

[2] Maria Sobolewska, ‘Can we ever estimate how many British Muslims will become Islamic extremists?’ Manchester Policy Blogs, 26 August 2014.

[3] For an example of this, see Waqas Tufail,  ‘Rotherham, Rochdale, and the Racialised Threat of the ‘Muslim Grooming Gang’’ in International Journal for Crime, Justice and Democracy, 4(3), pp. 30-43 (2015).

[4] Mary J Hickman, Lyn Thomas et al, ‘‘Suspect Communities’? Counter-terrorism policy, the press, and the impact on Irish and Muslim communities in Britain’ London Metropolitan University, (July 2011).

Trevor Phillips OBE – Keynote address at the “Muslim Integration Conference – engaging with the discourse”

Muslim Integration Conference – engaging with the discourse

Trevor Phillips OBE – 05 11 2015

As delivered:

Thank you… I’d like to start by congratulating the new Director of SOAS on her appointment. Such a distinguished institution needs a great leader, and there are few who have Valerie Amos’ mix of wisdom, experience and steel, all of which are sorely needed in Higher Education today. I’m grateful for your invitation. I don’t do this sort of thing very much these days; much as I enjoyed being Chair of the EHRC there are many things in public life I was glad to leave behind. – being confused on the bus with Trevor Macdonald, David Lammy and Howard from the Halifax; – being called 100 times in a day as Christmas approaches to adjudicate on whether schools could celebrate Xmas and whether teachers could say that it had something to do with the baby Jesus without offending Muslim parents.  But it’s a privilege to contribute to your discussion. Your topic today could not be more timely. And I am delighted that in spite of recent events, it is still possible to talk about difficult subjects on a British campus without the meeting being disrupted or subject to a ban because someone has decided to be offended even before they’ve heard what anyone else has to say. Today, we’re focusing on the word integration. But we are also talking about a deeper, more profound question that faces virtually every society in the world today. In the twenty-first century, the human species will face two overarching questions.

First – how do we live with our planet? And second – how do we live with each other? I have no doubt that of the two dilemmas, the second is less tractable. It is also more urgent. We have all seen graphically this summer what is happening at Europe’s margins and in the Mediterranean. And these scenes represent just the start of an immense demographic change in our continent – one, by the way, that Africa has been facing for some time. And the numbers we face are small by comparison with say, those laid out to me by my Chinese equivalent some years back; I now gather that China is planning to move a quarter of a billion people from the land to the cities over the next decade – an unprecedented undertaking. The reasons for these great movements of people may be to encourage growth, to flee conflict or starvation, or simply the product of human restlessness. But whatever the cause the demographic challenges ahead are enormous. The fact is that these changes are bringing more different kinds of people into close proximity or even conflict, with more others of a different background than at any point in human history. These migrations aren’t just an economic and social issue – they bring serious religious and cultural dilemmas in their wake. For example, today there are 44 million Muslims in Europe. By 2050, that number will be 71 million – some one in ten of the continent’s population. We will, if we’re lucky enough still to be around, be living in a very different Europe. Here in the UK the visible minority population will rise from its current 13% to between 25-35% by 2050. Some cities – Birmingham, Leicester, for example – will be over 50% non-white British. London already feels like a different country to, say, Northumbria or Kent or Norfolk. According to the leading demographer Peter Rees of Leeds University we can expect more than half of Britain’s districts to become more like London – and the other half to be very different in character.2 I’d like to say a few words about why this topic holds so much personal as well as professional significance for me. I was born in London. But our family’s circumstances were such that my parents thought it better to send me back to Guyana, the country that they still called “home”. So like the School’s new Director, as a child and a teenager I was lucky to enjoy the privilege of living in one of the most diverse countries in the world.

I went to school with a student body as diverse as you could imagine – Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Africans, Native American. On the other hand, there was no TV, no fancy restaurants that I knew about and just one major library in a city of 200,000 people. As in most Commonwealth nations we had the experience of living within a cultural, ethnic and racial mix probably not paralleled since the last days of the Roman Imperium. My old class lists in Guyana show names like Ali, Ishmael, Persaud, Chan, Ming, Ten Pow and Singh as well as the conventional European names given to the descendants of slaves – Adams, Harris, Alleyne, Moore – and Phillips. But as in so much of the Commonwealth, behind the racial and religious rainbow there lay a bitter and often violent history of ethnic feuding which still disfigures that small country. One of my own classmates and friends, Donald Rodney, in later years saw his brother, the writer and academic Walter Rodney murdered, largely for espousing the cause of non-racial politics. Today, Guyana remains one of the poorest nations in the world, fatally stricken by its racial and ethnic divisions, unable to realise its natural resources. So I have seen and lived first hand with the tantalising possibilities of diversity – and the ghastly consequences of the absence of generous toleration. That period taught me several things about integration.

First integration isn’t an automatic human response to diversity. It’s a learned behaviour. And that learning is inherited – or not. I also learned that integration is a two way street. The absence of integration isn’t always just down to an absence of opportunity. It sometimes is; when my parents came here some people really would move out of the street when they moved in. But that wasn’t always the case. The traffic on this highway runs in both directions. The absence of integration almost always involves a mix of motivations, and some element of unconstrained choice also features; and whilst we’d like to pretend this is not true, it is hard to explain why for example, East African Asian millionaires, who could afford to buy homes in any part of the capital choose to congregate in the perfectly pleasant but undistinguished suburbs of north-west London; or why schools are more segregated than they need to be – a topic I’ll address in a moment. 7 And third, growing up in Guyana, I learned that the absence of integration can lead people to believe that outcomes which are in fact entirely unrelated to their race are somehow due to the colour of their skins.

Anyone who has read Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin’s stellar book on the UKIP tribe will know that most UKIP voters do not start out believing that they were left behind because of their colour. They knew that they were losing out because of globalisation, because of their lack of education or because of their age. But as they coalesced into a single grouping, the identity that came most naturally was the visible characteristic that most of them shared – being white. Over time, for many UKippers, this factor has actually eclipsed the original cause of their disquiet. The emergence of this white tribe isn’t a British peculiarity. We only have to look across the Channel where almost one in three French people support a party, the Front National, which is arguably anti-immigrant and is certainly, by its own declaration, anti-Islamic. Its new leader, Marine Le Pen currently leads the polls in voting intention for the Presidential election of 2017.  In Austria a similar party is polling above a fifth of the popular vote. In Sweden – liberal, civilised Sweden – the largest party in Parliament the Sweden Democrats – described by the Daily Telegraph as an anti immigration party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement – is polling above 25%. There’s a similar story in Denmark, in Finland and Holland. And in Supposedly left wing Greece the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn took 7 percent of the poll in last month’s general election. And if you want to know what they stand for listen to what one of their MPs, Ilias Panagiotaros, said, before they became popular according to the Daily Mail: ‘If [Golden Dawn] gets into parliament, it will carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens and it will throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks can take their place.’ I think we can say that whatever our problems, we would not exchange them for those of our neighbours right now. The task of those of us who study integration is to wrestle with the reality of what the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin predicted many years ago; that restless humanity would one day have to find a way of living together graciously.

I like Berlin’s formulation – living together graciously – because the alternative – tolerance – has, incorrectly, and sadly come to imply, in English, a grudging coexistence between people who barely know each other and who, frankly, like it that way. The original Elizabethan idea of toleration was a more active proposition – a dynamic convergence of cultures and traditions to create a new kind of Englishness. Today’s date being what it is, it is worth recalling that if we worry about the growth of Islamophobia today, it really pales by comparison with the ferocious persecution of Roman Catholics for several hundred years in this country – the manifestations of which only truly faded in the last century. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not think we want to emulate all the practices of the first Elizabethans. We know about Walsingham’s use of torture and the cruelty of the 16th century police state he created. I do care about security – but I think we need to think pretty hard before we reinvent the Elizabethan security state. But even so I do think that we could well follow some aspects of the Elizabethan template, without the thumbscrews, of course. The idea of toleration does provide a practical guide to what we might be looking for when we talk about integration – a dynamic convergence. I should say what I have in my mind when I say the word integration. I am not a social scientist by training. I am a chemist, so I do tend to think in terms of processes and numbers. I know that I do not think of integration as what the former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins called a flattening process of assimilation. On the other hand I do not regard a society which simply consists of a series of separate but more or less interlocking communities, with different values attitudes and behaviours as integrated. Instead, with apologies to any mathematicians in the room, I think of integration as a process of dynamic convergence on a single set of basic values, attitudes and behaviours.

Remember, this is a two way street in which everyone is in motion. How do we know it when we see it? Well I tend to go for something that I can measure. In this case, for me the perfectly integrated society is one in which an individual’s life chances, preferences, and behaviours are randomly related to his or her race or religion. A sociologist might say a society in which race and religion carry no explanatory power in predicting outcomes. 11 A common, shallow journalist like me would translate that as meaning that when I walk into the room, my skin colour or shape of features should give you no clue as to whether I would be a dustman, a doctor or a bus driver. That’s a technical definition, and I’ll return to what it might mean in practice before I sit down. But of course we don’t live our lives through equations. I think we need to bear in mind what integration – and its opposite – means in an everyday sense for most people. I’m not naïve. Race and religion do still render us vulnerable to unjustified discrimination. And that is for many, a major obstacle to integration. But that isn’t the only cause. The real world challenge now is very different for most people to the challenge of the past fifty years, for three reasons. First, we now understand that each of us is a composite of many things – our family history, our professions, gender, race and so on.  For much of my lifetime, making your way in society meant suppressing aspects of that complex configuration – your race, your sexual orientation, your religion, for example – in order to fit in with prevailing norms. But as our societies have become more affluent and more secure most of us want to live lives that are more in tune with all aspects of our identities. We want everyone to know who and what we are. We want to bring our whole selves to work. In essence, well-off societies are enjoying more freedoms, and accommodating more public differentiations of identity. It’s all out there – both to celebrate and to irritate. Second, individual attitudes are so much more tolerant and so much less prejudiced. We are simply less likely to face overt and deliberate acts of individual bigotry. Twenty years ago, more than a quarter of us would express some unease about a black or Asian boss or neighbour – usually by saying that we ourselves had no worries but we thought that there might be problems for our fellow workers, or other neighbours or other relatives who were not so open-minded. Today, you would struggle to find one in ten people admitting to these attitudes. And amongst people under thirty I suspect that the very questions we used in the 1980s would seem incomprehensible.

Third, particularly because of technical advances in data gathering and monitoring, we now know a great deal more about the systemic effect of belonging to an identity category than we used to. And we know that some of the obstacles to integration aren’t invented, or the result of unequal treatment. They are the result of a gap between the way that some of our institutions work and the way that some of citizens want to live. And nether is necessarily at fault. We know that some differences and some disadvantages are inherent and generally speaking inextricably associated with our race, gender and so forth. They are not simply symptoms of unequal treatment. For example, the Ipsos MORI study of GP patient opinion – a sample of over 100,000 individuals – shows that British Muslims – corrected for class and geography – are 40% less likely to rate their GPs as “very good” than the average person. But NHS doctors are far from being an all white, all Christian grouping.

This is clearly a cultural issue. How do we address it? Well, we can take some clues from a study my colleague Professor Richard Webber conducted some years ago for Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust. Between 2002 and 2004 use of A&E in Tower Hamlets doubled; local hospitals struggled to meet the government’s 4-hour waiting target. Analysis of 200,000 attendance records, using Origins, showed that the over-users were disproportionately Bangladeshi. The first assumption was that this was an immigrant problem – older people who didn’t really understand the system. But analysis showed that the over users were a group with age spikes at 0-5 and 20–29 – in fact, young families with British born parents. Further focus groups showed that; when Mohammed or Asma fell off the slide, unlike their classmates, the decision to take children to A&E is a family decision. And older Bangladeshis believed that GPs were less professional – not real doctors – no white coats, no battery of intrusive tests. Targeted educational campaigns reduced the overuse in target hospitals within a year. In the target hospitals there was a 6.4% total decline in 2005/06 compared to increases of 3.6% and 2.6% in neighbouring hospitals. 15 GP attendance figures went up. Savings were significant at between £55–100 per visit to A&E; and the 4-hour waiting targets were met This problem was solved through marketing and campaigning. To take another, current issue, we urgently need to find ways of addressing the issue of diversity in the police for example. As usual, politicians and activist have reached for the law. The evidence is that we can achieve change faster and with less confrontation. Avon and Somerset Police, worried about the poor scores of minority candidates in one of their online recruitment tests asked the Behavioural Insight Unit – the so-called nudge unit – to help them understand what was going on. The researchers came up with a simple plan. They adjusted the tone of a reminder email that went to all candidates, making it friendlier in tone.

Astonishingly, this no-cost intervention, had the effect of increasing the pass rate amongst ethnic minorities by 50 percent – and in fact eliminated the gap in pass rates between whites and non-whites. I could give you a range of other examples, but time doesn’t allow. The essential point is that we are now learning that problems of integration we thought could be solved by legal or regulatory means may be better addressed by other means. Ultimately, the puzzle here is how we change human behaviour without state or legal compulsion. That is the question that confronts all of us who worry about the real, on-the-ground, everyday practice of integration. I want to sketch out, briefly, three areas that we should be exploring to address that problem. First, culture and manners. (AD-LIB INSERTED: THE SIGNALS OF INTEGRATION OR ITS ABSENCE CAN BE VERY SUBTLE, AND THERE’S NOT NECESSARILY A RIGHT OR WRONG E.G. WHAT ARE THE RULES ABOUT WEARING A POPPY? FEW OTHER THAN ME WEARING THEM HERE – BUT IN MK THIS AFTERNOON I SUSPECT THE REVERSE WILL BE TRUE.) How do we change people’s reflexes? How do we influence the way we speak and relate to each other? Historically in this country we’ve relied on a class-based set of rules. In the past they didn’t need to be written down or even properly articulated. For example, returning to the issue of immigrant integration, for newcomers to participate fully in society they do have to know what the rules of the society actually are.

Unfortunately, in Britain we do tend to turn those rules into a kind of cryptic crossword puzzle. For example, a couple of years ago, I was invited to what was described as a small, informal supper at a stately home. Very nice. Small meant twenty-four people – not quite my family’s definition; and informal meant an invitation on stiff card, with the words “no dress code”. That’s not a problem if you’re a bloke; you wear a suit and no tie. For a woman it’s more complicated. Obviously no tiaras – but pearls or no pearls? Summer frock or business suit? Trousers or skirt?  My wife made me ring up some people who’d been before to get some steer on the rules.

Their guidance was uniformly vague, of course. In the end she wore an outfit in which she felt comfortable – and of course being a woman of taste and discernment she got it right. But the point of the story is that it taught me a lesson about our country. When someone says “no dress code” what it really means is that if you don’t already know what the code is – are you sure you really belong here? In future we may need to take a leaf out of the French book. They go too far in prescription – but at least you know what you’re doing. So to give integration any chance at all we are going to have to be more explicit about our rules of behaviour; and that means deciding what they are. One place where this will be especially difficult is in relation to the question of what causes offence. There are many people who think we should be more active in policing what people say. There are some who think that we should be sensitive to others’ feelings of hurt when we make fun of Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed. I disagree. We cannot and should not censor speech. One reason is that this path is always oppressive and usually ends up making the censor look foolish. If we did give into that temptation, we would be no better than the old Soviet Union or the present China. Offence is a part of the reality of a diverse society; it need not make us unequal. So there are issues of culture and manners which can’t be dealt with by statute but which are vital to resolve. I want to turn to the hardest nut of all. Apparently inherent cultural and ethnic preferences. Remember my mathematical definition of integration: a society in which life chances, outcomes and preferences are random with respect to race and religion? The evidence is emerging that though we may make progress towards reducing the predictability associated with race and religion we may never get anywhere near that definition. There are intrinsic differences between identity groups. This is a sensitive issue which most public figures would prefer to avoid, but which I believe, will in time end up in the legal arena. 20 Let me give you a couple of examples of why I think that we find it hard to discuss these differences. I’ll focus on a topic that matters to everyone – educational success, or otherwise. It is clear that in this country standards of achievement at 16 – GCSE level – are rising. For over a decade we have monitored the numbers. We’ve learned that girls generally do better than boys. We’ve learned that different ethnic groups perform differently, but that they can improve – for example African Caribbean boys, who used to trail the pack are catching up. However, the data confront us with one extremely uncomfortable and consistent finding, which by the way is echoed internationally.

In most ethnic groups there is 20% gap between the performance of the poor and the average student. There is one exception: children of Chinese heritage, where the poor/not-poor gap is just two percent – and where it doesn’t really matter anyway, because poor Chinese children, 90% of whom get five good GCSEs beat the pants off every other demographic irrespective of class. 21 The hard question here is: what do they have that the rest of us don’t? And if we can copy it, should we? Or should we regard it as kind of unjust inequality – which of course would lead to some form reverse discrimination? Second, look at the effect of school choice. Today parents have greater choice over the schools which their children attend in England and Wales than they used to. That’s a good thing. But work from Bristol University has shown that over the past ten years parents preference for schools with more children who are similar to their own in various ways means that most schools are more ethnically segregated than the communities that they sit in. Let me emphasise, that these people are not bigots; this is not white flight. But it does mean that our schools are changing in character. In some cities, most minority children sit in classes where there are hardly any children who do not share their ethnicity. According to the mapping Integration Project at Demos, between 2008 and 2013 there was a 31% increase in the number of ethnic minority children starting school in England. 61% of minority children began their education in schools where ethnic minorities are the majority of the student body.

In London that figure is 90 percent. 4 4 ref tba (from speech to Newham head teachers 03 07 15)  Experience from the USA where laws have been in place for half a century to deter segregation shows that their schools have experienced the same phenomenon. American schools are now more segregated than 50 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled segregation in education unconstitutional. Ultimately, we cannot and should not restrict choice. So how do we encourage a shared future? I would say that the single most important step right now is simply to begin to have the courage to acknowledge those differences. The most extraordinary story of educational success in the past decade has been the transformation of London’s schools from, as it were, bottom of the class to standout success. Simon Burgess, Bristol University’s Professor of Economics has shown convincingly that even after accounting for family background and other factors, the improvement can be accounted for almost completely by the change in the composition of the student population. Compared to 2001, there are now many more pupils from highperforming ethnic groups – Indians, Chinese, African and Polish and far fewer from low achieving groups – African Caribbeans and of course, whites. Yet despite the evidence the government and educational authorities have yet to produce any programme to try to understand what is happening in our schools, to try to work out whether the success of some groups – Bangladeshi girls for example – might help us to find ways of dealing with the chronic failure of others – white or Pakistani boys being key demographics. My time is up. I wish you success with your debates. The word academic has come to mean abstract, and irrelevant to everyday life. Actually, this conference is an example of exactly the opposite – rigorous analysis of an intensely relevant contemporary issue. I might also point to the brilliant work carried out by Professor Miles Hewstone at Oxford, which was reported on the Today programme this morning. That is why society needs universities and the work they do. I look forward to your outcomes.

Thank you.