Ghulam Esposito Haydar from the Manchester New Muslim Network says that British Muslims could learn a lot from their American counterparts when it comes to respecting differences among each other and working together.
I recently had the opportunity to spend ten days with a large group of international Muslims, the majority haling from North America. One of the things that really struck me was their level of maturity when it comes to working together with Muslims and non-Muslims who hold different beliefs and ideas on communal issues. The ability to put aside these differences for the good of the community really impressed me.
The main problem that afflicts British Muslims is this partisan cultural monolithic understanding of Islam imported from abroad. You’d think that mixing with other Muslims and becoming educated would eradicate this trail of thinking but it hasn’t. In some places, this problem is worse within the second generation of British Muslims.
I was once asked by BBC Radio 5 Live to analyse and critique the results from a live beat poll they conducted on the perception of Muslims and Islam. Their results demonstrated that a high number of 18-24 year old British non-Muslims held extremely negative views about Islam and Muslims.
When I was asked to give my opinions, my first point was to allocate a portion of the blame to the British Muslim community itself. For too long, good-hearted well educated practising Muslims have allowed thuggish Muslims or those who wish to do harm to Islam to do our PR for us. We’ve also generally kept ourselves to ourselves and haven’t really benefited the people around us a group.
“Them and us”
Of course, we have to recognise the reality that immigrant Muslims who came to Britain in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s had different priorities – to become financially stable. Engagement, education and daw’ah wasn’t the priority. They lived together in areas creating ghettos to make lives easier for themselves along with clinging to their culture since they held a belief that they’d return home one day.
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It hasn’t worked out this way and a consequence of this has resulted in a “them and us” type of attitude, something that has carried over to the following generation. The second generation haven’t been able to associate with Britain. There is an identity crisis and they really don’t know what to do. Many of them still reside in these pockets of majority Muslim areas shut off from the rest of the community, mixing only when it is absolutely necessary.
Of course, the above is a general statement. Many Muslims have escaped this trail of thought and are doing great things to educate, engage and participate with the wider community whilst staying faithful to their religious beliefs. They have understood the reality and are working together with a range of groups whilst acknowledging the differences in their beliefs and practises.
Muslims in the UK are not one community. We are a community of communities. I am a firm believer that changing the current negative Islamic narrative in the UK requires Muslims to present Islam the way it should be. A key step towards this is to take key lessons from our North American brethren. The Muslims in the UK in general are far behind on this front. Our understanding of al walaa wal baraa is extremely poor.
We are unable to understand this reality. The history from our righteous predecessors show ample examples of toleration and cooperation within certain limits and scenarios. We need to address the education deficit in the Muslim community. Education is what frees the mind from the shackles of ignorance and extremism on both sides. Prominent Muslim figures from the different theological backgrounds and provincial schools need to show some level of unity and cooperation for the masses to follow. This will create a level of unity amongst the wider British Muslim community and enable us to work together in creating a better environment for all.
As much as we need cooperation, we also really need to understand the role of the Islamic texts verses the role of maslaha (applying verdicts in the absence of Divine command, considering the greater good of the people and to Islam). Maslaha doesn’t trump Islamic texts. It is an evidence in the absence of Islamic text after due deliberation by the necessary qualified people. Many Muslims fall into the liberal secular extreme due their lack of understanding on this particular point. We really should leave it to the qualified personnel.
The second point I mentioned on the radio was the significant role of the media and the government. Various academic studies have shown that the media really is the the fourth state and it plays a significant role in programming the minds of the people. If we look at how the media portrays Islam and the Muslims, we recognise an alarming negative pattern of slander, defamation, misinformation, lies, exploitation, misinterpretation and exaggeration. They almost always contravene Sections 1 and 12 of the editors code when it comes to reporting “Muslim” stories in the print media. It isn’t too dissimilar when it comes to broadcast media. The government usually carry this narrative, towing the media line for several different reasons.
Muslims really need to become media savvy. We should know how to:
a) present ourselves correctly in the media.
b) work on eradicating incorrect anti Muslim narratives.
One way to do this is by lobbying. Another way is to build good links with the media and by become active within them. It’s important to take the example of the British Jewish community; how they united in creating an effective lobby which makes anti-semitism a criminal act. We shouldn’t allow it to get worse before we ever do something about it
When it comes to anti-Muslim sentiment or the more popular term, “Islamaphobia” in the UK, it isn’t currently as bad as it is in other EU states, but as Muslims we should be proactive rather than reactivate. Muslims shouldn’t adopt a victim mentality. It isn’t from the Sunnah, quite the contrary. We should be proactive in a range of areas simultaneously so that the wider non-Muslim community never ever feel threatened by Islam but embrace it, even when they disagree with its theology. This is the key to multiculturalism, cooperation and cohabitation.