Over the next few days 5Pillars will be looking back over the biggest Muslim stories of the year, at home and abroad. We start with January-March 2016, during which David Cameron was voted Islamophobe of the Year and 5Pillars launched the Normative Islam Report.
In January the Office for National Statistics announced that the UK is now home to more than three million Muslims for the first time.
The number has risen sharply in just over a decade as a result of immigration and high birth rates. However, it still only represents around 5 per cent of the country’s population.
In some parts of London, close to half the population are now Muslims. On current trends they will be the majority in those areas within a decade.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque called for a boycott of the Prevent counter-terrorism programme.
Muhammad Afzal also labelled David Cameron an “Islamophobe”over the government strategy, which is supposedly designed to help authorities identify people at risk of radicalisation.
Afzal’s comments were more proof of the widespread dissatisfaction in the Muslim community with Prevent, which is perceived as an ideological crusade against Islam and Muslims.
He said: “I think the Prime Minister is an Islamophobe, he never talks about anything else but Muslim extremism. It is ridiculous that the government is saying Muslims are becoming radicalised. David Cameron says 500 people have gone to Syria to become radicalised, but where is the evidence? And out of a population of three million Muslims in the UK, what kind of percentage is that?”
He added: “The government wants to inspect madrassas, which is racist. Ofsted are losing their neutrality and what we’ll find is that madrassas will be closing down under this legislation which is totally ridiculous. We should oppose this legislation. Everyone should sign the petition and make individual efforts to resist it and tell your local MP to support us.”
In February a man who beat to death a Muslim grandfather in a racist attack as he went to morning prayers was found guilty of his murder.
Dale Jones, 30, called the 81-year-old a “groomer” before he launched a ferocious assault on the married father-of-four in Rotherham.
He punched, kicked and stamped on Mushin Ahmed according to the prosecution.
Minutes after the attack Jones, 30, bumped into a friend and said: “Eh up Mickey, its a good job tha’s not a P***.”
Mr Ahmed, who had 12 grandchildren and was described by his wife Margaret as “quiet, mild-mannered and gentle,” was left with fractures to his eye sockets, jaw and nose.
Also in February an independent survey commissioned by 5Pillars revealed that an overwhelming consensus exists amongst influential British Muslims about their faith.
The survey, which was carried out by market research company PCP, asked participants to state their level of agreement to 95 statements about Islamic beliefs and practices.
The findings were compiled and entitled the “Normative Islam Report,” which was published at the London Muslim Centre.
The results showed that whilst some minor differences and disagreements were apparent, the level of agreement was significantly high amongst all the participants, who came from various theological, sectarian and political backgrounds.
Commenting on the report, 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih said: “Negative coverage of Islam and Muslims has become increasingly mainstream and socially accepted. A significant degree of responsibility lies with journalists and politicians who perhaps only have a rudimentary understanding of what Islam is and what Muslims believe. I sincerely hope that this report will clear up some misconceptions that have been born out of the disproportionate exposure given to fringe organisations who currently dominate the mainstream discourse.
“The truth is that Muslims can be socially conservative on some issues and this may be difficult for some secular liberals to accept. However, social conservatism should not be conflated with radicalisation, extremism or terrorism. Muslims are more than capable of being loyal and productive citizens of this country while at the same time not compromising their religious beliefs.”
Meanwhile, Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5Pillars, added: “For the best part of 15 years mainstream Islamic beliefs and practices have been consistently demonised by the mainstream media and politicians under numerous guises under the war on terror. The fact of the matter is that the topics and statements that were included in the survey are deep rooted in Islamic scripture and Muslims have believed in them ever since the inception of Islam 1400 years ago.
“I hope that this report will serve as a reference point for British Muslims when explaining aspects of their faith, and act as an educational insight for the wider non-Muslim public who Muslims have peacefully coexisted with for decades in this country.”
Also in February, more than 430 academics, activists and student union members signed a joint statement calling for an independent review of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism Prevent policy.
The statement, which was published in The Guardian, read:
“As a wide cross-section of Muslim community activists, academics, lawyers and politicians warned, the (Prevent) duty has in practice charged teachers, doctors and other professionals with monitoring people’s religious and political views. This is undermining the very ethos and relationships of mutual trust and openness that are fundamental to education and our public services while endangering other legal rights and protections. It is eroding civil liberties and deepening discrimination against Muslims.
“Last year the Metropolitan police reported that hate crimes against Muslims were up 70%. We must recognise that government counter-terrorism policies like Prevent are helping to create this climate of hostility, sowing fear, division, mistrust and prejudice by reinforcing racist stereotypes, stigmatising Muslim communities and in effect encouraging ethnic profiling.”
In March the Prime Minister David Cameron was voted Islamophobe of the Year at the annual Islamophobia Awards ceremony organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC).
Cameron was chosen by public vote and the prize was awarded to him at a gala dinner in London . However, the Prime Minister didn’t turn up to receive it.
Cameron won the award after he announced a £20m fund in January to teach Muslim women in the UK to speak English in order to “tackle segregation” and help them “resist the lure of extremism.” The scheme was widely pilloried within the Muslim community for picking on a small minority of women who have no link to extremism whatsoever.
The IHRC’s Massoud Shadjareh told 5Pillars: “Politicians should be challenging Islamophobia instread of going with the flow or paying lip service to it.”
On a brighter note the Channel 4 News journalist Fatima Manji became the first hijabi to present a mainstream UK TV news buletin.
Manji joined Channel 4 News in January 2012 and since then has worked on a variety of stories including the NatWest banking problems and returning to her own school to look at job prospects for school leavers.
Before this Fatima was a reporter, presenter and video journalist for the BBC in the East of England, where she investigated stories including exploitative landlords and hate crime against migrants.
Channel 4 News is generally considered one of the fairer broadcasters by the British Muslim community and was particularly commended for its coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014. However, much trust was lost last year when one of its presenters, Cathy Newman, was branded a liar after she said she’d been ushered out of a mosque.
Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation said the move showed that religious Muslims could be accepted as part and parcel of the fabric of British society.
Meanwhile, on the international scene in January Saudi Arabia executed the top Shia cleric Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr along with 47 Sunnis it accused of terrorism.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) and state television said those executed had been found guilty of being in “terrorism” and adopting a “takfiri” ideology.
Saudi media said that the “executed Shia terrorist” was part of Iran and Hezbollah and supported a network that blew up the Khobar Towers in 1996 which killed 20 US soldiers. It added that the “Sunnis terrorists” benefited from a network that planned and executed an attack on the Saudi National Guard building in Riyadh in 1995.
Ayatollah Nimr, a critic of the Riyadh regime, was shot by Saudi police and arrested in 2012 in the Qatif region of Shia-dominated Eastern Province, which was the scene of anti-regime demonstrations at the time.
He was charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom’s security, making anti-government speeches and defending political prisoners. He had rejected all the charges as baseless.
The death ruling sparked angry reactions from international rights bodies as well as many nations, including Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and India, where people staged large protest rallies and called for the release of Sheikh Nimr as well as all political detainees in the kingdom.
And in March one of the world’s leading Islamic political thinkers and activists, Dr Hasan al-Turabi, passed away in the Sudanese capital Khartoum at the age of 84.
A specialist in Islamic Law, he had contributed many books on the subject as well as served in various capacities in political office. Close to many Sudanese leaders, he eventually fell out with them ending in prison on numerous occasions.
After studying at Khartoum University, Dr Turabi went to Britain and enrolled at King’s College London for a law degree. After graduating from there, he went to Sorbonne University in Paris, France for a PhD in Islamic Law.
Once back in Sudan, he exercised considerable influence in politics serving in various capacities including Speaker of Parliament, Attorney General as well as Foreign Minister. He was also close to several Sudanese leaders exercising considerable influence over their policies but eventually falling out with them and ending up in prison.