Friday, 4 March 2011

Book Review :Young British and Muslim (Part1) - Minorities, City Circle

Book Review : Young British and Muslim - Philip Lewis – Continuum - 2007

Philip Lewis lectures in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and has authored an interesting book that covers a lot of ground. 

The book gives space to issues as ranging from the effects of the “biraderi” culture to intergenerational conflict to the voices of British Imams.

Perhaps most importantly, it quotes from a number of contemporary (and surprisingly frank) Islamic thinkers.

Click here to see Part 2 of this review

Muslims as Minorities
The book starts by mentioning that, over 25 years ago, the late Dr Zaki Badawi was concerned that “Muslim theology offers, up to the present, no systematic formulation of the status of being in a minority” and that S.Z Abedin (wo has created the Journal for Muslim Minority Affairs) has said that, with the exception of recent colonialism “Sunni Muslims took power and dominance for granted. They knew either how to command or to obey. They had, through most of their history, rarely learned to live with others in equality and fraternity.”

Moving onto the economic situation of the Muslim Community in the UK, statistics are presented that 33% of Muslim population in long term unemployed or “never worked” category, twice the figure for “Christian” communities. This is largely because 70% of Muslim women don’t work compared to below 30% for Christian women and 35% for Hindu and Sikh communities. Also 40% of Muslim women are homemakers compared to 13% for the population as a whole.

Interestingly, there is significant variation in unemployment levels in the Muslim community from 11% (Indian males) to 28%(Black African males). Also some ethnic groups work in particular fields, thus 16% of Pakistani men are cab drivers / chauffers (cf 1% for white British men) and 33% of Bangladeshi men are cooks or waiters (cf 1% of White British men).

City Circle

The City Circle was set up in 1999 by Asim Siddiqui and a group of friends to provide an alternative to the Friday night pub culture, a “halal” space where professionals could meet and socialise. One defining moment came whilst Asim was at university. There were two Muslim groups on campus producing literature defining what was to count as an Islamic State - both drew on Islam’s authoritative textual sources yet came to radically different conclusions. The lack of dialogue between them resulted in confusion for impressionable students. (See : “About Us : City circle piece for the Fabian society.” City circle website.)

What is unusual about the City Circle is that it does not use the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” in its title. This is because :
a) they are impatient with the view that Muslims need to rally under a separate Muslim banner on all issues. Indeed, those in the network are urged, where possible, to join mainstream groups with fellow citizens. So if they are concerned with foreign policy, they should join Amnesty International. If they have an issue with civil liberties they should join groups such as Liberty.
b) The circles’ emphasis is on promoting universal values considered part of but not exclusive to the Islamic Tradition and shared by most citizens. This enables them to offer the wider community an open space in which to have a two -way dialogue around shared social problems.

It is worth noting part of the Circles’ statement of values : “We should not be importing religious of political ideologies from the Middle East or Pakistan . . . The Muslim world needs as much help as we can give them and importing their conflicts into the UK does not help them not does it help us”

Two examples of talks hosted by the Circle particularly stood out :
Immediately after 7/7 the Circle assembled speakers to discuss “The criminal distortion of Islamic Texts”, in which a Salafi Imam, Abu Muntasir commented that “it has been a failure of our scholars, a failure of our teachers”.
Whilst, in a recent presentation an Americal Dr Umar F Abd-Allah gave a presentation called “Cultural Jihad” in which he said “what needs to be done to convert Western society to associate Islam with the Taj Mahal and the majesty of the Dome of the Rock rather than with the blasted Twin Towers of New York or the shattered Buddhist statues in Afghanistan? Can we develop an agenda of cultural do’s that would harness the energy of our young people; to teach them that singing, creating, beautifying and being joyous are all part of the Islamic agenda.". (see Cultural Jihad, 17 Nov 2006, City Circle website)

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