Saturday, 22 November 2014

Talk : Muslims in Britain

Interesting Cafe Sci talk recently by Dilwar Hussein (see also his very interesting blog here). Dilwar's recent work includes a major report on Muslims in Leicester for the Open Society Institute; he was Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Inquiry on Prevent (2010); involved in the Cambridge-Azhar Imams Training Project; and on the steering group of the Contextualising Islam in Britain Project.

Dilwar began by describing how Muslims were constantly having to defend themselves, with non-Muslims naturally wondering whether it was their Muslim work colleague or ISIS that best represented what Islam stood for.

Dilwar added that he felt it was always best to confront these issues rather than brushing them under the carpet and that Muslims had perhaps been more vocal in what they were AGAINST rather than what they were FOR.

Muslim Scouts getting ready for litter picking

A summary of the history of Muslims in the UK followed, which mentioned the following points:

Mention of Muslims in Canterbury Tales
Treaties with Muslims during reign of Elizabeth 1
Chair of Arabic, Oxford University, 1636
Translations of the Quran (Ross, 1649,Sale, 1734)
First Mosque, 1860
Post WW1, WW2 immigration

Dilwar then described how, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Muslims around the world looked at their relative weakness and asked themselves "How did we get here?". The various answers to this question, together with responses to the challenge of modernity were the drivers to the main Islamic movements of recent decades.

Colonisation fed into anti-western feelings.
Loss of the Caliphate fed into distrust of nation states.
Modernity and Secular Government fed into anti liberal and anti-secular feelings.
Euro Election Hustings in Nottingham, organised by Muslims

Islamic thought took many forms:
Renewal / Reform movements (Liberal, Secular -e.g. Araturk)
Revival Movements (Sufi, Salafi, Islamism, Jihadism)

Dilwar mentioned the example of Muhammad Abduh, who famously said that:

"I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam"

This was in reference to that fact that, in Europe, countries had developed ways of transferring power without rivals assassinating each other, and had many of the social institutions and principles of Islam, whilst these were lacking in Egypt.

Dilwar also commented on how religion is always interpreted via local cultures, which affects how Muslim society around the world address issues such as identity, integration, realtionships with neighbours, human rights, gender equality, liberal values, discrimination etc.

Good to see a significant Muslim presence at Notts community organising events

Dilwar commented that, in his view, the only was of governing countries with multi faith communities was via some kind of secular state, so that the public space was available to all.

And also on some of the challenges that the Muslim community faces:
Dislocation resulting from rural migration,
Weak scholarship,
Alienation from the religious establishment,
Reduced religious literacy.

There was also comment on how countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia were vying to "own" minority Muslim communities in the West, not least because they are likely to have some significance in the future as they become established in their new countries. Related to this is the fact that Muslim minority communities in the UK are very aware of, and ffected by, global politics.

Dilwar has been part of a team that has looked at some of the above issues in a report entitled "Contextualising Islam in Britain"

More positively, Dilwar described how, in Islams "Golden Age", scholars devoured knowledge from wherever they could find it, translating everything into Arabic for the great libraries of Syria and Iraq.

Dilwar added that, today, Muslims are disproportionately generous in their charitable donations and that many Muslims around the country give up their time for community projects, one example being Dilwar himself who helps at a Foodbank.

Foodparcels ready for delivery at a Nottingham, Muslim run, foodbank

In the Q&A session, BFTF pointed out that he had been in a meeting of Muslims the previous day where, of the few people that BFTF knew, one was involved in a Scout group; another ran a Mum and Tots group (that had held MacMillan fundraisers); and a third person worked to provide support for the disadvantaged in society! Another person in the audience added to this by stating that Muslim grocery stores had been very quietly, but very consistently, giving fresh produce to a major local foodbank.

The "Deen Riders" raise money for a variety of charities

Related Links
Positive Muslim Stories
Stuff what the Imam said
Lots of suggestions on how mosques can interact with society

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