Neil Jameson: Friend of Muslims

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A stalwart of social justice, friend of the oppressed and successful organiser

Today I want to pay tribute to Neil Jameson CBE, an amazing person. He passed away on 24th April 2023 due to untreatable cancer. Neil worked for more than five decades in the charity sector, and held senior posts at ‘Save the Children’ and the ‘Children’s Society’. In 1989, he founded Citizens UK. Therefore, Muslims who knew him are mourning the loss of a wonderful and resourceful friend. I had great admiration for him because he walked his talk and for his dedication to social justice.

Neil was a member of ‘The Society of Friends’, a faithful Quaker who sought peace with himself and others, accepting and respecting everyone’s distinctiveness. He believed in the spirituality of life and lived a life of simplicity. That is why, In my first meeting with him I was impressed with his sense of humanity, he felt that Britain was not respecting the contributions of Muslims.

In 2016 he commissioned a comprehensive report into ‘Islam, Participation and Public Life’. The report called for an end to the barriers stopping Muslims from engaging in public space. Neil saw that Muslim leaders were retreating from public life, fearful of being tarnished as extremists simply for having faith, with groups who work with prominent Islamic institutions being branded for partnering with alleged extremists.

The commission was chaired by Dominic Grieve QC, MP, it brought together 20 Commissioners drawn from a cross-section of British society. Their job was to consider how the Muslim community could better engage and participate in public life. Sadly, the report was not taken seriously by the conservative government. Consequently, the situation for Muslims is getting worse. The far right is increasingly influencing government policies.

A champion of the downtrodden

Talking about his deep feelings for the downtrodden of society he said, “I am seeking a legacy of a stronger, more powerful, and better organised civil society, where people learn the necessity and advantages of working with others, to experience ‘the art of politics’ and ‘organising for the common good’. My experience has taught me that this is best achieved by organising within the core institutions, specifically education, trade unions, faith, health and voluntary associations to act together.”

Back in 2004, The Guardian named him as the UK’s most significant public servant. Today the organisation he founded is having a far-reaching impact on British society. His ground-breaking and inspiring legacy is the Living Wage campaign started in 2001. It resulted in £1bn in higher wages for low-income workers.

A change maker and peacebuilder

The Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) wrote “We have lost a great pillar for social justice and community cohesion.” Sadiq Khan Mayor of London said, “Neil Jameson was tireless in campaigning for social justice and his commitment and passion improved the lives of thousands of Londoners across our city.”

“As a person of faith, Neil embodied what it means to respond to God’s call to work with others for justice. He had a particular passion for building bridges into Muslim communities… ” Pete Rogers, Organiser Nottingham Citizens.

“Neil Jameson symbolised grassroots democracy for community harmony and social justice … I worked with Neil on a range of issues and became not only friends but brothers in faith. His passing is a huge loss to civil society in the UK and beyond.” Dr Abdul Bari, former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

What can Muslim leadership learn from Neil’s method?

Neil was a visionary whose Citizens UK offers a model of a national organisation. Its was founded on principles of democracy, listening, building power and public action. Muslim leaders who aspire to build such organisations must embrace these methods. So, they can have a strong organisation that will flourish and provide them with a platform to defend their religious and democratic rights in a polarised United Kingdom.