British Muslims are passing through an important phase of their settlement, they have been here for over 60 years. This is not a long time in history for any community. However, they have made significant developments in making Britain their home, they have established businesses from grocery shops to high-tech companies. There are Muslim professionals in medicine to engineering, a large majority work as unskilled or semi-skilled workers running the British transport system driving taxis. They have created their religious places of worship and organisations, charities and schools and are contributing significantly to the British economy and civil society.
However, they face two huge challenges in their new homeland. Firstly the challenge of crass materialism, godlessness and aggressive atheism. The new generation faces a real danger of losing faith in Islam that could lead to:
1. Losing perspective of reality; to see that what we have is everything, material wealth is the be all and end all of life and not realise that this is only a brief moment in history.
2. Loss of morality; as characterised by Individualism; this is placing the human being at the centre stage of everything when people feel there is no need for empathy, kindness, forgiveness and patience, a liberal attitude to human behaviour.
3. Blind faith in science and technology; this is the notion that science and technology will eventually solve and cure all human problems. Science is rediscovering some of the realities and facts that the Muslims knew.
Secondly the challenge of Islamophobia, dread of Muslims and dislike of their presence here. Unfortunately, since 9/11 and 7/7 the tensions between Muslims and the locals has grown to a dangerous point. Elizabeth Poole has carried out a detailed analysis of how British newspapers cover Islam and Muslims. She concluded that the media views:
- Muslims as a threat to UK security.
- Muslims are a threat to British mainstream values.
- Cultural differences between Muslims and host community create tensions in interpersonal relations.
- Muslims are increasingly making their presence felt in public space.
Islamophobia is the dread and fear of Muslims that is widespread in the West. Here are some examples of how Islamophobia is expressed in the wider society:
- Islamophobes believe that the Muslims want theocracy. “The dictatorship of the Mullahs” and that Islam demands of its followers submission to the Shari’ah rather than self-determination through democracy.
- Other Islamophobes regard Muslims as contaminating Europe’s Judeo Christian character, the large-scale post-war immigration of Muslims is said to lead to the Islamisation of Europe to a point where the natives feel like strangers in their own country.
- Nathan Lean in his book “The Islamophobia industry: how the right manufactures fear of Muslims“ wrote, they say “Muslims are indeed sinister and threatening, for the imputed Islamic piety makes them immutably antidemocratic, regressive misogynistic, militaristic and most worrisome irrational.”
British Muslims adopted United Kingdom as their home and they are proud of this country as it represents some of the best human values like democracy, human rights and equality and justice. The secular nature of Britain gives Muslims religious freedom and rights that are unimagined in some Muslim countries.
The Islamophobes are a minority although vociferous from the BNP, EDL and the far right they are creating huge anxieties and fuelling ‘the myth of confrontation’ and the clash of civilisations. How much damage does such attitude cause to our neighbouring relations is a serious issue for all as it poses a real threat to the community relations and even the security of the state. This situation is absolutely untenable in our new found reality, the global village.
In the wake of all the dangers that accompany a polarised ‘them and us’ outlook on our society, it is imperative for Muslims to display a dynamic spirit of open-mindedness, cooperation and friendship. In fact our religious traditions and teachings expect this from us. They offer us resources for building mutual trust. Deeply embedded at the heart of our spiritual traditions are found the values of peace, compassion, generosity, humility, patience, forgiveness and love.
This can only happen if we make efforts to understand one another’s beliefs, culture and spirituality. The purpose of my sermon today is to encourage and motivate you to take more active part in engagement. Here are three Quranic instructions about developing relationships and friendships:
1. Mutual understanding not disengagement
The following verse of Surah Ale Imran is a clear invitation to mutual understanding, an invitation to discover commonalities. Allah says “O people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God, that we associate no partner with him, that we should not appoint from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God” (Ale Imran: 64).
2. Co-operation not conflict
We are ordered to “co-operate in matters of righteousness and piety” (Maida: 2). There are many fields of activity where Muslims and people of other faiths can work together for example;
- Promote development of moral values in the society at large
- Support the family institution; rejuvenate traditional marriage, re-educate the young about the rights of parents, tackle problems of divorce and domestic violence
- Help in the relief of world poverty and development of sustainable societies.
3. Friendship not Hatred
As a religious community it is imperative for us to develop friendship that grows beyond just a dialogue. This will send a positive message to the whole society. The Qur’an says “You will find nearest in affection to (Muslims) are those who say, we are Christians, since amongst them are priests and monks who are not arrogant. When they listen to that which was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes fill with tears as they recognise it’s truth” (Maida: 82).
Let us together beat Islamohobia by understanding, cooperating and making friends with our neighbours.