Muslims in Britain Monitor for February 1993 Vol. I, No. 2
Every year the government's Central Statistical Office brings out its "snapshot" of British life called Social Trends. This aims to draw together various statistical trends to show the way in which British society is moving. The 23rd edition came out at the end of January and showed two important trends for Muslims in Britain. Firstly, the number of Hindus and Muslims in Britain had more than doubled in the last 15 years to an estimated combined figure of 1.86 million. Such estimates are always approximations as it is difficult to collect accurate data but this estimate is in keeping with the generally accepted figure that there are between 1 and 1.5 million Muslims in Britain today.
The second trend concerned stable marriages. Seventy percent of Muslim marriages were said to consist of both parents living with their children. This contrasts to only 25% in the population as a whole. Likewise illegitimacy stands at only 1.2% in the Muslim population compared to a general figure of 32%. These statistics led to claims by leading Muslims that Muslim marriages work better because they have the support of an extended family and community and are founded on basic religious principles.
The widest circulated of these reports came from Dr Zaki Badawi of the Muslim College in London. He founded many problems in British society on selfishness and a loss of the traditional values of moral accountability for one's life. Against this background he held that Muslim families, and culturally-Asian families in general, could act as examples for British society to emulate.
This provoked considerable response in the press, particularly from women who concentrated on the greater freedom which they claimed Western women had to find their own happiness. It also prompted reports of the virtues of extended families as bastions of caring for one another in particular for the elderly and young children. Such an extended family was profiled in Bradford.
As a counterbalance to this argument an article was published in the Sunday Telegraph which spoke of the plight of Muslim women who were caught in loveless marriages and were often subjected to domestic violence. Telephone helplines have been set up in Birmingham and hostels for women who run away from their families. Many of the problems begin with girls who have been brought up in Britain being "forced" to contract marriages with suitors from their families' homelands. In the ten months since the helpline was set up there have been over 600 cases. A similar pattern was reported from a women's group in London.
In Peterborough the local paper invited comments from readers after it reported the case of a young Muslim man who said he was being forced into an arranged marriage. His plea was for more understanding by older Muslims of the pressures which young men and women feel when they have been brought up in Britain even though they are aware of their family traditions.
New immigration rules were blamed for making it difficult for Muslims to follow the tradition of arranging marriages with cousins, often from family homelands. If someone applies for permission to enter the country to marry they are asked if they intend to work when they arrive. If they answer "yes" then they are refused permission due to British unemployment. If they answer "no" then they are refused permission in case they become a burden on the state. The fear is that this will breakdown the tradition of marrying within the extended family.
From Peterborough came a profile of a mature Muslim woman who combined her family duties with acting as an interpreter for local doctors. She was offered as a role model of community service but she is clearly exceptional.
Finally, the question of child abuse within the Muslim community was raised after a teacher from a Birmingham residential Muslim school was brought before magistrates charged with abusing a boy in his care. The question was addressed further by a group called Amana who organised a seminar to seek an Islamic method of counselling and treating survivors of child sex abuse. It was widely accepted that this is a taboo subject in Muslim circles. [BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.1/2]
Doubt was cast over the authenticity of meat sold as halal by some suppliers in Britain. A report given to the Muslim Parliament suggested that when there is a shortage of genuinely halal meat some unscrupulous traders buy haram meat and sell it falsely as halal. The fault is thought to lie mainly with wholesalers. This was held to point to the need for a Muslim inspectorate who can supervise abattoirs and authenticate genuinely halal meat. Just such an inspectorate was launched on 7th February in Birmingham under the title Halal Food Board.
Patients in hospitals in Preston can expect to be offered halal food from now on. It is being supplied frozen from Burnley Health Authority where it is prepared by a Muslim chef. This was said by the Preston district catering manager to be a response to the requirements of the patients' charter. In Kirkham Open Prison, Lancs., Muslim inmates are being provided with appropriate food and facilities to prepare their own food during Ramadan.
The ethics committee at the Ministry of Agriculture looks at the genetic manipulation of some food ingredients. The Ministry has refused to allow religious groups to be represented on this committee even though genetic manipulation could interfere with the eligibility of certain foods to be considered halal.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.2/3]
This month sees the fourth anniversary of the fatwa of Imam Khomeini against Salman Rushdie following his publication of "The Satanic Verses". This has coincided with an increase in Mr Rushdie's public appearances. He had meetings with the Irish President and the British Foreign Office Minister, Douglas Hogg. There were also several radio, television and newspaper interviews.
Attention focused on the life which Rushdie had been living during these four years along with the costs of providing the necessary security which was born partly by Rushdie himself but largely by the tax-payers. Rushdie hopes to raise the public profile so that Western governments will put pressure on Iran to have the fatwa lifted. The counter-argument has been made that any further pressure on Iran will harm the trading relations of British firms.
Much of the press comment was in favour of Rushdie being allowed to return to a normal lifestyle. The broadsheet press editorials defended the concept of freedom of expression and held it to be unacceptable that a British citizen should be under threat from a foreign government.
The most prominent Muslim response to Rushdie's increased public profile has come from Dr Kalim Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament. He was interviewed on the radio and threatened to "break every bone in Rushdie's body". He later reconsidered these words and said that they were spoken in anger and should not be taken literally. This did not prevent several calls in the press for him to be charged with inciting violence and murder.
The comment on the Rushdie Affair in the regions has been limited. In Hull, the convenor of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs called for an end to the publication of the Satanic Verses and for unsold copies to be pulped. There were individual calls for the fatwa to be observed but only in a Muslim country and not in contravention of British laws.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.3]
The Muslim custom of burying the dead as soon as possible has led to problems in a local council cemetery in Hounslow. The council accepts burials only during the working day, Monday to Friday. This means that a Muslim who dies on a Friday will have to wait until Monday to be buried. The local Muslim community has asked the council to extend the opening times to permit burials at weekends and in the evenings. The council are constrained by their budget as any extension of this kind would involve them in additional labour costs for overtime payments.
The first Muslim burial ground in County Durham is planned for Darlington. Local councillors have given their support for a 60 plot burial site in the town's north cemetery. In Worcester there are problems as the present Muslim burial ground is full. Local Muslims want the council to extend this cemetery so that additional space can be given for Muslim burial. This was apparently agreed with the council when first the Muslims accepted the site. The council want the Muslims to accept a new site in another cemetery.
Ten headstones in the Muslim section of Rosebank Cemetery in Edinburgh have been vandalised. It is agreed that it is simply wanton damage with no anti-Muslim motive.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.4]
The Hindu and Muslim communities in Haringey struck up an excellent working relationship with their community police officer during the recent unrest following the Ayodhya Mosque incident. Because of this relationship, there was no inter-communal violence in the area. The local Hindu and Muslim communities presented their community police officer with a mobile telephone in recognition of his efforts.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.4]
The Pakistan Sports Forum is a West Midlands-based organisation which aims to integrate ethnic groups into the local community by way of sport. Their sports development officer is Makhdoom Chisthi a 34 year-old former West Midlands policeman. He hopes to encourage young men and women to consider sport and recreation as a career. He sees sports as a bridge-builder between communities and as a way of maintaining traditions from Pakistan like the game of Kabbadi.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.4]
A Muslim organisation, Hizb ul-Tahrir, has been reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Racial Equality Council in Redbridge, London. This follows the distribution of a three-page document calling for a holy war in Israel. The director of the Racial Equality Council said that the leaflet contained deplorable language and sentiments which would be unacceptable to all reasonable people including moderate, tolerant and devout Muslims in Redbridge.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.4]
Dr Mohammed Sayed Attia Tanturi, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, made his first visit to Britain this month. Amongst other engagements he visited CSIC in Birmingham and spoke to the Religious Press Group in London where he said that extremist elements in his country are "well under control". The Grand Mufti described himself as a fundamentalist who is not an extremist.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.5]
A letter from a Muslim music fan to the well-known weekly Melody Maker about the dearth of press coverage given to Asian bands prompted a lengthy examination of the question in the February 13th issue. The fact that most Asian bands release their records through specifically Asian record companies who distribute through cornershops and grocers rather than the big record specialists means that even though some of this records achieve massive sales they never appear in the charts. The polling organisations who publish popularity charts and to a certain extent set trends do not conduct sales research in non-specialist shops which means that Asian bands do not get the publicity with they deserve. The only remedy is for these Asian bands to move into mainstream distribution where their popularity can be recorded and enhanced by the increased publicity.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.5]
The release of the film "Malcolm X" about the life of the black American Muslim leader of that name has caused a wave of interest both in the subject himself and in the Nation of Islam in general. The film has had mixed reviews some of which have commented on its length and on the closeness of the director Spike Lee to the subject. The Nation of Islam mosque in Brixton, London was profiled and attention drawn to the number of black British men and women who are converting to Islam.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.5]
The Albaraka Bank is claimed as Britain's only bank operating on strict Islamic principles. There are three branches, two in London and one in Birmingham. The bank is owned by the Saudi Arabian businessman Sheik Saleh Abdullah Kamel. It has come under pressure from the Bank of England because is has only a single proprietor which is seen as a cause for concern after the collapse of the Bank of Commerce and Credit International in 1991. The Bank of England has given Albaraka a deadline before which time they must expand their ownership base by taking on additional shareholders.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.5]
Eight Muslims from Islamabad on a da'wah mission to Britain were reported in Merthyr Tydfil. They were walking around England speaking to people and meeting up with old friends. It was intended that their journey should conclude in arriving in Makkah in time for the hajj.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.6]
As reported in the January issue, the publication of arrangements for the collect of zakat, fitrah and sadaqah payments by the Muslim Parliament was not made at its meeting in January. These were finally published in a full-page advertisement in the Muslim News (19.02.93). Details were given here of how contributions should be made to each of the Parliament's funds and for what purposes each fund would be used. It is difficult to predict how much money might be attracted to these programmes as many Muslims in Britain are already committed to welfare projects in their family homelands.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.6]
The Muslim Education Forum held its fifth annual meeting in January. They decided to use European Community law to ensure a fairer deal for British Muslim children in education. They planned a mass lobby of Members of Parliament for 22nd February. This aimed at raising the awareness of parliamentarians to the demands of Muslims within the state education system. It coincided with the committee stage of the Education bill. They wanted the bill to be amended to "guarantee equality of opportunity for minority faiths and end religious discrimination in schools". The lobby called for SACREs to "reflect more appropriately local demography and local patterns of religious observance and the representation of minority faith groups by formation of Minority Faith Education Councils".[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.6]
Muslims in Bolton have claimed that two church schools are trying to convert Muslim pupils. The schools have respectively 40% and 60% Muslim pupils on roll. Their trust deeds do not permit Islamic worship in the schools but Muslim pupils are free to have their own assemblies. Any attempt at conversion has been denied by the school authorities.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.6]
PEN is a writers' group which campaigns for freedom of expression. It has drawn attention to many publishers' decision to remove any references to pigs from children's books for fear of offending Muslim sensitivities. The group fears that this is a form of censorship.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.6/7]
The idea of Muslims having voluntary aided schools was aired sympathetically in an editorial in The Times (22.02.93). It expressed the opinion that, when suitable applications are received by the Secretary of State for Education, such applications should be approved. The statutory duties of V.A. schools were clearly spelt out. Finally it concluded that "such schools could be a tribute to British pluralism, a celebration of religious difference and the shared national values which transcend it".
The opposite view was expressed in a personal opinion by James Hutchins, a Birmingham City Councillor and carried by The Times (15.02.93). He regarded the setting up of separate Muslim schools as a disaster as they would militate against the integration of Muslims into British society. In the interests of fairness he advocated that no further religious schools should be established with state funding. He was in favour of single-sex schools to cater for Muslim girls and for Islam to be taught alongside other religions in state schools.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
Applications have been made for planning permission for an extension with extra parking facilities for the London Mosque in Southfields.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
A new community centre is planned by Muslims on the site of the old Scammell lorry factory. Building costs are estimated at £104,000. The local council is considering a grant towards the running costs. [BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
Application has been made for a daycentre for the elderly by the Khalifa Muslim Society. [BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
The Jamia Mosque, Cambridge Road, has received planning permission to raise its dome by two metres to accommodate a gallery in the prayer hall and to build an extension over thee courtyard to provide a classroom. [BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
Planning permission has been applied for to convert a 1,000 sq.m. site in Oswald Street into a mosque, open-air market and shops. [BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]
The Hanafi Sunni Muslim Society has applied for permission to remove internal walls in three adjoining houses which it owns to create a prayer room for 200.[BMMS February 1993 Vol. 1, No.2, p.7]