Muslims in Britain Monitor for April 1993 Vol. I, No. 4

 

 

Contents

 

 

Features

T.V. Programme: "Panorama" 29.03.93

The Albaraka Bank.

Kirklees Council's scheme to attract black and Asian workers

Industrial tribunals' findings on discrimination

 

Short Reports

British convert speaks of her role as a Muslim wife

The Al-Nisa Centre, Coventry

Citizens Advice Bureau opens in London Central Mosque

The Rushdie Affair

Call for an agreed calendar for Bradford Muslims

Bishop visits Batley mosque

M. Siddique: "Moral Spotlight on Bradford"

Graves in Rochdale

 

Updates

Education

New Islamic college for Bolton

Parliamentary Seminar

Voluntary Aided Schools

 

Mosque

Newham

Nuneaton

Harrow

Newham

Bristol

Lancaster

Batley

Bradford

Dewsbury

 

 

 

Features

T.V. programme: "Panorama" 29.03.93

The BBC's Panorama has a long history as a well-respected documentary programme. On 29 March it broadcast a programme entitled "Underclass in Purdah" which focused on the plight of Muslims in two particular areas of Britain, namely Bradford and Birmingham. This programme acted as a counter-balance to the normally perceived image of the Asian community in Britain as successful, hard-working and law-abiding.

The image which was portrayed in the programme was of a Muslim community in which there was massive under-achievement in school, a high rate of unemployment and of marriage breakdown and an ever-increasing involvement in crime especially theft, controlling prostitution and dealing in drugs. It must be said objectively that this was a particular focus in the programme and that no attempt was made to balance it with reports of the many Muslims who are excelling in education and employment or to extol the virtues of the many Muslims who are law-abiding and enjoy harmonious family relationships.

The programme was prepared by a Panorama team which included at least two women of Asian extraction. One, Nisha Pillai, was the reporter/presenter of the programme and is reported to be of Hindu extraction. The other, Fatimah Salaria, was a researcher on the programme and was reported to be a Muslim.

Some of the information contained in the programme was drawn from the Policy Studies Institute's recent report "Britain's Ethnic Minorities" (PSI, 100 Park Village East, London NW1 3SR, 1993, 15.00) and a researcher from that Institute was interviewed on the programme. The way in which this information was used has drawn a complaint from the Policy Studies Institute which is reported to have said, "Panorama went on to make a link between the disadvantaged economic position of Muslims and its belief that Muslim communities are developing an increasing pattern of family breakdown, drugs, crime and violence" (Muslim News 23.04.93). These links were drawn by the panorama team and are not to be found in the Institute's report which did not cover crime, family breakdown or religious tradition.

Given the ethnic profile of the Muslim communities in Bradford and Birmingham, the main ethnic groups referred to in the programme were Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. The poverty, employment and educational under-achievement of these ethnic groups was researched and commented upon in the Institute's report. The programme drew links between this and these communities' close-knit language and cultural ties. The poor linguistic skills of these ethnic groups received comment and this was exemplified in the number of their children who attend school at age five with little or no English and then have their education disrupted by extended visits to Pakistan or Bangladesh. These two factors were indicated as contributing markedly to the children's poor attainment in school.

The subject matter of the programme provided the content for an article in The Observer (28.03.93). This featured an interview with the Muslim researcher from the programme in which she spoke of the tension and despair in the Muslim communities which she visited and high-lighted the absence of any good role-models for Muslim youths to emulate. Based on her interviews with Muslim youths she is reported to have said, "They said that I was the first person, let alone a woman, who had sat down and talked to them, ..."

The programme provoked an immediate and bitter response from the Muslim communities in the cities portrayed, especially in the Bradford area. Whilst it has been agreed that the programme high-lighted some of the critical areas of social deprivation experienced by the Muslim community, the main contention is that the programme was one-sided and did not attempt to balance its portrayal of Muslims in Britain. Every negative aspect was depicted, sometimes in a misleading way, whilst all the positive dimensions of Muslim life were ignored.

Muslim reaction has taken the form of formal complaints being registered with the BBC and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. Both local and Westminster politicians have joined in the complaints and the Bradford Inner City Religious Council, which represents all the major religious groups in the city, has complained to the BBC. A petition has been launched by Bradford Muslims and a demand has been issued for the right to reply on television. Initially there was talk of an action in the courts against the BBC, but this has subsequently subsided.

A formal apology has been demanded from the BBC but representatives from the programme have defended their portrayal and the data on which it was based. They claim to have received letters from Muslims thanking them for portraying a side of their community's life which is often ignored.

Although most of the Muslim response has been to express outrage at the one-sidedness of the reporting, there have been voices raised publicly in support of the programme for revealing hard truths which many would rather not face. The Daily Awaz, for example, convened a special session of its "Awaz Forum" to discuss the matter. This is a good example of a body which lamented the partiality of the programme but acknowledged that there are real problems for working class Muslims which need to be addressed.

There have been some positive consequences from the programme especially in the field of education. The importance of children mastering English as the principal factor in making the most of the education system has been accepted. In Bradford and in other Muslim communities committees have been set up to investigate educational under-achievement and make plans for remedial action.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.1-3]

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The Albaraka Bank

The Albaraka Bank, Britain's only bank operating on strict Islamic principles, is likely to cease trading at the end of June. It has announced its intention and told its depositors that all monies will be returned.

The problems at Albaraka have continued over several months. Essentially they are twofold. Firstly, the Bank of England is extremely cautious over any banks which have a single shareholder. In the event of anything happening to that person or their trading assets, the bank's depositors stand to make an unreasonable loss. Secondly, in the light of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International collapse in 1991, the whole banking industry has been at pains to tighten up its supervision of banks. There has been a new convention which regulates the regulation of banks. In essence this says that all banks must come under the supervision of one central governmental agency.

The Albaraka Bank is one of a series of small banks world-wide which are owned by Sheik Saleh Abdullah Kamel of Saudi Arabia. These banks operate on Islamic principles which means that they do not charge or give interest but rather set up partnership deals by which profits and losses are shared. It is the express intention of the owner that Muslims should be able to use the bank with a clear conscience rather than that the bank should operate at a level of return on capital comparable to other banks.

Sheik Kamel is most willing to sell a share in the bank to others who will uphold its Islamic principles. To this end there have been discussions with other banks from the Indian subcontinent and the Arab lands. Many of the latter especially are used to making substantial returns by using shrewd Western business sense rather than following Albaraka's perception of Islamic principles. Thus is has proved difficult to find any suitable partners. The bank is now seeking to extend its ownership base by its customers taking up shares in the company. There has been some interest in this idea but there must be some doubt that it will provide the necessary diversification of ownership which the Bank of England requires.

There is also the question of supervision of the bank's activities. Although Sheik Kamel and his business empire is based in Saudi Arabia, the Albaraka Bank does not operate there and is not recognised by that country's central bank. Thus is does not have the necessary supervision. There have been discussions with the Bank of England to centralise its activities here so that it could be supervised by that body but these have yet to bear fruit. On balance, it must be said that the Albaraka Bank is likely to close in the near future.

The closure of this bank will have a considerable effect on Muslims in Britain who have looked to it for venture capital and as an ethically safe repository for their savings. It comes at a time when the Asian business community at large has been badly hit by the closure of banks which specialised in servicing their needs. The most notorious closure was the collapse of the BCCI but there have also been more recent closures of the Equatorial Bank, the Roxburghe Bank and Mount Banking, all of which served the Asian community. There was a perception that these banks understood the needs and practices of Asian clients and they always had staff who could communicate in community languages.

The question at stake with these smaller banks has been whether the Bank of England should have given them some support to prevent them going into administration. The general business view is that smaller banks are always liable to insolvency at a time of recession but this does not take account of the impact of their closure on specialist groups like the Asian business community. The argument is that they should be supported in order to assist this essential sector if it is to play its important part in the emergence of the British economy from recession. The Labour M.P. for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, has taken up the case of these bank closures.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.3/4]

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Kirklees Council's scheme to attract black and Asian workers

Kirklees Council launched a scheme last year to attract more black and Asian workers onto its payroll. This scheme has been examined by an independent researcher, Dr Nasim Hasnie of Huddersfield Technical College. He found that the scheme had done nothing to lessen the fears of local Muslims that the council discriminates against them. Muslims constitute around 75% of the ethnic minority community in the area but only three out of twelve new recruits from the minorities were Muslims. Dr Hasnie itemised several points of incompetence in the administration of the scheme which are to be taken into account by the council's equal opportunities committee when it re-evaluates the scheme for next year.

A leading Conservative and chairman of Huddersfield's British Muslim Solidarity group, Mr Khan Baig Malik, has called for the Kirklees Council to disband its equal opportunities department. He claims that it maintains segregation and perpetuates racial stereotypes. The council has cut the equal opportunities budget from 552,000 to 493,000 this year but Mr Malik says that this money would be better spent on health, education and housing. His claims have been dismissed as Tory propaganda by leading Labour members who control the council.

The British Psychological Society held its annual conference in Blackpool earlier this month. It heard reports of research conducted by members which suggested that the sex-stereotyping of jobs was still widespread; this from Dr Cathy Caswell and Rashmi Biswas from Sheffield Hallam University's Business School. From Glasgow university, Dr Gerda Siann reported on three surveys amongst Muslim women who wanted to enter employment or further education. These surveys showed that Muslim women were being handicapped by stereotypes which suggested that they would either be prevented from or not interested in establishing careers.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.4/5]

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Industrial tribunals' findings on discrimination

An industrial tribunal in Liverpool found that a Muslim had been indirectly discriminated against on racial grounds by a, now liquidated, company, North West Home Care Ltd. The Muslim, Mr Mohammed Yassin, told the tribunal that his employers gave him the choice between taking the salesman's job for which he had been trained or taking time off to attend Jummah prayers each Friday in the mosque. In its summing-up the tribunal stated that "One hour a week to visit the mosque could easily be accommodated even when a high commitment to the job was required". The former employers denied the charge but the tribunal found in Mr Yassin's favour and he was awarded compensation.

As the law does not recognise discrimination on religious grounds this case could only be proved as indirect racial discrimination. Had Mr Yassin been a white Muslim, he would not have had a case, as was pointed out by Mr Iqbal Sacranie, spokesman of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs.

A Glasgow industrial tribunal found in favour of a Jewess who had been discriminated against by the Muslim chairman of the Charing Cross Housing Association. The Jewess, Mrs Esther Goulding, was employed by the Association as its director but as the Association worked mainly in a Muslim area it was felt by the chairman that this would not go down well with local Muslims. The chairman denied the allegations of racial discrimination but the tribunal found in Mrs Goulding's favour and awarded her compensation. The case was based on the fact that, as a Jew, Mrs Goulding was a member of a racial and ethnic group and so was protected by anti-racist legislation.

A Muslim woman from Acton was dismissed by her employers for taking unauthorised leave of absence from her job as a caterer to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr. The woman, Mrs Rashida Punjani, had notified her employers in good time of her desire to take a day off for Eid but was unable to state an exact date for the festival due to uncertainties about its timing. When she was able to confirm the date, one week in advance, she was refused leave of absence. She took the time off without authorization. Her employers claimed that the days of Eid celebrations were over two days before Mrs Punjani took the day off. It has been confirmed that the Aga Khan Mosque in South Kensington celebrated Eid on 25th March and that Mrs Punjani was there throughout the day. She has been informed that she has no legal recourse.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.5/6]

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Short Reports

British convert speaks of her role as a Muslim wife

A British woman, Hilary Al Jassar, who met her Kuwaiti husband in England and converted to Islam before marrying him and going to live in Kuwait, was interviewed in a feature article in the Bournemouth Evening Echo (01.04.93) about her role as a Muslim wife. She extolled the virtues of the Islamic pattern of family life and spoke of her primary duties as wife and mother. She proved an excellent ambassador for her place as home-maker and as the first educator of her children in a life of respect to parents, family and to Islam.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.6]

 

The Al-Nisa Centre, Coventry

The Al-Nisa Centre in Coventry has been open for more than a year serving the needs of Muslim girls and young women in the city. In this time over 1,000 women have passed through its doors to take part in recreational or educational activities ranging from keep fit through language classes to courses in computing. The all-female Centre provides a safe environment for Muslim women where their confidence can be boosted. It respects their religious and family traditions and fits its times of opening around the members' needs to give first priority to their children.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.6]

 

Citizens Advice Bureau opens in London Central Mosque

A branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau has been opened at the London Central Mosque. It was decided to open the branch because the mosque attracts a large number of people including some refugees and asylum seekers. The branch will be run in conjunction with the Paddington bureau and will open initially for two hours per week to advise people on social security welfare benefits, employment and housing as well as procedures for immigration and seeking asylum. It will cater for all callers irrespective of whether or not they are Muslims.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.6/7]

 

The Rushdie Affair

It has been announced that the Prime Minister has agreed to meet with Salman Rushdie to discuss his situation in the light of his continual hiding following the fatwa of the late Ayatollah Khomeni. This meeting was prompted by the government's concern for Mr Rushdie as a British citizen under threat from a foreign power. It was welcomed by campaigners for freedom of speech but caution was counselled by some newspapers and Members of Parliament. The former were afraid that any publicity over the meeting could be wrongly interpreted by Muslims around the world. The latter feared that it could further jeopardise trade links with Iran.

Muslims in Bradford, who spearheaded the campaign against the Satanic Verses, condemned the planned meeting. The Bradford Council of Mosques said it was "a slap in the face to every Muslim in the country". Their President, Liaqat Hussain, said: "In agreeing to meet the author the Prime Minister is showing blatant contempt for the British Muslim community. This is indicative of his government's anti-Islamic stance". The Council is to meet to decide whether to relaunch its campaign against Rushdie in the light of this development.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.7]

 

Call for an agreed calendar for Bradford Muslims

The confusion over the exact date on which Eid ul-Fitr should be celebrated has led a leading Bradford Councillor, Ashiq Hussain, to call for the setting up of a special committee in the city to set a date for Eids in future. As often happens, different groups within the Muslim community decided to celebrate Eid on different days this year due to the variety of ways of determining when the new moon is sighted. The committee is to be asked to set a date based on religious laws and scientific evidence.

This follows the success in Birmingham of just such an agreement earlier this year when almost all Muslim leaders in that city set dates for the calendar for the whole year (see Muslims in Britain Monitor, March 1993).[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.7]

 

Bishop visits Batley mosque

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, paid a visit to the Madina Masjid Mosque in Batley at the invitation of the Mount Pleasant Islamic Trust. He told members that Batley Muslims were making "a huge contribution to the whole community and were a model for Islam in Britain". "You are an important part of this community not only in your numbers but in your influence", he said. The chairman of the Trust said that the visit would enhance links with other faiths in the town and help promote a wider understanding of Islam.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.7]

 

M. Siddique: Moral Spotlight on Bradford

Mohammed Siddique, the President of the Muslim Youth Movement of Great Britain and General Secretary of the Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque in Bradford, has written a report on the moral situation in that city. Published by M.S. Press, PO Box 464, Bradford, BD8 7SJ.

The book looks at the moral degeneration of Bradford society and has chapters on the breakdown of the family, abortion and the plight of women, the sex industry as exemplified in pornography and prostitution, drug abuse and the increased prevalence of AIDS, politics and the use of power.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.8]

 

Graves in Rochdale

Following the controversy over a dumper truck being driven over Muslim graves, (see Muslims in Britain Monitor, March 1993), a fresh debate has opened up over the right of Muslims and non-Muslims to fence off graves and plant them with flowers if they wish. The council, who runs the cemetery, operates a lawn-type policy for its non-Muslim graves which prohibits planting or fencing except for a small area around the headstone. This makes it easier for council workers to keep the graves tidy by mowing straight over them. Muslims are allowed to fence off their graves and to mound them in accordance with Islamic tradition and thus prevent anyone walking across the graves. Now the non-Muslim families of people buried in the cemetery are demanding the same rights as Muslims. The problem is that, while Muslims generally tend their family graves, many non-Muslims do not and leave it to council workers. To extend the fencing and planting rights to non-Muslims would involve the council in considerable additional expense.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.8]

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Updates

Education

New Islamic college for Bolton

The Victorian Blair Hospital in Bolton is to be sold by the Health Authority for conversion by a Muslim group into an Islamic college for boys. The hospital has been closed since 1990 when it became surplus to local requirements. There are few details about the proposed college except that it will be residential and will specialise in the religious education of boys aged 16 and over.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.8]

 

Parliamentary seminar

The Muslim Education Forum is sponsoring an half-day seminar together with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. This group is made up of members of both houses of parliament and is influential on matters of racial equality. The subject for the seminar will be issues relating to the provision of education in a multi-faith society. It will examine the extent to which the Education Bill meets the needs and aspirations of minority-faith communities.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.8]

 

Voluntary Aided Schools

A Church of England voluntary aided school was brought before the Employment Appeal Tribunal charged with discriminating against an Asian applicant for the post of headteacher. The school made it a requirement that the new headteacher should be able to lead worship in the school which was related to its spiritual ethos. The tribunal ruled that this requirement, specifically that the person should be a committed communicant Christian, was justifiable. This is an important precedent which would apply to all voluntary schools including any future Muslim schools who would seek to ensure that their headteachers were committed Muslims.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Mosques

Newham

The local council has approved plans by the Manor Park Islamic Cultural Centre to convert residential premises above a shop in Romford Road into a mosque. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Nuneaton

The Khalifa Muslim Society has received planning permission to convert a former home for the elderly into a community centre. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Harrow

Planning permission has been refused to convert existing buildings into a religious centre and car park. The site fell within a designated "green belt" area in which car parks are prohibited. Two further projects in the area for other uses were also turned down by the same meeting, all on the question of being in a green belt. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Newham

The Islamic Centre in Selwyn Road, Upton Park, has been given permission to build a ground floor rear extension for use as a prayer hall. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Bristol

Planning permission has been given in the Easton area of Bristol for the conversion of an end of terrace house into rooms for prayer and teaching. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Lancaster

Permission has been given to convert the former Friends' Hall into a mosque. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Batley

The Anjuman e Zintul Islam who received permission for a two-storey mosque last year has had to re-submit plans for a single-storey building due to a shortage of funds. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Bradford

The Jamiyat Tabligh ul-Islam plan to restart building work on a huge mosque in Lumb Lane. The work was started seven years ago but has been held up through lack of funds. At present the intention is to proceed by phases with the first phase being the prayer hall alone which will house about 3,000 people. [BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

Dewsbury

Dewsbury District Hospital is to establish a prayer room in one of the buildings of the former Staincliffe Hospital site for the use of Muslim staff, patients and visitors.[BMMS April 1993 Vol. 1, No.4, p.9]

 

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