British Muslims Monthly Survey for February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2
Since January Birchfield School in Aston, Birmingham has offered RE from an Islamic perspective and parents of almost all the Muslim children, that is, 70% of the pupils in the school, have chosen this option. The classes were proposed by Mohammed Mukadem, who is a parent governor at the school as well as a trained teacher of RE and PhD. student. He said: "The current system of RE is failing our children. It confuses them. In the primary sector, let us teach children their own faiths. In the secondary sector we can make them aware of other religions once they have developed their thinking ability" (Guardian 05.02.96). The Islamic curriculum has the full support of the teachers, including the head, Andrew Saunders, who said that both the multi-faith and the Islamic syllabuses followed school curriculum policy and covered the same themes. He commented: "We are proud...that the wishes of our community are being met" (Walsall Express & Star 05.02.96). The teacher who has been employed especially to teach Islamic RE is Imran Mogram. He teaches the children about their own faith, and about other religions and moral issues from an Islamic point of view (Birmingham Evening Mail 05.02.96).
Mohammed Mukadem wrote to the Daily Telegraph (23.02.96), defending the Islamic RE teaching: "This traditional approach was taken up by Muslim parents since multi-faith teaching was diluting the faith of their children by promoting a ‘spectator relationship’ to all religions...It is time for people of all faiths to take up the initiative and preserve our inherited faith traditions in our children. It is also time to show that, despite our theological differences, we can all live together in harmony as good British citizens."
Ibrahim Hewitt, of the National Association of Muslim Schools, said: "What has happened in Bradfield [sic] is a clear illustration of satisfying the law and parental requirements at the same time. The publicity is making many parents think twice about what is happening in the schools" (Asian Times 17.02.96). Birmingham City Council has not objected to the separate classes, nor has the Department of Education and Employment (DFEE). A spokesperson for the DFEE said: "As long as these children still learn about more than one religion, they are within the law" (The Mail on Sunday 18.02.96). The DFEE is satisfied that this is the case and they stated: "All children are still receiving RE in accordance with the locally agreed syllabus. Both sets of pupils continue to learn about more than one set of religions" (South Shields Gazette 22.02.96). The Department also made the point that: "It is up to parents which lesson (ie old syllabus or new) they send their children to" (The Times 22.02.96).
Just as the Batley boycott might have spread to other areas where there is a concentration of Muslims, so it is possible that parents in other areas may want to adopt the Birchfield solution. In Tower Hamlets, Muslim parents have petitioned their MPs against Christian RE classes for their children (Docklands Recorder 21.02.96). Some schools in East Lancashire may also start Islamic RE along the lines of that at Birchfield, following the approval of the teaching at Birchfield by the Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard (Lancashire Evening Telegraph 22.02.96). In Batley, Gillian Shephard’s decision was welcomed by Aziz Darji, chair of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society in the town, who said: "We welcome the decision by the government and I’m sure a lot of Muslim parents and other Muslim organisations will feel the same. There is a feeling that schools do not put enough emphasis on Islam in RE. When Islam is included on syllabuses, it is often taught by a non-Muslim. We feel it should be taught by a qualified Muslim teacher" (Bradford Telegraph & Argus 22.02.96). Huddersfield’s Muslim leaders were also interested in developments around Birchfield School and were discussing whether to follow a similar course of action (Huddersfield Daily Examiner 22.02.96). In Derbyshire, Muslim communities and the county council education committee have agreed not to have any immediate change in policy (Derby Evening Telegraph 24.02.96). In Halifax it appeared that RE in schools would also remain unchanged (Halifax Evening Courier 26.02.96).
The Department of Education had no objections to Birchfield School’s new RE arrangements, stating that decisions about RE should be at local level (Guardian 05.02.96). Birmingham local education authority have approved the scheme, but the conservative group on Birmingham City Council and some conservative MPs, amongst them Dame Jill Knight (Cons. Edgbaston) and Warren Hawkesley (Cons. Halesowen and Stourbridge) were condemnatory (Wolverhampton Express & Star 05.02.96, Birmingham Evening Mail 05.02.96), believing such RE to be divisive.
Opposition to the Birchfield lessons came from Lady Olga Maitland (Conservative), who wanted inspectors to be sent to the school to investigate. She suspected that it was a case of: "Islamic education masquerading as balanced RE" (Birmingham Evening Mail 23.02.96). Birmingham MP Jeff Rooker (Labour, Perry Barr), whose constituency includes Birchfield, rejected the suggestion that the law was not being correctly followed (Black Country Evening Mail 23.02.96). Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, rejected the demand to send special inspectors to the school (The Times 23.02.96).
Some non-Muslims took the view that committed Christians could learn from the action of the parents at Birchfield. For instance, the editor of the Sunderland Echo (22.02.96) wrote: "They (Muslims in Birmingham) are not the only people to observe that moral standards in this country are deteriorating at the same time as traditional religious belief looses its influence. Would to God Christian churches, congregations - and parents - felt as strongly..." In March, an alliance called the Third Sector Schools Alliance, which includes new Christian, Muslim, Steiner and Human Scale Education schools, will be launched in Parliament. These groups are united by: concern about the lack of a spiritual dimension in state education; dissatisfaction with the constraints of the national curriculum; and lack of state funding for their schools (Observer 25.02.96).
The Guardian (27.02.96) produced a brief guide to some of the debates around RE in schools and an explanation of the legal position, concluding: "French and US state schools are fully secular, which means they do not identify with a particular religion. Many people say British schools should do the same". [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 1/2]
Eid, the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan was celebrated by most Muslims on 20 February. A number of articles and stories concerning Ramadan and Eid have been produced in both the national and regional press.
In Nottingham, the chairperson of the Meadows Muslim Action Group, Mohammed Ishak, claimed that the county council was saving thousands of pounds because Muslim school students were not eating school meals during Ramadan (Nottingham Evening Post 09.02.96). He believed the money thus "saved" should be used to fund more teaching about Islam. Both the head teacher of a local school with fasting Muslim pupils and a council spokesman explained that there were no significant financial savings made by the school meals service during Ramadan. In Heckmondwike, the new Community Liaison Officer for the Dewsbury Area joined Muslims for the first iftari [the food taken at sunset to break the fast] of Ramadan (Spenborough Guardian 09.02.96). One newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph (17.02.96), interviewed one of its own administrative staff, Rahima Issat, about the significance of Ramadan and how her daily routine changes during the holy month. The An-Nisa Society in north west London organised an iftari for Muslims on the Stonebridge Park Estate. Most of those who attended were refugees from Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq (Q-News 16.02.96).
This Ramadan there was an increase upon last year of special radio broadcasting. Islamic Relief had a month-long Radio Campaign; this Muslim charity’s appeals and information could be heard in many areas, including Birmingham, Bradford and Leicester (Eastern Eye 09.02.96). An article in Q-News (09.02.96) claims that Sunrise Radio in Southall, which it describes as "a brazenly secular channel" has been rather unreliable in its service to Muslim listeners. They claim that, on one occasion, the station gave out the time for ending the fast ten minutes early, and on another occasion, gave the call to early morning prayers at the time for evening prayers.
Mosques were well attended for Eid prayers and many held several sessions to cope with the numbers of worshippers. This was the case in Dundee (Dundee Courier 20.02.96) and Aberdeen (Aberdeen Evening Express 20.02.96), where planning permission for a new, bigger mosque has been refused. Nine thousand people attended prayers at the Randle Street Mosque in Blackburn, travelling from all over East Lancashire to do so (Blackburn Evening Telegraph 21.02.96). An estimated three thousand, of many different origins, including Bosnian and Bangladeshi, attended the Jubilee Road mosque in High Wycombe (Bucks Free Press 23.02.96). In Southampton, thousands attended the town’s three separate mosque, but in future years they could all be worshipping under the roof of one big purpose-built mosque, for which the building work is soon to begin (Southern Daily Echo 24.02.96).
In some areas, the festival coincided with school half-term holidays and so there were often also parties planned for the return to school, such as at Battye Street School in Heckmondwike (Spenborough Guardian 16.02.96). In Halifax, Eid fell on a teacher-training day (Halifax Evening Courier 24.02.96). In Burton-on-Trent, an embroidered wall-hanging of the Taj Mahal, made by the town’s Asian Women’s Textile Group, several of whom are Muslims, was used at Landsdowne Infants’ School as part of their Eid assembly (Burton Mail 24.02.96).
In explaining to readers the importance of Eid to Muslims, many used the analogy that: "The festival of Eid equates to the Christian’s celebration of Christmas" (Wakefield Express 16.02.96). Q-News (16.02.96), with its largely Muslim readership, carried an article reminding us that many in the Muslim community will not be having a happy Eid. They quoted a spokesperson for the Brent An-Nisa Society: "Eid and Ramadan does not mean the end of domestic violence, of the cold for those living in appalling conditions and the increasing poverty for those who are out of jobs". The same issue carried news of a celebration, which it considered inappropriate, being organised by one of the DJs from Sunrise Radio, Toni Patti, and a round-up of how British Muslims in different walks of life were planning to spend Eid. Parties for the local community were often organised by Muslim women’s groups, such as one in Reading (Reading Evening Post 23.02.96).
In Coventry, Eid lights were switched on by the Mayor and an iftari was held in the Muslim Resource Centre, which over 100 people attended (Coventry Evening Telegraph 19.02.96). In Oadby, lights for Eid were also switched on by the Mayor, but last year some residents objected to such illumination on the grounds that it was a waste of money (Oadby and Wigston Mail 22.02.96).
On Manchester’s Wilmslow Road, a giant street-party was held to celebrate Eid (Manchester Evening News 21.02.96), with rap-groups, other music, fireworks, and a fun-fair. In Pendle, the town council planned to provide a free Eid meal for 180 elderly people and in Burnley, banners wishing everyone a ‘Happy Eid’ were put up from the Town Hall (Blackburn Evening Telegraph 17.02.96). In Derby, some taxi firms had up to 90 per cent of their drivers off celebrating Eid (Derby Evening Telegraph 21.02.96). A similar situation occurred in parts of Birmingham. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 2/3]
A number of stories in the press have raised the issue of the relationship of Muslims to the Labour Party.
Muslim Labour Party members in Gorton, Manchester, the seat currently held by Gerard Kaufman, are furious because the first AGM of the constituency party to be held in three years was held during Ramadan. Party officials ignored pleas from Muslims that the meeting be postponed until after Eid, or, if this were not possible, then at least be moved from the usual time of 7.30pm, when many would be praying. No changes were made. Ahmed Shazad, General Secretary of the Campaign against Labour Party Suspensions (CALPS), said: "This extremely important AGM should never have been held in the holy month of Ramadan...in Manchester, we have a situation where the party knew full well that its many Muslim members were in the midst of their most important religious observance, but they simply refused to make any adjustment to their planned schedule" (Asian Times 17.02.96).Members of the constituency are to make an official complaint to the legal director of the commission for Racial Equality (CRE). Chris Myant, CRE press officer commented: "The current allegations of religious discrimination is (sic) difficult because that is not covered in the Race Relations Act" (Daily Jang 20.02.96).
Ashfaq Saeed, chair of the Manchester Labour party members’ action group, also alleged that further discrimination occurred in Gorton because there was no increase in delegates allowed, even though membership had increased 60 per cent over the last three years since the previous AGM (Manchester Evening News 26.02.96). In a letter to the New Statesman (23.02.96), he lists these alleged abuses and also explains why there is an apparent fall in Asian membership in some areas of Manchester: "...the Labour Party is still blocking their membership, despite the fact that, in many cases, the membership fees have been paid by the individual members for the last three years. These members have not received cards, do not receive information about meetings and therefore cannot attend to vote on various issues."
The Daily Jang (08.02.96) believes that it is probable that, at the next General Election, both the Conservative and the Labour parliamentary candidates in Bradford West will be Pakistani Muslims. The prospective Conservative candidate, Mohammed Riaz, is a former Labour councillor and is critical of the Labour Party on their stand, or lack of one, on Kashmir and on immigration issues. The potential Labour Party candidate, Mohammed Ajeeb, is also critical of the Labour Party, being suspicious of the local Party’s delay in the selection process. He said: "at the end of the day the [Asian] community wants to increase its representation in the House of Commons and anything short of that will just create further disenchantment with the Labour Party".
The inquiry set up following claims by Mohammad Sarwar, who hopes to become Britain’s first Muslim MP, that postal votes supporting his candidacy were wrongly invalidated (see British Muslims Monthly Survey for August, December 1995 and January 1996), has now been completed. The inquiry, conducted by Unity Balloting Services, found that 70 per cent of the postal votes had been correctly disqualified. The Labour Party’s national executive committee may decide to have a re-run of the election (The Scotsman 27.02.96).
Roy Hattersley, former deputy Labour Party leader and MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook has been under attack from Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for neighbouring Small Heath, when he issued a plea to be replaced by a Muslim candidate when he retires at the next election (Birmingham Post 02.02.96).
An article in the New Statesman (09.02.96) by Mike Waite argues that: "...while straightforward racism can still be found lurking under the surface of the party, the real problems result from lack of sensitivity and failure of dialogue. There is an urgent need to expand Labour thinking to accommodate the political processes in Asian communities and to take account of the different cultures." One example he gives where some ward parties have adapted, is to rearrange the times of their selection processes during Ramadan to fit in with Muslim religious observances. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 3/4]
The Muslim News (16.02.96) carried a summary of comment in the British press regarding the case of Sarah Cook, the 13 year-old from Essex who married a Muslim in Turkey and embraced Islam (see BMMS for January 1996). Libby Purves and Catherine Bennet defended Sarah Cook’s decision. These journalists, other commentators, and the writer in Muslim News, Sabina Haulkhory, described the government’s attitude to the case as being inconsistent in its opposition to the marriage when it takes no action regarding under-age sex in Britain. Sarah eventually gave in to pressure from the courts, the Foreign Office and her parents and returned to Britain at the beginning of February (Daily Jang 07.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 4]
Debate amongst Muslims over the national lottery and whether Muslims can accept money from the lottery for community purposes continues (see BMMS for January 1996). A minority of Muslims reported welcomed Prince Charles’ suggestion that funds from the Millennium Commission might be used to build mosques. One such is Abid Quereshy, of Nuneaton’s Hyderabad Indian Society, who said of the Prince: "He seems genuinely concerned to ensure that some of the funds are spent on building places of worship for faiths other than Christianity. He is sympathetic to people of all faiths and Muslims shouldn’t get uptight if he wants to support all religions" (Nuneaton Weekly Tribune 01.02.96).
Most agreed that the proceeds from the lottery could not be used for religious purposes. A borough councillor from Slough, Nazar Lodhi, explained: "Any kind of gambling is incompatible with Islamic thinking and as such, lottery money cannot be used to build mosques" (Slough & Langley Observer 16.02.96). Shaykh Darsh, called upon by Q-News (09.02.96) to make a definitive statement, quoted from the fatwa [legal directive] issued by the first conference on zakat [wealth tax] held in Kuwait in 1984, which described similar sources of funding as: "...bad gain...(which) should not be used for printing, buying or distributing the Holy Quran, nor for building mosques". He then went on to clarify the purposes for which such money may be used: "Those applying for it to build a community centre, a cultural centre and educational institutions separate from mosques, are entitled to do so..."
A few community activists admitted there was also a dilemma about accepting the money on behalf of community projects. Khalida Khan of the An-Nisa Society said: "It’s a case of weighing the risk of giving a degree of legitimacy to the lottery in accepting benefactions, against the risk of the community sliding further into the abyss of deprivation and degeneracy through want of resources" (Q-News 02.08.96).
Some community projects with Muslim involvement have accepted funding from the lottery. A few examples are: the Sangat Centre in Keighley (Eastern Eye 16.02.96, Keighley News 02.02.96, Bradford Telegraph & Argos 01.02.96); Apna Ghar Women’s Centre in South Tyneside, Azaad Asian Youth Project, Middlesborough, the Muslim Federation in Cleveland (Eastern Eye 09.02.96); the Pakistan and Kashmir Welfare Association in Batley (Awaaz 01.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 5]
Sammi Lofti, a con-man who makes Muslims his particular target (see BMMS for August, November and December 1995), sent flowers to his girlfriend, in an attempt to fake his own death and so throw police off his track [sic]. He is reported to have used a story about having to get his child’s body back to the Middle East in order to trick his victims out of money (Nottingham Evening Post 02.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 5]
The well-known Muslim scholar, Professor Akbar S Ahmed recently delivered the first annual Scholar’s Lecture at Rugby School (see BMMS for January 1996). Professor Ahmed’s topic was "Islam and the West: Consensus or Conflict". "Islam’s appeal," he said, "lies in its simplicity: in essence one God, one Book, one Prophet (pbuh)...The Muslim ideal rests on the important Qu’ranic concepts of al-adl, equilibrium, and al-ahsan, compassion. A life based on these is a balanced one. Islam is a religion of balance, equilibrium, of the middle" (Daily Jang 23.01.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 5]
On 15 January, Omar Bakri Mohammad, leader of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the UK, resigned, saying that the organisation’s new policy was "very heavy in terms of administrative do’s and don’t do’s, which puts restrictions on da’wah [missionary activity]" (Muslim News 16.02.96). At the beginning of the month, Mr Mohammad denied that he had been ousted from his position as leader and at that stage stated that he would continue as an ordinary member. He said: "I have stepped down of my own accord because too much attention was being focused on personalities rather than the intellectual content of our message...We want a situation where the amir [leader] becomes a soldier and the soldier becomes amir" (Q-News 02.02.96).
It subsequently became apparent that he had left in order to work as part of another group, the Muhajiroun [the Emigrants, a name evoking the migration of the Holy Prophet and his followers from Mecca to Medina]. The Guardian (08.02.96) and Q-News (09.02.96) claimed that Mr Mohammad had formed the Muhajiroun out of an alliance of pre-existing organisations such as the Association of Muslim lawyers, the Gathering of Muslim Parents, and the Islamic International Front. Omar Bakri Mohammad’s joining the Muhajiroun has coincided with its moving from being an umbrella organisation to becoming a party (Muslim News 16.02.96). The new Muhajiroun has as one of its aims the establishment of the Khilafa [caliphate] in Pakistan (Muslim News 16.02.96), and to this end intends to concentrate its efforts upon the Pakistani community and other British Muslim groups.
On 3 March, the Poale Zion in Brent, a Jewish organisation affiliated to Labour, will be holding a meeting to discuss the activities of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Paddington Times 01.02.96). The Zionist group are concerned about Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s activities amongst students.
Jewish groups are concerned that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s change of tactics, which coincided with the departure of their former leader, Omar Bakri Mohammed could herald a wave of anti-Semitic activity on Britain’s campuses. Jeremy Newark of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said: "I fear they will become nastier, targeting all non-believers. Why are they going underground unless they are going to do something they can’t openly admit to?" (The Observer 18.02.96).
More universities, such as UCE in Birmingham and Leeds Metropolitan, have now banned the Hizb ut-Tahrir (see BMMS for October, December 1995 and January 1996). David Ward, national secretary of the UJS, believed the bans to be due to the campaigns his society, alongside other campus societies had waged (Jewish Telegraph 23.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6]
An Inter-Faith Council has been set up in North Kirklees to promote understanding and co-operation between Christians, Muslims and other faiths in the North Kirklees area (Batley News 01.02.96). The purpose of the initiative is to bring together Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths in North Kirklees and will formally be launched at a conference in May (Spenborough Guardian 09.02.96). The organisation’s objectives are: working towards racial and religious equality; forming links with statutory and voluntary bodies; and improving communication between Christian, Muslim, and other faiths. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6]
A business which produces Islamic video and audio tapes, the Islamic Video and Audio Services Centre, is being ruined by the illegal copying of their productions (Q-News 02.02.96). The owner, Muzaffar Korkusuz, explained: "My videos cost ten pounds but these audio cassettes are being touted for one or two pounds and basically they contain the same dialogue and the same narrative. People who already have the audio tapes are not going to fork out more for the videos." Muzaffar Korkusuz intends to prosecute the offenders. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6]
In Leeds a father has abducted his two sons and taken them to Egypt, in spite of a High Court injunction forbidding him to take them out of Britain (Yorkshire Evening Post 08.02.96). Omar, aged three, and Abdullah, aged five, are the children of Mohammed and Emma Habeeb, who are divorced. The children were taken during an access visit. Ms Habeeb, who converted to Islam when she married at 16 said, "...under Islamic law children under seven are supposed to be left with their mother. So he’s broken Islamic law as well as British law. I put my trust in the system but he’s won." Regarding Islam, she said: "The religion itself is perfect but the people are not. The way I’ve been treated by the Muslim community has made me re-think it all. Converts like me are treated as second-class citizens." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6]
Only three Muslims received awards in this year’s New Year honours list. They were: Ijaz Ashraf for services to race relations in Central Scotland; Mohammed Abdul Karim, Local Officer 2, DSS; and Ghulam Kaderbhoy Noon, for services to the food industry. They all received MBEs (Muslim News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6]
A reception was held in the Natural History Museum on 17 January to mark the launch of Hood Hood Books. Hood Hood publishes mainly for children and is owned by the same organisation as the Islamic Text Society, who have launched a new periodical, Islam World Report. The reception was addressed by Professor Walid Khalidi of Harvard University, speaking on the theme of Islam, the West and Jerusalem (Muslim News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 6/7]
The first national Muslim community development conference is to be held at the Markfield Conference Centre from 29 to 31 March. The aim of the conference is to enable Muslim community development workers to meet and share experiences (Muslim News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7]
Sheikh Nazim, a world-renowned Sufi leader, will address the congregation at the Nazareth Unitarian chapel in Padiham, Lancashire, on 10 March. The church minister, Rev Andrew Rowley, is expecting the event will be very popular and will be standing room only (Padiham & District Express 09.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7]
Violent confrontations between groups of Asian youths from the Muslim and Sikh communities in Slough have been continuing (see BMMS for July, August, September and December 1995). Sajida Chaudary, chief officer of the Slough Race Equality Council said: "We believe outsiders may be coming into Slough from other towns and communities, stirring up young people into acts of violence" (Slough & Langley Observer 16.02.96).
An 18 year old from Chalvey in Slough had his hands seriously injured by a gang armed with swords and iron bars (Slough & Langley Observer 23.02.96). The attack happened as he sat alone in a parked car. His father returned minutes later to the car and realised his son had been attacked. A passer-by gave first aid and the teenager was rushed to hospital where he was in intensive care for four days.
Graffiti threatening both Sikhs and Muslims with violence is appearing in Slough (Slough & Langley Observer 23.02.96). Chief Inspector Steve Evans commented: "Any racist graffiti is deplorable and our initial step will be to get it removed..." He continued: "There have been a number of tit-for-tat assaults, going back to the later part of last year, and what the cause and the effect is for each one is difficult to say. I would suggest that both the incidents on Friday (the sword attack on a Muslim teenager) and the attack on Koolers (an Asian owned pub in the town) were part of that series."
A young Muslim man was arrested by the Slough police on Eid in connection with the riots in Chalvey on 10 February. He was subsequently released on bail. In answer to protests about insensitive policing, Chief Inspector Steve Evans said: "Obviously we are sensitive to the fact that it was an important Muslim festival, but we have to balance that against our need to investigate a serious offence" (Slough & Langley Observer 23.02.96).
Some young men interviewed anonymously by the Slough & Langley Observer (23.02.96) attributed Slough’s communal violence to marginalisation caused by racism. Others believed that attempts by Muslim boys to convert Sikh and Hindu girls to Islam were a factor. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7]
The dispute over control of the Norwich mosque, at present in the hands of the Murabitun group, continues (see BMMS for August, September, October and November 1995). Daily during Ramadan, at times in sub-zero temperatures, those Muslims who have been excluded from the mosque were praying in the park opposite (Norwich Evening News 27.01.96). A spokesperson, Abdullah Croft, said: "Ramadan is an important festival and we will continue praying in the park each Friday until the mosque is reopened...we are a peaceful people and all we want is to be able to pray in our mosque once more" (Eastern Daily Express 27.01.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7]
In spite of a Crown Prosecution Service decision not to proceed against two police officers whose insensitive policing may, some Bradfordonians believe, have caused last summer’s riots (see BMMS for June, July, August, September and October 1995), they may still face disciplinary action. An independent inquiry is being carried out by the Police Complaints Authority (Yorkshire Post 24.01.96, Eastern Eye 02.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7]
Muslims have finally had a piece of ground allocated to them for burials in Surbiton Cemetery. Kingston Council agreed to the idea in principle last September (see BMMS for October 1995), but the Bishop of Southwark had to agree to revoke his blessing on the land first (Surrey Comet Kingston 09.02.96, Esher & Elmbridge Guardian 15.02.96, Kingston, Surbiton & New Malden Times 09.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 7/8]
A new fast food chain has opened three shops in Bristol, selling only halal [permissible] food. One of the owners, Shabir Hussain, said: "The takeaways are located in deprived areas and will create much-needed employment". [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
Simon Austin, a convert to Islam, has recently regained his position as Britain’s top fencer and is now training for the 1996 Olympics (Western Mail 10.02.96, Q-News 02.02.96). In an interview with Q-News (02.02.96), he said: "...I was selected for the Welsh team to compete in the Commonwealth Games which meant going away to Poland to train. In my spare time, there wasn’t really very much to do...so I just read all the books I’d taken, the Quran, the Bible, and some books on Islam’s view of Christianity. After reading a lot of these, I came to the opinion that Islam was right and this is where you start to feel the shock that for a lot of your life your traditions have been wrong. The other thing you’ve got to get over is the disjuncture between how Islam is presented by our media and what it is actually like."
Sergeant Richard Varley, a policeman in Hampstead, also came to Islam largely as a result of reading the Qu’ran. He said he had started reading it: "... out of professional interest. I found it concurred with many of the things I believed in" (Ham and High 02.02.96).
Scotland on Sunday (11.02.96) carried a feature article on conversions, particularly to Islam. Most of those interviewed, men and women, had converted at the time of marriage. One woman, who embraced Islam in 1971, Harfiya Bell, rejected the criticism that Islam oppresses women. She said: "From a Muslim perspective, women in the West suffer exploitation. They have to be beautiful, thin, wear revealing clothing, have families, careers...it drives them into the ground. You can’t do everything." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
Muslims in Peterborough have requested additional space for burials to be made available in Gladstone Park (Peterborough Evening Telegraph 02.02.96). At a recent council meeting, this request was rejected but the environment committee agreed to set up talks to discuss the existing Muslim section of Eastfield Cemetery. Safraz Khan, head of engineering services, added: "The city council in its Eastfield cemetery has enough space for the next 20 years at the current rate of Muslim burials...Any community in Peterborough or in the country is at liberty to set up its own cemetery. It has been done by the Jewish community, and the city’s Italian community are already inquiring about it" (Peterborough Evening Telegraph 08.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
The New Christian Herald (10.02.96) expressed concerns about Muslim campaigns for a change in the law, so that religious discrimination would become an offence. The article is in three parts: some facts and figures on Islam in Britain and Europe, with an estimate of numbers of Muslims in Britain at 1.5 million [an underestimate, as apparently based on the ethnicity question in the 1991 Census]; the main article on the themes of legislation around religion and race; a third part on Islam and mission [da’wah]. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
In Maidenhead the Mayor, Mayoress and their Deputies visited the Holmanleaze Mosque at the time of Friday prayers. The Mayor, Bryan Hedley, addressed the worshippers before prayers and afterwards had an opportunity to look around the building and meet some of the worshippers (Maidenhead Advertiser 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
Flemings, the international investment bank, is launching an equity investment fund which it claims will adhere to the principles of Shari’ah [Islamic law]. It will have its own board of fiqh [legal application] scholars, and there will be no investments in banking, insurance, gambling, pornography or alcohol. Ossama Nassar, head of the bank’s Middle East operations claimed that: "Over the last four years there has been a change.
More and more scholars have looked deep into the matter and most Shariah boards now accept equity investment, although some still do not" (Financial Times 03.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 8]
Residents on the Benmore Estate in Balsall Heath/Edgbaston in Birmingham have set up their own street patrol in an attempt to combat prostitution in the area. Campaigns against prostitutes in Balsall Heath were started in June 1994 by the local Muslim community and have since attracted Christians and others. John Ward, vicar of St Ambrose, said: "It’s been very hard work to get the church hierarchy to notice what’s going on. They thought we were being cruel to the prostitutes. This initiative could only have been taken by a group like the Muslims who simply won’t put up with it" (Observer 04.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
Six year-old Farhad Zulfigar suffers from talssemia, a blood disorder similar to leukaemia. His last hope is a bone marrow transplant from his ten month-old brother, Asad. His treatment, at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital comes after months of fund-raising by family and friends in Pakistan; by the sale of his own drawings, which have already raised £3,000 of the £40,000 needed; and by the Whalley Range-based women’s organisation, the Al-Masoom Foundation. It was as a result of one of the clinics that the Foundation had set up in Pakistan that Farhad was discovered to have the rare blood disease. The Foundation decided that the best place for the boy’s treatment was Manchester. So far, a total of £20,000 has been raised (Manchester Evening News 19.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
An imam of St George’s street mosque in Northampton was cleared of indecently assaulting a nine year-old girl (see BMMS for November 1995). His defence barrister suggested the girl had been primed in what to say by her mother (Northampton Chronicle 06.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
The timing of a public meeting, in Darnall, Sheffield to discuss findings of a report about Sheffield’s 1994 disturbances clashed with Ramadan prayers. Devout Muslims walked out when their pleas to reschedule the meeting were rejected. A spokesperson for the central mosque, Abdul Khayum, said: "The timing of this meeting is at least insensitive and at the worst an insult." The chair of the meeting, Sheffield MP Richard Caborn, said no insult had been intended and promised a further meeting (Barnsley Star 17.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
Three Muslims, all former students in Manchester, who are charged with terrorist offences are likely to be acquitted in a trial at Manchester Crown Court. Faisal Moustafa, 32, is charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion, possession and control of an explosive substance and possessing a firearm. Shifhur Rehman, 23, and Iftikar Satter, 25, are both charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion and possession of an explosive substance. The black barrister and campaigner Peter Herbert is lead counsel for the defence (Q-News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
On 12 February a reception was held in honour of Dr Ali Mughram al-Ghamdi, who has resigned from his post of director at the Islamic Cultural Centre, Regents Park, London. Dr al-Ghamdi was Director at the centre for nearly 15 years. He is now Dean of the King Fahd Academy in west London (Q-News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9]
Amer Rafiq was arrested on Eid (Manchester Evening News 22.02.96). A part-time student, he had finished his work as a waiter, was going home in his car when he was arrested. A friend who spoke to him in hospital said that Amer told him that he had stopped to phone his mother at a phone box to say he would be late home. A police officer told him to move his car, which he said he would do. After he got back into the car the police officer grabbed him and threw him in the police van. Exactly what happened in the police van will be a matter for an internal police inquiry, but police claim he needed to be ‘restrained’ in the van. On arrival at the Platt Lane police station he was found to have serious injuries, particularly to his eye. He was rushed to Manchester Royal Infirmary, but surgeons were unable to save the eye, which had to be removed. His lawyer, Elizabeth Beasley said: "My client has just lost an eye and is in a very distressed state. He has also got very nasty neck and back injuries. I will be pressing the chief constable for criminal proceedings to be brought if any officer is found to be responsible for these injuries. They are completely unjustifiable. I shall also be pursuing a claim for civil damages for Amer." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 9/10]
Ramadan is a special time for Muslims to give charity and there is no doubt about the generosity of British Muslims (Q-News 16.02.96), however, concern is expressed that there may be too many different Muslim charities. Fadi Itani, manager of Islamic Relief, said: "It is crucial that the community channels funds to well-established organisations which have a low cost-income ratio and are able to deliver services." Khalida Khan, Director of the An-Nisa Society, detects a welcome trend amongst British Muslims to give to local causes and projects. She said: "It is about time we stopped pretending that we are the prosperous self-contained community others would make us believe. The majority of Muslims are poor and neglected and have no kind of safety net whatsoever to protect them from hard times. We at An-Nisa have been working for years now ensuring that we try at least to do something for those less privileged within our local community." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
Leo X Chester, a member of the Nation of Islam (No1) and comedian on the Real McCoy show, plans to sue the police following an incident in which he claims they set dogs on him. Leo X described how he and other Muslim friends were dragging a man away from drunken white youths who were attacking them: "I was trying to calm the situation down when the police set a couple of dogs on me. I was bitten on my arm and back...The police knew who I am and they still did this to a ‘celebrity’. If they can do this to me, then they can do this to anybody. That’s why I’m pressing ahead with this suit..." (The Voice 06.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
A new twin foetal heart monitor worth £8,000 has been installed in Newham General Hospital’s maternity unit, thanks to the fundraising efforts of Muslim doctors and the hospital’s League of Friends (City of London Recorder 23.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
A delegation of seventeen British Muslims recently visited Bosnia Hercegovina at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Hasan Muradic (Daily Jang 29.02.96). The Prime Minister discussed with them the need for trading relations with Islamic countries and the West and particularly the need for investment in the country. During its week long stay in Bosnia, the delegation had meetings with the President, Aliya Izetbegovic, the Grand Mufti, Raeesul Ulema Dr Mustafa Ceric, former Prime Minister Mr Harris Saladzic, members of the Bosnian Parliament and of academic institutions. They also visited hospitals, orphanages and universities. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
An organisation based in Brent, the Association of Muslims with Disabilities (AMD), still has to apply for funds from neighbouring Barnet council (Kilburn Times 22.02.96). Labour councillor Asif Amman, who is also a volunteer with AMD, blamed Brent’s Conservative administration, which he said: "...is ignoring my pleas and adopting an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy as it turns a blind eye to a genuinely worthy volunteer group". Conservative councillor Frank Torrens claimed that the group had been late in applying for funding and suggested they try again next year. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
Young People Now (01.03.96) carries an analysis by Nadene Ghouri on the need for more youth provision which is sensitive to the specific needs of Muslim youth. Mohammed Dhalech, leader of Adventure Youth and Training for Asian young people, would like to see mosque buildings used more for youth and community work: "Mosques have lots of space which could be utilised for sports and all sorts of events", he said. Abdul Majid, Birmingham’s Asian youth work development officer agreed that young Muslims are missing out on vital services but disagreed that more involvement by mosques was necessarily the answer: "...after all, mosques are places of worship. Disaffected young people will not perceive a youth club in a mosque as fun." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10]
Nehal Hyder, president of the Bangladeshi Welfare Association in Scunthorpe, has claimed that there are insufficient female Asian doctors in the town to meet Muslim women’s religious and cultural needs. David Fullard, spokesperson for the United Health Commission, rejected this claim. Dali Khan, of Apna Sahara, which provides an interpreting and advocacy service for Asian women, also thought there was little problem now: "Before we set up six years ago there was an issue of women suffering in silence but at the present time we have not come across anyone" (Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 10/11]
The Independent on Sunday (18.02.96) carried an interview with the young boxer from Sheffield, Prince Naseem Hamed, a Muslim who describes his talent as ‘God-given’. On his sense of belonging to two cultures he said: "I was born in Britain and I’m proud to be English, but at the same time my parents are from the Yemen - that’s the culture I come from - and I’m so proud to be an Arab it’s not true." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 11]
A school used by 30 Muslim children in Telford has been ordered to leave its premises, due to a refusal of retrospective planning permission to change the terraced house into a religious school (Shropshire Star 01.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 11]
Comment, including in the non-Muslim press, has largely been in favour of state-funding for Muslim schools, or at least, giving Muslims more rights in education. Both Fran Abrams, writing in the Independent (11.02.96), and Paul Valley in the Tablet (03.02.96), point out that although the 44 Muslim schools vary, there are some who are coming top of the league tables in terms of exam achievement (see BMMS for December 1995). One such is Islamia Girls’ High, founded and run by Yusuf Islam, at which 53% of students gained GCSE grades A-C, where the national average is 43% and the borough average 35%.
Polly Toynbee, who describes herself as an atheist, writing in the Independent (14.02.96), is of the opinion that, if Muslim children were treated more fairly within the state system, then there would be no need for separate schools. She argues for the secularisation of all education and concludes: "There is still time to stop an educational chasm between Muslim children and the rest. The state system needs to grant them rights. Religious freedom would have to be the quid pro quo (no more stories such as that of two young Muslim boys recently banned from praying in their school car park). Most of all, the 1988 [Education] Act would have to be repealed so state schools could wipe every trace of religion from their timetables."
Paul Valley of the Independent, writing in The Tablet (03.02.96), gives his support to the idea of state funded schools for Muslims. He writes: "Why shouldn’t Muslims devise their own syllabus? Indeed, why shouldn’t they be allowed their own voluntary-aided schools as are Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Jews?...Anxieties about educational standards and about discrimination against girls all too often disguise a basic fear that such Muslim schools would be seedbeds of fundamentalism established at the taxpayers’ expense." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 11]
The Islamia school in Brent, north London, is facing a severe financial crisis due to an 85% cut in the donation usually received from Saudi Arabia and handed over in Ramadan (see BMMS for December 1995). Yusuf Islam, the school’s founder and chair of the board of governors, believes that the cut, from £150,000 to £25,000, may be due to his moral support of those opposed to the Saudi government. He said: "We try to be unbiased but if I was locked up I hope someone would ask about me. It is only wishing for your brother what you wish for yourself" (Guardian Weekly 22.02.96). However, Mr Islam laid the responsibility for lack of funds on the educational policies of the government. He said: "...we have to go, begging bowl in hand, to affluent Muslim countries asking for help, even though the law of the land is on our side for state funding". Over 7000 Christian and 24 Jewish schools receive state funding, whereas none of the 45 Muslim schools does (Muslim News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 11]
During the month of Ramadan, Buckinghamshire University College allocated special prayer rooms for its Muslim students. Mohammed Shafique, head of equal opportunities at the College, said: "I am delighted that Bucks College has provided these facilities. It represents the college’s commitment to equal provision for all students" (Eastern Eye 09.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
The School Curriculum Assessment Authority (SCAA) held a conference in London on 15 January to discuss spiritual and moral education and to draw up an agenda for action. Rouksana Fakim, a writer covering the conference for the Muslim News (16.01.96), commented: "The conference, even though it had some sound bites on minority faiths and cultures, was eurocentric, and emphasised Judeo-Christian traditions. This was reflected in the absence of Muslim speakers and only one Muslim in the list of participants - Dr Aziz Pasha of the Union of Muslim organisations." [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
Three girls aged 7, 8, and 10 at St Hilda’s Church of England School in Oldham have been told to stop wearing a headscarf [hijab], or face suspension (Q-News 16.02.96). The head teacher, Howard Buckley, denied that children had been shouted at. He said: "A governor’s meeting decided that the older girls should simply be told from a health and safety point of view their scarves should be firmly tied at the back. As for the younger girls, they did not think it was appropriate or necessary for them to wear headscarves. That was done through a democratic process with Muslims on the governor’s body." 358 out of St Hilda’s 360 pupils are Muslim, but Muslims are under-represented on the board of governors.
In 1989, two sisters, Ayesha and Fatima Alvi, then aged 14 and 15, were banned from wearing headscarves at Manchester’s Altrincham Grammar School and were suspended. In 1990, the governors were forced to reverse their decision. Fatima Alvi, currently an undergraduate studying Applied Community Studies, advised parents affected by the ban at St Hilda’s that: "They should try to get through to the head [teacher] that this is their right and they will pursue it to the end. There’s no way he can justify the ban as a health and safety risk" (Q-News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
Muslim parents are worried that Manchester Education Authority is planning to merge the city’s single sex schools and make all the state schools in the city co-educational. Two schools whose single sex-status parents believe to be immediately under threat are Burnage High School for Boys and Whalley Range High School for Girls (Q-News 16.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
Kirklees education officials have been meeting with representatives of Batley’s Muslim community following the withdrawal of over 1500 children from religious education (Awaaz 01.02.96, Huddersfield Daily Examiner 07.02.96). The boycott began in Batley (see BMMS for January 1996), and has spread to nearby Dewsbury and Huddersfield. A spokesperson for the Muslim Education Forum pointed out that others beside Muslims are potentially affected: "In urban areas where there are Sikhs, Jews and Muslims, the predominately Christian syllabus won’t reflect the needs of all the children" (Nursery World 02.02.96).
Controversial former Bradford head teacher Ray Honeyford commented on the Batley situation: "A syllabus has been agreed so every faith community must have been consulted. Why are they objecting now and not then?" (Bradford Telegraph & Argus 06.02.96) [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
The Bengali Welfare Association of Camberley has made an offer for St Gregory’s RC School, with a view to converting it into a centre for worship, education and cultural events (Camberley News 02.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
A Muslim group has been ordered to leave the house it has been using as a mosque for 15 years, as this use breaks planning regulations (Eastern Eye 02.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12]
Local objectors are claiming that the Muslim Cultural and Welfare Association, which rents Wentworth Hall in Ruskin Road from the council for its activities are in fact using the building as a mosque. They claim that this is in contravention of the lease. Lal Hussein, the Association’s secretary denied that the building is being used as a mosque (Sutton Herald 21.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 12/13]
For the second time in six years, planning permission has been refused to turn a residential property into an Islamic religious studies centre (Glaswegian 01.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
Controversy continues around the application made by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association for planning permission to build their national headquarters, incorporating a mosque, on the site of the old Express Dairy in Morden (see BMMS for December 1995 and January 1996). In an appeal for calm at a large public meeting held at the end of January, Councillor Alec Lever explained: "The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association has, without any prompting from Merton council, found a piece of land available for purchase and designed a development on the site. The Association then submitted their planning application as they have every right to do so under the law" (Putney & Wimbledon Times 26.01.96).
The Merton borough development control sub-committee then met on 8 February to discuss the planning application (Wimbledon Guardian 08.02.96). Eventually, at a meeting to which only 50 residents were allowed entry, planning permission was granted, but 60 pre-conditions were attached. These included: limiting numbers in the hall to 600; restricting the hours of operating the printing presses; changing access roads; increasing on-site parking; forbidding loud-speakers; banning the call to prayer from the minaret (Wimbledon Guardian 15.02.96, Putney & Wimbledon Times 16.02.96).
As a result of the planning controversy, a pressure group has been formed to continue opposition to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association’s (AMA) mosque and national headquarters in Morden (Wimbledon Guardian 22.02.96, Wimbledon News 23.02.96). Objectors believe that the council’s decision to allow the AMA the use of the land was taken in an undemocratic fashion and that the site is unsuitable for use as a mosque. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
Docklands Planning Committee have rejected plans for the use of a shop as an Islamic Cultural Centre by the Winsor Park Islamic cultural Society, who currently use a local community centre. Some residents had lodged written objections to the plans, giving noise and disturbance as their reasons (City of London Recorder 23.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
The Anjuman-E-Islamia have again applied for permission to build a mosque on a vacant plot of land in Manor Park (City of London Recorder 23.02.96). After the rejection of the scheme the first time, they were able to have the issue tabled again by invoking a procedure which required consideration of the scheme by all members of the council. They subsequently withdrew their plan in order to revise it. A public inquiry will now be held, at which other possible uses such as housing or a health centre, will also be considered. [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
Nuneaton Muslim society has put forward plans to extend its community centre. Subject to certain conditions, these are likely to be agreed (Heartland Evening News 05.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
A leaked memo revealed that files relating to planning permission for a mosque in Cradley Heath have gone missing. The file apparently contained copies of the application forms and notes from the case officer’s site visit (Halesowen News 01.02.96). A petition, supposedly containing 700 signatures from residents opposed to the site being used as a mosque, has also gone missing at Sandwell Council house (Black Country Evening Mail 08.02.96). Outline planning permission was granted to the Muslim community who own the land for the building of a mosque, but then the town’s education department wanted to use the plot for a nursery (see BMMS for June, July, August, September, October, November, December 1995 and January 1996). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13]
The Charity Commissioners have produced a report which clears the trustees of two mosques in Slough of any financial wrong-doing (see BMMS for April, August, September, October and November 1994; January, February, March, April, September and October 1995). Allegations of mismanagement were brought by the Pakistan Welfare Association (PWA) against the Slough Islamic Trust (SIT), which runs the mosques in Diamond Road, Montem Lane, and other properties in Slough (Slough & Langley Express 01.02.96, Slough & Langley Observer 02.02.96).
The police have been mediating in this dispute and will continue in this role in order to supervise the consultation process recommended by the Charity Commissioners. Det. Chief Inspector Geoff Chivers said: "I think both sides were happy with the progress that was made. I would like to think that we would be moving towards a consultation process fairly quickly but the trouble at the moment is that we do not know what form of consultation is going to take place" (Slough & Langley Observer 07.02.96). [BMMS February 1996 Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 13/14]