Thursday, April 11, 2013

UK: ~Looking Back~ Muslim Culture, British Identity

CGNews is ~Looking Back~. In this article originally published on 7 December 2010, journalist Arwa Ibrahim looks at the extent to which Muslims in Britain had become a vibrant and integral part of British society, providing a comparison for Britain today, just over two years later.

~Looking Back~ Muslim Culture, British Identity

by Arwa Ibrahim

London - On 30 November the Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Lord Altaf Sheikh, urged the British Muslim community to join the armed forces and police in order to promote tolerance and mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. Such suggestions, as well as the very existence of this Forum within the British Conservative Party, demonstrate to what extent Muslims in Britain are becoming a vibrant and integral part of British society.

As much as the British government and society have a role to play in this process, the Muslim community does as well. Such integration will not only allow Muslims in Britain to better understand British culture, but will also allow the broader British society to understand Muslims.

When looking at the Muslim community, it is important to recognise that a central aspect of Islam is its global character – Muslim culture is not limited to a specific region or nationality. Instead Muslim culture and identity are guided by personalities and behavioural tendencies.

However, many Muslims in Britain and across the Western world mix religion with the culture of their families’ homeland. They resist adopting the culture and traditions of their new country of residence, fearing that it is not the “Muslim way”. They feel that a Muslim must act in accordance with certain rules that in reality come from a cultural, not religious, context. For example, arranged marriages, which are practiced by some British Muslims, are believed to be a religious tradition. Whereas in reality this is a practice common in some Asian cultures which may not be suitable for most British Muslims today.

Younger generations of Muslims in the UK need to create their own unique British Muslim identities and cultures that are relevant for them in their British homeland, and certainly different than those of their parents or grandparents.

Fortunately, there are organisations helping young Muslims create such identities. For example, the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) publishes an annual report that has continuously called upon Muslims in Europe to hold onto the tenets of the Islamic faith and ethics while also being proactive citizens, contributing positively toward the progress and development of their European homelands. The British Muslim Scouts – an organisation that supports young people in their physical, mental and spiritual development in order to play a positive role in society – is an example of a proactive group of Muslim youth keen to serve their British homeland in an authentically British way.

When it comes to British society, it’s important to note that it has a multicultural character and that the British government is keen to create equal opportunities for its citizens regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. For example, all citizens have the right to vote, receive the same healthcare services and educational opportunities, and voice their opinions on matters that concern them.

There are emerging obstacles, however, that make Muslims cautious of voicing different opinions, or sharing their culture and traditions openly. The supporters of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right political party that campaigned against the “immigrant invasion”, show extreme aversion towards Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities. Sadly, in the last general election the BNP received over 500,000 votes compared to the nearly 200,000 it received in 2005.

In response, it is vital that the British government and society continue to work to address the concerns of their Muslim citizens and protect their rights as equal citizens.

At the same time, the Muslim community in Britain must strengthen its identity as an integral part of British society instead of setting itself apart. In doing so, there will be greater potential for their acceptance in British society as well.

British Muslims can more effectively accomplish this by galvanising support from other partners in British society to address national opportunities, threats, development initiatives and projects for the future benefit of the all Brits. For example, charity organisations can cooperate – regardless of their members’ religious orientations – to serve a common cause. Mutual cooperation on national projects, such as helping the homeless, fighting drugs or creating equal opportunities for the disabled, will create more channels for interaction and cooperation between British Muslims and non-Muslims.

Muslims can join hands with Christians, Jews and atheists to work on more projects that benefit the entire community. Then Muslims will not only increasingly feel that they are part of British society, but they will also have a chance to become more involved with citizens of other faiths. Interaction through actual projects that resolve problems and build a stronger nation is the first step towards exposure to and understanding for different ideas, cultures and traditions. Through these projects, British Muslim integration into their communities will be stronger.


* Arwa Ibrahim is a British Egyptian freelance journalist and researcher in Middle East and Muslims issues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 7 December 2010,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.