Reimagining British Muslims
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Friday 10th July 2020
Analysis

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

The terrorist attacks in London in 2005 came as a shock to the United Kingdom. The government moved to respond and part of its response involved setting up seven working groups with Muslim leaders around various themes that affected the community. The Labour government’s response was to ask for advice on how best to improve various aspects of community life. It was a wholesale community response (reflecting Labour’s approach to policy in general) and did not focus specifically on aspects of violence and deradicalization. This was the beginning of the prevent policy and at the time the prevent policy was not regarded as toxic.

Seven working groups were formed around the themes of extremism, young people, education, mosques, regeneration, women and community security. Each group was tasked to come up with three suggestions that the government could consider implementing. These recommendations were combined and released in a booklet called ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ Working Groups. These recommendations were presented to government. The government responded by stating that it could not implement many of the recommendations because the community itself was best-placed to realise them. In effect, the government only proceeded with two or three of the recommendations with Radical Middle Way and the Muslims and Imams National Advisory Board being the most successful.

However, the list of recommendations serves as a useful exercise in gap analysis taken at one moment in time – in 2005. Now fifteen years on, it may be useful to look through these recommendations again and see how much progress has been made. I will work through each of the set of recommendations and provide my thoughts on how far the community has come since then. Clearly, in some areas there has been progress but others less so.

Recommendations from the Engaging With Young People Working Group

 Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. Countering extremist ideas – a national, grass-roots-led campaign of events targeted at Muslim youth enabling influential scholars to theologically tackle extremist interpretations of IslamRadical Middle Way was launched and was initially successful. The mood in the community as a whole is now firmly anti-extremist. The project took on an international focus after the advent of the coalition government in 2010. Pockets of extremism remain and prevent’s failures has permitted some ‘breathing space’ for extremists. Current attempts at public counter-extremism have been counter-productive. Ground has been lost here. There needs to be more involvement of credible Muslims in tackling extremist ideas.
2. Opportunities for young British Muslims to be leaders and active citizens – UK Youth Parliament to train Muslim youth MPs to be peer facilitators and run debates/consultations with young Muslims in their local communitiesThis was designed to engage young British Muslims in the political process. This was not implemented. The Patchwork Foundation has been running programmes to improve the participation of young people in politics. Young British Muslims have however generally become more involved in British politics. There are many more Muslim MPs, though more engagement is needed with the Conservative party.
3. Improving service provision for Muslim youth – ensuring the Youth Green Paper is accessible to Muslim youthThis was not implemented. However youth service provision has been reduced by local councils through austerity. Some mosques such as Barking mosque have begin to employ youth workers and this should be encouraged.

Recommendations from the Education Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. To instil a more faithful reflection of Islam and its civilisation across the entire education system, including the National Curriculum, Further Education, Higher Education and lifelong learning.There have been individual non-government related projects on this such as Curriculum for Cohesion and 1001 Inventions. The curriculum is generally much better than it was in 2005 however there is still considerable room for improvement.
2. To improve the performance and achievement of Muslim pupils by strengthening a wide range of existing initiatives.The Trojan Horse scandal may have had an adverse impact by discouraging Muslim involvement in improving educational outcomes. Though some Muslim schools are outstanding, the achievement of Muslim pupils across the board needs to be reviewed.
3. The establishment of a British Muslim-led “National Education Research & Foundation Centre” (NERF Centre).This has not been implemented. An initiative was set up at the Institute of Education to look at the education of Muslims called the Centre for the Research and Evaluation of Muslims in Education however it is still in its infancy.
4. To improve the quality of teaching and learning in RE with an emphasis on life-skills and citizenship.The GCSE RE curriculum has been improved.

Recommendations from the Engaging with Muslim Women Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. Dialogue and communication which entails deepening the relationships between Government institutions and Muslim women.A Muslim Women’s Network has been set up. Muslim women are involved as public representatives in parliament.
2. (Building a) National campaign and coalition which entails increasing the visibility of Muslim women and empowering them to become informed and active citizens within society.This was attempted at the time however national and local Muslim organisations need to do much more to increase involvement of Muslim women in leadership positions.

Recommendation from the supporting regional and local initiatives and community actions Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. Invest in interfaith work mapping.Near Neighbours, a project run by the Church of England, has improved interfaith relations throughout the country.
2. Increase the faith confidence and competence of public bodies through secondments and short-term contracts into and out of central, regional and local government agencies.This was not implemented.
3. Strengthen the capacity of Muslim voluntary and civic organisations.This was not implemented but the British Muslim charity sector has grown considerably since 2005 and there is a greater focus towards UK needs.

Recommendations from the Imams training and accreditation and the role of mosques as a resource for the whole community Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. A new national advisory body/council of mosques and imams. This Body would be inclusive and representative of the many traditions practiced in the UK, independent and lead by the institutions it serves.MINAB was set up in 2007. It has recently been revived after a decline. The national infrastructure across the country remains uneven especially through council for mosque organisations. The relationship between MINAB and MCB is also unclear.
2. The setting up of a National Resource Unit (NRU) for the development of curricula in madrasah/mosques and Islamic centres. The NRU will also develop programmes and guidelines for the teaching of staff that function within these institutions.The national resource unit was not set up. However, there is good practice now in the community through organisations such as Safar Academy, Knowledge to Action and Karimia Institute. This good practice is sporadic though throughout the country and it needs to be rolled out across the cities and mosques.
3. The establishment of a continuous professional development programmes for the ‘upskilling’ of current imams and mosque officials in the UK. Theological training to be provided only by specialist Muslim seminaries, Islamic scholars skilled in training imams in the UK and elsewhere for those seeking to pursue further development.The Diploma at Cambridge Muslim College, the Masters in Islamic education programme at Warwick University and the Masters at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education have all provided upskilling programmes for scholars. Faith Associates is providing an upskilling programmes for mosque administrators.
4. Design a publication that highlights and promotes good practice from amongst mosques, Islamic centres and imams in the UKFaith Associates has developed this publication and has been training mosque administrators on these matters.

Recommendations from the Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1. Muslim Forum Against Islamophobia and Extremism – an independent initiative to provide a forum for a diverse range of members of the British Muslim community to come together and discuss issues relating to tackling Islamophobia and harmful forms of extremism.MEND, Tell MAMA, the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group and the APPG on British Muslims have been working on this.  
2. Muslim Affairs Media Unit – a special independent Muslim run-initiative with professional Muslim media experts/press officers to provide rapid rebuttal/reaction to extremist (including Islamophobic) sentiments or actions, and maintain a database of Muslim ‘talking heads’ who can speak to the press on a range of issues.MEND and the MCB Media Monitoring Committee have been working on this.
3. British ‘Islam Online’ website – this initiative is envisaged as a ‘one stop shop’ style website/information portal particularly aimed at young British Muslims. It will represent a wide range of views and opinions from all the major Muslim schools of thought, presenting young Muslims with a wide range of choice in terms of views within a mainstream spectrum. There is no website like this though there are many resources for young British Muslims available now on the internet.  

Recommendations from the Community Security – including addressing Islamophobia, increasing confidence in policing and tackling extremism Working Group

Recommendation 2005Update 2020
1: The Government must encourage and empower greater Muslim participation in the various reviews of anti-terrorism provisions and implement the recommendations of these reviews in a more transparent manner.  There are general consultations as a part of the reviews of anti-terror legislation but there haven’t been concerted attempts to bring in Muslim participation into such consultations. Organisations like Forward Thinking try to help with engagement of British Muslim communities with official reviews of counter-terrorism legislation.
2: Better resourcing for more meaningful engagement and partnership between the Police and Muslim communities – including capacity building in Muslim communities for such engagement and participation.Relationships between local Muslim communities and the police have improved, but formal mechanisms have not been set up.
3: A Ministerial level ‘Review’ of the application and impact of anti-terrorism provisions.The Independent reviewer of counter terrorism legislation fulfils this function.

Reviewing the recommendations from fifteen years ago, it is clear that progress has been made against many of the suggestions that were put forward then. However, there still remain some gaps which we will address in future articles. One point that should be noted though is that the majority of the recommendations from 2005 were taken forward by community organisations, usually through their own fundraising. The government itself did not support the majority of the recommendations made in the aftermath of the 2005 bombings.

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Atif Imtiaz

Atif has been involved in Muslim community life since the late eighties. He is a student of social psychology, his...
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