From victimhood to grasping opportunities
Friday, November 20th, 2015
All legislation has its proponents and opposition, it has positive and adverse impact. The job of any government is to ensure that more citizens benefit from any given legislation and that there is equity of treatment. Good examples of this include legislation around forced marriage, female genital mutilation and the Immigration Act 2012. All of which were initially seen to be contentious but in actual fact have been very positive for the vast majority of people.
At the Conservative Party Conference (October 2015) Prime Minister David Cameron made the following remarks:
“In some madrasas we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with other people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people”.
The Prime Minister introduced the idea of madrasas and religious institutions to be inspected and perhaps even be closed down. This is in tune with the other aspects of the previous Coalition and now the Conservative government’s approach to the Muslim community. Since 2010 it has enhanced the surveillance agenda, instigated Trojan Horse, through it the Charity Commission has undertaken greater scrutiny of Muslim charities, there has been the introduction of the Counter Terrorism Strategy and made the Prevent Duty statutory. Moreover there has been collective political, media, social scaremongering and vilification of the Muslim community for not doing enough or not being ‘British’.
The Muslim community’s response to this latest government tactic in regards to mosques needs to be measured and considered. I find the following response falls within the realms of ‘victimhood’.
In some ways it is correct to say the government is not listening by continuing to see Muslims through the prism of the security agenda rather as citizens as any other. Nevertheless we must see the move towards greater inspection and scrutiny of places of worship as being potentially positive.
Like medicine which leaves a bitter taste, I believe that this new initiative despite its clear Islamophobic overtures may in actual fact help the Muslim community to ‘up’ its game to a level which it should have done some while ago. That is however only if we own the agenda and not wait for the government’s plan of action. That fact is that collectively the Muslim community needs to insist that institutions be run for the benefit of the community rather than the clan or clique that govern them, that they are properly governed, that they involve women at all levels, that teaching becomes professionalised within them, that the curriculum is developed and made bespoke to the particular dynamics of the city and community in which the mosque or madrasa are based and that safeguarding is central to the ethos of institutions. Moreover that community development is initiated by the mosque and crucially they become places that are connected to different sections of the community around them.
All this development activity has been largely ignored and my worry now is that whilst these things are needed without this ‘stick’ the Muslim community may become regressive. A sign of this is the ‘victimhood’ mentality and knee jerk responses that are increasingly being articulated by a vocal minority that seek to promulgate and mirror the ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude of government.
Yes we should raise the concern that the Prime Minister made remarks that have in some ways have no basis in reality nor have they been subject to proper review and consideration. What is it really that our Jewish Yeshiva, Gurdwaras, Evangelical and Presbyterian churches, mosques as well as other places of worship teach about other people? We should be concerned that the definitions and assumptions are equally tested in ultra-orthodox Yeshivas/schools, churches or mosques. The fact is that veridical pluralism is rarely practised either conceptually or practically in the modus operandi of individuals, communities and or cultural world views.
Clearly the government is not acting in a manner that creates the conditions for social harmony and this is worrying. Not least for the fact that there has been an increase in Islamophobic hate crime and physical attacks and sadly there is no end to the terrorism that it purports to address. Therefore the message to the Prime Minister is – change your advisors and rein in the already unleashed anti-Muslim hatred that is beginning to sweep across the country and have more grass roots community led initiatives.
At the same time my message to Muslim communities is to see these measures not as victims but as opportunists and own them. Each area has a Council of Mosques which should have been doing this job already. However despite being membership organisations they have, on the whole, failed to give direction to mosques, they have failed to develop good practice, they have failed to drive forward change and or help mosques become inclusive. The mosques should spend the resources on developing community owned strategies and solutions for change. No longer should parents be held to ransom to send to the children to mosques without the most basic of teacher training, safe guarding policy and procedures, offering pastoral support and care for worshipers or direction. In Bradford there are plenty examples of good mosques but sadly, and moreso, there are plenty examples of not so good ones.
There should be no city or town in which there is not a Council of Mosques to which all mosques and madrasas in the area need or rather must affiliate with. This ‘compulsory’ arrangement has to have a clear and unambiguous developmental vision broader than just building an extension or fostering theological divisions.
The vision needs to be one of development that the affiliated institutions are also working towards and also adhering to and implementing. The localised Council of Mosques then need to be linked to a national body of Council of Mosques with an Executive, a council of scholars that is theologically diverse and whose remit is to support integration, diversity and belonging to the UK. The remit of the Council of Mosques would be to regulate and demand as membership organisations the following of its membership a) Good governance and safe guarding b) Effective teaching and learning c) Community engagement and welfare d) Pastoral support e) Muslim scholarship (including female)
Underlying these broad aims would be further objectives that would ensure mosques and madrasas are fit for purpose, follow agreed standards for paying imams salaries, teaching, meet the needs of young people, women and families and underpinned by peer review. The government should not become a ‘nanny’ state and needs to ease its rhetoric that is isolating and marginalising communities however there is room for direction and co-operation. In my view many of the social, cultural, health and development challenges facing the Muslim and wider community can be addressed through vibrant living mosques. Where there are ‘living’ mosques one can feel the marked difference in the atmosphere that invites belonging and concern for others.
As Muslims will we continue to be victims and blame others for our woes or actually see this as an opportunity like the Treaty of Hudaibiya which the Prophet Muhammad signed even though it was overwhelmingly seen as negative by the companions of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him)?