Muslimcommunities > Muslims in Britain:The journey for the quest of the self


Muslims in Britain:The journey for the quest of the self

Despite the fact that the trend to activate the Muslims role in the British political life has accomplished a relative success in last June 2001 elections (won by the Labor Party) something that troubled the Jewish lobby (the same happened in the U.S.), the results that Muslim candidates have achieved were not good. The reason for that was not because the public has rejected them, but because the disagreement-sicknesses were passed along to Britain's Muslims who fell into disputes and then faltered.

Thirty-four delegates have stood for the elections only two have won. Despite the fact some may consider this as a victory knowing that only one deputy in the former house represented Muslims and now they have two deputies, some election-analysts considered this as a defeat to Muslims who failed to take more than two deputies to the House of Commons.

The majority attributed this failure to the division among the Muslims in Britain and their inability to unify their ranks in the constituencies apart from the fact that some have moved according to pure partisan principles without considering the Islamic identity. For example, Mohammed Riyad (the first Muslim candidate for the Conservative Party) after being the more fortunate candidate has lost a seat, which could have been won in West Bradford constituency, by a difference of more than 4000 votes in favor of the labor party candidate.

Muslims in Britain, a history that extends over centuries:

Although the Islamic presence in Britain reverts to centuries particularly the age of the British King Aufa (who ruled between 757 and 796 A.D, and whom there were British Islamic coins that had his name on, which raised predictions that he was a Muslim), but the official Islamic presence goes back to the early forties of the twentieth century when the first Muslim emigrants from the Indian sub-continent, which was under British colonization, reached the industrial city of Glasgow .

Muslims began organizing themselves in an establishment that was called “Muslim Union Association” officially founded in 1943. Shortly after this, the first small mosque was inaugurated in a house at 27 Oxford Street in the city, in addition to the first (small) Islamic school to teach the Muslims’ sons.

Perhaps due to the weight of Muslims in this city that candidate Mohammed Sarwar won in the 1997 elections marking the first Muslim to ever occupy a parliamentary seat in the whole of Britain’s political life.

The Islamic presence in Britain was connected to the former colonial relations. After the end of World War II, emigration waves started especially of those who worked with British colonizers in the different colonies. Emigrant’s nature varied , many immigrants were workers scientists, academics, economists, and businessmen. Although this has changed with  time, the kind of emigrants looking for a job, political asylum, or for education and innovation has always  prevailed.

Although there is not a precise official census of the Muslims in Britain, but statistics indicate that around 3 million Muslim are living in the British Islands most of whom are concentrated primarily around the capital London and other industrial cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, and Glasgow.

A report issued by Ranimid Statistical Institute indicated that the number of Muslims in Britain have reached 10.5 millions in late 20th century. Of those, 610,000 of Pakistani origin, 350,000 of Middle Eastern and North African origins, 200,000 of Bengali origins, 160,000 of Indian origins, in addition to 180,000 their origins are from other countries like Malaysia and Nigeria.

Muslims represent a remarkable percentage of political asylum applicants in Britain. In 1999, for example, 6000 Somalis had such applications, as well as more than 2500 Afghans and thousand of Pakistanis, Turks, and Kurds. These percentages are subject to the ever-mounting aggravated and ravaged areas in the Islamic world.

Mosques in Britain in return for churches in Arab countries:

The story of building mosques in Britain is somehow odd. Even the idea of building mosques in the beginning was connected to the condition of building corresponding churches in Arab countries like Egypt. The journey of building mosques in Britain probably started in the advent of the year 1860 when a mosque was built in the city of Cardiff, the capital of the Wales province, at Glenn Ronda Street. Another mosque by the name “Shah Jihan Moseque” was built in Waking in 1889 where a student dormitory was annexed to it.

However, London had remained for decades without a prominent mosque. On October 24, 1940 during World War II Winston Churchill, the late British premier, in a cabinet meeting endorsed the idea of partially funding the building of a mosque in the capital by governmental funds. In the coming year, the Egyptian ambassador Hassan Bahjat Basha inaugurated a mosque in east London and an Islamic Cultural Center, which was administered by the “Muslim Association.

In 1944, king George XI inaugurated London’s Central Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Center built in Regent Park officially after an agreement to build this mosque in return to building a church in Cairo was made. The Egyptian government had an active role in prompting the request to build the mosque in the British capital.

Britain had donated the cost of the real estate and started preparing it while a board of trustees, which included ambassadors of Islamic countries as members, was formed.

As the Islamic presence multiplied in London, the old Central Mosque in London was demolished in order to rebuild it according to the plans of the English architect Fredrick Gebhart. It was inaugurated with its current marvelous design with a golden dome in 1977 and can accommodate about 4000 prayers. After a century and a half of building the first mosque in Britain, almost every city has now a mosque, where the number of mosques around the country exceeds 1000.

22 organizations in the “British Islamic Council”  

Despite the growing number of mosques, Islamic schools, and specialized schools for the Muslims in Britain, the absence of a comprehensive coordination framework that expresses the demands and the aspirations of three million Muslims in the country represents a disadvantage (weak point) that can hardly be ignored. Therefore, and during a historic meeting they held in the city of Bradford on may 25, 1996, some Muslim groups sought to form a framework that can comprise them. They agreed to form an umbrella foundation where the entire Muslim minority works under, so as to represent them in the British general life and to best accomplish their interests.

Thus, the British Islamic Council came to existence and was able in the first few years to gain a high credibility and an apparent reputation among Muslim ranks despite the humble financial resources that were put in its possession. The council also acquired remarkable interest from the British political class especially the leadership of the three major parties the Labor, the Conservatives, and the Democratic Liberals.

The British Islamic Council includes as members 22 major pan-British organizations, 7 regional organizations, in addition to 293 local and sector organizations.

The forming of this council was the cornerstone of the unification of the Muslims in Britain. This British government helped in fulfilling  their demands by supporting their Islamic schools and their traditions just as it does with the Jewish minority that is less, in number, than the Muslim minority.

In 2001, Muslims were also successful in acquiring a decree from London Police that allows Muslim women to join the police work while wearing veil.

Racism against Muslims in Britain:

Similar to what happened (and is still happening) to the Muslims in the United States, the Muslims in Britain suffered from racism against them. This has been confirmed by a study in 1997 by the Ranimid British Institute under the title of “Islamophobia” which talked by the record about targeting the Muslims in the general life and the media in a negative discriminatory manner whereas the simplest accusation to them is terrorism.

In early March 2001, the Interior Ministry admitted this truth in an extensive study under the title “Religious Discrimination in England and Wales”. The study, which was carried out by Derby University in cooperation with Cambridge University, noticed that discrimination against the Muslims has a religious background, which then covered all aspects of  life.

On the other hand, there are certain  achievements the Muslims in Britain achieved as a result of  their struggle. Yet there are real problems confronting them, the most prominent of which is their disunity and division which allows other forces to take advantage of. And if whatever the Muslims had achieved is primarily due to their unity and organization as a unified body, their losses are due to their disunity. This is a simple equation that can be easily solved with good will and good intentions.