MCB – The Muslim Council of Britain

The MCB was inaugurated – after several years of community consultation – on November 23 1997 at the Brent Town Hall in Wembley by representatives of more than 250 Muslim organisations from all parts of Britain including Northern Ireland. The launch was organised by the National Interim Committee on Muslim Unity (NICMU), with joint convenors Sher Azam and Iqbal Sacranie. The MCB held its first annual meeting at the same venue in March 1998, electing Iqbal Sacranie as the first Secretary General.

  • A. Record of Office Bearers, 1998-2020
  • B. Invitation to the Inaugural Meeting of the MCB,  November 1997
  • C. In the eye of the storm – 9 September 2001
  • D. The role of MCB in Muslim Political Engagement, 2001 – 2005

A. Record of Office Bearers, 1998-2020

Charts indicating office bearers from 1998 to 2020

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B. Invitation to the Inaugural Meeting of the MCB,  November 1997

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C. In the eye of the storm – 9 September 2001

Extract from ‘The Quest for Sanity’, published by the MCB, 2002

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D. The role of MCB in Muslim Political Engagement, 2001 – 2005

The account below draws on ‘Muslim electoral participation in British general elections, an historical perspective and case study’, by Jamil Sherif, Anas Altikriti and Ismail Patel. Chapter 2 in ‘Muslims and Political Participation in Britain’, Ed. Timothy Peace, Routledge Studies in Religion and Politics, 2015. It includes additional material not included in the paper as published.

The early 1990s were a despondent period for Muslims because of several factors. In the aftermath of the 1992 general election there was a feeling that the Labour Party was reluctant to select Pakistanis for safe and winnable parliamentary seats, and “this applies to the other two parties as well…this is seen as deliberate by some, and anti-Pakistani and anti-Muslims policy, by others” (Anwar 1996). The feeling of disempowerment was exacerbated by the inability to build a base of political support for a ban on Satanic Verses, and later for the lifting of the arms embargo placed on Bosnian forces during the war in the Balkans. The first Gulf War in 1991 also brought Hizb-ut-Tahrir into prominence in Britain (Genovese 2012), a group that turned its back on electoral politics, and believed voting to be haram (forbidden).  The Muslim Parliament launched by the Muslim Institute in 1992 also sought to discourage Muslims from entering mainstream politics.   The main community voices urging participation in the democratic processes of the land were UMO and UKACIA, though neither launched any significant initiatives in the run up to the 1992 general election. An important Muslim civil society coalition, the National Interim Committee for Muslim Unity (NICMU) began to develop in the 1992-1997 period, building on the networks formed while planning responses to Rushdie and the Bosnian crises. NICMU conducted a postal survey of prominent British Muslims and community organisers to seek out their priorities for community development:

It was the first of its kind to poll Muslim opinion across the whole of the United Kingdom. The survey findings pointed to a fund of goodwill for the unity initiative. They also pointed to a spirit of seriousness and deep concern for the future of the Muslim community and the younger generations in particular. The consultation process provided a clear signal from the community. It showed that the majority of Muslims of Britain felt there is a need for greater coordination and unity.

The general election was a landslide victory for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. The MCB, inaugurated in November 1997, soon organised a meeting with the Home Secretary, Jack Straw MP, and a large-scale community reception for the Prime Minister the following year. On both occasions MCB’s first secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, reminded the guests of their various pre-election commitments. The outcomes were positive: “perhaps as a testimony to its institutional status, the MCB was largely successful in achieving these highly strategic and symbolically important goals” (O’Toole, DeHanas et al 2013). The 1997 general election also resulted in Mohammad Sarwar winning the Glasgow Govan seat for Labour; a year later the Labour government also conferred peerages on two party activists, Nazir Ahmed and Manzila Pola Uddin. The MCB published a policy document prior to the June 2001 general election, entitled Electing to Listen: promoting policies for British Muslims, similar in scope and format to UKACIA’s ‘manifesto’ of 1997. Its foreword noted,

Electing to Listen is designed as a positive contribution to our representative democracy. In this document the Muslim Council of Britain highlights issues and principles to help shape debate and policy agendas in the run up to the next general election. Based on consultations with Muslim community representatives, it seeks to initiate dialogue articulate the ideas and needs of Britain’s one and a half million Muslims in the context of a multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain.

Maintaining the non-partisan stand of earlier representative bodies, the MCB also met the Rt Hon William Hague MP, presenting the Conservative leader with a copy of Electing to Listen in November 2000  The MCB promoted voter registration through its website and affiliate network and prepared a ‘voter card’ for distribution outside mosques listing questions to raise with prospective party candidates. Labour was returned to power; Mohammad Sarwar held his seat, and a new Muslim-heritage MP, Khalid Mahmood, was elected for the Perry Barr constituency in Birmingham.

After 9/11, the policies of Prime Minister Blair in support of the US-led ‘War on Terror’ led to unease in most sections of the Muslim community. After a meeting at Downing Street on 28th September 2001, the MCB cautioned for “the need to secure justice and not vengeance” and, meeting the Leader of the Opposition a week later, conveyed a similar  concern that any action in Afghanistan should follow the “the due process of law”. The anti-war protest marches in Britain politicised young Muslims. The massive march in London in September 2002 organised by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) together with the Stop the War Coalition, was addressed by Iqbal Sacranie, MCB’s Secretary General. The following month he met the Foreign Office minister Mike O’Brien, calling on the Government to listen, “not just to Muslims, but to the vast majority of the British people who oppose a war against Iraq”. The MCB continued lobbying in other areas affecting British Muslims, for example the introduction of legislation to outlaw religious discrimination in the workplace. This was successful and had a practical benefit for Muslim employees. The MCB also devoted much time and effort to lobby parliamentarians to support a religious incitement hatred law, but without success. By the time of the May 2005 General Election, there was much resentment and disaffection within Muslim communities with the Labour government to do with the ‘War on Terror’, anti-terrorism laws and the use of stop-and-search powers by the police. Its  pre-2005 general election ‘manifesto’, Electing to Deliver – working for a representative Britain was a 21-page policy paper urging Muslims, as in the 2001 general election, “to take an active part in all the issues of the election campaign…active engagement in civil society is basic duty in Islam”. It took note of the increased politicisation within the community:

This election takes place in the wake of the Iraq war and the deep divisions it has created. It is the single issue that galvanised British Muslims. Those who participated in or watched the huge demonstration of 15 February 2003 found they stood side-by-side with Britons of all ages, backgrounds and persuasions. This mobilisation has been carried through to increased involvement in subsequent by-elections across the country. This presents a challenge and an opportunity to all political parties. The challenge is to address the fundamental questions of trust raised by the premises on which Britain participated in a war. The opportunity is to harness this involvement in politics and combat apathy. 

The anti-war protests were significant not only in the alliances it built across civil society – Muslim and non-Muslim, but also because they were “illustrative of a shift in British [Muslim civil society, away from methods of protest imported from the Indian subcontinent and toward methods of dissent that were more in tune with British political culture” (Peace 2013). 

The MCB’s positive approach to participation in the nation’s political processes was opposed by sections of young Muslims – an event to launch the document at the Baker Street mosque in London was disrupted by those opposed to such electoral participation. The MCB responded by publishing a statement on its website:

Just forty eight hours before the nation goes to the polls, leading Islamic scholars and prominent community leaders will be urging the British Muslim community to do their citizens duty and to take the fullest part in the General Election on the 5 May 2005.

There has arguably never been a more important time for British Muslims to engage in the mainstream political process. We know there is a lot of disaffection in the community particularly with the way the anti-terror laws have been applied and with respect to the war against Iraq as well as concerns on inclusion and equality. We believe that by not participating in the political process we will only be further marginalised. Our Islamic scholars are convinced in their opinion that British Muslims must increase their engagement with the wider British society with a view to fulfilling the Qur’anic commandment to ‘enjoin the good and forbid the wrong,'” said Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain. 

In the MCB’s view, a noteworthy development in the 2005 general election was a more participative and informed citizenship:

The issues raised by British Muslims were mainstream concerns and not peripheral as the results around the country show clearly. We are encouraged that despite this negative background the British Muslim community have reaffirmed their commitment to a fuller participation in the civic and political life of the country to work for the common good. The election results show that no single party can any longer take the Muslim community’s votes for granted. The Muslim electorate has become more discerning and that is good news for the health of our democracy.

The number of Muslim candidates standing in the 2005 general election was 48, more than double compared to 2001:  an increase in the number of Muslim-heritage MPs from two to four. Apart from the re-election of Sarwar and Mahmood the newly elected Labour MPs were Shahid Malik and Sadiq Khan. The Respect Coalition candidate, the anti-war, hijab-wearing Salma Yaqoob, came second to the Labour PC in the Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath constituency, but causing a swing of 11% away from Labour to Respect.

References

Anwar, Muhammad. 1986.  Race and Politics. London: Tavistock

Genovese, Danila,. 2012. ‘Representation and self-Representation of radical Islamism in the UK’, in C. Flood, S.Hutchings, G. Miazhevich, H. Nickels (eds), Political and Cultural Representations of Muslims. Leiden: Brill, p.29-31

O’Toole, T. and DeHanas, D.N. et al 2013. Taking Part, Muslim Participation in Contemporary Governance. Centre for the Study of Ethnicity & Citizenship, University of Bristol. Peace, T.. ‘All I’m Asking, is for a Little Respect’, Parliamentary Affairs Vol. 66, No. 2, p. 405-424. [Also see this author’s paper ‘British Muslims and the Anti-War Movement’ in ‘Muslims and Political Participation in Britain’, Ed. Timothy Peace, Routledge Studies in Religion and Politics, 2015]