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Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity: Towards better Engagement and Participation Book Cover Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity: Towards better Engagement and Participation
Institute for Community Cohesion
April 2008
52
Institute for Community Cohesion

 
The Institute of Community Cohesion was established in 2005 drawing together consultants and academics in four UK universities - Warwick, Leicester, Coventry and De Montfort - with the mission of establishing itself as "the leading national and international proponent of the principles and practice of community cohesion... to provide a space to reflect upon different models of multiculturalism, try out new ideas and develop new policies. Its programme of work aims to contribute to the understanding of how communities can become more at ease with 'difference', multiculturalism and patterns of migration and what drives people towards the acceptance of diversity and the rejection of extremism". The Department of Communities & Local Government, in its response of February 2008 to the recommendations of the Dara Singh-chaired 'Commission on Integration & Cohesion' notes "we have [also] funded the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) over the last three years to assist and offer local authorities facing cohesion challenges to meet and learn from each other".

Given this connection, iCoCo reports need to be read bearing in mind the sort of preferences that its paymaster CLG has exhibited in recent years including the obsession to marginalise the Muslim Council of Britain.

This study is based on focus groups and interviews conducted in 15 cities and boroughs from September 2006 onwards, "involving more than 1000 one to one interviews with key stakeholders and more than 3000 individuals of all ages" within Britain's Muslim communities. The findings have been distilled into a 46 page report, suggesting that elsewhere there must reside a valuable dataset of interview notes and transcripts which should be made accessible to the academic community.

An important finding - and one that should be taken on board by Muslim community workers - is "the increasing propensity to withdraw into specific theologically based affiliations". Even "many young Muslims who had chosen a path of devout worship, [who] tended to be entrenched [reviewer's emphasis] with respect to their chosen form of Islamic practice". Muslim organisations should take heed of such trends towards insularity, and focus on the need for intra-faith, just as much as inter-faith, work.

The Muslim community in Britain is on the one hand developing positively through its own self-help efforts to create better institutions and further understanding within its ranks, but there are also centrifugal forces making this a more difficult challenge. Is the 'entrenchment' observed by iCoCo an outcome of the efforts by HMG to fragment Muslim civil society - note the creation of the Sufi Muslim Council, the enthusiastic endorsement of the British Muslim Forum and projects such as the Radical Middle Way?

The iCoCo study also notes:"We were struck by the extent to which overseas events had profound effect on Muslim communities. For example, the US backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia led to a significant increase in tensoin within the Somali community in the area where we were working at the time. From a situation of relative indifference to international events, four Somali boys from the area went to Somalia to fight: two were killed, one was missing presumed dead, and the fourth immediately arrested on his return to this country. Understanding and predicting the impact of international events therefore seems crucial and, as each local authority does not have sufficient resources and expertise, some sort of national co-ordination would appear necessary". The CLG has tended to dismiss this assertion when made by authentic Muslim voices within the community - perhaps they might take heed of their own consultants: make Muslims stake-holders in the nation's foreign policies.

The researchers' remark that "we were struck by the extent to which overseas events had profound effects..." conveys a sense that Muslims were somehow behaving exceptionally. This is bizarre, as foreign misadventures and injustices do not just stir one faith community, but broad swathes of society - just look at the anti-War marches!

The iCoCo reports contains numerous noddy diagrams seeking to 'map' the schools of thought within Muslims and the various theological influences in mosques, supported by generalisations such as "typically, Sunni Barelwi and Deobhandi Masaajid are mostly run by elderly all-male management committees...within both the Barelwi and Deobhandi Maslaqain Masaajid, control of the management committee is often the subject of rivalry and dispute". A lot of tax payers money is being wasted by going over old ground and known facts - for example see the Mehmood Nashabandi study on mosques or the MCB's 'Empowerment not control' report. Moreover the real problems - when a Muslim woman's job application is stonewalled after an interview because of her headscarf, or a Muslim child growing up in poverty - have nothing whatsoever to do with one's Deobandi, Barelwi, Sufi, MPAC, MCB etc affiliation - but everything to do with cultural racism and structural inequalities in society today. The iCoCo researchers justify their 'urban anthropological' approach by stating, "more detailed understanding of the circumstances of local Muslim communities can assist the identification of the most appropriate potential intermediaries from the voluntary and community sector. It may also help local agencies get a clearer sense of how best to develop strategies aimed at tackling crime/anti-social behaviour, such as gangs, as well as educational underperformance". This is a moot claim, firstly because it would have been more cost effective to ask long-standing community bodies for this information, and secondly there are already well-documented studies on educational underachievement and other social realities.

The iCoCo report offers this explanation of community development:"The early 20th century Indian Muslim scholar Abul Ala Mawdudi,incorporating Barelwi, Deobhandi and Salafi sentiments effectively processed a combined Muslim response to the advent of Modernity, culmininating in the establishment of Jamati Islam (Congregation of Islam) in India. The principles of Muslim unity encouraged by Abul Ala Mawdudi lay the originating basis of inspiration for British based Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, UK Islamic Mission and Islamic Society of Britain". The reality is that the MCB was the outcome of several years of planning and discussion within the Muslim community that commenced in the mid-1990s, involving a wide cross-section of Muslim activists and community bodies. The need for an umbrella body was staring them in the face - to press for the right for Muslim faith schools, for parity in legislation in matters relating to discrimination and incitement to hatred, for competent and informed representation in dealing with the media and government, and in political lobbying work.

Another generalisation: "Also during the early 20th century the famed Indian poet and writer Allama Iqbal is noted for the inspiration behind Mohammed Ali Jinnah's combined Muslim Secular approach leading to the eventual creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Both Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah are held in high esteem by first generation Pakistani heritage Barelwi Muslims both in Pakistan and Britain. The British Muslim Forum currently acts as the main representative body for a large section of Barelwi inclined British Muslims". Again the reality is that both Jinnah and Iqbal were champions of Muslim political unity no less than Mawdudi, and are held in high esteem by very many Muslims, both within the British Muslim Forum and without!

The iCoCo researchers are out of their depth in dealing with these types of subject matter.

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