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PLAIN TRUTH : Lord Sheikh on Muslims, Extremism and Islam

8Dr. Mozammel Haque

Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom delivered a speech in the House of Lords in which Her Majesty said that measures will be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. There was discussion and debate on this speech at the House of Lords. Lord Sheikh and Lord Ahmed among others participated in this debate and discussion. I had the opportunity to interview Lord Sheikh on Islam, Muslims and Extremism. Lord Sheikh from the Conservative Party focussed on several points about the Muslim community.

Positive aspects of the Muslim Community
Lord Sheikh first of all mentioned the positive aspects of the Muslim Community. He said, “There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, and they have contributed significantly to Britain in all walks of life. We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims. There are Muslim philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and we also have successful Muslims in the professions, politics, academia, in the media and on the sports field. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase, and there are problems associated with some sections of the community.”

Criticism against Muslims based on misunderstandings
Lord Sheikh mentioned about some criticisms against the Muslim Community which are deliberate and based on misunderstandings. He said, “Muslims have been severely criticised in some quarters. Some of the criticism is not at all justified but is either deliberate or based on misunderstandings. We have been and are subjected to Islamophobia in some parts of the media and by a few politicians and organisations—I believe they have their own agenda. The attacks on us are now regular, and some people feel that it is fair game to have a go at Muslims.

Speaking about Islamophobia, Lord Sheikh told me, “We are suffering weekly attacks. The problem is: there is a tiny minority; we accept that we are all painted with the same brush. Though Islamophobia is coming in different shapes and in different forms and we are all sufferings. Some of it is hate crime; some of it is discrimination, some of it is quite overt actions; somebody is wearing niqab or hijab or somebody in beard or skull cap; so this is happening.”

Lord Sheikh also mentioned, “Islamophobia can arise because of two reasons: It is deliberate, because people have their own agenda. Secondly it is misunderstanding. People do not understand the other religions. It is up to us to tell everybody what are our ideas regarding Jihad, about Suicide bombing; about rules of engagement in Islam. Islam does not permit forcible conversion; it is in the Qur’an and it is up to us to tell the world what Islam is all about. I am a Muslim leader and it is up to us, one of us to tell about Islamic principal values. Islam is a religion of peace and we need to tell.”

Muslims are integrating

Lord Sheikh is a patron of six Muslim and non-Muslims organisations. He founded and chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He was approached by several Muslim leaders to look at the current problems affecting the Muslim Community. Lord Sheikh did some research and mentioned just three findings. He said, “Some 75% of Muslims believe that they are integrating into British society, whereas only 47% of British people opine that they are doing so. Muslims in Britain are overwhelmingly young, and the performance of some Muslims at schools is low. Some 46% of British Muslims live in the most deprived 10% of areas in the United Kingdom.”

Lord Sheikh told me, “70% Muslims believe that they are integrating into the main society. Yes, this is the statistics; they feel that they are integrating. There are quite a large number of Muslims who feel they are British; but on the other hand, the British don’t feel that we are integrating. I honestly believe; you can be a British and you can be a Muslim. Likewise, you can be a British and you can be a Jew. You can be a British and you can be a Buddhist. You can be a British and you can be Christian. So we can do that and the great thing about this country is this that this country allows to practice religion; there is no restriction on the women; they can do and wear whatever. But in certain other countries there are restrictions.”

Lord Sheikh identified five issues
Lord Sheikh have travelled recently to various parts of the country, identified a number of issues and prepared a report. He said, “Over the past year I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the community. About two weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at a gathering of more than 2,000 Muslims in Birmingham, many of whom spoke to me afterwards. I have now identified a number of issues, which total 23 points, and have prepared a report on them. I do not have time to mention them all today, but I will state five—radicalisation, education standards, lack of engagement with the young, deprivation, and the Prevent strategy not being effective.”

Muslims feel the Government have
not engaged with them
Lord Sheikh mentioned in his speech he have been asked by several Muslims to make it known to the Government that they have not engaged adequately with the community. He said, “I, too, feel that that has been lacking. We feel that the Government should do more to interact with the right people, look at the various problems and help the community to take positive actions.”

“In addressing the problems we need the involvement of the Muslim community, the Government, the police, schools, local authorities and the relevant agencies. We are trying to raise awareness that there is also an onus on the Muslim community to be honest and realise that there are problems, and to take positive actions to remedy the issues as part of a holistic approach in conjunction with others,” said Lord Sheikh.

Lack of communications
Lord Sheikh told me in my interview with him, “Lack of communications with the Muslims is undoubtedly happened. Look; for example, they talk to some people; some people have got their own agenda. There is not enough interaction between the Government and the right people There are some very very good people; not the extremists; we are not extremists”

Community have to take the responsibility
Lord Sheikh also told me, “Yes, we have to take responsibility. For example, we must tell the youngsters what is Islam all about; we must interact with the young; and this is lacking in some sections and in some Mosques. I would like to have every Mosque at least to have one youngsters and one woman on the board so that we can interact with the young people. The Sermons, I believe, have to be in English wherever it is possible. I have been in Mosques where I don’t mind Imams speaking in Bengali; Gujarati or Urdu; but you could have another Imam who could speak in English. Khutba must cover what is happening in the world now and telling the Islamic point of view.”

While assessing radicalisation, Lord Sheikh mentioned in his speech at the House of Lords that it has been brought about partly by the actions of the West. He said, “In assessing radicalisation we must realise that this has been partly brought about by the actions of the West, including the United Kingdom, overseas. The action of a tiny minority of the young in being radicalised could be born out of frustration, but we must do what we can to allay these feelings.”

Lord Sheikh mentioned first about the invasion of Iraq. He said, “When the United Kingdom, together with the United States, decided unilaterally to invade Iraq, there was no adequate plan for action to be taken after Saddam Hussein was toppled. A vacuum was created that led subsequently to violence, death and destruction, and to al-Qaeda in Iraq taking root in the country. It also created a severe rift between the Sunnis and the Shias.”

Then, Lord Sheikh mentioned, as for example, about Libya and Afghanistan. He said, “We bombed Libya without an adequate plan to be implemented after Gaddafi was got rid of. We invaded Afghanistan without realising the consequences. In future, the United Kingdom must have an adequate plan and think of all the consequences and implications before glibly invading any territory.”

Gaza and Palestine
Speaking about the issues of Gaza and Palestine in the House of Lords, Lord Sheikh said the double standards. He said, “We also have double standards when looking at the issues of Gaza and Palestine, and this is causing disquiet among Muslims. We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state.”

ISIS doings are not at all Islamic
Referring to the ISIS barbaric actions, Lord Sheikh mentioned those doings are not at all Islamic. He said in his speech at the House of Lords, “Over the last year we have seen the rise of ISIS—or Daesh, as I prefer to call them. What they are doing is not at all Islamic, and their interpretation of our glorious religion is totally wrong. It is imperative for the imams, Muslim leaders and parents, together with everyone in the community, to explain to the young the true values of Islam. In order to combat radicalisation, we must also use social media effectively to block information that unduly influences young people, and to convey the true message of Islam.”

Islam does not permit terrorism.
While talking about combating radicalisation, Lord Sheikh categorically declared that Islam does not permit terrorism. He said, “Both the media and politicians should not refer to terrorism as Islamic, because Islam does not permit terrorism. They must use appropriate language. The word jihad is misused, as jihad involves internal and external struggle to do one’s utmost for good.”

Extensive and balanced research
needed to combat extremism
While talking about measures to be undertaken to combat extremism, Lord Sheikh suggested an extensive and balanced research. He said, “In deciding on measures to combat extremism, we must undertake extensive and balanced research. The Government must understand the challenging issues facing the Muslim community. The Prevent agenda has created some problems and needs to be reappraised. Some have even described it as toxic. Sometimes, the Government are ill advised in taking action. For example, I was told that the letter written to mosques in January of this year by the right honourable Eric Pickles was not well received by some members of the community.”

The Government must win Muslims’ support
Lord Sheikh agreed with the government on counterextremism measures and wanted the Government to win the support of the Muslim community. He said in his speech, “I agree that counterextremism measures must be firm, but they should not be fierce and should not alienate the community. The Government must win the support of the Muslim community and must not be seen as the big brother wielding a stick. Otherwise, we will get a negative reaction.”

“We must also respect freedom of speech, as we in this country take pride in our democratic values. The Muslim community will listen and take appropriate action, as part of the holistic approach we need to implement,” said Lord Sheikh.

Undertake adequate research and
consultation with the community
“I understand that measures may be introduced such as banning orders, extremism disruption orders and powers to close premises,” said Lord Sheikh and suggested, “before any powers are approved and implemented, adequate research and consultation with the community should be undertaken. The community will co-operate if there is appropriate engagement. We need to be very careful before interfering or applying any form of restriction on the activities of Muslim charities, which do very valuable humanitarian work across the world.”

Looking at other issues education of the young
Lord Sheikh also mentioned about the need of looking at other issues concerning the community, including the education of the young and deprivation. He said, “I will be taking part in the proceedings on the proposed legislation and will make suggestions where I feel that these are appropriate.”

Lord Sheikh elaborated to me what he meant by looking at other issues. He told me, “The situation is this that the 40% of Muslims live in areas in deprived areas. So what we want to do is to regenerate those areas. Create jobs for the Muslims. We can look at the deprived areas and see how we can generate by giving incentives and by encouraging people; by giving loans to people. This is what I like to say; I would like to see more regeneration. I said here some 40% of the British are living in most deprived areas”

British Values are similar to our values
“I like parents; give the children well-rounded education; send them to schools; undoubtedly private education private tuition too and then teach them Islamic values; the two must go hand in hand,” Lord Sheikh told me in an interview and added, “To certain extent, British values are similar to our values; The thing is: the Muslim values don’t mean that our youngsters should go on Friday night and Saturday night get drunk; and start fighting. We should get to make sure that children behave properly; parents have got to make sure that.”