I realise that over the last few posts, I’ve been covering a lot about Egypt specifically, together with the muslim-majority countries, and some people have raised some comments about how I am perhaps too harsh. I thought it might be interesting for those overseas in these countries in particular to understand a little bit about what it means to be muslim in the United Kingdom (where I live ) as well as what life is like for the muslims generally in the west.
The first item I would like to cover is the state of the muslims in this country. In many respects, they are sadly as nationalist as I see in those from other countries. There is a big drive from many muslim groups in this country to re-affirm the fact that they are “British muslims”, though none of them elaborate to any extent what that exactly means.
The Government, on the other hand, are very clear about what they mean within those circles. They want the muslims in this country to adopt the western way of life, and are often using muslim persons of so-called standing such as Baroness Warsi, Shahid Malik, Lord Nazir Ahmed ( yes, he really calls himself Lord Nazir ) and others in order to condemn the communities. Just yesterday, Warsi was making comments that polygamy should not be allowed in this country. Shahid Malik has voted strongly during his first term as an MP for ID Cards, 90 Days Detention without Trial for terrorism suspects , and opposed an investigation into the Iraq war. There are continuous calls and pressure applied by these individuals to make muslims within the United Kingdom follow the country in all issues, even if it is in conflict with their beliefs.
There is also the law, slowly being adapted to cater for those who do not want to capitulate to this situation. We are constantly made to feel, as a community, that our presence in this country is conditional and it can be revoked at any time. This would explain the legislation directed towards the community such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 to target “islamists”, thinktanks established to look at “Islamism”, directions given to university lecturers to monitor “islamists”, and court rulings ordering the deportation of “islamists”. Again, no one has clarified what an “Islamist” is, but the closest definition I can deduce is one who believes in Islam and Allah(swt) as a complete way of life, and is not interested in sacrificing this belief for power or monetary reward. As a result there are over 170 muslims incarcerated within british prisons in relation to offences under the community-specific legislation passed.
I have mentioned the “community” a few times, so let me once again elaborate. In my experience, there is no “community” as such, unless there are knighthoods or OBE’s to be awarded in which case community leaders suddenly appear out of the woodwork. Most of the time, these community leaders are not seen unless it is to provide rent-a-quotes. The community is mainly concerned with how it is perceived by the non-muslim community, rather than supporting the existing muslim community. This is why you will see many interfaith gatherings and even police stations within Masjids, but hardly any free legal surgeries or youth programs.
The role of the community, particularly if you are under 30 years of age, is instead filled by Islamic groups. These groups are often fighting with each other, and have an almost cultish following between them and extreme partisanship. Rarely is what unites us championed, but instead division is promoted. If one was to imagine rival mafia families in 1930s Chicago, this is perhaps the same kind of co-operative atmosphere present certainly in the UK ( one just has to read discussion boards to see this).
There is a feeling that through living here, one adopts the capitalist way of life as their own. Suddenly you find yourself less willing to support brothers and sisters in a worse situation than you ( Palestine excepted, which almost every muslim attempts a small action towards in the UK, whilst Kashmir, Somalia, Burma, Thailand, Algeria, Tunisia are not mentioned ), and you also find yourself being reluctant in charity, in dawah, in ritual worship (Ramadan excepted ) and in seeking Islamic knowledge. I say this because I hold my hand up and say I am a guilty party in this respect. I realise that as I get older, the more I take Allahs(swt) blessings for granted.
Work is a big part of life in this country, and it dominates conversations even in one’s spare time. Work is a constant pressure not because of the difficulty, but more because of the environment. Every day you will challenge your own beliefs, as so much of the work social life revolves around alcohol. To refuse to drink is to refuse a promotion in many workplaces. To be seen discussing politics or religion is a big “no-no” in most environments. Jummah prayers are a constant challenge to pray and return to work within your assigned break. Though some environments are different, most I have experienced tend to be this reality.
However, there are benefits available here that I do feel thankful that I am a part of. The first is that you can never starve in this country, as the state has an obligation to help you, even when out of work. How different to India or Pakistan, where 75% of the population live on less than 2$ per day. The second is healthcare, available to all and yet denied to so many others throughout the rest of the world. I can travel in a car throughout different cities, and never once have to pay a bribe, unlike most of West Africa. There are large numbers of practising muslims from all over the world, unlike perhaps Indonesia or Malaysia where there is a much lower percentage of muslim immigrants ( though massive indigenous muslim populations). I have muslim friends from Australia, Iraq, Egypt, Canada, Pakistan and India in my small friends circle, and I am truly thankful for that, because I don’t think there can be many other places that have such a cosmopolitan atmosphere ( Hajj apart).
Inshallah I pray that people have found it interesting to read this brief summary about life for muslims in the UK, and will perhaps see that each country has its own problems and benefits, and that until we live according to Islam and its teachings, we will continue to face difficulties as an Ummah wherever we live.
Please do forward me any article you have written about your part of the world, as I am always interested in the various challenges that muslims face without Islam being established!