Working with Muslim Communities

 A talk given at Loxley house by Dr Musharraf Hussain to senior executives of the Nottingham city council on 11 December 2013.

I am delighted to be here this morning with you in what I consider to be an auspicious audience so I feel honoured to address you.
My Aims are to explore the following themes:

  1. The Muslim community of Nottingham: reflections on the challenges facing this young and vibrant community at the heart of Nottingham.
  2. Exploring ‘perceptions versus reality’ and how to narrow the ‘us-them’ gap through various programmes, to raise the awareness and understanding of Muslim culture and faith amongst the public sector. I want to examine the need for a mature discussion between Muslims and the wider society.
  3. The new prevent strategy; the challenge of winning confidence of Muslims

Muslims in Nottingham

  • 25,000 Muslims (9% ) of 11,000 in 2001
  • 65% under 30 (40% in mainstream)
  • Forecast for 2021 50,000 (20%)
  • 20 mosques and Islamic centres
  • 3 community schools
  • 6 charities
  • 12  community organisations
  • 3 FE colleges
  • 12 nursing homes
  • 10’s of shops and supermarkets
  • hundreds of taxis and taxi ranks
  •  40 Takeaways/restaurants

How Mosques and community organisations are working in tandem towards the priorities of Nottingham City Council
The education improvement partnership’s main priorities are:

  • To develop opportunities to raise standards in the core curriculum
  • To develop a programme of activities designed to nurture, stretch and challenge children and young people, including sport, outdoor learning and the arts.
  • To increase parents’ engagement in the reading process.

At Karimia Institute for instance we have more than 800 children from the age of 5 to 15 who attend our various educational programs, and we are providing them a warm welcoming and learning experience which not only develops their strong character but improves their educational standards. Similarly the public health and well-being is keen about weight reduction and preventing alcohol abuse, these are constantly discussed on our radio dawn as well as in the Friday sermons by the imams. I am aware of the emphasis Nottingham city councils Department for neighbourhoods and community, community protection and housing care about; Unemployment/families living in poverty/debt crisis, Substance abuse,  Looked after children, Bereavement or parental break-up, Neglect or abuse, Domestic Violence. As a religious organisation the thrust of our teaching and preaching is to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Ours is a soft approach, but I am sure it has tremendous impact on hundreds of families in Nottingham.
Introduction to Karimia institute                                                            
 Mission statement                

“To support the individual and the family to learn Islamic life skills and develop moral and spiritual values through education and worship”

Karimia institute is based in inner city Forest fields and Hyson green, two of the most deprived areas of the city and has been involved in teaching and guiding people since 1990. It has a diverse portfolio of projects including; publishing books, booklets and in particular the Invitation magazine has been published for over 20 years, it runs a community radio station broadcasting 24/7 and on the web, manages 3 websites, runs 5 Quran schools attended by 800 children daily, 3 mosques with a congregation of 1,500 people, and promotes interfaith activities. Karimia Institute is involved in all these activities to help people to both fulfil their religious obligations and to live as excellent British citizens. Other activities and projects initiated by Karimia Institute include;

  • Fig Tree primary School and nursery
  • Zaytuna Nursery
  • Adult Arabic and Islamic studies courses.
  • Supporting and guiding new Muslims
  • Several youth projects; youth club, 7 football teams

Karimia delivers more with those resources each year but has been blessed with huge commitment and support of numerous volunteers, generous funders, and committed partners.
From tolerance “to discovering the other”
The British tradition of tolerance was reaction to its wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries between Protestants and Catholics each one of them with different visions for the state each one fought for its political dominance. After long century of bloodshed, mistrust and violence the British developed the principle of secular state which gave rise to many of the freedoms we take for granted here today. At the heart of this secular movement was the principal that there is human conscience into which the state will not intrude or impose its will. Today in the 21st century we have a widespread rights-based “me first” culture, here tolerance has often been understood as the right to be different and not to be interfered with.
This may help us to understand why people here in Britain whilst supporting the rights of immigrants and ethnic minorities feel threatened by their religion particularly that of Muslims. My plea is that we need to move from tolerance “to discovering the other” and begin to engage.
Let me share a cartoon with you…. This is a cartoon that shows two dogs walking out of an exhibition that showed beautiful pictures of cats. One of the dogs says. “I didn’t like it!” In that cartoon  by Rice  I can see a very common human frailty and weakness, just like this dog automatically rejected the story told about the cats, a story told about another religious group different from our own or another culture and group different from ours all are in the beginning difficult for us to understand. Our tendency is to place prejudices in front of the content and would begin to assume that the story, the wisdom, the artistry just aren’t relevant to us. We create a mental barrier, unfortunately this is a common human condition that is prevalent everywhere.
I would like to encourage myself and all of you to ask the question how open-minded am I?
Am I open to new connections?  How do you react to something unfamiliar? Do you put up mental barriers? Or do you build bridges connecting yourself to unfamiliar things? Do you tune in or out?  Are you curious?
The problem here is we wish not to go beyond our comfort zone or we surround ourselves with people who think, act and behave in similar ways to ours. The most common reason for not moving out of our comfort zone is we are scared of making a mistake, and this is because of our relationships are not developed enough, we haven’t yet become Frank and real friends since making mistakes is inevitable in any relationship. The best way to overcome this is by having a sense of humour and humility.
Let me also share with you the story of a friend he writes about discovering the other, in this case his wife he says that over the years we have done various psychological personality tests, such as the Myers Briggs and Enneagram, and have consistently found that we are opposites in almost every way. This is frequently a cause of misunderstanding, frustration and anger I am often tempted to quote Prof Higgins in my fair Lady: why can’t a woman be more like a man, but these differences are also a source of growth and our love is the deeper for them. (Mike Lowe, Initiatives of change FAC dec 2005)
The problem of Islamophobia
Islamophobia is affecting  community cohesion strongly. On the one hand, it is unjustly victimising  Muslims, and on the other hand, it is creating animosity in  wider, non Muslim communities. Here are thoughts from Baroness Warsi she said in one of her speeches;

  1. This state of affairs is fostering a victimhood mentality across Muslim communities as they feel discriminated against and marginalised. Baroness Warsi has vehemently condemned Islamophobia and said ‘It’s when people are treated differently because they hold a different religious belief. It’s when a country turns a blind eye towards that discrimination. And it’s when we allow a perception of a people to become so entrenched that extremists are able to capitalise on it. Because any form of prejudice, bigotry or discrimination is wrong. It’s un British’. Her efforts, including the sponsorship of the Tell Mama campaign has been welcomed by the Muslim community and human rights champions as the way forward in tackling Islamophobia.
  2. There are three possible causes of Islamophobia as ‘Something which I believe is paving the way for anti-Muslim hatred: The negative perception of Muslims, an underlying unfounded mistrust, a misinformed suspicion of people who follow Islam.’
  3. We believe that the British Muslim community must do considerably more to tackle these suspicions. Unfortunately, headlines about young Muslims involvement in cases of grooming, vigilantism domestic violence, forced marriages and the lack of women participation in civic society are exacerbating an  already negative image and perception of Muslims.

With regret I have to say that the media both ignites and then fans fear, anger and defensiveness in its readers, creating a toxic environment, the newspapers do so in order to sell more whilst the politicians follow the media to win votes. I believe our job is to go beyond tolerance and promote engagement, this is about discovering the other, finding commonalities and seeing the best in the other which leads to building of real relationships. Engagement then is the antidote to the constant fear of clash of civilisations. The toxic environment can be overcome by being more socially responsible, we can create optimal states in others, from those we encounter casually to those we love and care about most dearly, neuroscientists now believe that sociability is good for our immune system, and has a positive physiological impact on our bodies. Neuroscientists like Prof Danielle Goleman and Prof Whiteman actually believe in “the survival value of sociability and recommend “nourish your social connections”. (Social intelligence by Goleman) 
Tackling extremism by developing humility 
The Islamic teachings unmistakably say “do not be an extremist in your religion” (Quran) instead be moderate and gentle. The Quran describes its followers as “the moderate people” (ummatan wasatan). The messenger (peace be on him) condemned extremism explicitly by saying “the extremists are ruined”. Here is an explanation of how extremism might develop in certain individuals;
Sense of superiority over the ‘other’
slogans like’ we are the best’
antidote; be humble
Isolation from the ‘other’
Ghettoisation, non mixing
antidote; get to know the other
Caricature of the ‘other’
Demonising, mocking and hating,
antidote; dig deep to find the truth
Persecuting the ‘other’
Causing harm even killing
antidote; make friends,
How to overcome extremism; simply accept the reality that differences are the norm rather than the exceptions! Sadly, human history is full of wars and bitter conflict stalked by hatred between various groups, however, death tolls of such conflicts were limited due to the technology of the time in the 20th century our ability to destroy one another is immensely greater that is why we have to discover the other. In the Battle of Hastings in 1066 only few hundred people were killed the battle started at 9 AM on Saturday and had finished by the evening same day but in 20th century in second World War more than 60 million people were killed over five long bloody years. This stark contrast I hope shows the urgency with which we need to overcome hatred of the other and instead promote engagement and discovery of the other. Is this an alarm bell?
Possibly, I suggest that both at personal level and community level we need to expand the circle of those we count among Us and shrink the numbers we count as them.
Dream about ambitious, proud and clean Nottingham
Here is a dream that I think we all have about Nottingham: Here people of all backgrounds religion and cultures live and work together. They are open and willing to share their ideas, resources, vision and commitment to our collective future. We are all united in searching for larger purpose and we are all connected to the ecology of Nottingham. Only by understanding our commonalities can we better communicate and live both as individuals and as a city.
In the dream, people are sharing everything: skills, knowledge talents in love and friendship. People are really helping one another because it feels better to help than not to help: also because they know they will never survive as a thriving city unless everyone thinks of humanity as one people.
In this dream I see there are no rich and poor – only richness of being, people live inspired and productive lives where money is not the be all and end all of life, it’s a means of living a good life. Knowledge and especially knowledge of moral, spiritual and social values that help one to know himself better is highly ranked by everyone, it is the practice of this kind of knowledge that leads to absence of violence and hatred, here people are busy doing good for all. Therefore, they cannot find time for destructive tendencies. This indeed is a clean ambitious city of which we are all proud. (Based on Buckminister Fuller’s book ‘Utopia or oblivion: the prospects for humanity’)
A humble Plea
I have always tried to achieve as much as possible with limited resources at my disposal.  However, the challenges my institute faces are immense;

  • An increasing worldliness around us, in form of consumerism and individualism
  • Muslims remain unsure how Islam ‘fits’ in British society
  • Muslims meet and engage with others all too infrequently
  • Islamophobia is not going away.

Karimia is striving to break these cycles, by promoting interfaith dialogue, integration good citizenship, promoting moral and spiritual development of the individual and society as a whole. I need your support, will you work with us for the good of our Historic city?