In a few weeks’ time, I will be embarking on a cycle ride from London to Paris in support of National Zakat Foundation. The idea of trying to help those in need around one’s immediate vicinity first and foremost is something that has always resonated with me, and logically it makes sense. Nevertheless, many have still questioned the rationale behind my chosen charity; why not support one of the many Muslim charities that are helping our needy brethren in foreign lands? Whilst this is a sentiment that still exists amongst many Muslims living in Britain, how can we possibly ameliorate the living conditions of those residing further afield in a meaningful fashion, when we perpetually fail to improve the living standards of those amongst us?
It seems as if we are fixated with the plight of those living in foreign lands, whilst remaining completely oblivious to the problems facing us in Britain. Not only does our charitable giving manifest this, but it also dictates our political motives. The principle concern of Muslims remains to be foreign policy and happenings abroad, as opposed to those things affecting us here at home. Even when political engagement occurs on domestic issues, we engage in those things that are related to foreign policy, most notably the issue of counter-terrorism strategies. The anomaly to this pattern of political engagement is any threat to our halal meat; but as they say, exceptions prove the rule.
Whilst questioning politicians about their foreign policy and the ramifications that has on domestic policy is important, why is it that this is the focus of Muslim political engagement? Just like our charitable giving, we seem to hold onto a strange belief that politically we can have some impact in shaping foreign policy whilst completely ignoring those things that directly affect us living here. The irony is that we are impotent when it comes to ameliorating the issues affecting us in Britain, yet we somehow think that we will be able to impact foreign policy. Surely we should be expounding our efforts in developing a meaningful political voice that focuses on engaging on those issues that affect the weakest members of society who live amongst us?
Poignant examples of such political involvement have been illustrated just this week from members of other Abrahamic faiths, and Muslims living in Britain ought to reflect on this. Take the 52-page letter from Bishops of the Anglican Church to the political class, in which they raise a number of issues affecting wider society, from unemployment, poverty and inequality, to education and the dire state of our health service. At a time when the British public is becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the political class, the Church wrote a lengthy letter advocating for the weakest members of society, inspired by the teachings of their faith. This was a bold move; given the widespread belief that the Church should have nothing to do with politics, writing such a letter was a gutsy retort to those who ascribe to militant secularism.
Compare this to the political noises emanating from the British Muslim community, who are obsessed with foreign policy. Imams and organisations are either campaigning about the ‘plight’ of Muslims abroad, or rushing to be the first to condemn acts of terror committed in lands far away from Britain. Surely our religious leadership (if indeed we can call it a leadership?) should primarily be concerned with the difficulties faced by society at large here, of which Muslims are a part? In perhaps their most meaningful work to date, the MCB analysed the recent Census statistics to give a snapshot of the British Muslim community, showing that Muslims in Britain are amongst the most deprived in the UK. Therefore, welfare reforms, healthcare reforms and austere financial policies are likely to hit the most deprived communities the hardest, which includes Muslims. By ignoring these facts the only logical conclusion one can come to is that religious leaders simply don’t care that Muslims in Britain are heavily reliant on the state for support, or that they are more likely to under-achieve at school, or that they are likely to suffer the consequences of healthcare inequalities, and instead of engaging politically in a similar fashion to the Anglicans and standing up for the weakest members of our society and illustrating our Godly ethics in doing so, they would rather campaign about issues taking place in lands afar, which in reality they can never affect. Moreover, whilst Anglicans do seek to raise awareness about Christian communities being oppressed worldwide, that never forms the basis of their political engagement and as such, they have acquired a reputation for advocating on behalf of the poorest members of society. An important point for Muslims living in Britain to consider.
Another interesting example comes from the Jewish community. Following the shootings in Paris and Denmark in which Jews were targeted, concerns have been raised from Jews living in Britain that anti-Semitism is once again on the rise. It was on this point that Benjamin Netenyahu suggested that Jews living in Europe should move to Israel, where they can be guaranteed peace and security. However, many Jews have expressed disgust at Netenyahu’s suggestion; on Radio 4 ,Rabbi Menachem Margoin, head of the European Jewish Association, repeatedly said Netenyahu’s suggestions were ‘completely unacceptable’, and many other Jews have equally expressed their dismay. Their message is clear; Jews residing in Britain and other European countries consider these countries to be their home, and given that they have invested themselves as equal members of society, they must be afforded protection against any form of xenophobia against them. Contrast this response to that of certain Muslims in positions of religious authority, who continue to peddle the idea amongst Muslims that they need to be prepared to leave Britain if Islamophobia increases any further. Rather than encourage Muslims to hold a stake in society and put forward a political response similar to the Jewish community, they put forward a meek solution that accepts failure from the outset.
The fundamental problem lies in the fact that whilst some Muslims are physically living in Britain, their hearts and minds are still living in foreign lands, and although one can understand this sentiment existing amongst immigrant Muslims, it is somewhat strange that it exists amongst Muslims who were born and raised in Britain. If Muslims actually invested themselves within the societies that they live and engaged in meaningful ways, then perhaps we would have greater efficacy in alleviating the deprivation Muslims find themselves in and thus create a more prosperous community which is focused on worshipping our Creator and spreading righteousness and godliness. Muslims simply cannot live the rest of their lives in a state of self-created limbo, and thus the time has come for us all to accept that Britain is our home.