As the recent horrific attacks in Manchester and London kill and maim more and more innocent people, those who commit the atrocities in the name of Islam are achieving exactly the division, fear and mistrust in our world that are their goal.
The current rift between Muslim and non-Muslim extends to almost every aspect of everyday life, the outward and visible signs of Islam reaching beyond the veil, even beyond the everyday practice of medicine, law, and education. Muslims hold dear many of the same things as non-Muslims – from decent moral values and charity towards others, to looking after our families and our planet. They also honour different mores, not only in the law courts but in the doctor’s surgery, schools, and in operating theatres.
To some non-Muslims, who have no apparent way of understanding what their Muslim neighbours are thinking, stereotyped judgements are reached without being armed with facts, based on how Muslims dress and behave in public. People ask uncomfortable questions that provoke heated responses. Can those who are first-, second-, or, in some cases, third-generation Western Muslims be loyal to their faith and to their country? Will they ever agree that their duty is to maintain the national constitution of the country in which they live, and that their primary concern must be for the welfare of their fellow citizens? Will they obey the common law that has evolved over the past thousand years, or will they insist that the law of their faith should determine justice?
The situation is not helped by the teaching in some mosques and Islamic schools, in some Shari’ah meetings and on some Muslim radio stations, of Arabic or other Islamic languages as the first language. It is a potent argument for multi-faith schools. Proportionately more Muslims than non- Muslims are now subject to police interference. But unfortunately every time any Muslim is stopped and searched, his neighbourhood sees it as an example of racial and religious harassment. Laws that make it an offense to glorify terrorism – the raiding of Islamic bookshops for extremist literature; and radio stations searched by Special Branch – are regarded as religious harassment by many Muslims, whereas non-Muslims understand these as wise precautions taken by a government that wants to prevent further terrorist outrages.
We all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, know that extremist Islam is a minority, but the rapid spread of ISIL and the tragic events of recent weeks prove that not enough steps are being taken to combat radicalism. In Britain the Government has drawn up plans for anti-radical Muslim schools. Nevertheless, many teachers are concerned that in some existing Islamic classrooms young Muslims from the start of their schooling become aware that there are double standards. In a few Muslim classrooms, it has been reported that one-minute silences may be held for those who have lost their lives carrying out a bombing, whereas when they leave the classroom they go on to hear the incident being condemned. So will it ever be possible for young Muslim children living in the West to learn Islam in such a way that they will be equally loyal to their country and their religion?
The chance of a reasoned, detached compromise that would lead to racial harmony is now being undermined by violence and the fear that Muslims are part of an international community that is under siege. The more the members of the community feel this, the more their feeling of Islamophobia will extend, and non-Muslims will become increasingly hostile. This sentiment has been exacerbated by the fury many Muslims feel about the ‘war on terror’ launched by our leaders some years ago. In their minds it has turned those who they look to for support and understanding into an adversary.
Western governments believe that Muslims living in their societies will in future have to learn to separate their political opinions from their basic religious beliefs. But many Muslims believe that this is impossible, and that political life, like every other aspect of their life, is dominated by, and intrinsic to, their Islamic faith. They say any conflict between faith and patriotism is a fight for the mind.
With the passage of time, probably measured in generations rather than decades, it is our common duty as people to work towards better integration through education, but it is unrealistic to expect it to occur rapidly. Fortunately, whatever our differences and however extremists seek to use violence to drive wedges of fear and mistrust between us, we are all bound by our abounding peaceful values and the strength and the resilience of the human spirit.
Extracted from ‘The Thing About Islam’