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Table 5
How do the faithful live in a secular society?

There was general agreement that some of the problems Muslims identify in British society are problems for others as well. Islam, said one speaker, did not have a monopoly on morality.

But Anber Raz, a social worker, warned against seeing threats to Islam always from without. “Muslim communities are doing worse things to Islam than anything from the outside,” she said, “Racism, sexism, classism – it’s all in our own communities. We’re doing it to ourselves.”

How do the faithful live in a secular society?

Tuesday November 30, 2004
The Guardian

“We need to go back to traditional Islam,” argued Faraz Yousafzai, a member of Young Citizens in the West Midlands, outlining his vision of taking the original principles of the faith and applying them to a modern context.

“If you apply the principles, that’s when you get the right Islam for a particular country.”

Sarah Joseph, the editor of emel , a Muslim magazine, said: “Islam is about ethos and morals. It’s not about a particular place. So you can have an Islam that draws on British culture and heritage. It’s about creating an Islam that is authentically British.”

The question of whether a new British Islam was emerging in a secular society dominated the discussion. Other topics, such as the role of the religious leadership, were also considered, but the conversation repeatedly swung back to what a British version of Islam might be.

“We cannot compromise on our religion,” said Hasan Abdullah, director of the Islamic Affairs Central Network. “There are certain things that are quite clear, but under pressure we sometimes crumble and try to accommodate them.”

On this point most were agreed: there were values central to the faith and these should not be swayed by British norms.

But what those values might be was harder to define. When Asif Dawood, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, declared that Islam and democracy were incompatible, there was uproar at the table, with Mr Yousafzai rejecting the idea outright and insisting that the principles of democracy came out of Islam.

There was an assumption, added Sohaib Saeed Bhutta from the Muslim Association of Britain, that there was such a thing as British Islam, when there were differences “within even Glaswegian Islam”. A British version of the faith would evolve naturally, he said.

The table discussed whether today’s religious leadership was adequate for young Muslims and many felt it was not. Mr Bhutta said: “Imams are failing us.” Another participant declared the mosques were no longer relevant.

On the question of whether there are aspects of British culture which the faithful might find offensive, Olga Gora, a convert to Islam, did not feel the question should be directed exclusively at the Muslim community.

“As a woman, I find the position of women immensely disturbing,” she said. “Feminism is dead. It’s been run over backwards.”

There was general agreement that some of the problems Muslims identify in British society are problems for others as well. Islam, said one speaker, did not have a monopoly on morality.

But Anber Raz, a social worker, warned against seeing threats to Islam always from without. “Muslim communities are doing worse things to Islam than anything from the outside,” she said, “Racism, sexism, classism – it’s all in our own communities. We’re doing it to ourselves.”