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‘There isn’t a great chasm between British Muslims and British non-Muslims’

Samia Rahman, 28, former deputy editor of Emel magazine, London

Tuesday November 30, 2004

I feel incredibly positive about the future of the British Muslim community. People are casting aside their more traditional cultural baggage and forging an identity that reconciles being both British and Muslim. It is possible to be both!

In the past, many imams didn’t speak English or have a strong understanding of British culture. They didn’t provide a very positive leadership over such issues as the rights of women and integration. Now, there are initiatives concerned with training British-born imams, for example at Leicester’s Islamic Foundation. There is already a lot of goodwill and enthusiasm, but this needs to be combined with education.

Muslims must interact with non-Muslims. Although at times we may not share the same ideals, we are interested in the same issues – travel, education, health. If non-Muslims overcome their fear of the unknown, they’ll find we’re just normal! It is so important that we’re not perceived as “the other”. There really isn’t a great chasm between us. For example, Muslim women in Britain are an extremely empowered group.

In the future, Britain could serve as a positive example of integration to Muslims around the world. Although it is a personal issue, I would strongly encourage Muslims to participate in British political life. We’re a minority in the spotlight, and we need to make our voices heard. A positive development over the last three years has been the alignment of Muslims and non-Muslims in protests against the “war on terror”. We must continue this bridge-building.

I’m not naive – I have experienced Islamophobia and I know that real problems exist. A lot of people subscribe to Huntington’s theory of a clash of civilisations. They are suspicious of Muslims as a community and believe that we must necessarily be in conflict with “western” values. The government must take responsibility for the way in which the “war on terror” has affected British Muslims. Muslims feel like targets, and feel their views are not taken into account. This contributes to a breakdown of trust.

However, on the whole I am optimistic. So many initiatives see Muslims reaching out to non-Muslims and vice versa. Mosques are more transparent and welcoming, interfaith dialogue is common. I feel confident that Muslims and non-Muslims will continue to come closer together.

Interview by Rachel Dixon