Guest-post – The opinions expressed in the article below do not necessarily reflect the view of Quilliam.

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Browsing the Quilliam Foundation website, it is refreshing to see a body of people unafraid to take an introspective look into the window of Muslim society, and ask “What can we do to become better citizens of British and the global society?” I do like the self-critical approach to problem solving; it challenges any thoughts others might have that Muslims are too insular, hindered by their own complacencies. Though Quilliam is not a Muslim or religious organisation, its continued attempts to promote understanding within societies is much needed. In light of what some perceive as the diminishing credibility of Muslims globally, few would disagree that as a communities it is now imperative for us to find creative ways in which we can address and solve the problems facing us – particularly those affecting our youth. It is vital that we do this in order to ensure that we are able to continue to freely practice our religion, without imposing it on the rest of society – a condition important in ensuring social cohesion.

As a parent I too worry about the dubious characters influencing our young men and women, conditioning them with their own perverted beliefs about Islam. I am saddened and angered by the actions of a few bad apples who have become rotten to the core, indulging in outrageous crimes against children, spreading messages of hatred, destroying the sanctity of life with extreme violence, inhabiting British prisons in disproportionate numbers, bringing ridicule upon a noble and ancient faith; they have opened a dark chapter in fourteen centuries of enlightenment. So, it is high time that we “…come to common terms as between us and you…”, and heal our society, together.

Where to begin?

If you are a Muslim in the habit of attending Friday (Jumma) prayer, have you ever wondered why so many people arrive at the last minute, just before prayer is about to begin? I have found that they can account for up to 30% of all those who attend the Friday prayer. Take any mosque in the country and the clamouring, last minute brigade pour in: pushing, shoving, climbing over your shoulders- the irritating chirping of their mobile phones announcing their arrival; it happens every week. I happen to think it is rather rude behaviour considering that they have presumably come to join the congregational prayer; it lacks sincerity, in my opinion. I know that I would be offended if I was the Imam, watching them interrupt the faithful, already seated before me.

So why do they do it and why does it even matter?

At our mosque the sermons are often delivered in Urdu…except when they need to announce an urgent appeal to collect half a million quid, by the end of the month! The eloquence and finesse of Urdu escapes much of the generation born in the UK, and is totally incomprehensible to our Brethren from African nations such as Nigeria, Gambia and Kenya; on those of Middle Eastern extraction and also on the very young, seated beside their fathers, mothers, uncles and aunties, with expressions of indifference on their little faces. Our mosques are failing to realise the enormous opportunity each Friday presents to them, they are often unable to captivate a captive audience, focusing instead on surreal and largely irrelevant stories and fables intended somehow to evoke deeper thoughts about Islam. The sermons need to be far more contextualised to the trials and tribulations of modern living, with references to current events, addressing real issues and concerns of parents and wider society. Even in the 21st Century, in many mosques an aged Imam sits addressing the front few rows of worshippers- the ones who arrive an hour before start of prayers and are of a certain age that appreciates the slow, hypnotising delivery about some past event that may or may not have occurred, whist typically 80% of the congregation is tuned to a different frequency and so they impatiently await the Azan, or call to prayer.

I certainly don’t wish to sound irreverent towards a community building and spiritually uplifting, weekly gathering, but I refer you to that word I used in the first line, introspective.

Instead of being on a different wavelength to so many of the young minds in the congregation, our mosques need to tune in and take a direct approach by discussing the growing problems that I have briefly mentioned. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that many parents are too preoccupied with the rubbish spewed by the “religious” satellite channels, waiting to be connected to the channel’s resident Holy man, to find out why they cannot find a rishta/matrimonial match for their son or daughter. Such fickle dispositions are unwilling or unable to empathise with the current Facebook generation of children, often unaware of the powerful influences which exist online. A great deal of ignorance is transmitted electronically by ones and zeros, on text and video feeds. The names and pseudonyms (notwithstanding those posing as Muslim members) commonly appearing as Rapper Adnan, ISISmate, InfidelHunter and JihadiChick, are used by those commenting on politically controversial videos and more often than not, are clearly recognisable as being young surfers within our wider community. One can visualise the degree of frustration and anger underlying their emotionally loaded contributions to the threads, accompanying countless videos.

Anyone seriously trying to address the difficulties within Britain’s Muslim communities must take a holistic approach and take several things into account to try and understand why so many of our young people feel so alienated and estranged- even with their own families. The normal clichés of widening participation and preventing exclusion are still applicable but in regard to the more serious issues of radicalisation, Pope Francis recently said something that our own Imams ought to be espousing: “Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armour’ of god while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression. May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom.”

He was saying that you can’t use religion to justify violence.

The Internet has resulted in our Muslim youth becoming more empowered than ever before when it comes to voicing their dissatisfaction with what they perceive as our biased internal politics, unfair overseas policies, oppressions by despotic foreign leaders, slanted news reporting, political impotence of their own and Muslim governments as well as the military inequality between us and them. Added to this view they have of an unjust world, the willingness of groups who share their opinions and beliefs who are ready, willing and able to set the balance right. Whilst there are undoubtedly elements who wish to see the Muslim world engaged in the present chaos it is immersed in, it becomes more essential that an alternative and reliable interpretation of actual events taking place, is presented through the same media as is used by those who draw in our boys and girls. We need to flood the Internet with videos that discourage young people from falling into the traps set by militant elements. Everyone needs some information to act upon and to form an opinion on. Our aim should be to bring doubt about the validity of the claims made in extremist videos, truthfully and intelligently discrediting their message, challenging their assumptions…a media war, no less. This should be combined with more relevant sermons in our mosques that aim to engage those who see no relevance in them, providing counter arguments to extremist interpretations of Islam. Mosque representatives should be offered free training workshops which aim to equip them with the necessary skills to tackle sensitive subjects including terrorism, drugs, violence, sex crimes and abuse; actual sermons written in standard English should be made available through the UK, to inspire Imams and clerics to run mini sessions in mosques, providing a platform for disgruntled individuals to vent their frustrations and gain a clearer understanding between right and wrong.

As I said at the beginning of this short essay, the Quilliam Foundation is paving the way for such open dialogue and is providing valuable exposure to third party materials such as videos, ebooks, reports and events, aimed at addressing the problems we face as a community- both Muslims and non- Muslims. As a society, Muslims must take an even more proactive approach and conduct campaigns, both overt and clandestine, to help ourselves with some proper propaganda.

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