This article was published in the Summer 2015 edition of ‘RE Today’, a quarterly UK magazine for RE professionals.
I have always had a close attachment to the mosque. From an early age my father took me regularly to ‘Nasir Hall’ in Gillingham for evening prayers and meetings. For a time I was even the main muezzin. I participated in weekly children’s classes and was the star pupil, often winning local and regional speaking and religious knowledge contests, and qualifying for the nationals.
On Fridays I would take some time off school or ask to have an imam visit during lunchtimes so that I could listen to the khutbah. Additionally, I spent more time reading Islamic literature than books on the curriculum.
I probably sound like a radical in the making – the sort that gradually gets disillusioned with the West, avoids mixing with ‘infidels’ and supports Liverpool.
I confess – I did follow the Reds quite religiously. This was around the time Barnes, Beardsley and Rush were running rings around the top flight’s best defenders. What a team!
But it was also the period I learned a huge amount about my responsibilities as a Muslim in Britain.
Those classes I attended routinely began with prayers and a pledge that us kids would stand repeating: I will be ready to sacrifice my life, time, wealth, property and honour for the sake of my faith, country and nation.
Those national events I qualified for commenced with the ceremonial hoisting and honouring of two flags – one symbolising Muslim youth, and the other, the Union Jack.
When my community organised sponsored runs, I would raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and later the Royal British Legion, for whom our youth association provides hundreds of volunteers to sell poppies each year.
Therefore, to me, there has never been a conflict between allegiance to the Qur’an and to the Crown. The same is true for the large majority of Muslims in the UK. A recent BBC Radio 4 Today poll found that 95% of Muslims feel loyal to Britain.
Communities like the Ahmadiyya Muslims, which nurtures its young to contribute positively to society through a range of projects including tree planting and blood donations, are leaders in instilling in youth a spirit of service towards fellow Britons, beyond passive citizenship.
So what do I think about the promotion of “fundamental British values” in our schools? I fully support the need to teach our children mutual respect and tolerance, individual liberty, democracy and rule of law. Indeed this is the stuff of RE, and what we as practitioners are well (though not solely) placed to deliver on. However, what has been unfortunate and damaging is the perception Prevent (a strategy outlined in the government counter terrorism document Contest) has created about Islam and Muslims – that they are somehow devoid of these precepts. It suggests that a religion whose literal meaning is ‘peace’, lacks even this virtue, on account of the actions of extremists.
But communities like the Ahmadiyya Muslims and others continually demonstrate the opposite. They read the Qur’an and Prophet’s life, and draw inspiration from Islam’s advocacy of freedom of conscience, regard for others’ sensitivities, inter-religious harmony, equality and fair governance.
“For you, your religion, for me, my religion”, ends Chapter 109.
When a Muslim angered a Jew for declaring Muhammad’s superiority over Moses, the Prophet rebuked him for causing offence.
During a foreign Christian delegation’s visit to Medina, Muhammad arranged for them to pray in his mosque in any manner they wished.
And when he became ruler of Arabia, the Prophet consulted widely, often putting the counsel of his advisors above his own opinion.
The Messenger of Allah, then, actively promoted “British values” centuries before Her Majesty’s Government. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams even asserted that Islam is rejuvenating them (Independent, 2 August 2014).
Religious values go further and require more from adherents – not just loyalty to one’s country, but love for one’s neighbour; not only justice, but forgiveness too. If the purpose of advancing British values is to produce better citizens, the Government would do well to value and celebrate all faiths more. For religions can provide the best character education of all.