Europe Rediscovers Islam Jan 02

The attack on the Twin Towers in New York shook the western countries. The global “War on Terror”, conceived by President Bush and publicised by CNN, has dominated our lives for many months. All of us reject and abhor totally such terrorism and death of innocent civilians. Nobody has the right to kill another in this way and those responsible for such murder must be found, tried and punished.


Equally, there is no justification for revenge leading to the death of innocent civilians in Afghanistan. These Afghani civilians did not invite the foreign terrorists; they did not harbour them; they were themselves victims of their own dictators. The Taliban dictators ruled ruthlessly without the consent of their people; they used religion to opress and exploit their own innocent civilians!


Over 1 billion people of different ethnic origin, language and lifestyle embrace Islam today in more than 48 countries. In Islam, there are scholars who endeavour to interpret the Koran and application of Sharia (religious law); there are politicians who rule Muslim countries applying Sharia to suit their rule; there are thousands of Imams who lead prayers in mosques without straying into politics. However, there is no divine spiritual leader empowered to issue a Fatwa or call for “holy war” in the name of Islam!


Islam forbids violence in defending the faith; against women and children even in war, and against oneself (suicide). Jihad means “internal struggle for perfection” – a means of self-purification for submission to God. It is a personal fight against selfishness, greed and lust – not a call to seek revenge and kill innocent civilians!


The fundamental concept of Islam is the oneness of GOD, a God who is with everyone everywhere! This was the most important revelation that propelled Mohammed to act fearlessly against idol worship – a common practice in Mecca in 470 AD. The Koran specifies acceptance of “the people of the book” i.e. Jews and Christians who are fellow believers of one God and who share common ideals. Furthermore, Islam neither denies rights for women nor compels them to wear the veil. Muslim women in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia have had no difficulty in being elected as Prime Ministers or Presidents. Therefore, it is the politicians, hungry for power and control, who use Islam to establish and sustain autocratic rule over their people.


What is the situation of Muslims living in Europe today?


Germany's economic boom attracted Turkish "guest workers" on a temporary basis with neither the right to acquire citizenship nor the opportunity to participate in commercial, civic or political life of their adopted country. Illegal immigrants from North Africa cross into Italy, Spain and Greece. Asylum seekers from Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe try to find safe havens wherever they can in Europe. Such an inflow of Muslim immigrants has increased civil tension and fear of Islam in Europe.


There are about 3 million Muslims of different ethnic, linguistic and cultural traditions living and working in Britain. They represent both Sunnis and Shiias. These immigrants came legally, were granted citizenship and had an equal opportunity to education, health and other public services. The majority of Muslims have integrated well into British society. Sadly, a number of immigrant families from Pakistan and Bangladesh with strong cultural and linguistic differences suffer from discrimination, social exclusion, high levels of unemployment and civil unrest.


The media's image of Muslims - a bearded, turbaned cleric draped in a robe unfamiliar with idiomatic English - has no place in Britain today! Many Muslims, especially the older and less educated ones, are confined to poorly paid jobs in the service industry. However, the young Muslims today are confident and vigorous. They are proud to be both British and Muslim. They are fluent in English; score high marks in schools; graduate with honours from Universities; represent Britain on the sports field, in the media, professions, business and indus6try. It is only a matter of time before more of them will be in local courts, civil and diplomatic service, local government and Parliament.


My family left India in 1834 and settled in Tanzania. I was born in Tanzania, educated in England and have worked in both Tanzania and Britain. A white rural Christian electorate in England’s Eastern Region selected and elected me to be their Member of the European Parliament - the first Muslim Member of such a Parliament! This is the reality in Britain today; this is the Britain that champions fair play, tolerance and justice. How many other countries in the world can claim such plurality of values and cultures?