As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I am subscribed to alerts from They Work For You – a free site that allows the public to keep track of parliamentary proceedings. Even so, I will continue to remind you all of this fact, because I think everyone should make use of this amazing service. I am hardly politically astute, but I still choose to keep an ear open for when the British government decides to talk about me (or rather, things dear to me), i.e., Islam and the Muslim community.
Recently, there was a sudden rise in the number of alerts I received, containing my keyword of choice, “Islam”, all because one particular British MP, Ben Wallace (Conservative MP for Lancaster & Wyre, Former Conservative MSP for North East Scotland), has been asking a lot of questions on the subject lately – six questions in just two days. After reading through them, I become somewhat alarmed, as they described a number of initiatives that have the potential to directly affect how Islam is understood and practised in the UK. This includes scholarly efforts to ‘contextualise’ Islam in Britain, and the teaching of Islamic Studies in universities. To add some further context, several of these questions were posed in relation to “Paragraph 9.21 of the UK Strategy for Countering International Terrorism“.
The six questions and answers are presented below.
Question 1 (submitted on the 15th July)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to paragraph 9.21 of the UK Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, Cm 7547, what projects his Department is supporting with universities to work with Muslim scholars, leaders and academics on contextualising Islam in Britain; and which universities, scholars and academics are involved.
Answer from Shahid Malik (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government; Dewsbury, Labour): Cambridge university, in association with the universities of Exeter and Westminster, have hosted a series of seminars to explore how Islamic theology and Muslim communities might respond to the challenges of living in modern Britain.
The discussions and debates will be captured in a report and published by Cambridge university in autumn this year. The report will feedback the views of participants on the issues discussed.
This project is being independently led by Cambridge university who have included imams, scholars and leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Question 2 (submitted on the 15th July)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what contribution his Department has made to support the development of citizenship education in mosque schools through the Islam Citizenship Education Project.
Answer from Shahid Malik: The Islam and Citizenship Education (ICE) Project is jointly funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The DCSF awarded a contract, worth £318,652, to the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) running from February 2008 to July 2009 to develop and pilot citizenship lessons for use in mosque schools. The SDSA, working in conjunction with Muslim communities, has successfully delivered this contract. We are currently in the process of tendering for the next stage of the ICE Project to roll out the lessons to mosque schools nationally. Apart from fulfilling their contractual obligations, the SDSA and community-based organisations have made no financial contribution towards the ICE Project.
Question 3 (submitted on the 15th July)
To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills pursuant to paragraph 9.21 of the UK Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, Cm 7457, how much of the £1 million which the Higher Education Funding Council for England has committed for work on the gaps in Islamic studies teaching and research has been allocated; and to what projects.
Answer from David Lammy (Minister of State (Higher Education and Intellectual Property), Department for Business, Innovation & Skills; Tottenham, Labour): In June 2007, the Government designated Islamic Studies as a strategically important subject and asked HEFCE to earmark £1 million of its existing funding to develop a programme of work to support this.
To date, HEFCE has allocated:
£100,000 towards commissioning research into Islamic Studies in higher education, building on Dr. Siddiqui’s report on Islam at universities in England, and holding consultation events with the Islamic Studies community at:
£850,000 towards the development and implementation of a UK Islamic Studies network to bring the community of UK Islamic Studies scholars closer together. The Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) are taking this forward at:
In the coming year, HEFCE is commissioning a symposium for Islamic Studies scholars across the UK and Europe. Hosted by the British Academy, the symposium will promote the UK as a centre of excellence in Europe for Islamic Studies.
Question 4 (submitted on the 16th July)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many Radical Middle Way (a) roadshows and (b) other events have taken place in the UK and overseas since 2007; where they have taken place; what the cost of each has been; what assessment has been made of the outcome of each event; and for what dates future such shows have been scheduled.
Answer from Shahid Malik: From October 2007 to June 2008 the RMW held a total of 34 road show events and a number of other formal and informal meetings with domestic and international scholars and speakers in the following locations:
London; Luton; Leicester; Birmingham; Liverpool; Bradford; Peterborough; Milton Keynes; Woking; and Manchester.
CLG and FCO provided funding of £250,000 to the project in 2007-08 to support the programme of events including support for the RMW website (£12,000) and external evaluation.
From June 2008 to May 2009 the RMW held a total of 48 road show events and a number of formal and informal meetings with domestic and international scholars and speakers in the following locations:
Blackburn; Bradford; Cambridge; London; Birmingham; Peterborough; Hounslow; High Wycombe; Leicester; Manchester; Milton Keynes; Slough; Derby; Bristol; Rochdale.
CLG has provided funding of £350,000 to the project to support the programme of events. This also included support for the RMW website and an external evaluation.
RMW held their first international road show to Sudan in April 2009, reaching an estimated 25,000 people through six large public events. The FCO provided £70,000 to support this road show and the RMW are planning further pilot road shows in Sudan, Indonesia and Pakistan by end October. The pilot phase of the international project will be evaluated by an independent company.
The RMW project is subject to an independent external evaluation following each phase. Communities and Local Government are currently in the process of determining the future direction of this particular work stream in its domestic context.
Question 5 (submitted on the 16th July)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what support his Department is giving to the independent Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board to raise standards in mosques; what objectives have been set for such standards; and how much his Department has budgeted for such support activities.
Answer from Shahid Malik: The Department for Communities and Local Government provided support to the independent Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB). MINAB are a community-led organisation and we supported them to develop standards for mosques, which were widely consulted on and piloted. In addition, we supported the development of their operational plan and their first Annual General Meeting.
We allocated the following sums to MINAB: £75,600 in 2007-08; £116,000 in 2008-09; and £58,000 between April and June 2009.
[Note from author: how “independent” are MINAB if they are receiving money from the government?]
Question 6 (submitted on the 16th July)
To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
(1) what contribution his Department has made to the development of citizenship education in mosque schools through the Islam Citizenship Education Project;
(2) what financial contribution (a) the Schools Development Support Agency and (b) community-based organisations have made to the development of citizenship education in mosque schools.
Answer from Diana Johnson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families; Kingston upon Hull North, Labour): The Islam and Citizenship Education (ICE) Project is jointly funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Communities and Local Government. We awarded a contract, worth £318,652, to the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) running from February 2008 to July 2009 to develop and pilot citizenship lessons for use in mosque schools. The SDSA, working in conjunction with Muslim communities, has successfully delivered this contract. We are currently in the process of tendering for the next stage of the ICE Project to roll out the lessons to mosque schools nationally. Apart from fulfilling their contractual obligations, the SDSA and community-based organisations have made no financial contribution towards the ICE Project.
As you can see, the British government’s interest in the Muslim Ummah does not stop at foreign policy; there is a whole strategy in place, that includes the religion of Islam, itself.
The questioner, Ben Wallace, is a member of the Counter-Terrorism Bill Committee; his expertise stems from his counter-terrorism experience in the Northern Ireland conflict. In this article written soon after the 7/7 bombings, he states that he does not believe that restrictive laws, such as detention without trial, are effective in preventing terrorism; he much prefer that the government focus on local communities:
“Terrorists need their local communities like we need oxygen. They need cover, logistical support, meeting places and safe houses. Every contact they make leaves a trace. Every action they take leaves a clue. The law enforcement agencies need those traces and only local communities are in a position to spot them. From communities comes tip offs, informers and peer pressure. I was always amazed by how many tip offs we received from the Republican communities in Belfast.
They wanted a united Ireland but they didn’t want terrorism. It wasn’t always that way. When in 1971 the Government introduced internment (detention without trial) to Northern Ireland they indirectly helped revive a flagging IRA and set the scene for another 25 years of bloodshed. The Republican communities felt picked on, under siege and did what came naturally – they turned in on themselves and trusted no one from outside. We must not repeat that mistake today.
… There is another way. We can engage with the Religious leadership of Islam, we can encourage more recruits into the Army and Police force from the Muslim communities and we can develop such strong links that people are happy to come forward with information. “
During his two day flurry of questioning, the MP for Lancaster & Wyre made it clear that he wanted to know how the government is engaging with local Muslim communities and their “religious leadership”, purely from the perspective of counter-terrorism – not from a concern over the welfare of Muslim constituents. Fortunately, Ben Wallace’s curiosity has served to highlight just how much money the British government is throwing at the ‘Muslim problem’.
I understand that we have an issue with ‘home-grown terrorism’, and that it is in everyone’s interest to work together towards an equitable solution. In this respect, I believe that the government engaging with the Muslim community is a good idea, even if they do think our kids need citizenship lessons – whatever that means.
However, what I find highly erroneous is the government’s decision to meddle with Islam itself, by influencing both how it is taught and interpreted. Clearly, their motivation is not to bring Muslims closer to God, or even to justice – it’s all in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’.
Well, newsflash, Westminster: we are no strangers to politicians and rulers interfering with our belief system for their own personal gains – Muslim governments have been doing it in vain for centuries. Certainly, non-Muslim interference is even less tolerable. Please realise that separation of Church and State goes both ways, and stick to secular politics. You’ll find that your Muslim citizens will be much more cooperative that way.
In the mean time, I remind my fellow British Muslims that knowledge is power: sign up to They Work for You, today. If anything, I hope this article highlights how important it is for ordinary individuals to keep abreast of governmental activity, for the sake of one’s family, community, and most importantly, our beloved faith.