Lewisham Islamic Centre issue open letter to Eric Pickles

EricLewisham Islamic Centre has issued an open letter to Eric Pickles’ after he advised mosques and imams in the UK to tackle extremism.
Dear Sirs,
We write in response to your recent letter.
Whilst we agree with the Prime Minister that your letter is worded very respectfully and politely, the context in which this letter has been sent and the underlying theme, is particularly concerning. In fact, it feels rather insulting that you are specifically singling out Muslims, who are already so heavily vilified, in such close proximity to the tragic attacks which took place in France. It is noteworthy that another appalling terrorist attack took place in Europe which claimed even more lives than the recent violence. This act of terror was carried out by a White, Christian Terrorist in Norway in 2011, Anders Breivik, who considered himself to be a modern day ‘Christian Crusader’. His horrendous crimes took place whilst you were in Government and yet neither you nor your Party considered it necessary to send letters to members of the Christian community at that time. The seemingly less favourable treatment afforded to the Muslim community will undoubtedly lead to resentments over double standards.
We also note that whilst the demonization of the Muslim community continues unabated, the Government has done very little to calm the tides of Islamophobia. Yet only last week, the Government chose to extend its support to the Jewish community due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic sentiment. In showing your support Mr Pickles, you made the point that in Paris, a pensioner, a Rabbi’s son; a teacher and a shop assistant were all “wiped out because they were Jewish”. Whilst such news is indeed dreadful, we wish you were equally concerned about events in our own country where people have also been “wiped out” because they were Muslim. We remind you of Muslims such as Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham who was killed in a terrorist attack by a White supremacist, Pavlo Lypshin, in 2013 because he was Muslim; or Naheed Almanea who was killed in what appears to be a religiously motivated murder because she was Muslim; or Imam Hafiz Salik, the Hull Mosque leader who was attacked because he was Muslim causing him to become blind in his right eye. Where were your condemnations of the rise of Islamophobia then when these incidents took place or when our Mosques were being attacked and set ablaze following the murder of Lee Rigby? It is apparent unfortunately that the only lens through which the Government views and seeks to engage with its Muslim subjects is through that of anti-terror. Perpetrators should be defined by their crimes; crimes should not be defined by the faith of their perpetrators. If that becomes the norm then a people’s faith becomes defined by one perception and unfortunately, this is what we are seeing taking place with Muslims today.
We agree with your statement that young people must be protected from extremists, but you and the Government again fail to address the root cause of the extremist narrative enticing our young people – namely British and Western foreign policy in the Middle East. It cannot be denied that perpetrators of recent atrocities against the British people have each singled out our hypocritical and unjust foreign policy as the catalyst for their inhuman actions and to this end, your letter may have been better directed to the Foreign Office. Yet Whitehall’s continued denial of this fact will, in our view, only exacerbate the problem which they seek to find a solution to. With this in mind, we therefore refute in the strongest possible terms what is appreciably an attempt to lay the blame for extremism and terrorism at our door. If you actually visited our Mosques and reflected deeper upon the Muslim contribution to British society, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that far from producing terrorists, we have helped contribute to the 114,548 Muslims in higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations in the UK. In London alone, which is home to 13,400 Muslim-owned businesses, we have contributed in producing a community who has created more than 70,000 jobs. We have also contributed to raising a community that has added £31 billion to the UK economy [1].
Above all and more importantly however, we have made the human contribution in providing people with spiritual guidance at a time when society and communities are largely measured in the context of their material worth. At a time where religion and with it, morality are on the decline, we have nonetheless, seen a surge in the Muslim population in England and Wales increasing 80% (1.2 million), from 1.5 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011, making it the second-largest religion in Britain, with the number of conversions running past 100,000 [2]. The Mosques are providing an alternative to some of the more negative aspects of British culture such as: alcoholism and its social effects, addiction to gambling and unrestrained consumerism to mention but a few aspects. The alternatives provided by Islam contribute to it being the fastest growing religion in the UK as found in a survey conducted by Kevin Brice [3]. At a time when violence against women in Europe is alarmingly high, as recorded in a report last year entitled ‘Violence Against Women: An EU Wide Survey’, the Mosques are providing guidance and protection to women and empowering them with the belief that their worth to society is more than just a commodity for man’s pleasure – it is probably not surprising therefore that two thirds of converts are in fact women. If the above virtues listed are what you mean when you say “British values are Muslim values”, then we are with you 100%. We are therefore certain that not only are British values Muslim value, but rather Islam is enhancing and rejuvenating true British values as confirmed by the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams [4].
However, as for your reference to “British Islam”, with the greatest of respect, we find that this concept is patronising and lacks of understanding. Firstly, Islam does not require the word “British” affixed to it in order for it to be respectful and tolerant because it is already by its very nature, those things. The virtues already mentioned, and more, cannot be divested from Islam and will be found in whatever society truly practicing the religion as taught by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Secondly, we do not see any attempt to create ‘British Hinduism’, ‘British Sikhism’, and ‘British Judaism’ etc., so again; naturally it gives rise to the question as to why Islam and Muslims are being treated less favorably in this regard?
Whilst anti-Semitism is very much alive today and the government, as well as the entire community, should be concerned about this, it is clear that the phobia which is undeniably on the rise, far beyond any other, is that of Islamophobia. As you will be aware, the Holocaust did not happen overnight. Atrocities committed against Jews spanned many decades at the hands of the Europeans which, initially, were relatively small; but, a culture was allowed to insidiously develop which resulted in the Holocaust – one of the most horrific crimes in modern history. The seemingly relentless vilification of the Muslim community today and the incessant association of Islam with terrorism, reinforced by the media on a daily basis, all contribute to an environment wherein Muslims are gradually being rendered valueless in the eyes of the masses. The Muslim community fear that with the rise of the far right across Europe, it is not too wild a stretch of the imagination to envisage a day wherein the Muslim community, will, God forbid be led to a similar fate faced by the Jews in the Holocaust.
We would like to make clear that our references to other faith communities in this letter have only been used for comparative purposes in highlighting the discriminating nature in which the Muslim community is treated. Lewisham Islamic Centre prides itself in its excellent relationship with the community. Our interfaith dialogue with other faith groups, liaison with community policing, and provision of much needed succor to the wider community are all obligations of our faith, of which we are immensely proud. Our Centre’s website details activities provided for the community, including our young people with endorsements and testimonials from partner organisations in the community.
Finally, you are more than welcome to meet with us to discuss matters further. Indeed the cure to eliminating prejudice in any society is through dialogue and by coming to know one another.
Yours Faithfully
Lewisham Islamic Centre
[1] The-Muslim-Pound – MCB, 2013
[2] The Independent: The Islamification of Britain: record numbers embrace Muslim faith, 4 January 2011
[3]A Minority within a Minority: A report on converts to Islam in the UK, Kevin Brice
[4] The Independent: Islam is reviving British values, 02 August 2014

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