A lot has been said about the increasingly infamous Eid reception hosted by the Prime Minister last week. While some have stated the contributions of British Muslims should be recognised and celebrated at the highest of levels, others are quick to point out the long list of failures our government is responsible for and the need to call our leadership to account. In any case, given we’re fresh out of the month of Ramadan I’d like to offer this three-pronged spiritually infused reflection for us all to consider.
Firstly, an external perspective.
British Muslims make up an incredibly diverse mosaic of communities, ethnically, culturally, geographically and professionally spread. We are far from a homogenous group of people, with no one person or group truly able to speak on behalf of ‘the Muslims.’ Crucially, all the research indicates the overwhelming majority of us have no qualms in reconciling our ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ identities.
Now, having set up the most popular Muslim-run website in the UK and Britain’s fastest growing Muslim charity I have been afforded a direct window into the inner-workings of Muslim communities in Britain. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and pressures, from openly-Islamophobic politicians and an incessantly hostile right wing press to socio-economic struggles and failed security policies, British Muslims can be found contributing unapologetically at every level of society and across every industry too.
In recent months our nation has been rocked by four terrorist attacks, endured a gruesome snap election, witnessed one of the deadliest fires of our history and amongst all of this, once again, British Muslims have found themselves in the spotlight. Yet in the wake of it all, British Muslims continue to build, bind and inspire and I have been truly blown away by the incredible array of responses we have witnessed across the country.
British Muslims choose to engage in as many ways as we are diverse and this diversity is an incredible strength. Each of us have different passions and skills and we each have unique gifts to offer. Our unity is not in uniformity but rather by each of us engaging the world and its machinery in whatever way we know best.
Notwithstanding all of that, secondly, is an internal reflection.
Whilst externally British Muslims each choose to contribute in their own ways and pick the passions they battle with, internally the conversation should always be, how can we do more? How can we improve? How can we be better? Like any business, the success of SingleMuslim.com has been in solving a problem; fulfilling a gap in the market. We know there’s no shortage of problems out there and we as British Muslims need to continually strive to offer solutions through whatever outlets we can.
It is in this internal space that I am strong advocate for the need to collaborate more. Our rich diversity is one our greatest strengths. We have so much to offer each other and when we can maturely and sensitively leverage the variety of perspectives, insights and experiences amongst us, we will truly be a force to reckon with.
Remember, no one group or individual can solve all the crises that face our country, however, together we can achieve amazing things. We need British Muslims working with those of all faiths and none, protesting on the streets, signing petitions and demanding accountability of our leadership but we also need British Muslims, ever-conscious of the institutional corruption and injustices of our political structures, to be advocating inside the corridors of power, working the long-game for the most vulnerable in society and yes, even attending Eid receptions. Critically we all need to be talking to each other.
Whilst we may disagree on how one may choose to ‘externally’ engage the world, ‘internally’ we have to realise we are on the same side. I know sometimes, working in our silos, it can be hard to see this and hence why we need to invest in infrastructures and platforms that forge collaborations, networking and trust-building. Social media really isn’t the place for this. The Qur’anic injunction is clear: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all together, and be not disunited” (3:103) – we are tasked to work together and it is upon a firm foundation of faith that we can come to realise our angelic potential to serve all of society.
The truth is we can all do a little better in this regard; help each other up, assume the best of one another, hold our tongues (and fingers) from passing ill-informed jugements, share opportunities and so on. At Penny Appeal our internship programme seeks to do just that; thrust young people into the working world, empowering them to be positive change agents in society; confident in their faith identity, comfortable in their British identity and proudly serving all.
Finally, is the hidden dimension.
It helps, now and then, to take a step back and appreciate what we might accomplish in a lifetime is but a fraction of Allah’s magnificent work. We come to realise that in the eyes of the universe our lives are less than a blink, all we can hope to achieve is not just beyond our reach, but perhaps even beyond our imagination.
This realisation need not lead us to resignation but rather to a liberation. We plant with our hands the seeds for fruit that we may never see, just as the fruit we behold came from seeds planted by hands we never saw.
And just like a seed, we grow where we’re planted; whatever life might throw at us, it’s in our DNA to grow towards the light and you cannot block out the sun. In one of the most foundational teachings of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him, said, “Our actions are judged by intentions and everyone will get what was intended”
It was with high intentions that I attended the Eid reception at Downing Street, right now I’m called to be at the proverbial Eid-table and I refuse to be on anyone’s menu. I can’t speak for everyone who attended that day, however what I will say is that you shouldn’t confuse one’s chosen method of ‘external’ engagement as an indictment against their ‘internal’ understandings of the challenges that our communities face or what needs to be done.
In parting, remember, we are always better when we can listen, learn and work together and I pray Allah plants the secret of this deep in our heart of hearts.