It’s the perennial question on the tongues of journalists, politicians and even civil society leaders, not least in the wake of turbulent times.
So, are we? Are British Muslims doing enough?
Given we’re in the blessed month of Ramadan and given it seems to be such an ever-present, loaded, question, I’d like to offer a three-pronged reflection; the external dimension, the internal dimension and the hidden.
Firstly, an external perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ignorance, prejudice and broad-based assumptions that lace such a subtle yet subversive question, nevertheless, indulge me.
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, even our representative bodies hesitate to speak on behalf of ‘the Muslims.’ Crucially, the overwhelming majority of us have no qualms in reconciling our ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ identities. (1) – It’s also worth noting British Muslims contribute an estimated £31+ billion to the UK economy with over a third of small-to-medium enterprises in London being owned by Muslims. (2)Finally, despite almost half of the British Muslim population living in the most deprived areas of the UK, remarkably British Muslims still give more money to charity per-head than any other group. (3)
Running a multi-million-pound tech company and founding a faith-led award-winning humanitarian charity has given me a direct window into the complex, albeit fragile, inner machineries of Muslim communities in Britain. In recent months, our nation has been rocked by three horrific terrorist attacks and once again British Muslims have found themselves in the spotlight. The truth is, I have been blown away by the incredible responses of British Muslims across the country. From taxi drivers who offered free rides to those stranded following the Manchester attack to hundreds of Imams coming together to boldly reject evil acts done in the name of their faith. (4) Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been raised by Muslim charities and we have seen a host of moving statements, inspiring events and heartfelt gatherings.
Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and pressures, from an Islamophobic President of the United States and an incessantly hostile right wing press to socio-economic struggles and failed security policies, British Muslims continue to build, bind and inspire. In summary, from this perspective, anyone who thinks “Muslims” aren’t doing “enough” quite frankly, hasn’t heard of Google.
Notwithstanding all of that, secondly is an internal reflection. Whilst externally British Muslims each choose to engage in their own ways and pick the passions they battle with, internally the conversation will 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 and fulfilling a gap in the market. There’s no shortage of problems out there and we as British Muslims need to continually strive to offer inspired solutions through a robust British Muslim civil society engaging our faith institutions, businesses, politics and our incredible charity sector.
It in this internal space that I am a strong advocate for the need to collaborate more with each other and across faith lines. The rich diversity of Britain 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 all those striving for a better society, we will truly be on to something great. No one group or individual can solve all the crises that face our communities, however, together we can achieve amazing things. We need folks protesting on the streets, for example, whilst others are advocating inside the corridors of power, critically we all need to be talking to each other.
Whilst we may disagree on how we 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. The Qur’anic injunction is clear: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all together, and be not disunited” (3:103) – we are doubly 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, share opportunities and so on. At Penny Appeal our internship programme and TeamOrange 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, regardless of their backgrounds.
So, if you ask me from this internal perspective, are British Muslims doing enough? I’d tell you, we still have a lot to work to do.
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 God’s magnificent work. Through perspective we come to realise 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.
But 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. Even in the fleeting moments of darkness our roots still grow; with the courage to crack through the hardest of rocks and draw goodness from even the most begrimed of soils.
In one of the most cardinal 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”
We were meant for great and lofty accomplishments and we win as soon as we begin. Our work will never be complete, but we work nonetheless and we leave our space a little better than we found it grateful that perhaps God has chosen us to be conduits of his Merciful and Wise plan.
So, are British Muslims doing enough?