I have just spent 5 days on the road on a project that is being run by Faith Matters, an interfaith and conflict resolution organisation that I founded in 2005. Faith Matters also runs Faith and Finance social regeneration projects.
The project entitled ‘Living Islam Out Loud,’ brought 4 American Muslim women to the UK to have dialogues and discussions with British Muslim women and to develop further trans-Atlantic links.
Well, what can I say? I have had the privilege of spending these days meeting empowered, focussed and courageous Muslim women who are working in social regeneration schemes, within promoting dialogue and cohesion and using innovative projects to reach out to other communities.
I have learnt alot from Saleema Abdul Ghafur, the editor of the book – Living Islam Out Loud, which was published in 2005. I was also enthralled, motivated and enthused by Samina Ali, Aroosha Zoq Rana and Shami e Ali Al Jamil. All four are great ambassadors for American Muslims and I learnt that:
- Civil society work within the American Muslim community is far advanced than work in the UK, even though UK Muslim communities are starting to get activated for civil society work,
- Because of the nature of migration to the US, identity is not seen through negative lenses and the migration does not cause fear and revulsion. Immigration to the UK is a hot topic and one that generates a vast divergence of views.
- There are many divergent views on the development of Muslim communities within women’s groups in the UK. Muslims are clearly not one homogenous group and the diversity of voices and races within UK Muslim communities will lead to pluralism in a number of areas. It is a natural evolutionary process and I have seen some of the future leaders of Muslim communities across the UK. I have had the pleasure to meet some of these future leaders in the last 5 days.
- There seems to be a buoyancy and a greater sense of hope that came across from Saleemah et al. Within some of the group discussions it was clear that there is a feeling of despondency within some Muslim groups. It is up to us all to ensure that people feel included within political, social and civil processes. Without that, we are failing in our duties to fellow citizens.
- That US Muslims are far more diverse than those within the UK. There are Muslims from 80 different countries in the US than the UK and 1/3rd are from Black communities, 1/3rd from the Maghrebi and Arab communities and the rest are from South Asian countries. Within the UK, the vast majority of Muslims come from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, with some migration having taken place from East and Central African countries.
Finally, Faith Matters and I would personally like to thank the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP. A Government minister who has a strong grasp on her portfolio, I welcome her vision and her desire to develop communities where we all can play a positive role within.