Foreword

The genesis of this project goes back to two sets of events in 2001: the disturbances in northern cities in England and the atrocities of 9/11 in the United States. As Muslims dominated the headlines in relation to both sets of events, one debate seemed of particular interest. It was to do with British Muslim experiences of citizenship and how they were responding to them. I had until then been involved primarily in working on the equality and diversity agenda, particularly with regard to religion and belief, but now I felt an urgent need to focus equally on the other side of the coin – integration. However, what was evident about this discussion on citizenship and integration was that the Muslim voice was largely missing. The Muslim voice is important for several reasons:

a. Muslims are part of this society, having the same discussions – these discussions, even if in different settings and language, should not be ignored.

b. Evidence on the ground shows that imposed notions of citizenship and integration from the outside would be rejected by Muslim youth. What is required is a language of citizenship that understands them, their heritage and aspirations but that also has currency in the mainstream.

c. In a multicultural society, the Islamic heritage has something to add not only for Muslims but to the citizenship agenda more broadly.

The need to do something about this was sealed at a seminar organized by the Royal Society of Arts and The Economist magazine in September 2004.1 Sadly, however, no finance was available for such work until the UK’s own 9/11 on 7 July 2005. After all these years, then, it is gratifying to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the final production of this pack.

This project has been made possible by an initial grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and two further significant grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government. But equally, this final product would not have been possible without the sterling work of the UKREN and Runnymede Trust staff, the intellectual input of Professors Tariq Modood and Tariq Ramadan and Emel Abidin-Algan, the practical experience of all our discussants at each stage of the project, the assistance of the leaders and volunteers involved in the piloting of the pack organized by the Islam and Citizenship Education (ICE) project, and last – but not least – the listening, research and drafting skills of members of the steering group.

The final product is much more than what was originally envisioned. Built on the experiences of practitioners with many years of work in grassroots Muslim communities, the pack is a practical guide not only to young Muslims being heard but also to involving them at the centre of the exercise. Handout 1, for example (pages 27–30) invites them to take the lead on deciding what and how they should learn about the issues at the heart of this project and pack: support for building their sense of identity and belonging, balancing their rights and responsibilities, challenging prejudice and Islamophobia, and participating in and achieving change, all within the British context. 

The pack has been designed to go beyond the organized part of the Muslim community, to reach as many Muslim youth as possible through many channels; and, through a great range of interactive techniques, to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to be better Muslims and better citizens in Britain. I believe the pack is very well timed and hope it will contribute much to the needs of British Muslims and of wider society.

Mohammed Abdul Aziz

October 2009

Mohammed Abdul Aziz is chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and was chair of the steering committee which supervised the production of this pack. Other members of the committee are listed here.

 

1 The report is available at http://www.sofn.org.uk/london/articles/Immigration%20Debate.pdf



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