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The New Politics, Faith and New Hope

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I’m often told that the ideals of a secular and Western political system are so broken that they now stand against the ideals of humanity, of faith and of the people. Whilst the disillusionment is entirely understandable, the premise is something I reject. This loss of faith and hope doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs. We can change things.

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Oppression is everywhere. Economic, social, academic and educational. The systems humanity has worked to build-up and maintain over generations, to perfect and streamline, have become irrevocably broken and corrupted. The natural answer is to tear it all down and start again. I have great sympathy for that view, for those who look at the world and feel that this can be the only conclusion. It was once said that oppression is worse than death. Society is rife with oppression. The killing fields are everywhere. People feel the oppression. Worse still, they feel helpless to change it. But rather than succumbing to a fatalist, helpless view, we can acknowledge the yoke of an insipid tyranny which dis-empowers people and drives global conflict overseas and chaos at home, yet still believe we have the power to change things for the better. Nothing is ever without hope. As you should know by now, I subscribe to this latter position.

Values of Western liberalism, tolerance and democratic representation are influenced by Islamic thought more than any other faith or any other system of philosophy. The best of values we see in society are, more often than not entirely Islamic. Just because no one has told you and you’re more often than not told the opposite, it doesn’t change things. The bumblebee flies anyway. In a time when values of truth, social justice and enlightenment are under siege, the natural consequence is that the ideological maintainers of that light, those values of thought and progress, of tolerance and virtues of good conscience and enlightenment – please note that these people are spread across different communities: Muslims, non-Muslims, atheists alike – are equally under siege, as neoconservatism and the politics of hate and prejudice have become packaged, sold and main-streamed into politics, media and public life. There is nothing wrong with the system, its just that too many people who put greed and self interest, elitism and profit over peace, have too much influence. We became scared and confused and in the melee they took the higher ground and so the frontline became our homes. Whilst we’ve been putting out the fires in our front rooms, they looted the family silver.

Attending the Labour Conference in Brighton this year was something of a unique experience for me – to not be talking politics to a crowd for a change, instead to be listening. What I heard were discussions of a socialist revival and a desire to plug what I’ve often called the moral vacuum in politics. The call was for an increased and more diverse engagement, to reject the politics of austerity, of combating cuts to welfare and supporting the most vulnerable in society. The discourse was about rejecting the increasing militarisation of the world, to reject war and the economy of war, to strive for peace and prosperity, to fund communities and get people back to work. To protect workers and workers’ rights. The call to arms was to unite people from differing political factions, Blairite and Corbynista, behind ideals for the common good. The dreams are for a new reality, a return to what is new but once was an old form of politics – a kinder politics, an honest politics.

Aside from Conference Services making the obtaining of my pass as difficult a quest as possible, what pained me more was that which I observed amiss in the heat of political passion and this crucible of ideas. What I missed most of all, were the voices and involvement of black and minority ethnic communities. In particular, of Muslim voices. We have so much to contribute to this discussion. Where were our political journalists, our community activists, our charities and our thinkers, our givers and those who lead and serve our communities? Muslims, time and again, are shown to be the most giving community in the UK yet are suffering more than any other community at the hands of cuts and welfare reforms, of the housing cap due to larger size families, of the increases in university fees, of youth unemployment, of educational reforms which erase the Muslim contribution from history, of poverty (80% of British Muslims are on or below the poverty line), of the removal of Education Maintenance Allowance for 17 and 18 year olds, of child tax credit and benefits. We had become ghosts. An unspeakable truth.

Muslim communities are never-endingly in the news, under scrutiny, under siege, under fire, both at home and abroad. Vast swathes of Europe see Muslim refugees and migrants as enemies who must be held back at the gate. They wear face masks when talking to us. They throw food at us. As the people of Europe open their arms, their hearts and their homes, her politicians do little or nothing to stop the xenophobia and prejudice escalating to something worse. More than ever, Muslims are at the centre of politics in Europe, yet not by choice. Yet they say it not; yet we tackle it not.

The time for no longer getting involved is passed. Muslims and ethnic minority communities must now step-up and take our places in history: to change things for the better. We must seek out the democratic and political solutions to these challenges, to uplift our communities, empower ourselves, to increase our prosperity and wealth, to engage with the “other” and enjoin with them for the common good. For those waiting for someone to give it to you: it isn’t coming. But we can never, ever, stop being us. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities towards our families, communities and society at-large. The time for trusting others with decisions about our futures and welfare, has gone.

In Muslim Cordoba, the most diverse and multicultural city in Europe, lived a population of 600,000. Amongst the 300 public baths, 50 hospitals and 72 libraries, were 20,000 full time students at 300 colleges. The city was served by 92,000 shops and trade establishments. Most of the population was self-employed (Hamza Yusuf). The Islamic Spain that Scott F. Fitzgerald considered to be a ‘genuine, foundational European cultural movement’ was based on an ideological and spiritual pluralism and an economic model where rights for workers were deeply rooted.

The support, security and welfare of any society is founded upon the employment and labour of the people. The protection and unionising of those workers is a thing entirely aligned with Muslim thought and theology. The relationship between employers and employees is defined as being a brotherhood in Islam, one of equal and shared responsibilities.

“Your employees are your brothers upon whom God has given you authority, so if a Muslim has another person under his control, he/she should feed them with the like of what one eats and clothe them with the like of what one wears and you should not overburden them with what they cannot bear and if you do so, help them in their jobs.” ~ Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Islamic virtues extend to the fact that workers must be paid a fair wage which can sustain their families and their reasonable needs in a humane manner; they must also be paid on time and before ‘their sweat dries’.

The ideals of socialism and collectivism are things that Muslims and ethnic minorities understand more than most. It is the need to stick together to stop the exploitation of your communities. It is in our DNA. It is in our heritage and history. It is our struggle. Two centuries ago when children were being exploited and sent to their deaths in British workhouses, the Muslim world had a functioning NHS and welfare state, whilst public money and lands were maintained for the public good rather than profit. They were the last assets to fall as Western nations pillaged and looted Africa and the Middle East in the century following the Berlin Congress. Today, the United Kingdom has the lowest level of protection of workers’ rights in Western Europe.

This is an era of engagement and ideologies. It is the time for shirking our comfort and stupor and for speaking-up. If we sit in silent acquiescence as changes are rung to brick-by-brick and tile-by-tile, remove the walls from around us and the roof over our heads, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves. Whether or not you do, the generations to come will do and they are the ones who will suffer the consequences.

We have before us a golden opportunity to engage and connect our communities to a common cause. The cause is one of peace, of social renewal and of collectivism. Waves of immigrants, refugees and Muslim communities have all thrived on the basic premise that from those who have, to those who do not. Therein we all succeed. There is a common ground here beyond theology. It is about a shared human existence and our need to be safe and secure. The sooner Muslims and ethnic minorities look beyond their own horizons to embrace the systems that were our gift to civilisation, we can once again change the world.

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One comment on “The New Politics, Faith and New Hope

  1. Jane Grover
    09/10/2015

    Thank you – a great piece.

    Like

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