Across the West, Muslim associations have reported a spike in Islamophobia, with stories from Australia, America, Europe and the UK of ordinary Muslims being “terrorised” as they go about their day-to-day lives. Hundreds of cases have been recorded in Britain.
And yet, the majority of the Muslim world has spoken out against extremists.
But what about the small minority who are radicalised? The Muslim Council of Britain raised concerns about David Cameron’s renewed crackdown on British-born extremists, saying the monitoring and harassment partly fuels young people towards radicalisation. Being marginalised and alienated creates a wider impasse between the government and Muslim groups, rather than drawing young British-born Muslims back into mainstream society.
So what is the answer to this struggle that looks set to blight generations to come?
The key is to stop radicalisation in the first place. At QED, we have worked for 24 years to help British Muslims make a positive contribution to Britain’s rich cultural identity. A huge part of that work is to encourage role models in all walks of life, including business, education and religion.
Our ground-breaking projects include setting up classes in Pakistan to deliver free courses to women who are in the process of applying to enter the UK to join their husbands. “Integrate UK” is about ensuring migrants speak English and have an understanding of British culture before they arrive.
For British Muslims already settled, projects include education and employment initiatives for 11 to 16-year-olds through Madrashas, providing access to mainstream training organisations and inspiring young people with positive mentors.
Our Pathways to Peace programme brought together British Vice Chancellors and their counterparts in Pakistan to consider how to influence and shape young people’s thinking to prevent radicalisation on campus. Dr Mujahid Kamran, the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Punjab, praised QED for being devoted to “creating an atmosphere conducive to peace and happiness by helping people help themselves.”
Education and role models are central to combating extremism in the young. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousefzai shows education is the most powerful catalyst for change, and “the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism”. Her now famed words: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution,” are a doctrine QED has lived by. She is a much needed role model.
To celebrate our 21st anniversary a few years back, we hosted a photo exhibition at the Bradford Media Museum: Made in Britain. It was a visual celebration of successful British Asians from all walks of life, such as BBC journalist Mishal Husain, Dr Irene Khan – the first woman and Muslim to lead Amnesty International, and Coronation Street actor Shobna Gulati. It shouted achievements in art, sport, science, politics and business, with the hope to inspire the next generation, helping to make Britain great.
We are working across the community to lead this vanguard of tolerance. Many of the individuals we have helped directly with education and training have in turn become role models. Shabir Husssain, the CEO of the Akbars Group of restaurants, came to us when he first started out seeking training. He now runs 11 restaurants employing 470 staff.
Better education, employment, and opportunities will stamp out the risk of young Muslims being sidelined on the edges of society, alienated, looking for a cause to fight.
It takes work from within the Muslim community, but Britain needs to work together to promote unity in diversity, and remember the majority of Muslims want what everyone wants – a safe, harmonious community and home. We have to not give in to knee-jerk racism that will only deepen divides.
Hollywood actor Ben Affleck spoke a lot of common sense in these heightened times. After responding to racist depictions of Islam on a US chat show, he said: “How about more than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punch women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, pray five times a day, and don’t do any of the things you’re saying of all Muslims.”
Dr Mohammed Ali OBE is the founder and CEO of the Bradford-based QED Foundation.