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     Islamic Party of Britain - 10 years of changes on the politcal scene

 

 

Below is the text of an article by Islamic Party Deputy Leader Dr. Hany Nasr in Common Sense issue 28 (Spring/Summer 1999) on the topic of:

10 years of changes on the political scene

During the summer of 1989 a group of ordinary Muslims met in Sheffield concerned by the way the media was portraying Islam in Britain. At that time, the blasphemous book by Salman Rushdie was causing distress to many Muslims through a direct attack on the core of Islam, and the media defended the insult on the grounds of freedom of speech and condemned and ridiculed protesting Muslims.

On the world scene, the Afghan war against Russia, aided by the West, led to a defeat of communism which would eventually lead to the demise of the whole of the communist block, but at the time there was still a bipolar world order with the USA and the USSR as the opposing super powers. In Palestine the Intifada, the people's revolution against Israeli oppression, was in full swing. Israeli attempts at ethnic cleansing, property confiscation and illegal occupation by force as well as the undermining of the status of Jerusalem continued against the lack of a united Arabic and Islamic front with long-term strategic objectives.

The majority of Muslims in Britain was made up of migrants from the Indian subcontinent. Their first generation had been brought in during the first half of the twentieth century at the height of the British Empire to help boost the economy, and they came intent to improve their standard of living. Whilst they were mainly what is now called "economic migrants" they had an adherence to the rituals of their religion and to the dress code of their country of origin. Local mosques and halal meat shops were established, but the local host population was largely unaware of what Islam or Muslim stood for, because these Muslims were not interested in mixing with "non-believers" and had totally different social habits, although this situation changed with the subsequent generation.

Ironically, there was at the same time a great proliferation of Islamic organisations, predominantly one-man-bands trying to shape the society around them according to the model of their country of origin. The fact that there were over 4000 such organisations in total was an obvious representation of Muslim disunity as a political entity.

With the publication of Salman Rushdi's book and constant attacks upon Muslims who were called terrorists and book burners etc., Muslims were forced to participate in public life, and the dominating question shifted from whether to participate or not to how to participate. The younger generation of Muslims were keen on Dawah.

The first initiative of Muslims trying to play a part in the political life of Britain was the announcement of the Islamic Party of Britain. Others followed by announcing similar political organisations. Our main aim remains to convey what the message of Islam stands for, as ignorance is a fertile ground for fear and hostility between communities. Islam features a peaceful nature, environmental responsibility, healthy lifestyle, equality between people whoever they are, and benevolence in dealing with them. Clarifying all these points and translating the Islamic alternative, and particularly the Islamic opposition to usury, into a political manifesto was a challenge which, by the grace of Allah, was accomplished without much delay. The official announcement was made on 13 September 1989 at London's Central Mosque. It generated a reasonable amount of public interest for a short period of time, both nationally and internationally. Our participation in a first bye-election in Bradford and in the general elections of 1992 was a useful experience for all those who took part. This participation re-affirmed the democratic competitiveness of Islam and presented Islamic policies in a contemporary language understandable to the ordinary British public, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Funding of the campaigns was an obvious limitation, as the party relied exclusively on members' subscriptions and donations.

Another serious limitation was the division and lack of experience of many Muslims sporting most immature political views. Traditionally, people do not trust politicians, as they view them as opportunistic, ambitious people with no real interest in their community. Muslim self-centredness, therefore, also caused a problem in the process of establishing credibility.

Although the most important aim of the party was, and still is, to promote inter-community understanding, there was a problem in getting the message across. Muslims viewed the Islamic Party of Britain as an imitation of the other political parties and considered it as a game played by others without being of concern to them: a British game played by British rules. The British population, on the other hand, viewed the party as an alien attempt to represent a mere 2 million people minority. By contrast, people from Muslim countries who heard of the Islamic Party of Britain were most curious as to how the British government and the British secret police could allow such a party to exist, a reflection of the sad fact that democracy in most Muslim countries is still a far cry. But as a result the relevance of announcing a British Islamic Party was greater outside Britain than inside.

In spite of the party's efforts to assure the British population that Islam is a godly message with tangible benefits for them, and that a peaceful relationship between the Muslim minorities and the host community is essential for the strength of the country as a whole, the Islamic Party of Britain was viewed with great suspicion by some security forces in some Muslim countries leading to rather unpleasant encounters with some leaders and members of the party, especially in the climate of the 1990's, where Islam was regularly linked to terrorism, as exemplified by the reaction to the Oklahoma bombing in the USA. The blame was immediately laid at the door of "Islamic terrorism"; when the culprits were later found to be American right wing extremists, no apologies were offered to Muslims. At the end of the decade Muslims became increasingly identified as victims of terrorism and ethnic cleansing as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Palestine, Burma. Those living in Muslim countries continue being denied basic human rights and political democracy.

What does the future hold? We are assured of the future of Islam, as Allah preserves his final message to mankind. The future of present day Muslims depends on them: If unity and common understanding and a real interest in resolving problems prevails, their future should be assured, but if factionism and opinionated infighting prevails, Allah will replace them with better people.

My call is to all level-headed people, Muslims and non-Muslims, to try and grasp the basic spirit of Islam and try to convey the message as widely as possible by all available means so as to aid the harmony between communities in our country.

Author: Dr. Hany Nasr
Date Published: Spring/Summer 1998

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