Exclusively and for the first time, Sayeeda Warsi, author of The Enemy Within, shares a tale of Muslim Britain. First up, who are the British Muslims?
The Muslims, or, more politely put, the Muslim communities, are described and most often referred to as a monolithic block. Well they – we – are not.
British Muslims come in many forms. Some are black, some two-thirds are various shades of brown, many are oriental and, yes, some are even white. They originate from all corners of the world, including the continent of Africa and the European mainland, with ancestry which traces back to ancient civilizations in South and Central Asia and Persia; some are simply descendants of your bog- standard Anglo-Saxon.
Some are old, but most are young: a third are under the age of fifteen. They are male, female and transgender; they are straight, gay and bisexual. They are monogamous, polygamous, and some, like the rest of the population, simply sleep around.
Some wear clothing that shrouds from head to toe whilst others insist their ankles are always bare. Many believe that knee-length is modest enough, whilst some are daring enough to flash a little of thigh. Some wear a nikaab (full face veil), some a hijab (headscarf), some a dupatta Benazir Bhutto style; some prefer a bandana or even a half- shaved head. Some show neck, others tease with a little glimpse of cleavage, and some let it all hang out.
They shop at Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, watch for deals at Lidl and Netto; the posh ones even go to Waitrose, whilst the busy and tech-savvy use Ocado. Some even buy their meat there, whilst others insist on Mr Ali, the halal butcher, and a few won’t eat their chickens until they know for sure they’ve been killed the ‘good way’ by slaughtering them on the quiet in their back garden. Some only trust their brother the kosher butcher to guarantee halal. They love a good bargain, are fans of BOGOF; the young adore the voucher websites, and the elders still prefer the old-fashioned way: ‘I know someone who can do it cheaper.’
They choose private schools and grammar schools and fight like mad for good state-School places. Some get fed up with bad schools and start free schools and faith schools and some even home school. Some attend the mosque five times a day, others once a day, some only on Fridays and some only as a tourist when they visit exotic Muslim lands abroad.
They, the Muslims, are individuals with individual cares, concerns, issues and moans, individuals with individual views
Some use the Christmas break to go on pilgrimage to Mecca because the Saudi weather is at its best; others throw the biggest Christmas parties – tree, crackers and all – and those who don’t celebrate Christmas still have turkey over the festive period. Many use Easter to justify ditching the ‘no chocolate’ diet, some even give up coffee for Lent in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters, and those who don’t do any of the above still love a great bonfire and fireworks, we are as fascinated with explosives as the rest of Britain.
Some are writers and campaigners for free speech, others just read. Some read half a dozen languages, most read at least two, and a very small number can’t read at all.
Most speak up to three languages and listen to music in many more. Some act, play instruments, sing and dance. Some denounce fun, and some, like most Brits, have two left feet.
Most worry about job prospects, the housing ladder and finding a compatible other. They use dating sites – singlemuslim.com does a roaring trade – some rely on friends and family to arrange a match.They fall in love, they marry, they divorce. Some are divorce lawyers and judges, some accountants, and lots are doctors, and those that aren’t wish they were. They make pizzas better than the Italians, stir-fry better than the Chinese and sell Bengali food as Indian; one even baked a cake for Her Majesty the Queen. They drive taxis and tubes and buses, they collect your bins and they sweep the streets. They teach your kids, they cure the sick, they fix your teeth, they bank your money and fix your central heating. They police our streets, they gather intelligence both at home and abroad to keep us safe, and for over a hundred years they’ve been giving their blood and sweat in our armies to defend the values we all hold dear.
They are boy-band heartthrobs and excel in Great British Bake Offs; they run faster than the world and win Olympic golds; they are football heroes and cricket legends; they are elected members of parliament and members of their Lordships’ house, and one of them is the most influential person in London, our main man, the mayor.
Yes, they are everywhere, all 3 million of them and counting.
And of this 3 million, less than a tenth of 1 per cent over my lifetime have wanted to cause us, all of us, some really serious harm.
They, the Muslims, are individuals with individual cares, concerns, issues and moans, individuals with individual views and politics who, like people in most communities, spend more time on focusing on differences between themselves than on differences between themselves and others.
But with all our differences there is one thing we agree on: it really annoys us when we are collectively and individually held responsible for each, every and any individual around the world who just happened to be born into or has adopted the same religion that we were born into.
More about the author
'Hard headed, well informed and intellectually coherent ... it turns conventional wisdom on its head. It deserves to promote a public debate on this subject which has been needed for more than 20 years' Peter Oborne
Britain has often found groups within its borders whom it does not trust, whom it feels have a belief, culture, practice or agenda which runs contrary to those of the majority. From Catholics to Jews, miners to trade unionists , Marxists to liberals and even homosexuals, all have at times been viewed, described and treated as 'the enemy within'. Muslims are the latest in a long line of 'others' to be given this label.
How did this state of affairs come to pass? What are the lessons and challenges for the future - and how will the tale of Muslim Britain develop? Sayeeda Warsi draws on her own unique position in British life, as the child of Pakistani immigrants, an outsider, who became an insider, the UK's first Muslim Cabinet minister, to explore questions of cultural difference, terrorism, surveillance, social justice, religious freedom, integration and the meaning of 'British values'.
Uncompromising and outspoken, filled with arguments, real-life experience, necessary truths and possible ways forward for Muslims, politicians and the rest of us, this is a timely and urgent book.
'This thoughtful and passionate book offers hope amid the gloom' David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
'A vital book at a critical time' Helena Kennedy QC