UK, London / Trend corr. G. Ahmadova / Exclusive interview of Trend with the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari
Question: The Muslim Council of Britain is a well-known British organisation. What are your current main aims and tasks?
Answer: The main tasks are twofold: one is the - helping the Muslim community, which is very diverse, in their capacity to positively integrate with the wider society and also working with the wider society for a common good, how Muslim and non-Muslims in this country can live in peace and harmony with each other. They are the two goals.
Question: On which principle do you build relations with the authorities? Do the authorities help you with your activity?
Answer: We engage with authorities, we engage with political, media, faith all sorts of people in this country. We have been doing this all since we started in 1997. But in this work we take help from anyone who wants help us - Muslim, non-Muslims.
Question: What is the main Muslim problem today in the United Kingdom?
Answer: Well, there are a few problems. There are very diverse communities, and some communities are struggling to settle, struggling to face themselves to the wider society. So, one is of capacity building and empowerment from within, and educational underachievement, health, housing, jobs, and social deprivation; these are major issues internally within our communities, and we need to address all these issues and help the communities to come out socially, economically and politically improved. But on the other hand, there are aspects of discrimination, alienation and prejudice in the wider society. That affects not only Muslims; there are many people in this society. So, we have to address all these issues in a holistic manner, working with the community, working with the wider society, so that collectively we can bring a peaceful society among us.
Question: It is considered that, after the terror attacks in July 2005, when 56 were killed, a dangerous sort of Islamophobia has arisen. What actions does the Muslim Council of Britain undertake to counter this tendency?
Answer: Before this event, this terrible atrocity the MCB had been working with the community to make its position clear that Islam totally abhors any criminal activity, let alone suicide bombing. And after Madrid bombing, we issued a letter to all our imams and scholars in 2004 that we should work with the law-enforcement authorities if we see any criminality anywhere in the society. So we have been working with our own communities, we have been working with political and other establishments. We are trying to engage the sections of our community, so that they feel proud of their Muslim, as well as British identity. And what we are also doing in the long term that Muslims should be interacting and engaging with their neighbours, with their colleagues, friends, and try to positively integrate with the wider society and also contribute to the well-being. We are asking Muslims to be involved in politics, in media, in teaching and other professions, so that Muslims are at the heart of the wider British society.
Question: Let us discuss terrorism and Iraq. Has the invasion and occupation of Iraq strengthened the position Islamic extremists? How about UK's alliance with the USA on antiterrorism?
Answer: Muslims are a very diverse community, Islam is a very inclusive religion and therefore there are many types of people in our community. So, physiologically, socially, politically people come from different backgrounds. So, the terminologies are important. It is important that nobody uses "Islamic terrorism" or "Muslim terrorism", because, terrorism is terrorism and they don't have a religion. So, there could be some Muslims who are involved in this terrorism or extremism, but this nothing to do. We shouldn't link this with religion, as we normally don't do with any other faith. So, that's important. And the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan, our principal policy we have been trying to make clear, we have been arguing with the, about this and Muslims and non-Muslims in this country, but we are familiar that there have been many demonstrations on this issue, against the Iraq invasion. But, at the end of the day, the modern world is much globalise world. What happens in some part of the world that has an effect on us. We all have to try hard, so that we can keep our society safe, our country safe, as well as we can have influence on the international world, so that there is no international, internationally there is no polarisation between human beings.
Question: What kind of support can the Muslim Council of Britain give to the Azerbaijani community, which has been growing in number over the resent years? Are you interested in developing relations with them?
Answer: Well, ideally we should have a very big establishment to help all our communities. We don't have that big establishment, unfortunately. So, what we have, we have a number of committees, and we try to address these social economic deprivations, educational underachievement. And ideally, we should be able to support new communities coming here. I know that there are some people, but unfortunately we don't have anyone in the Muslim Council of Britain, so if you can be of any help in this area, then we would really appreciate. We need to more or less, engage with all our communities from wherever they come from, and so I would be really grateful if you can find someone, or introduce us to someone.
Question: What is the your position on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer: Although we are a British-based Muslim coalition organisation and don't have that much say on foreign issues, I know that, in Nagorno-Karabakh, there has been terrible consequences some years ago with the, some people being evicted and still there are lots of refugees. And our position is, on any international issue, especially when it comes to a Muslim country, things should be sorted by the respective country with the neighbours, and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) should try to help them.
Question: What do you consider position of Islam in Europe?
Answer: Islam is one of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Muslim history in Europe is not a new one. In Southern Spain, East Europe and different parts of Europe, Muslims have been. Influx of Muslims in European countries started mainly after the Second World War. And since then probably there are 15-20 million Muslims in European countries. That's a big proportion. The challenges that we have in positive socially diversion is very important, so that Muslims can work in these European countries as equal citizens like others. At the same time they can contribute to the prosperity of the European society.
Question: How divided or united do you consider the Muslim world is?
Answer: The Muslim world is undergoing through a very difficult period. And unfortunately, many of the Muslim countries are not run properly by good governments, good and efficient governments. There is corruption; there is incompetence in many places. So, the potential of the Muslim market, 1.4-1.5 billion Muslims, they are not being harnessed properly. There is tremendous amount of deprivation in certain Muslim countries, underachievement in education. What the Muslim world should do is, first of all, the Muslims in respective countries should try to create a society, where they can be governed with good governance, and education should be at the heart of our achievement. Through education, there would be economic development. And education, economic development and good governance and good politics can make countries far better than they are at the moment today. So, there are good signs that people are gradually realising that we should be far better than what we are today. But, it needs a lot of effort from everyone.