The Guardian recently invited 103 young Muslims to discuss the
main issues shaping their lives and futures. The group came from
what the newspaper described as “humble backgrounds” but had risen
via university education or personal enterprise to become members
of the middle class. Among them were social workers, lawyers,
nurses and entrepreneurs whose families had originally come from
across the globe including Africa, Morocco and Bangladesh. Their
ease with a “Britishness” that involved multiple identities was
apparent. “I am absolutely British,” one participant said. “I am
absolutely Pakistani. I am absolutely Muslim. I am all of
Their faith, it emerged, had given them a powerful social
conscience, so many invested time in volunteering. Another
recurring theme was that of poverty and a sense of frustration at
their own communities’ apparent lack of ambition and low
educational expectations. Muslims make up one in three of the
ethnic minority population. Almost 40 per cent of British Muslims
are leaving school with no qualifications.
Appallingly, 68 per cent of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households
are living below the poverty line while 18 per cent of male Muslims
in England and Wales aged 16-25 – almost one in five – are
unemployed compared with a national average of 13 per cent.
One in three British Muslims in a Guardian/ICM poll said that
they or their family had personally experienced hostility or abuse
from non-Muslims because of their religion. In spite of the
grimness of the statistics, there was a strong willingness to
integrate more and most said they had close friendships among
non-Muslims. As a sign of optimism, 44 per cent said they expected
life to get better. The key question is – how? Greater investment
in schools, more and better paid jobs would obviously help. But
prejudice also has to be tackled far more vigorously. A report by
the charity the Maternity Alliance reveals yet again the casual
racism within the NHS inflicted upon Muslim women during pregnancy.
Many women said they had experienced, “stereotypical and racist
comments” during their maternity care.
One lever for change may be the new Commission for Equality and
Human Rights which, allegedly, should be equipped to challenge
multiple discrimination in one agency. One measure of how seriously
the government intends to tackle racism will be the scale of the
resources the Commission is allocated. Following the lead of many
British Muslims, one lives in hope.