'Moderate' Muslims in sync with British values - Ifty Rafiq

As one billion Muslims around the world recognise the holy month of Ramadan, Ifty Rafiq, founder of the Harmony Initiative, explains how their values are not too dissimilar from British tradition

FROM May 17 to June 15, more than one billion Muslims across the world, and more than three million in the United Kingdom, will recognise the holy month of Ramadan.

For many of us, this will include daily fasting, charitable giving and a focus on spiritual development. By fasting, Muslims are able to better appreciate the things they have.

Non-Muslim friends and colleagues are often self-conscious about eating around us during Ramadan – but I choose to fast during Ramadan. For me and many millions of Muslims like me, Ramadan is not a hardship or a punishment, but a celebration of faith and a thanksgiving.

Some people believe that religious observances such as Ramadan (although not unlike the Lenten fast), are not compatible with British values, that they are indicators of irreconcilable cultural differences.

But I believe, as a follower of moderate Islam and as a patriotic, British-born Muslim, that Islam is not only compatible but actually in sync with British values.

Indeed, many of the most contentious social practices associated with Islam, such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation, in reality have no connection to the Qur’an or the teachings of the religion. They are cultural norms originating in different geographies of the world where Islam is also practised.

Unfortunately, these and other misconceptions, held by both Muslims and non-Muslims, can cause tensions in our communities, propagating distrust and ultimately encouraging some onto a path towards extremism, as they rebel against what they perceive to be the confinement of British society.

But I, as a moderate Muslim, know that there is no great disparity between Islam and British values. Fundamentally, there is nothing for Islamists to fight against. The Qu’ran supports and promotes freedom of speech, equality, fairness and tolerance. And it condemns hatred, violence and injustice.

Islamic extremists themselves are wrong about Islam and they are wrong to campaign against the open and tolerant society which has welcomed them and allowed them to thrive. Many moderate Muslims are seeking change. We want to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam and Islamic extremism to enable them to better identify it and make the authorities aware. I am founding The Harmony Initiative to do just this.

The Harmony Initiative aims to promote the understanding of moderate Islam as compatible with British values and to complement the Government’s strategies to prevent Islamist extremism and radicalisation in prisons, educational institutions and workplaces.

Its unique educational packages and videos are designed to empower professionals so that better quality referrals are made to the authorities and to prevent individuals from joining extremist groups by challenging the distorted views on Islam propagated by Islamists and others.

Currently, the Prevent strategy, part of government’s counter-terrorism strategy, aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Critics of the strategy argue the fact that 90 per cent of referrals made to the police by professionals, lead to no further action being taken proves the Prevent strategy is not fit for purpose.

The sad reality is that there are individuals in our society who want to drive vehicles into crowds and carry out suicide bombings, to undermine our British values and way of life. Of course, they need to be identified and dealt with by the authorities but in addition we need to act now to stop more people from being radicalised.

The Harmony Initiative is an emerging education programme promoting the understanding of moderate Islam which is compatible with British values and to complement the Government’s strategy to prevent Islamic extremism and radicalisation.

It is designed to empower professionals so that better quality referrals are made to the authorities and to prevent individuals from joining extremist groups by challenging the distorted views on Islam which are being propagated by Islamists and others.

This Ramadan, I and many millions of Muslims, will be engaging in a religious fast, not as fanatics, or extremists but as proud Brits who love this country and who want to defend its shores from the threat of uncontrolled and distorted ideologies.

The Northern Echo original article can be found here

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