April/May 1999


Talha Wadee is the Director of the Lancashire Council of Mosques.

There are 64 mosques in Lancashire and 51 affiliated to Lancashire Council of Mosques. We are a united platform and work with external organisations, with the media, with the local churches and we try to build dialogue between the Muslim community and the leadership of the Muslim community and all external organisations.

As a British Muslim, I think that the key thing is that Islam was always seen to be an Eastern Religion, but post-war immigration has allowed Muslims to live in Britain, to be part of the British fabric of life. You have a flavour of British values so you are Muslim but you are also British, you have Eastern values and you have Western values and the two go hand in hand, and I think that is important. I think the issue is when you engage with the Nation's population, how you engage with that, so if you want to stick to your own values there has to be a compromise. So you want to meet your friends and you want to talk to your friends and your work colleagues in an environment which is not completely un-Islamic, but which is comfortable for you. That is the key thing and that is where the mismatch happens that the aspirations of the Muslim communities are a bit different and the aspirations of an indigenous population which are also different.

The issue about drink is that whenever you want to meet somebody within this indigenous society, you go to the local pub, that's where you meet and that's were you socialise and you watch football and you have a chat. Then even if you go on for a meal, your drink is important to that culture. Well, as a Muslim you do not drink alcohol, and if you do not drink alcohol you are basically alienating yourself from that socialising, from that seeing each other, from that meeting together. That is why a lot of Muslims will not be seen to be outside and will not be seen to be making many friends because alcohol is a key part of this indigenous culture, where it is completely anathema to the Muslim culture.

The youth culture is one which is feared by the elders. They might fear what is going to happen to the Muslim youth, they would want them to have Muslim values and Islamic values, strong Islamic values, but they accept the fact that there would be some compromise in that they will also get some British values. The key thing is to get the best of British values and keep the best of Islamic values as well. How the two come together is really important, and that is where the conflict arises because whilst you want to be accepted as part of the indigenous population, what you do not want to do is to divorce your own principals. Although I would say that all Muslims have a sense of Muslim identity, what they are trying to do is about choice, they are choosing not to apply certain aspects of Islam to their immediate life. So then they would not go to the mosque as much, they would decide to go in to the town and to go elsewhere, they would adopt leisure activities and the mosque might not be included in that, family life might not be as important as that. So what you are seeing is a decline, and the decline is not that steep at the moment, there is certain undermining, the most thing they want to do is arrest that, but also to accept the fact that there will be a certain level of change and accept good change.

I think going to University as a Muslim really opens your eyes because when you are young your impression of Islam is very much from either an Indian Islam or a Pakistan Islam. When you go to university you appreciate the fact that Muslims come from many different backgrounds. Even theologically, there is a lot of diversity within the Muslim community, and you appreciate that a lot more. But also you tap into youth culture a lot more at university and it is very hard at University to retain your Islamic values. I will be honest with that because university life and university culture and atmosphere is so un-Islamic and so hedonistic, as a Muslim and even maybe the Christian or a practising Jew, its very difficult to retain your Islamic values and still be part of that university life.

I think we are all in the same boat in one way, in that we are all looking for spiritual investment in ourselves and in our communities. At the moment the West have a problem in that the West is developing technologically and developing in terms of its proficiency. What it is not investing in is in spirituality and society is collapsing because of that and we see that, and as Muslims, and as Christians, I believe what we need to do is to invest in our spirituality. By that I mean there is a higher power, that values and good values and good morals, looking after the neighbours and all those aspects, family life, all these are very important and whilst they are important to the Muslim community, I believe it is the job of every Muslim to advertise these values to the indigenous population, otherwise what will happen is that our values will become gradually undermined.

The Islamic viewpoint of addiction is this; that whilst it is to be condemned, it is prohibited, you should not use drugs, any form of drugs, but as a Muslim I still believe that compassion and forgiveness are very important. So while the line is very harsh, and it has to be harsh, you do condemn the people in some ways and you do condemn the usage of drugs, you still have to have some forgiveness and compassion. You have to have a safety net that you accept that there will still be people who will take drugs; for them you need support, for them you need help, for them you need compassion and forgiveness from an Islamic point of view as well as a human point of view.

There are fundamentalists within all religions. The agenda has to be taken up by those in the middle and Islam is about being in the middle. The compromise issue is very important. What is happening is that the agenda has been taken up by the fundamentalists in each religion and this does a disservice to those in the middle. The people who have values which are very Islamic but not necessarily fundamentalist, very true to their own religion, very true to their own Christian values, but would not necessarily want to impose them on everybody. They would not use necessarily violence as the only means of achieving their end. The people in the middle have to take the agenda and put forward the case that our religion is very important to us. However, we can still appreciate each other, we can still have dialogue and talk to each other. They do that by example. In some quarters, if you are a Christian person, and you are seen as a Christian, you are automatically seen as good. If as a person you are not, and you have values, human values, and you are warm and you are kind, you are compassionate, you lead by example, basically. And as Muslims you need to do that as well, because from my perspective as somebody who actually looks very fundamentalist but does not act fundamentalist, whenever I walk into a room the immediate impression from the others, and I feel that impression, is that I am fundamentalist. I believe and I hope by my actions and my behaviour that the initial barrier goes down, and that's how you lead by example. This impression is given because of the way I dress and I have a beard and a topi, so immediately the connotations are negative. In many different walks of life the response is negative and what you need to do is lead by example, and that is how you take the agenda. The next time that audience will go anywhere or talk to anybody else they will say that I met somebody who is very true to his own Islamic values or to his own Christian or Jewish values, however, they were still very nice people.

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