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M.P. Uddin: Introducing Faith-Based Identity in Britain

Britain is multicultural, and multinational, and it is fast becoming multi-faith. British Muslims have one of the most intricate and sophisticated community infrastructures in Europe. We have over 12,000 mosques of all kinds and varieties up and down the country. There are over 70 Muslim schools.

There has been a Muslim presence in Britain for at least 350 years. British Islam is older than Great Britain as a political, cultural, and spiritual entity. Today’s 2 million Muslims in Britain are beginning to understand and appreciate our strength and character and history.

British Muslims are the most multiracial, multinational, and multilingual in the world. We are also becoming the most innovative in evolving into the kinds of Muslims that will be relevant and a suitable prototype for the 21st century.

Questions surrounding the future of Islam and Muslims in Britain are complex. As an activist, I know better than to make predictions. But after more than two decades of being engaged in British Islam, I do have the confidence to suggest that British Muslims are the most multiracial, multinational, and multicultural of any Muslim community in the world. Few countries can boast of having Muslims drawn from 56 nationalities. Besides the cultural and linguistic varieties, British Muslims can claim people from all strata of society’s professions, women and men and old and young.

Officially, Britain is a multicultural society. But thanks to the Muslims, it is now becoming a multi-religious society. One of the biggest successes of British Muslims in the last four decades or so has been to introduce the concept of a faith-based identity into what essentially remains a secular, liberal society. And we can be rightly proud of that.

After decades of others struggling against us, there are now signs that a Muslim identity—one based on faith rather than race or culture—is being grudgingly accepted. An important development in this era is the increasing debate over the introduction of religious discrimination legislation, which we hope shall not be far from our reach. The inclusion of the question of religion in national censuses was also a major victory for British Muslims.

The well being of the Muslim community requires us to face the challenge of raising our future leaders in this true spirit of Islam. We must establish some means of instilling our identity that is Islamic in every sense of the word.

Our first duty as British Muslims has to be establishing Islam in Britain. For us, that is our jihad. Our future in Britain may well depend on how well we do just on that. We are of course a proud nation, and we have proud history. And I believe that the contribution of British Muslims is something that British Islam as well as Islam and Muslims worldwide can be rightly proud of.

[Source: Islamic Perspectives on Peace. Tarrytown, NY: Universal Peace Federation, 2006.]