A new report by the University of Warwick’s Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations on “British Muslims and State Policies” slams persistent failures in how the state engages with Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims – particularly in education, the legal system, and most particular in the failure to make religious discrimination unlawful. However the report does have praise for emerging islands of good practice in how some parts of local government work with Muslim communities.
The report by researchers Professor Muhammad Anwar and Qadir Bakhsh (funded by the European Commission), which will be launched in the University of Warwick’s Office at 11 Tufton Street, Westminster, London at 11am on Thurs 6th Feb 2003, examined how the following areas responded to the needs of the Muslim community:
Health and Social Services fared better than other parts of the public sector. For example one NHS outpatients department had the simple but effective idea of using a multi faith calendar when booking patient appointments in order to avoid clashes with religious holidays. Greenwich Social Services commissioned a Somali voluntary organisation to deliver home care services to Muslims that took particular care to respect their religious needs.
Local Government was seen as responding well to Muslim needs both at a political level, where Muslim communities had achieved some representation as councillors, and at a service provision level. There were some good examples of best practice - such as the London Borough of Waltham Forest which developed a form of flexi time which helped Muslim employees break their fast at the appropriate times during Ramadan.
National and Regional Political Institutions are failing dismally to represent Muslim Britons. There are only 2 Muslim MPs (there should be 20 if it is to accurately reflect the proportion of the British population that is Muslim), only one Muslim UK MEP, and no Muslims in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament or the Greater London Aseembly. Only the unelected House of Lords has anything to boast about as relatively recent appointments mean that there are now 5 Lords of Muslim origin – though again this does not accurately reflect the number of Muslims in the British population.
Education, and schools in particular, is still seen by Muslims as not responsive enough to their needs. The report cites continued underachievement of Muslim school children. Muslims interviewed for the report believed that many schools lacked facilities for Muslims such as: space for prayer, Halal food, and an understanding of the needs of fasting pupils. School teaching lacked sufficient Muslim role models. Those interviewed also believed that education managers often viewed large families, common among some Muslim communities, with suspicion often believing that they meant that children would be neglected more – rather than having more opportunities for family support.
The Legal System came in for the greatest criticism from Muslims interviewed for the report – particularly as most Muslims have a great respect for law and order, but also as it was perceived that many of the problems could be resolved by simply extending anti discrimination law to cover religious discrimination. This would give Muslims the same legal protection as that enjoyed by the Jewish and Sikh population under race discrimination law. Indeed it was felt that Muslim Britons were facing a lot more religious discrimination since the events of September 11th 2001.
There have been some improvements in parts of the criminal justice system – the Metropolitan Police now allows Muslim women police officers to wear headscarves. Prisons have improved a little as a Muslim Advisor has been appointed by the Prison Service. However the report’s authors believe the leap from 731 Muslims in UK prisons in 1991 to 5670 in 2002, underpins the need to move beyond small step changes to a full blown new Prison Act that accommodates the needs of Muslim prisoners.
Overall the report concludes that the state’s approach to the needs of British Muslims is inadequate and inconsistent.
For further details please contact:
Professor Muhammad Anwar,
Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations,
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 524870