Muslim Council of Britain
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), established in 1997, is an umbrella body for 500 mosques, schools and associations in Britain. It includes national, regional, local, and specialist Muslim organisations and institutions from different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds within British Islamic society. Its purpose is to increase education about Islam, and to "work for the eradication of disadvantages and forms of discrimination faced by Muslims". It has been called the "best known and most powerful" of the many organisations that have been founded in the 1990 and 2000s to represent Britain's Muslims.
An MCB preparatory committee was formed to publicise and invite affiliations to the MCB and prepare for an Inaugural Meeting to launch the organisation and its membership. The preparatory committee met on 15 June 1996 (London), 7 September 1996 (Manchester), 3 November 1996 (London), 15 March 1997 (Blackburn), 24 May 1997 (Leicester), 26 July 1997 (London), 20 September 1997 (London) and 1 November 1997 (London). Its work included a review of the Constitution and Standing Orders by the legal department of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the renting of premises for the work of the newly found organisation, the placement of advertisements in the Muslim press inviting participation from Muslim organizations and the production of an information pack. The work culminated in the inauguration of the Muslim Council of Britain at Brent Town Hall on 23 November 1997. The first General Assembly meeting was held on 1 March 1998 at which the MCB elected a Central Working Committee and office-bearers for the first time.
The Secretary General from 1997 to 2006, Iqbal Sacranie, received a knighthood in the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours for his longstanding service to the community and interfaith dialogue. From 2006, the MCB has fallen from favour with the government, who have instead sought other Muslim partners, especially among more moderate Pakistani Sufi groups. However, the body has maintained relations with governments at varying degrees, most recently, with the Labour government in 2010.
In 2010 MCB expressed sympathy towards radical preacher Zakir Naik who was banned from entering the UK due to his support of terrorist activities. The MCB stated that Dr Naik was mainstream in his views.
The MCB is made up of a number of working committees, including, Working Group Education, Food Standard & Chaplaincy, Finance and General Purpose, Health & Medical Issues, Interfaith Relations, Legal Affairs, Media, Membership, Research and Documentation.
Core funding comes from affiliation fees. The MCB has applied for and gained finance for projects devoted to the development of Muslim communities in Britain. The MCB received £150,000 of public money from the Government for a number of specific projects. These were: the MCB leadership development programme; the MCB leadership mentoring programme; MCB direct, a web portal for information on Islam and Muslims; a British citizenship programme, and the British Muslim Equality Programme.
In 2006 the MCB won a grant of £300,000 from the UK Department for International Development (DFID). According to a DFID press release, projects will include producing teaching materials for Muslim schools (known as madrasahs) and a website focusing on work to reduce poverty and links between Muslim communities in the UK and those in Nigeria, Bangladesh, and India.
Campaigns and programmesEdit
- Towards Greater Understanding is a 2007 document produced by the MCB "intended to be used, as a source of reference by schools when reviewing their policies and practices in relation to meeting the needs of their South-Asian Muslim pupils". The report claims to be an attempt at education because "South-Asian Muslims are experiencing racism and Islamophobia both personally and institutionally through forms of marginalisation, discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping".
- Visit My Mosque day: Facilitated by the MCB first in 2005, this initiative encourages mosques across the UK to hold open days at the same time. In 2016 over 80 mosques took part, including mosques in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 2017 saw over 150 mosques take part.
The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "a massive disconnect between public opinion – including Muslim opinion – on the one side and the political classes on the other". The group condemns terrorism by Muslims and non-Muslims alike and has urged Muslims to help in the fight against terrorism. Following allegations that police had wire-tapped a Muslim member of parliament, the Council said it was vital "to hold to account the improper behaviour of senior police officers."
In February 2006, the MCB urged MPs to vote for the Lords' amendment to the Terrorism Act 2006, which removed the 'glorification of terrorism' clause from the bill. They stated that the bill was perceived as "unfairly targeting Muslims and stifling legitimate debate". The bill was eventually passed without the amendment by 315 votes to 277.
On 3 March 2008, the MCB criticised the Foreign Secretary David Miliband's response to Israel's killing of over 100 Palestinians in Gaza as "blatantly one-sided." It said, "If we are serious about wanting peace, we must act as honest brokers, not partisan bystanders."
When schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons was jailed in Sudan for allowing her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad, the same as the Muslim prophet, the MCB condemned the incident as "a gross overreaction" and said the Sudanese authorities lacked basic common sense.
The opposition of the Council to the 'glorification of terrorism' clause in the Terrorism Act 2006 and to British policy in Iraq has attracted both praise and criticism. Sunny Hundal wrote in an exchange with Sir Iqbal Sacranie: "In order to defeat violent extremism, we must understand what motivates these people and what turns them into killers. What puts them in that frame of mind? The Iraq war alone is not enough." He also criticised what he saw as close links between the MCB and the Labour Party. Sacranie conceded that "propaganda literature may well play a role", but emphasised: "such propaganda can only be effective because of the conducive atmosphere we have helped create."
Following the fatal bombing of the Manchester Arena in 2017, MCB Secretary General Harun Khan condemned the attack, saying "This is horrific, this is criminal. May the perpetrators face the full weight of justice both in this life and the next."
Between 2001 and 2007, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) expressed its unwillingness to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony and associated events, due to the "ongoing genocide and violation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere".
Since 2007, the MCB has called for the day to be replaced by a "Genocide Memorial Day". On 3 December 2007, the MCB voted to end the boycott. Assistant general secretary Inayat Bunglawala argued it was "inadvertently causing hurt to some in the Jewish community". It drew criticism; for example Anas al-Tikriti said: "rather than a mere remembrance of victims of one of the most heinous crimes in history", Holocaust Memorial Day has "become a political event" which "glorifies the state of Israel, turning a collective blind eye to the immeasurable suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis every single day."
Historically, MCB has spoken out against sectarianism. In 2013, the council signed an intra-faith unity declaration between a number of Islamic schools and branches within both Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam. Nonetheless, in April 2016, following the "religiously prejudiced" murder of a British Ahmadi Muslim, Asad Shah, by a Sunni Muslim, the council felt pressured to issue a statement concerning its position on Ahmadiyya, the branch of Islam to which Shah belonged. Whilst affording religious freedom, the council upholds its view that the council should not be "forced" to accept the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as part of the wider Muslim community. On the other hand, among its affiliates is Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat, an Anti-Ahmadi group whose Pakistani branch declares Ahmadis as "deserving to die".
The MCB has been criticised by Martin Bright, among others, for failing to be truly representative. He said, in response to an article by Madeleine Bunting: "any body that represents itself as speaking for the Muslim community must demonstrate that is entirely non-sectarian and non-factional. The MCB has consistently failed in this area and the Government should consider cutting all ties until it has thoroughly reformed itself." Madeleine Bunting disagreed, saying: "To the extent that the government over-relied on the MCB, it was due to the laziness of the government wanting only to hear one voice". She said it would be "absurd to exclude the MCB, the biggest Muslim organisation in this country and the one that has achieved the greatest degree of non-factionalism and non-sectarianism."
The MCB opposed the repeal of Section 28 on the grounds that presenting "homosexual practice as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is deeply offensive to Muslims" and that a repeal "undermines the institution of the family and will damage the fabric of our society". Yet, in April 2007, the Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement supporting the government legislation 'prohibiting discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation'.
On 3 January 2006, Iqbal Sacranie told BBC Radio 4's PM programme he believes homosexuality is "not acceptable" and denounced same-sex civil partnerships as "harmful". Gay rights campaigners, such as Peter Tatchell, called for a "dialogue" between the MCB and gay organisations. In April 2007, the MCB formally declared its support for the Equality Act, which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The journalist Brian Whitaker said: "the Muslim Council of Britain has begun to move towards accepting homosexuality".
Schools and educationEdit
MCB guidance for schools says that parents of Muslim children should be allowed to withdraw their children from school activities involving mixed swimming, dance, sex and relationship education, music, drama, and figurative drawing on religious grounds. On farm visits, touching or feeding pigs should be prohibited. It also warns that pupils and parents may refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex during prize-giving ceremonies. The Daily Express newspaper referred to the publication as demanding "Taleban-style" conditions. It said music lessons were unacceptable to around 10% of Muslim pupils.
Based on information from the MCB, Stoke-on-Trent City Council issued a Ramadan guide to all schools. The document said schools should reschedule swimming lessons, sex education and exams so they are outside the month of Ramadan.
Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversyEdit
When editorial cartoons of Muhammad were printed in the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005, the MCB saw them as reflecting "the emergence of an increasingly xenophobic tone being adopted towards Muslims in parts of the Western media" and argued, "We should not allow our valued freedoms in Europe to be abused by those deliberately seeking to provoke hatred and division between communities". At the same time, it said they regarded "the violent threats made against Danish and EU citizens by some groups in the Muslim world as completely unacceptable."
Operation Trojan Horse controversyEdit
A letter circulating in the city of Birmingham accused the former chair of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, and others, of being involved in Islamist takeovers of schools in Birmingham, since dubbed Operation Trojan Horse. The National Association of Head Teachers subsequently raised concerns about similar activity in Manchester, Bradford, East London and other major cities in the UK. Tahir Alam rejected these allegations as a 'witch hunt', a response that was echoed by the Muslim Council of Britain.
Operation Trojan Horse was investigated for the government by former head of counter-terrorism Peter Clarke. In his report, released in July 2014, he identified the MCB and the Association of Muslim Schools as two organisations in "an international movement to increase the role of Islam in education." He said that the two were part of a "particular hard-line strand of Sunni Islam that raises concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future." The Muslim Council of Britain rejected this as a "patently absurd charge, given that we are a broad-based organisation with both Sunni and Shia traditions represented, where we have always spoken out consistently and very loudly against extremism and sectarianism, and have always spoken out for positive integration of all our communities." The MCB added that "contrary to fundamental requirement of fairness, Mr Clarke has not invited the MCB to explain its position".
Istanbul Declaration controversyEdit
In March 2009, The Observer reported that individuals including Daud Abdullah, the Deputy Secretary General of the MCB, had signed what has become known as the Istanbul Declaration (not to be confused with the 2004 Istanbul summit) in January of that year. This was in reaction to Israeli military action in Gaza of December 2008 and January 2009. As reported, the Declaration implored the "Islamic Nation" to oppose by any means all individuals deemed supportive of the "Zionist enemy" (meaning Israel). At the time of signing, political leaders, including the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had suggested providing peacekeeping naval forces to monitor arms-smuggling between Gaza and Egypt.
Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the UK, published an open letter saying the government would have no further dealings with the MCB until it distanced itself from the declaration and Abdullah resigned. Abdullah responded in The Guardian by describing her remarks as a "misguided and ill-advised attempt to exercise control." He later said he intended to sue Blears for libel if she did not retract her letter and apologise.
The government rejected his threat.
Notes and referencesEdit
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- The Constitution of the Muslim Council of Britain
- Morey, Peter; Amina Yaqin (2011). FRAMING MUSLIMS. Harvard University Press. p. 82.
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- Muslim Council of Britain: No one to talk to, economist.com.
- "Government restores links with biggest Muslim group". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- "Zakir Naik Exclusion Order a Serious Error of Judgement". mcb.org.uk. The Muslim Council of Britain - 18 June 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
- "Home secretary Theresa May bans radical preacher Zakir Naik from entering UK". The Daily Telegraph. 18 June 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
- "British Muslims have rejected the Muslim Council of Britain - it's time wider society did the same". International Business Times. International Business Times - 2 Dec 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
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- Travis, Alan (16 February 2006). "ACTUAL ARTICLE TITLE BELONGS HERE!". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
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- Two, Take (23 March 2007). "Sunny Hundal v Inayat Bunglawala". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
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- – "Silly Bunt", New Statesman ]
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- Johnson, Paul; Vanderbeck, Robert M. (2014). Law, Religion and Homosexuality. Routledge. p. 182. ISBN 9780415832687.
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- Whitaker, Brian (1 May 2007). "Tentative steps". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
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- Baker, Mike (24 February 2007). "Was Muslim guidance reasonable?". BBC News.
- "'Music ban' for Muslim children". BBC News. 1 July 2010.
- "Muslim pupils taken out of music lessons 'because Islam forbids playing an instrument' | News | London Evening Standard". Standard.co.uk. 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
- "Schools advised against swimming lessons in Ramadan". BBC News. 13 July 2010.
- Riazat Butt. "New guidance for Muslim pupils | Education". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
- "www.mcb.org.uk". Retrieved 2007-06-18.
- "Police arrest four former teaching assistants from 'Trojan Horse' school". The Guardian. 17 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-19.
- Gilligan, Andrew (19 April 2014). "Islamist plot: six schools face Ofsted special measures". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2014-04-19.
- Paton, Graeme (2 May 2014). "Head teachers raise 'serious concerns' over Islamic school take-over". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2014-05-02.
- "Education and Muslims: End this Witch-Hunt of British Muslims". Muslim Council of Britain website. 16 April 2014. Archived from the original on 19 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-19.
- Wintour, Patrick (18 July 2014). "Trojan horse inquiry: 'A coordinated agenda to impose hardline Sunni Islam'". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
- "The Muslim Council of Britain Responds to Peter Clarke's "Trojan Horse" Letter Report". Muslim Council of Britain. MCB. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- Doward, Jamie (8 March 2009). "Daud Abdullah Urged to Quit Over Gaza". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- "Brown in UK Navy Offer for Gaza". BBC. 17 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- Blears, Hazel (25 March 2009). "Why the Government Will Not Talk to the MCB Until Daud Abdullah Resigns". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- Abdullah, Daud (26 March 2009). "My Response to Hazel Blears". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- Hirsch, Afua (4 April 2009). "Hazel Blears Faces Libel Action for Attack on Leading Muslim". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
- "Rejection of Daud Abdullah's Legal Threat". 9 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-26.