LONDON – Celebrating their tenth year, British Muslims For Secular Democracy (BMSD) held an event at the University Women’s Club in London, bringing together a panel of speakers, supporters, and activists supporting rights and freedoms of British Muslims.
Speeches on the night addressed a broad range of subjects, some serious, some entertaining before the evening concluded with drinks and canapés.
The following quotes are from the speeches delivered.
Dr. Nasreen Rahman (Co-founder of BMSD)
“What it means to be a Muslim in Britain or elsewhere in the world is changing continually.
“True democracy and equality are possible only and only if the state is neutral in matters of religion. In a true democracy, people should have the freedom to practice their religion, the law of the land must be uniform and treat every citizen as equal, and the state must not fund religious activities.”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Journalist and Co-founder of BMSD)
“Some of us live in one way, others live in another, we have Ahmadis, we have Ismailis, we have Sunnis, and we have every shade under the sun. That was one of the purposes. We are not here to judge who is the right kind of Muslim. Who will be saved? Who knows who will be saved? In a sense, we are a broad mosque.
“What you want from your life and this country and you use the democratic system to argue, to object, and don’t get lost in ways which lead you to dark places.
“We should be able to disagree, we should be able to argue in a civilized way: whether it is about faith, religion, foreign policy, or whatever.
“Bit by bit we are holding up true democratic values which are not just about the vote, it’s about young people, women having their individualism and autonomy respected. It is being able to accept that there are different voices in a complex democracy. It is changing your mind which is why for me #Brexit is such an undemocratic thing, that we are now not supposed to carry on talking about it, whereas democracy depends on carrying on talking about it.
“I remember asking some angry young Muslims, who were very angry with this country, saying this that and the other. So I asked them, what Muslim country do you want to go to and live in? Say I gave you £5,000 and you could go first class to this country. Where would you go? There was a silence. – This was in Bradford – Then two of them said, but miss we can’t be speaking like this over there. Which tells you something that at present, there isn’t a Muslim country, maybe one or two at best, where you can speak freely, where you can exert your democratic independence.”
Nazir Afzal OBE (Lawyer, former Chief Executive of the Association of Police Crime Commissioners)
“I remember growing up in the 60s and 70s in Birmingham, next door to Enoch Powell, and the recognition that you had visible racism on the streets. Skinheads everywhere left, right, and center. I remember going up to them at one point and saying: sticks and stones may break my bones but your words won’t hurt me. And it worked. Because after that it was only every sticks and stones. That carried on well into the 70s.
“Nobody is voiced. That’s nonsense that they don’t have a voice. They all have a voice. We just don’t listen. And we as authorities need to start listening.
“My faith doesn’t define me, my faith refines me. It makes me a better person. Absolutely it makes me a better person. Whether you have a faith or not, I don’t judge anybody. Unless you commit a crime and I’m the prosecutor. Generally, you have your own life, and you make your own mistakes, just as I have.
“That attack by Salam Abedi in Manchester last May (Manchester Arena bombing) was an attack on women and girls. He chose a concert by Ariana Grande which was attended, 95%, by women and girls.
“He could have chosen the KISS concert, a heavy metal concert two days previously, or the Wrestling two days later. He chose that concert specifically because that was the message he wanted to deliver. Because we know the first victim of a terrorist or an extremist is a woman in her own home. That research goes back decades.
“That’s how we tackle this issue. It’s about how we actually deal with the core issues. And one of those core issues is what women and girls have to endure in those families and those communities.
Baroness Warsi (Lawyer, Politician, Member of the House of Lords, former co-Chair of the Conservative Party)
“I probably went through a phase, and I’m probably still in that phase, where I rarely find it hard to think that somebodies version or interpretation of their faith is wrong.
“As a young British Asian, and it was British Asian long before it was British Muslim, it was quite difficult as a child to be yourself. You have an Asian version of ourselves which we had at home, we had a public version of ourselves which we had at school, and I came to a point where I realized that I wanted to be my version of me.
“I didn’t want to be your version of me. And I think that’s probably where in many ways British Muslims, started to find it quite difficult to try and start to get society to accept them for the very versions of them.
“One of the things that I do in my book, is an open conversation with my dear co-religionists where I say, you we, we are not all terrorists, but are w fit for purpose? Are we the best community we could possibly be in the time that we find ourselves? And I think the challenge that we have is because we did not raise our game during peacetime, I think we are finding it incredibly difficult to now do it as we have a war around us. I call it that as to be a British Muslim is an incredibly difficult thing to be. Every aspect of your life is questioned and scrutinized because I genuinely believe in the widest possible engagement. Almost anyone you speak to is considered to be beyond the pale.
“I feel as a Conservative, I am definitely a center-right politician on lots and lots of issues, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile some of the Islamophobic content and approach that is within my (political) party, and it deeply disturbs me and the impact that will have on British Muslims.”
Reading an extract from her book, ‘The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain’ Warsi spoke,
“For me, reason and religion go hand in hand. The lawyer in me needs to see the evidence and the politician in me needs to hear the argument. And it’s why belief for me is not a stagnant position, it’s a journey, not a destination. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. And ultimately it’s a source for daily reflection, self-evaluation, at times of great success and a source of strength at times of distress.
“My faith is about who I am, not who you are. It is a rulebook for me, not a forced lecture series for you. Its strength is a source of peace for me, not ammunition with which to fight you. It’s a ruler I have chosen to measure myself against, not a stick with which to beat you. It allows me to question myself, not to judge you. And recognizing myself and being sure of who I am, being comfortable in my identity, does not mean having to downgrade, erase or reject who you are. Because I can only truly accept you for who you are if I am truly sure of who I am.”