Democracy. The rule of law. Individual liberty. Tolerance and mutual respect. According to the government, these are British values. Whether we all agree that this is an exhaustive list – there are arguments that some more abstract concepts like “compassion” could be included – nonetheless, these are ideals, that generally speaking, the majority of us, as British citizens can rally behind.
But here’s the rub. YouGov’s regular polling suggests that around half of UK voters consider that “there is a fundamental clash between Islam and values of British society”. The figure has been as high as 59% in the last few years, but now generally hovers in the mid-forties. With over three million Muslims in the UK, half of them British-born, this could surely be constitutionally catastrophic? Of course, in reality, it’s not true.
Pre-Islamic Arabia was a tribal land based on patriarchal chiefdoms. It was a society where the strong dominated the weak. And yet, in dying without appointing a successor, the Prophet Muhammad intentionally left it to the Muslim people to come together and make that decision as to who should replace him. They did so through a shura (elected council of leaders), who ultimately united behind Abu Bakr as the successor to the Prophet. Thus, a precedent was set early in Islam, that democratic process and consultation was the model for government, not the kind of despotism and tyranny so often associated with the modern Muslim world, where the likes of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gadhafi and Bashar-al-Assad hog the limelight. But in reality, their model of governance, if indeed this is not a misnomer, is anachronistic to Islamic teaching and the precedent set by the Prophet Muhammad himself.
Individual freedom and tolerance
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to hear residents of the Muslim world being incarcerated for publicly criticising the ruling regime. But this, as is exemplified by the case of the woman who corrected the second caliph (Sūratu ’n-Nisā 4:20), is far from the true teaching of Islam.
Equally, and perhaps surprising to some, the Qur’an states, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (2:56). Historically, Islam was never imposed on the natives of captured or conquered territories, they were free to continue practising their own religion and abide by their own religious laws. Not only this, Islamic teaching goes further in deeming it unlawful to desecrate non-Muslim places of worship – a distant cry from recent images of ISIS and the Taliban destroying ancient monuments.
The rule of law
All moderate Muslims understand that unless the state prevent them from freely practising their religion, they have no right to create confusion, disrupt the peace, upset the leadership, or attempt to eliminate their authority by force. In short – they must live according to and in harmony with the rules and laws of the state they inhabit.
In light of the above evidence then, why do nearly half of British citizens still think Islam and British values are not compatible? The answer, in my view, is threefold.
Firstly, it’s a deliberate ploy by Islamist extremists, the far right and would-be terrorists, to push a wedge between Muslim and non-Muslim Britons, increasing the scope for radicalisation on the one hand, and stirring up distrust on the other. They deliberately propagate anti-British sentiments in order to further their own warped ends, running roughshod over Islamic teaching as they go.
Second, is the propensity of the right-wing media to distribute extremist messages on behalf of the Islamists and the far right. After all, sensationalism sells; reading about moderate Muslims just going about their daily lives, and offering care and respect to all groups within society, is much less newsworthy than terrorist cells who want to destroy the Western way of life.
And finally, it’s the failure of our education system to correct misinformation, debunk myths and truly foster cross-faith unity.