This brought with it significant challenges for all of us. Indeed, and in Britain this was felt more acutely after the 7/7 London bombings and more recently the attack in Westminister. An ‘us and them’ notion of religious identity separation began to emerge more strongly than ever.
For me, and I am sure many of you reading this, created some real internal struggles. At what level in Islam was this sanctioned, or was it a misinterpretation of the ‘sacred text’?
Is the West at war with Islam? One can argue that the debate over who and what makes someone kill in the name of a religion or a political goal has been exhausted over the course of the last decade.
However, the why at the human level still eludes us. For example, why would a seemingly ordinary Bradford family decide to pack their bags and leave for a war zone in the hope of celestial redemption? This question is by no means easy to answer. It is for this reason that I embarked on the greatest intellectual struggle of my life, a PhD programme with the University of Huddersfield’s, Secure Societies Institute.
The research is primarily rooted in religious and political narratives. Anti-Terror legislation also features in the research. The Governments Counter Terrorism Strategy (Prevent) has created untestable suspicions for British Muslims; this is an element not to be overlooked. The research looks specifically at both political and religious narratives told by scholars and political ‘leaders’, that arguably many of us adhere to and act upon as ‘Gospel’. For example, what is it that a ‘scholar’ says that can make us act in ways that is in the traditional normative sense, very alien?
This research brings with it challenges to my own identity in the 21st Century as a British Muslim. To some extent which has never been more curious, and in part, thought provoking. Over the course of my life, I have tried, like many of you to navigate between what it is to be British, Muslim, a Bradfordian and a Yorkshireman. In some ways, I felt as though Britain was looking at my own culture as inferior to the ‘British culture’.
That said, the rationalised country in which I live helps me navigate my place in our social system, one that based on my own experiences with both my Muslim and Christian family has allowed me to create a distinct role, yet without a clash between my faith(s) and society. The community to which I belong has allowed me to appreciate from an Islamic perspective, that my own social identity plays a distinct part in shaping not only my own views, but also how I view the wider world and its citizens. While grappling with my own identity, my faith has allowed me to, understand and accept that the rights of all members of the human collective are not at odds with Islam. Yet at the same time, it is difficult to see where, given the rise of fundamentalism and traditionalist Islam, if ever Islam in the West will be able to reconcile the varying and competing interpretations of Sharia’h with human rights.
The events playing out in the Middle East serve as a constant reminder of the challenges British Muslims face in trying to understand the links between a faraway land and their rightful place in Britain. Britain has seen a surge in imported and transplanted traditions into society, both Islamic and cultural. While, this brings with it challenges, my experience of society through the British education system, and familial experiences, has allowed me to engage with a different set of values. Values which have gone on and continue to enrich my identity.
On a monthly basis, I will try to answer some of the provocative questions you may have. For example, is the West at War with Islam? Is the Government Prevent strategy a state spying tool aimed solely at Muslims? This is just a sample of what is going to be a journey of discovery and intellectual enlightenment, with the main purpose to bring us closer, rather than allow discord and divisions to be sown by a few.
Mr Zaf Shah, BA (Hons) PGC Law
Secure Societies Institute