British non-profit, Citizens UK, published a report called, “The Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All.” The report was based on the work of an interfaith commission, convened by Citizens UK. The study included public hearings, roundtable discussions, and closed discussion with various stakeholders, both Muslim and not. A Muslim Leadership Group and Muslim Youth Leadership Group were consulted. The report is not clear about which groups made which suggestions but tries to summarise the ideas of the Muslim communities and other stakeholders.
Muslim involvement in public life is beneficial to all, says the report. Public life is understood to include civic engagement, public service delivery, the ability to be part of a “cohesive and strong society,” and opportunities to share ideas.
The study finds that Muslims are not active in British civil society which is a “growing problem.” Muslims have been involved in some important initiatives to serve the public good, such as the British Islamic Medical Association and the Ramadan Tent Project which invites homeless and other non-Muslims to engage in dialogue and eat with Muslims; however, in many ways, Muslims are excluded from public life.
Some problems with Muslim/non-Muslim interaction were acknowledged. Diversity within the British Muslim community is too often ignored, which contributes to polarisation and the us/them dichtomy. Terrorist attacks, such as 9/11 and 7/7, have contributed to distrust of Muslim communities. This led to problematic government policy. The Prevent Strategy was often mentioned by Muslims in their studies. The aim to counter extremism was seen as legitimate by Muslim respondents but there was a concern for the effect on the safety of children, especially, who may be targetted by government suspicion. This is because the government often focuses its prevention in schools. There are also concerns about a general police state atmosphere, unclear definitions and roles within Prevent, the conflation of religion and culture with extremism, and the mistrust in public institutions as the strategy moves away from just security professionals.
Another problem is that housing is often segregated along ethnic lines. While Muslims may be integrated into their own ethnic minority communities, there needs to be better engagement across ethnic categories. Employment discrimination, especially in relation to Muslim women, is severe. There is also a need for more transparent and effective leadership training. Another issue is women’s rights. Muslim women often face cultural limitations to their engagement in public life. Fears of discrimination discourage the participation of young British Muslims in political life.
The recommendations for non-Muslim aspects of society are as follows.
The commission suggests partnerships between local authorities and civil organisations to promote diverse leadership. They promote mentorship programmes for the Muslims community which would allow individuals to support each other in areas such as employment. They suggest that businesses should adopt anti-discrimination policies including name- and address-blind applications and unconcious bias and religious literacy training.
They suggest that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) focuses more on fair reporting of Muslims by assessing the relevance of stories, the appropriate use of statistics, and the fair inclusion of terminology (especially in regard to Arabic words which are often misused). The government should engage with certain organisations (the specific organisations are not listed in the report) which they seem to boycott in order to hear a broad range of views. The government should also listen to the many stakeholders related to the Prevent Strategy, even though (and especially because) stakeholders have serious criticisms of the strategy. The report also suggests that the government is more explicit in pursuing integration and anti-prejudice strategy.
For Muslim communities, the report suggests umbrella bodied can create a voluntary set of standards such as for mosque governance. These could include training, a stronger stance against discrimination against other religious groups, including diverse voices in mosque governance, fostering partnerships with other communities, and investing in British-born Imams.
A critique of the report by a Muslim PhD student in sociology at the University of Cambridge, Ali Meghji, says the report should be more focused on the needs of the Muslim community and not about the Muslim community being better “for all.” This can lead to blaming Muslims for terrorism and extremism.