Adventures in social mobility

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Hashi Mohamed

The topic of social mobility is a vexing question in British society.

Hashi was born in Kenya to Somali parents. The eighth child in a family of twelve. His father died when he was very young arriving as an unaccompanied child refugee at the age of 9. He grew up in a disadvantaged community with under achieving schools and the challenges associated with social and economic deprivation.

He was very lucky to have studied at Oxford under a full scholarship and then went onto become a barrister. The past 24 years have involved moving between very different worlds and the challenge of reconciling them and finding a place that is comfortable remains a challenge. Here are some thoughts on this topic:

He refers to Afua Hirch’s book where she writes about difference in generations; one that came here with nothing and works really hard for the future of his children and the struggles of the following generations in regards to identity. The first generations struggle was to survive and this generations luxury of understanding who they really are. But it is a real struggle and one doesn’t diminish the other.

Hashi has experienced both. Arriving as an impoverished child and now grappling with identity. Then there is the question of multiple identities. As a Muslim you are likely to be in multiple categories. Muslim + ethnic minority + woman and the associated challenges this brings. Add to this are the British aspects of Class, what type of education you had, your accent and the mindset you carry.

We need to adjust our own expectations as to what can be achieved by members of our own community. You need to be confident in your own skin.

Jews and Muslims: Shared ancestry and values

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Edwin Shuker

Jews have lived in what was known as the land of Babylon and is currently Iraq for 2,600 years. The past 1,400 years of which they have lived alongside Arab Muslims.

He paid tribute to the late Maureen Kendler who passedrecently before the talk was delivered. She taught us to have empathy for the ‘other’. The importance of understanding how the other side feels before engaging in any constructive dialogue.

There isn’t one truth in the world. No-one has a monopoly on how to reach God. We both believe in the prophet Abraham. We have the same objectives.

Conversion to Islam

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Batool al-Toma

Between isolation and integration

There are three distinct communities; The heritage Muslim community, the convert community and wider society.

For converts there is rapture and rupture. The rapture is the inner delight and excitement of finding a spiritual path and a relationship with God. The rupture occurs when you share your experience with those who are close to you. The tearing apart of your relationships as you face the negative reaction to your conversion.

You face alienation from both sides; Muslims and non-Muslims. You feel like a pendulum swinging from the society you came from and the Muslim society you are entering into. Trying to find a peaceful resting place in both these communities.

Your family expect you to come back from this temporary phase of conversion. There is little cultural sensitivity from Muslims towards converts. There is an expectation from the Muslim community of sameness. That all Muslims must be exactly the same. But we are all different with different identities. You can’t make us all the same. Muslims find it difficult to understand that we are all different and not the same.

We need to be comfortable with a sense of Britishness in Islam. Batool developed a marriage ceremony that made it easier for the families of converts to attend a Muslim wedding and for the process to be a better cultural fit for British converts.

Idol worship of Muhammad

British Islam conference 2018

Presenter: Farouk Peru

The blasphemy of Allah is less serious in the Muslim world today than that of the prophet Muhammad.

As an example there are many episodes of the Simpsons cartoon series where God is portrayed  as incompetent, contradictory and generally degraded but there hasn’t been a peep from the Muslim world. Compare this with examples that reference the prophet Muhammad and there has been a wave of outrage across the Muslim world. This contrast in our reaction is indicative of our mindset.

The prophet was an ordinary human being. He had no intention of being idolised. Yet Muslims say that he is special amongst all the prophets.

Verses from the Quran that describe the nature of the prophet Muhammad:

“Say I am only a human being, like you, to whom it has been revealed that your God is One. Anyone who fears to meet his Lord should do good deeds and give no-one a share in the worship due to his Lord” 18:110

“Say I am nothing new amongst God’s messengers. I do not know what will be done to me or you. I only follow what is revealed to me. I only warn plainly.” 46:09

Monotheism and idolatry are major themes in the Quran and mentioned in every chapter.

How we have made the prophet an idol

  1. Invest in him divine attributes. Claiming he is made of light
  2. Claim he performed miracles. The Quran is the only sign that has been sent to us
  3. Believing his intercession will influence what happens on judgement day
  4. He is infallible and never made mistakes
  5. Overwhelming love for the prophet when such love should only be for God

He has therefore become our partner to attain salvation.

Subtle examples of idolatry

Quran gives freedom of religion and we use Hadith to justify the killing of those who leave Islam. Giving the words of the Hadith priority to those of the Quran.

Obsessively copying his mode of dress and focusing on these external attributes.


  1. Follow the path of Ibrahim and observe the world around you to identify what idols are being followed. Then reset your focus away from these idols towards God
  2. Each of us has an individual way towards God. You don’t need to conform to a particular way in reaching God

Beliefs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

British Islam Conference 2018

Presenter: Ibrahim Ikhlaf

The Ahmadiyya community has spread beyond its original beginnings of the Indian sub-continent. The beliefs of this community are considered by many clerics as being outside the scope of Islam.

The Ahmadi’s consider themselves Muslims and compliant with scriptural definitions of being a Muslim. They consider the prophet Muhammed to be their spiritual leader and the last prophet to be sent to humankind. There places of worship should be referred to as mosques and not temples This is regardless as to whether people agree with them or not.

Key Ahmadi beliefs

During times of darkness God sends reformers. God reveals details of the unseen including guidance through individuals that are appointed as messengers.

The prophet Mohammed said that a time will come when nothing is left of Islam except in name. Nothing will remain of the Quran except its script. Mosques will be full of worshipers but they will be empty of righteousness. The Ulema will be the worst of mankind. The prophet was describing the current world.

When prophet Mohammed mentioned the return of Jesus he was speaking metaphorically. Jesus has died and will not return to earth. There is no need for any previous prophet to return.

The prophet Mohammed made a prophecy that there would be 3oo years of prosperity in the Muslim world followed by 1,000 years of darkness and then a reformer would appear. That person will be from amongst the Muslim community and he will be able to communicate with God. He will be appointed as a messenger. That person was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad from Qadian.

There is another prophecy that after Mohammed has passed away there will be a Khalifat for a period of time. This will be followed by a period of Monarchy and then the Khalifat will be established again. This Khalifat was established by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the current 5th caliph of this Khalifat is Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

Christian perceptions of Islam

British Islam conference

Presenter: Richard McCallum

The talk focused specifically on the perceptions of British Christians from the Evangelical tradition. Taking in the views of grassroots Christians rather than elites.

The Evangelical tradition emphasises the uniqueness of Christ and is not pluralistic in its theology. Interfaith dialogue is often viewed as something that leads to the diluting of gospel to the lowest common denominator.

There are a diversity of Christian views and the background of the person strongly influences those views. In his experience Black African Christians are the most tolerant with many having either relatives or close family friends that are Muslim. This interaction with Muslims has given them a more nuanced perception of Islam. This is in contrast to White Christians that have spent their lives in rural communities with little or no contact with Muslims. Their perceptions are deeply seated in ignorance with a fear of a community they’ve never known.

The perceptions of academics that have studied Islam can be differentiated based on how they have researched Islam. Those that have studied Islam from a text based theological point have a different perception to Social Science researchers who listen to Muslim voices in todays world. The latter group have an understanding and acceptance that there is a diversity of scriptural interpretations within Muslim communities.

Specific perceptions

We have to love Muslims
This is a difficult position for some Christians. They are called to love Muslims but find it difficult to distinguish Islam the ideology from Muslims the people.

Possibility of partnership
The real enemy is not the Muslims but the politically secular in this country. The presence of Muslims is not viewed as a mere accident but the sovereignty of God. Their presence should be seen as spiritual reinforcement for upholding Biblical morality in the battle with the threat from secularism.

Presence will lead to Islamisation
This perception is based on a fear of Muslims as a foreign enemy that is trying to take over.

Religious freedom
There is an acute awareness of the treatment of Christians in Muslim majority countries and this influences the perception of Islam. The lack of religious freedom in these countries is a huge issue for many Christians. The revival of Shariah in Muslim countries is viewed as the driving force behind persecution of Christians.

Concluding thoughts

Christians should respond to Muslims out of love not fear. British Christians struggle between the two. There are often two opposing responses to Muslim immigration; we build walls to separate ourselves or have an open door policy welcoming them. Richard suggests a middle ground where rather than simply an open door we have a shared table where Christians and Muslims can eat together.

Ex-Muslims – a personal perspective

British Islam conference 2018

Presenter: Imtiaz Shams

Imtiaz was brought up in a religious household. His first book was the Riyad as-salihun by Al-nawawi a classical book of Islamic literature. He prayed, fasted and completed the Umrah pilgrimage spending part of his life growing up in Saudi Arabia. He was a teenager living in London during 911 and experienced Islamophobia in its immediate aftermath.

Imtiaz left Islam becoming an ex-Muslim about 5 years ago. He announced his decision to his family 3 years after he left Islam.

In his experience it is difficult to break away from the Muslim community due to the feeling of isolation that is felt when you become an ex-Muslim. He discovered a Reddit online community for ex-Muslims which at the time had about 2,000 members. It has since grown to around 27,000 members. Through this online space ex-Muslims shared their stories and gave advice to each other. He found the stories ‘magical’ as they showed he was not alone. He and others started organising physical meet-ups establishing these worldwide. Membership is controlled to ensure the safety and privacy of participants.

Imtiaz Shams is a founding member of Faith to Faithless a support group for people who have left a particular faith. This has included ex Muslims, Jehovah’s witnesses and Orthodox Jews. Faith to Faithless is a part of Humanists UK.

Imtiaz has experienced a range of reactions from others when they learn that someone has become an ex-Muslim. Some ignore them hoping they will simply go away. Others insist they have left Islam so they can indulge in drinking alcohol and illicit sex and other forbidden activities. Whilst there are many who turn to conspiracy theories and insist that ex-Muslims are sponsored by the Illuminati and Jewish organisations. The reaction from religious leaders is to instruct the families to ostracise the person who has left Islam. Imtiaz expressed disappointment that non-Muslims have accused him of being a type of native informant that is betraying his ethnicity. Dissent and critical discussion is in the eyes of many white liberals as something that belongs exclusively to Western culture. Their view being that Islam is a part of the colour and ethnicity of a person.

Summary/final points

  • The term ex-Muslim is negative and objectionable and would rather not be used by those who have left Islam
  • There is an increasing awareness that you can leave Islam if you want to. That there is support available for anyone who makes that personal choice
  • Ex-Muslims should be loved unconditionally by their families and be able to talk about their ideas freely
  • Families do come around eventually and things get better as love is a powerful force which can overcome bigotry
  • You should provide understanding and support for anyone that chooses to leave Islam as they will be enduring a difficult and lonely time during their transition from having faith to being faithless