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Race, Religion and Muslim Identity in Britain by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari

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This book offers incisive and comprehensive analysis of faith as a cornerstone of identity and possible solutions. A timely book after the recent tragedies in London which took place during July 2005.
With the rapid transformation within the Muslim community over the last few decades many young people are now finding it difficult to navigate between the demands of their religion on one side and social pressure on the other. Thus, working with them and addressing the issues pertinent to their daily life are challenging, to say the least.
This book is the outcome of Dr Bari's long-term involvement with the young Muslims of London through his voluntary and professional work. This has put him on a continuous learning curve in assessing his personal situation as well. The foremost amongst the issues facing a young Muslim is of course one of 'identity', which the author has tried to address through the mirrorof Islamic principles.

An extract from the book

Muslim Identity in Britain
Factors that Affect Identity

Identity, in the broader sense, is derived from the attachment individuals have with their family, community and society. The historical lineage of the family and the evolution of the community as well as the contemporary challenges and opportunities within a social context play an important part in forming this identity. The inner feelings of individuals borne out of these factors are then broadly manifested in their external person. The factors that help to create a broader identity of an individual at the macro-level are as follows.

On the other hand, the micro-identity of individuals is heavily influenced by factors relevant to their day to day encounters in life. These real life experiences dictate their behaviour pattern which, over time, contributes to building their personality. People either want to identify themselves in certain manners or their identity is defined by the expectation of others. The media now probably play the most important part in this characterisation. All these aspects often create challenges in the society. The factors that contribute to one's micro-identity are as follows:

Assimilation versus Integration

Assimilation is primarily a cultural concept where minority communities merge with the majority dominant one in a cultural melting pot. The concept was used in American race relations after the Second World War to mean the gradual dissolving of immigrant groups into the dominant white American society, vaguely termed as 'American values'. However, assimilation could also mean the resultant product of dominant and minority cultures fusing together, although dominant culture would have an edge over the others. There is a fear in the minority communities about the term 'assimilation', as it tends to create often undesired homogeneity within communities. In Britain this approach was rejected by an influential Labour politician, Roy Jenkins, in 1966 who insisted on the 'cultural diversity, coupled with equal opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance'.This set the tone of multiculturalism in Britain since then, which for so long intended to strengthen social or cultural pluralism.

On the other hand, 'integration' is primarily a social concept that looks for open interaction and engagement among communities in order to create a rainbow society. It is a process by which communities have closer social, cultural, economic and political relationships, without the threat of being merged into one another. Through interaction, accommodation, mutual acceptance and maybe healthy competition, members of minority communities can enjoy equality in respect of their civil rights and obligations but keep their independent community identity.

In an assimilationist approach communities lose out and individual identity gets weaker to the peril of all at the end. On the other hand, communities feel safe and confident in a genuinely integrationist approach and individuals gain much from it. When a society becomes a wider community of communities with tolerance and respect for others, people from all backgrounds feel enthusiasm in strengthening it. With confident individuals working for the betterment of the society everybody benefits. As minority communities always worry about being 'swallowed' by the dominant mainstream culture, particularly in the beginning stage of their settlement, the policy makers and influential people from the latter need to show sensitivity in their approach toward the former.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari's Biography

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist with a PhD and PGCE from King's College London and a Management degree from the Open University. He has worked as an Air Force Officer, Researcher in Physics, Science Teacher and now works as a SEN Specialist in London.

He advises the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), and London Mayor's Office on community and faith issues.

Dr Abdul Bari is a Former President of the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) and currently the Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Chairman of the East London Mosque. He writes extensively on youth and community issues and is author of "Building Muslim Families" and "The Greatest Gift: A Guide to Parenting."


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