The Today programme presenter Mishal Husain has urged British Muslims scholars to speak out and condemn the actions of the Islamic State terrorist movement.
Husain, 41, the BBC programme’s first Muslim presenter, said clerics should give public support to the “Not In My name,” campaign, which seeks to counter the presence of Islamic extremism on social media.
Asked by Radio Times if she believed that the British Muslim community is under too much pressure to apologise for every grotesque act committed by Islamic State, she said: “I think the Not In My Name campaign is a very positive development because outrage is shared by all right-thinking people.”
“I would really like to see much more of the counterpoint from a theological perspective, with scholars taking to social media to refute the awful arguments we see put forward in those videos.”
President Obama has praised the Not In My Name campaign and urged Muslim communities to expose and publicly renounce the ideologies of hatred and violence.
Husain, born in Northampton to Pakistani parents, who moved as a child between the Middle East and an English boarding school, believes that in Britain the secular-minded, tolerant strand of her faith still prevails. She said: “I don’t think my way of life is under any kind of threat. I think I’m true to the way my parents brought me up and the home I came from.”
Since joining the Today team a year ago, Husain, who says she will never wear the hjijab and drinks alcohol, has employed her knowledge of Arabic and insight into Islamic issues, during interviews with controversial clerics.
She is surprised by the recent intense debate about British Muslim identity. “The emphasis on what you wear on your head or how many times you pray, on the outward things rather than what’s in your heart and the way you treat people, I find slightly misguided,” the broadcaster said.
Asked how she would define herself, she said: “Oh gosh! I would say simply British. I feel it’s a shame that we have started to divide people much more. Now we want to know whether people are Sunnis or Shias. All these labels within communities. I’m not sure how helpful it is.”
Until she studied at Cambridge University in the early 90s, Husain was not aware that some people called themselves British Muslims: “Before that people generally said British Asian or ‘of Pakistani heritage’. Then I became aware that Islam was the defining bit. If you’ve never been to India or Pakistan, don’t speak the language, Islam is more accessible; it has no boundaries.”
Husain’s family moved to the United Arab Emirates, where her father practised as a doctor, when she was a baby. When her father was posted to Saudi Arabia, Mishal and her mother, who had been a television producer, were required to cover themselves completely and wear the abaya, a floor-length black cloak. “It was… not enjoyable. Not great in the heat,” Husain said.
Now married to a lawyer Meekal Hasmi, with whom she has three sons, Husain recalled a five-week car journey through the Saudi desert with her family, in 1981.
She said: “I remember the water wheels of Hama, the grandeur of Old Damascus, where I felt as though I was in One Thousand and One Nights and driving through Aleppo. I have never been to Syria since, only gazed across the border from Lebanon when speaking to Syrian exiles there.” The presenter noted that the trip would be impossible today.