Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: You Ask The Questions

The leader of the Muslim Council of Britain answers your questions, such as 'Should Muslim women have to wear a veil?' and 'Should Israel be abolished?'
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The Independent Online

Were you surprised by the 7/7 terror attack on London? Fiona Richards, Cambridge

There had already been a number of terror-related arrests and convictions prior to the 7/7 attacks. When it happened though it was still shocking to find that four British Muslims had become so radicalised that they had resolved to carry out acts of mass murder against their own fellow citizens. If we are to get to grips with this terrible problem then we do need to understand the process of how this occurred to four otherwise normal young men and that is why the Muslim Council of Britain has consistently called for a public inquiry into the 7/7 bombings.

I am a white British convert who lives in the rural south-west of England. Why should I feel any affiliation to the Muslim Council of Britain? Michael Reay, Wiltshire

The Muslim Council of Britain was founded almost exactly 10 years ago to promote co-operation between Muslims and non-Muslims with a view to seeking the common good. If you agree with our aims then please do consider joining us in our work.

Some say you're the most influential Muslim voice in the UK, but who elected you? Khalid Rashid, by email

The Muslim Council of Britain is a fully democratic institution and we hold regular elections every two years. I was elected to the position of secretary general in June 2006. Having said that, remember that mine is an unpaid position and takes up a huge amount of time. You also face criticism from all sides so, as you can imagine, we do not exactly have a huge number of people lining up to covet this position!

Why do we need a Muslim council? Isn't it a bit separatist? Ajay Khan, London

All faith groups in this country have their own organisations and representative bodies and British Muslims are no different. The MCB tries to facilitate greater coordination between different Muslim organisations in this country. We are certainly not "a bit separatist". We actively promote greater integration and call for Muslims to play their due role in British life.

Your predecessor, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, said that homosexuals spread disease and that their sexuality is 'harmful'. Do you agree this is a shameful statement? Neil Fynn, London

The mainstream Islamic view is that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to the teachings of the Koran and that of all the prophets. However, what people do in their own bedrooms must be their own business and is a matter between them and God.

As a minority, Muslims should be given equal rights and protected from discrimination. Do you agree that homosexuals should be afforded the same rights? Majid Hussain, London

Yes, of course they should be afforded equal protection and that is why the MCB supported the new Equalities Act which prohibits discrimination against others on the basis of gender, colour, faith or sexuality.

Should Muslim women have to wear the veil, niqab or burqa? Swati Indra, by email

No one should be compelled to wear either the hijab (headscarf), the niqab (face-veil) or the burqa (full body covering). [But] Islam calls upon both men and women to dress modestly.

If you were Prime Minister, what is the first thing you would do? Howard Clarke, St Ives

I would make clear that we are an independent nation and that while we desire good relations with all countries, including the US, we cannot support actions that gravely harm our interests and undermine the UN.

Do you believe that novelists have an absolute right to mock religion without being threatened? Theodore Groves, Slough

Yes, I believe they should have the right to mock beliefs, but they are not obliged to do so. In any case, no one should be subjected to threats of violence. If anyone mocks our deeply held beliefs as opposed to critiquing them in a civil manner, then I think the best way to respond would be to ignore them and carry on with our work. Let the value of our beliefs be demonstrated by our own example of the way in which we lead our lives.

Surely a bad cartoon shouldn't be the cause of violence, should it? Patrick Haggerty, by email

They were, in my view, indicative of an increasingly anti-Muslim climate in parts of Europe. Still, there was no excuse for violence.

Should Hizb ut-Tahrir be banned? Gerry Logan, by email

Along with the vast majority of UK Muslims, I have some major disagreements with Hizb ut-Tahrir and its outlook. The group brings nothing to the table in exploring our role as dynamic, connected citizens. I do not agree that they should be banned though.

A recent opinion poll found that 40 per cent of British Muslims aged between 18 and 30 believe apostates – those who change their religion – should be killed. Are you appalled? Danish G, Richmond

I do not accept that those figures are genuine. Sadly, many of the polls we hear about when it concerns Islam and Muslims are actually conducted not by academics but by divisive and reactionary outfits. The MCB's position is that the rule of law must always be paramount and our laws make it clear that people can freely adopt/leave any faith they want to and their wishes should be respected.

Do you find the killing of British troops in Iraq unacceptable? Freddy Ingrams, by email

Our troops are doing an unenviable job. It is unacceptable and appalling to hear of them being attacked and I am very sorry for their families. We appear to have learnt very little from our history of interfering in other countries, and I believe, history in turn, will not look very kindly at our recent actions.

Should Israel be abolished? Benjamin Levin, by email

The creation of Israel in 1948 led to a massive injustice against the Palestinian people and almost 60 years on that injustice has still not been fairly addressed. What we are seeing there is an institutionalised apartheid against the Palestinian people. Until the United States can be persuaded to change its disgracefully biased attitude towards Israel and to use its significant influence to compel it to dismantle all the illegal Jewish settlements and withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, I see very little hope for improvement in the region. [I can see] only more instability and more resentment building against the United States unfortunately.

Have you read The Islamist by Ed Husain? If you have, what did you think of it? If you have not, do you intend to do so? Rosemary Morton, Montrose

Yes, I have read it. It was unbelievably hyped. Contrary to some pundits, I don't think the book is very helpful in understanding why some young people turn to violence. I actually found it to be a very dated (most of its key events date before 1997) memoir of an obviously very confused young man. He has gone from one extreme to the other extreme and now describes all Muslims who seek to be guided in their politics by the values of their faith as "Islamists". Ed Husain said he has now rejoined the Muslim mainstream and yet he supported the war against Iraq. Furthermore, he said he is now a democrat, and yet he calls for the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He is still a traveller and I think he still has quite a bit to learn about democratic values. I wish him well in that quest.

Do you believe every word of the Koran is literally true, or are parts of it a metaphor? Lindsay Peters, Gillingham

I believe that the Koran is indeed the word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It is a beautiful book and although I have read it many times over the years, each time I open it I seem to learn something new and fresh.

I find it to be wonderfully soothing for the heart and I would recommend all the readers of The Independent to obtain a good English translation – such as that by Muhammad Asad – so that they can make up their own minds about the Koran.

Regarding the use of metaphors, the Koran itself describes many of its passages as "similitudes".

Why do so many Muslims in Britain seem so unhappy living here? Natalie Law, by email

If the premise behind your question true then why are there so many Muslims still here, thriving and proud to say that they are British Muslims? In my view, Britain is one of the best countries in the world to be a Muslim. I have lived here for more than 30 years and have brought up my family here. It is easy to forget the many opportunities that we have here and take for granted. As to your question, I do not believe many Muslims are unhappy about living here at all, but rather that many are actually unhappy with some of the policies that our Government has pursued in recent years, especially the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't think they are alone in this.

If aspects of the way of life in this country are so disagreeable to many Muslims why do so many keep coming here? Rob Nock, by email

There are some aspects about living in modern Britain that I think most of us should find a bit worrying, including the binge drinking culture, the repeated and irresponsible inducements through adverts for people to take on more and more personal debt, the easy access that many of our young seem to have to guns and drugs.

But we are all thinking about that. That does not mean that we despise this country, only that we want to find ways of making it an even better place to live together and to bring up our families.

Why do half of British mosques not even allow women through their doors? Faye Ronaldson, by email

It is very regrettable that many of our mosques do not have good facilities for women to participate and we highlighted this in a report we published last year called Voices From The Minaret. The Muslim Council of Britain is currently engaged in a high-profile Mosques 100 project whereby we are working with 100 mosques throughout the United Kingdom to help transform them into beacon centres that are welcoming of all, including women, the young and indeed, non-Muslims.

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