As we can see from the recent events at home and abroad, one of the most debated security threats of our time finds its roots in a religious discourse, namely a violent and extreme vision of Islam (often called ‘Islamism’). The targeting of Christians and Shias, and the methods used, by ISIL goes beyond even the most gruesome and vilest of actions we have come to expect from Al-Qaida…

Read more (Theos Think Tank)

Somalis in Leicester

Somalis in Leicester explores the views and experiences of Somali communities living in Leicester, focusing on five areas of local policy—employment, education, health, political participation, and policing—as well as broader themes of belonging and identity. The report was written by a team that I led, funded by the Open Society Foundation and supported by Somali Development Services.

The presence of Somalis in the UK dates back to the late 19th century. Today, the Somali community of Leicester is one of the largest in the UK, and Leicester’s Somalis can be divided into three broad categories: British-born Somalis, Somali refugees and asylum seekers (who came directly from Somalia as a result of the civil conflict), and Somalis who migrated to the UK from various EU countries such as the Netherlands.

Somalis in Leicester is part of a seven-city research series, Somalis in European Cities, by the Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project, which examines the realities of people from Somali backgrounds in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, HelsinkiMalmo, Leicester, London, and Oslo.

Read more and download the report here (Open Society Foundation)

New Horizons

After 17 years I left my various roles at the Islamic Foundation and the Policy Research Centre at the end of March 2013. See below for my new contact details…

Markfield, beautiful at all times of the year. Long may it thrive.

On the one hand, I was sad to leave a base that has offered me so much and to leave colleagues, especially in the Policy Research Centre, who have been the best friends anyone could ask for. I started working at the Islamic Foundation soon after graduation, as a research assistant. I feel deeply indebted to everyone that offered me a chance to learn, to develop and to experience a vast plurality of Islamic thought that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.

On the other hand, I am very excited and eager to continue some of my recent work in a new shape. I will be working closely with my wife, Rabiha, in developing a new project that will focus on aspects of reform and contextualising Islamic thought and hopefully helping to deepen our understanding of what faith, and Islam in particular, means to us today.

The new project is called New Horizons in British Islam, a forward-looking organisation that works for reform in Muslim thought and practice. It is inspired by Islamic spirituality and values, speaks from within the Islamic tradition but for the benefit of all.

I will also work as an independent consultant, among other things continuing my role at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. I’m also very excited to be starting a new role at the Lokahi Foundation. The final bit of the picture, last but not least, is to pursue some of my academic interests through a number of Universities – Cambridge, London and Leicester.

Aside from ‘work’, I hope to keep up various voluntary roles as a Trustee of 3FF (Three Faiths Forum), Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Maslaha and the Islamic Society of Britain. No rest for the wicked then!

My latest email:


You can also keep up with developments via this blog or join the mailing list for the project for updates, at: www.nhorizons.org. Thanks!


Muslims in the West and the Search for Abu Talib

What do these figures that are mentioned in the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (s) have in common – Abu Talib, Mut‘im bin Adiy, Ashama bin Abjar (the Negus of Abyssinia), Waraqah bin Naufal? They are all people that did not accept the faith of Islam (although there is some dispute about the Negus) yet were crucial in supporting the early Muslim community.

While there are many commentaries and studies of the Sira (the life of the Prophet) this is an often under-explored aspect that is highly relevant to us today, especially those Muslims living as minorities.

The care and compassion shown by Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet, is well known to many. His protection was vital given the tribal nature of Makkan life. When the small band of followers in Makka faced severe treatment at the hands of the Quraysh, it was to the Christian Negus of Abbysinia that the Prophet sent those who were able to leave. During the time of famine in Makka, when the Muslims were subject to a social and economic boycot, it was non-believers like Mut‘im bin Adiy who would secretly smuggle food to Muslims. It was the same Mut‘im who granted the Prophet protection after the death of Abu Talib. When the Prophet was secretly leaving Makka during the Hijra it was a non-Muslim guide, Abdullah bin Uraiqit, that he confided in revealing his plans and asked him to show the route to Medina. Waraqa bin Naufal, a Christian priest, was the cousin of Khadija, wife of the Prophet. He was the one that helped the bewildered couple make sense of the first revelation to Muhammad.

The fact that the Qur’an addresses humanity as ‘the children of Adam’ is very significant. It reminds of the common ancestry of all humanity, creating the atmosphere of a single family of people rather than one of different races or religions who should fight against each other. Differences are of course there, but in the sight of God they are natural and part of His plan: “If your Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people…” (Qur’an, 11:118). “O mankind! We created you from single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, (not despise each other)…” (Qur’an, 49:13). Furthermore, the Islamic idea of pluralism goes beyond mere tolerance or acceptance of difference, it is based on honour and dignity, “we have honoured the children of Adam” (Qur’an, 17:70).

Sadly, this more open and pluralistic outlook of Islam has been forgotten by many. In the heat of conflict we have become obsessed with identity politics, thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Wind the clock forward 14 centuries, and think in the context of a multi-faith environment like Britain; now more than ever before, the question of how we live with each other, with our differences and our diversity is vital. It is important that we pay serious attention to how we can work together with people and not just on our own as a Muslim ‘community’.

‘Muslims’ / ‘non-Muslims’ – our lives are intertwined in very complex ways. The examples from the time of the Prophet show that they always have been. Think of how much we rely on each other as citizens, neighbours, friends and co-workers. Whether for something as low level as asking a neighbour to keep an eye on our home, sharing the school run, or raising money for a local cause. Working on something more organised like getting planning permission for a mosque or something at the national level, like winning the support of others to argue for a piece of legislation that protects everyone’s rights. Or something like relying on open and fair minded people (as we have done so often) to defend the rights of Muslim citizens when they are wrongly attacked. So, one could ask the question – who are the contemporary figures such as Abu Talib for Muslims today? Have we reached out to make such friends?

I’m struck by how much more powerful it is when someone that is not a Muslim speaks out against Islamophobia, for example. And likewise, when a Muslim stands up against another form of prejudice such as anti-Semitism or homophobia.

But in order to reach that level of co-operation, we need to move beyond the parochial. To open ourselves up to relationships that go beyond self-interest and where we can be sensitive to the needs of a much wider circle of people. Where we are able to see the value of working for the whole. All the people that are our neighbours and fellow citizens; our people. We truly are in it together.

(This blog appeared in emel magazine, issue 99, December 2012)

Islam in the European house: Towards an inter-religious social ethics

Islam im europäischen Haus: Wege zu einer interreligiösen Sozialethik

Islam in the European House

This book (in German), by Dr Hansjörg Schmid looks at the emerging ideas of 5 Muslim figures on religion, public life, the secular state and pluralism:

  • Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid
  • Dilwar Hussain
  • Fikret Karčić
  • Tariq Ramadan
  • Azzam Tamimi


The focus of this book is on the relationship between religion, secular state and pluralistic society. The comparison carried out in this book of contemporary Muslim positions with selected references to Christian social ethics brings to light striking similarities as well as distinctions. Just as Christian social ethics have emerged as a response to social changes, Muslims in Europe are also now working to reconcile tradition and contemporary challenges. The book suggests that a purely denominational Christian social ethics as developed in the 19th Century, due to social pluralism, has now comes up against its limits. Only an inter-religious social ethics will provide an alternative to the challenges presented to religous discourse in the public arena.  The book  identifies and develops a basic methodology of shared social and ethical areas of action for Christians and Muslims.

The book can be purchased here (can also view contents and introduction):


or on Amazon.de

  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Verlag Herder; 1 edition (September 27, 2012)
  • Language: German
  • ISBN-10: 3,451,325,578
  • ISBN-13: 978-3451325571
  • Size and / or weight: 21.4 x 13.4 x 4 cm

Sticks and Stones

The issue of how to deal with ‘insults to Islam’ has become a recurring discussion in Muslim circles. Spurred on in recent years by cartoons depicting the Prophet, burning of the Qur’an, and that YouTube video; the latest disturbances have created a global uproar—demonstrations in tens of countries, over a dozen lives lost, embassies attacked, whole nations blamed for the actions of a fool. What’s going on?!

The love and passion that Muslims have for Muhammad is well known to themselves, and yet perhaps one of the most misunderstood things outside of Islamic circles. This is more than an ordinary pre-occupation with blasphemy—the Persian couplet hit the nail on the head when it said: “Take liberty with God if you wish, but be careful with Muhammad!”

Muslims may well perceive an insult to the Prophet as an injustice, but we need to ask serious questions when we react to such provocations and think what the actual priorities should be? After all, where is this energy when it comes to other cases of injustice, for example the ongoing conflicts in Syria or Bahrain? Can this energy be channelled in more productive ways? Why is it (nearly) always destructive?

A piece of advice from the Prophet himself may help us to set some sense of context and proportion: “Shall I tell you of something that is better than fasting, prayer and charity? It is mending discord between people. Beware of hatred—it strips you of your religion.”

Islam gives us many other more direct teachings of how we should react in the face of insult. When the Prophet was stoned and chased out of Taif his reaction was not to ask God for the destruction of the people, but to pray for their guidance. The Qur’an teaches us: “…and argue with them in ways that are better…” (16:125). It also reminds us that, “not equal are the good deed and the bad, repel [the bad] with good…” (41:34). As someone reminded me recently, if we repel evil with evil, then only evil can prevail.

The Qur’an also teaches us not to curse the deities of other religions in retaliation to their insults. The fact is, the icons of our faith—God, the Prophet, the Qur’an, etc. don’t need defending. If we are faithful, what could any human being do or say that would undermine our faith in them, or cause any actual hurt to them? Violent, inflamed defence does nothing but lend credibility to the accuser.

Over the last few weeks some Muslims have called for blasphemy laws to be introduced in various countries. However, it strikes me that the insult that Muslims often feel in such situations and the violent reactions demonstrated, stem from a deep sense of insecurity—perhaps related to a post-colonial history, disillusionment with the ethics of global politics today, estrangement from the spirituality of their own religious traditions, identity politics, etc. Blasphemy laws, or indeed any laws, will not resolve such deep problems.

Blasphemy laws were repealed from the UK in 2008 because they had become out-dated. The last imprisonment under those laws took place in the 1920s. Instead laws have been introduced to protect people (incitement to religious hatred, for example) and not religions. Balancing the right to free speech and the potential for causing offence are not easy. These are complex tensions that every society grapples with and there is always a need for some boundaries in the law to prevent exploitation and injustice especially of the weak and vulnerable. Ideas and beliefs do not need defending, but people do.

One would of course wish for, and expect, decorum and civility in public discourse. The challenge is how do you react when the criticisms against your beliefs are crude or are deemed offensive?

Human societies have now grown to value the importance of free speech and probing enquiry. It is also worth noting that much of the position that Muslims have carved out—religious freedom, anti-discrimination and equality—is built on the foundation of notions such as freedom and human rights.

While we continue to urge decorum, arguments are better aired, rather than pushed underground. People are afraid of Islam and Muslims. We need to face up to that. We will not defeat this fear nor deal with people’s prejudices and anxieties by merely asking for restrictions on what they can express. Instead we need more freedom for people to debate, discuss and bring out whatever anxieties they have. Only when we nurture a climate of open discussion (and yes, some of that will be bitter and difficult for us to hear) can we even stand a chance of dealing with the concerns that people have.

(This blog appeared in emel magazine, issue 98, November 2012)