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Inspire is pleased to learn today (25th November 2015) that the Law Society have withdrawn their practice note on sharia wills which was issued in March this year.

Inspire was deeply concerned by the practice note, which was duly promoted as ‘good practice’, and as a result instructed law firm Hogan Lovells to raise our concerns with the Law Society.

Sara Khan, co-director of Inspire said: “As a counter-extremism and Muslim women’s rights organisation, we were troubled about a number of issues the practice note raised.

Firstly, the Law Society was promoting one narrow interpretation of Sharia, despite the breadth of religious interpretations (including gender equality interpretations) and had chosen to promote a particular interpretation of Sharia law which endorsed the distribution of estates in a way that discriminates against women.”

There exist diverse religious readings of inheritance laws not only among the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence but also contemporary interpretations.  Morocco’s reform of its family law for example the Moudawana has taken on a holistic approach where the principles of the Islamic faith have been reconciled with international human rights law.

Sara Khan continued: “Secondly, we were concerned whether the Law Society had acted in accordance with its own Equality and Diversity Framework in issuing the Practice Note and with international law, in particular with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as well as other human rights treaties.

Thirdly, the qualifications and views of those who were referred to in drawing up the practice note was of particular concern to us as outlined in section 5 of the practice note. We highlighted our reasons to the Law Society about this.”

Inspire is pleased however that its concerns were duly noted and accepted by the Law Society.

Sara Khan added: “We would like to thank the Law Society for writing to us yesterday in informing us that the practice note has now been withdrawn and will not be replaced.  We also accept their apology and welcome the opportunity to engage and work with the Law Society in offering our guidance and advice where we are able.

“We would also like to thank Hogan Lovells for taking this case on for us and for their outstanding professionalism.”

For all media enquiries please contact media@wewillinspire.com

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I believe that education is the cornerstone of our society. It is crucial to building the knowledge and skills of our young people, and also in nurturing their values and beliefs.

In my work as a Muslim Chaplain at the University of Bristol, I promote what I believe to be the fundamental rights of students; equality, freedom of speech and expression, the right to study and live in a safe and nurturing environment, the right to question and the right to be protected from prejudice and extremism.

It is vital that students are taught and encouraged to practice critical thinking. Teaching students to constantly question what they are told or shown is so important in developing the skills needed to resist those who aim to force ideas and values upon them.

Over the last 18 years I have worked in the education sector, I have had the opportunity to observe and share in the challenges faced by students who are away from home for the first time. While many embrace their newfound freedom, for others this situation can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Our duty should be to help and support these students. However, as I have witnessed first hand, there are those that seek to manipulate and exploit these insecurities.

I recall an upsetting case of a talented and bright young man who following a personal trauma whilst at university began to attend presentations at a mosque at which he was exposed to the ideologies of particularly extremist thinkers. He then went on to listen to extremist speakers online.

His behaviour changed for the worse and his mother shared her concerns with me. Previously a very promising student keen to learn, he dropped out of his course as he no longer considered it compatible with his beliefs. He also began circulating hate-filled messages on campus and around the local community including statements such as the local Mosques were not true followers of Islam and should be shut down.

This is only one of many similar instances I have encountered where, had his lecturers been aware and equipped to deal with the situation, he could have received support. This could have come in many forms, such as theological mentoring. Sadly, he was never given this opportunity and instead decided, with little or no guidance, to throw away his future.

For that reason, I find it deeply troubling when those who are supposed to represent and stand up for the welfare of students appear unwilling to accept the responsibility to challenge extremism. This fills me with sadness and frustration, because in doing so, they are actively failing to support vulnerable students, and allowing hateful ideologies to spread on campuses. As a parent of children at university I have spoken to many parents who share my concerns.

We all agree that education is a universal right. So too is the right to learn in a space that is safe and secure, and one which is not coloured by the ideologies of hatred, bigotry and extremism.

My concern is that in our misguided anxiety not to offend, we actually risk failing those who we should be helping to protect. Extremist ideologies, unless challenged, can find fertile breeding grounds among vulnerable members of society.

It’s imperative that as a society we must all work together to combat extremism. As part of that effort, student groups and their leaders play a critical role in standing up to extremists on university campuses.

Let’s be clear. Freedom of speech is the bedrock of academia, just as it is a principle that we hold dear as a nation. Equally, students have the right to learn in an environment where they are not regularly exposed to extremist ideas, which among other things advocate the demeaning of women, express hatred towards gay people and attack democracy.

We should not underestimate the damage that the unchallenged propagation of extremist ideas can cause on university campuses. Sadly young people continue to make up a disproportionately high number of those arrested in this country for terrorist-related offences.

In recent years, there have been a number of instances in which university students have attempted to commit acts of terrorism. In November 2014, Erol Incedal, a law student at London South Bank University, was found guilty of possession of a bomb-making manual. Others believed to have been radicalised whilst at university include Glasgow Airport attacker Kafeel Ahmed, who was a student at Anglia Ruskin University.

That these individuals could have fallen under the influence of poisonous and violent ideologies whilst attending British universities prompts uncomfortable questions – which we need to address with candour and courage.

If we regard extremism as anathema to the values of tolerance, pluralism and free speech that we value in our universities, then it is right that we work in partnership to challenge it and create an environment where freedom of speech and freedom from harm co-exist.

The student movement has in the past shown determination in tackling hateful ideas, for example in campaigning against racism. But in turning a blind eye to vile extremist ideas, and in refusing to acknowledge the threat they pose to students, they do a disservice to themselves and the wider community. If they had seen the way that extremism can wreck young lives, as I have, they would surely not be so complacent.

Kalsoom Bashir

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Some final words as Director of Inspire By Sara Khan

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

As I wrote in my very first Inspire blog back in 2010, the reason why Inspire was created was borne out of a sense of sheer frustration.  In 2007, a small group of us as women activists met in Slough.  Recognising the reality of gender inequality in all aspects of our society, we shared our deep resentment with the lack of work being done by many of the larger and “representative” Muslim organisations.  We had every right to say and come to this conclusion because we had spent years trying to implement positive change in organisations like Young Muslims UK, the Islamic Society of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain.  We knew just how bad the problem was because many of us from that small group were the ones appointed to senior positions in those very organisations.

Inspire conference, January 2009, East London and 4 months pregnant!
Inspire conference, January 2009, East London and 4 months pregnant!

The pushback, denial and lack of will to address gender inequality reached a personal boiling point for us; we could no longer tolerate such blatant attitudes and practices. I could not stomach any longer being told to accept the status quo or the argument I heard the most often, usually being made by men, “you must have patience with your situation” and “we must first eradicate Islamophobia, that is the priority  – only then can we address gender discrimination and abuse.”   A straw man argument if I ever saw one, which also ignored that both issues are sometimes interlinked,  as I elaborated in a Guardian piece in 2013.

Everyday in my role in these organisations, alongside the amazing stories of achievement, resilience and courage, Muslim women and girls would share stories of abuse, discrimination and attempts to eradicate their humanity, the extent of which, as I would discover, mainstream feminists struggled to comprehend.  These stories sometimes left me awake at night.  I will NOT tolerate or “have patience” to such gender injustice.  To do so would be an act of injustice on my part.

Alongside this in the shadow of the London bombings we knew the problem of Islamist extremism within British Muslim communities was growing.  Young activists had regularly been exposed to Islamist beliefs, preachers and the lionising of Islamist ideologues. Conflicting with my own egalitarian interpretation of Islam, the widespread active propagation of Islamist ideology in Britain perturbed me.  Then 7/7 happened.  I felt many of these organisations were not prepared to address extremism or gender inequality; despite being, what I call, the two elephants in the room.

So we did what female activists are so good at doing. Instead of waiting for men to take the lead, we rolled up our sleeves and did something about it ourselves.  We set up Inspire.  With no money.  No resources.  No manpower.  No office.  What we did have was an idea and something that even money can’t buy: commitment, a sense of burning injustice, thankless activism and the right to represent ourselves, our views and our voices, loudly and publicly.  In those early days, turning Inspire from an idea into a tiny organisation was led by Tahmina Saleem and I. Both of us had been former Presidents of the female wing of Young Muslims UK – we’d already had years of experience of empowering women.

Training to Muslim women in Wandsworth, 2013
Training to Muslim women in Wandsworth, 2013

 In the early years we approached a number of Muslim charities for potential funding.  Many of these charities had a healthy bank balance, relying on the generous donations of ordinary British Muslims. We argued for support in the form of funding; addressing these two elephants in the room were critical issues for Muslims – the societal harm to Muslim children, families, women and even communities was evident. It was Muslims who were victims of both these societal problems.  Nor did these issues help wider community cohesion in our country; on the contrary it undermined it.

Yet the charities turned us down.  Both the issue of extremism and gender inequality were just too “controversial” for them they told us.  I couldn’t help but see this as a lack of bravery, long term and visionary thinking and poor leadership; too much of wanting to be led as opposed to lead.  Today however, there are a number of great organisations doing vital work who I support.

Back then though we refused to allow this to deter us.

Through local government funding and even private donations we ran yearly conferences and training programmes on gender equality and countering extremism often in partnership with local authorities.   We began focusing on Islamist extremism long before the launch of our anti-ISIS campaign Making a Stand in 2014.  As part of our counter-extremism programmes from 2008 onwards, we were already delivering sessions to Muslim women on the narrative of Al-Qaida inspired and other Jihadist ideology and taught vital theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology.  We outlined how radicalisation took place, how women could safeguard their children and the vital role women play in tackling extremism.

Inspire delivering training to Muslim women in Leeds in 2013
Inspire delivering training to Muslim women in Leeds in 2013

Whether we delivered our programmes over 2 weeks or 4, the response was the same.  Hundreds of women felt empowered and confident – and as they told us in the vast majority of cases, no-one had ever taught or explained to them what Islamist extremism was.  It was precisely the vast expertise we had built up over the years of delivering these programmes to Muslim women that equipped us to run our local programmes in 9 cities as part of Making A Stand.

Training programme on counter-narratives to extremist ideology for Muslim women in Portsmouth, 2011
Training programme on counter-narratives to extremist ideology for Muslim women in Portsmouth, 2011

 In 2010, angry at the deliberately provocative attempts by Al-Muhajiroun and Anjem Choudary to sow division in our society by threatening to take empty coffins through Royal Wooton Basset, a group of us decided to organise a memorial service for our Armed Forces at the National Memorial Arboretum.  It was left to a small band of Muslim women to take the lead.   The simple but poignant service which we organised with the Muslim Armed Forces Association included the laying of wreaths and was also attended by the mother of Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, whose British Muslim son had died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan four years earlier.

Our motivation as so aptly described by, Kalsoom Bashir (who later became a co-director of Inspire) was simple:

“We are here as ordinary members of the community. We have come together as women to show our respect for those young men and women that have died serving our country. We want to show that the grief of a mother losing her son is shared, and that the loyalty of those who have been lost is remembered. There have been other organisations – that represent nobody – who have tried to hijack the message from UK Muslim communities. We are here to claim it back. There was a strong feeling of disgust in the Muslim communities that anyone would try to exploit the grief of families at Wootton Bassett. We thought that this was an appropriate way to show our respects.

Despite the threats we received from some British Muslim extremists – both male and female – and the worries which plagued our minds about organising such a public service, we knew our contribution on that warm sunny afternoon in July was highly significant in not only undermining the narrative of both far right and Islamist extremists but in reinforcing the important role played by British Muslims in service to our country.

Service at the National Memorial Arboretum, July 2010
Service at the National Memorial Arboretum, July 2010
In solidarity; National Memorial Arboretum July 2010
In solidarity; National Memorial Arboretum July 2010

***

In the ten years I’ve served as director of Inspire there are far too many moments that I will cherish as I leave this organisation to recount.  Despite our continuous struggle for funding over the years and the lack of manpower, quite simply we were punching above our weight compared to organisations three times our size.  Our 2011 conference, Speaking in God’s Name: Re-examining Gender in Islamattended by Khaled Abou el Fadl, Mukhtar Mai and others was a monumental success in pushing forward the boundaries of debate within Muslim communities about gender equality.  At that same conference we launched our Jihad Against Violence campaign; the JAV declaration was signed by people from over 32 countries.

With speakers Amina Wadud and Sheikh Michael Mumisa at Speaking in God’s Name, 2011
With speakers Amina Wadud and Sheikh Michael Mumisa at Speaking in God’s Name, 2011

 

Inspire Conference Booklet: Speaking in God’s Name, 2011
Inspire Conference Booklet: Speaking in God’s Name, 2011

 

Pakistani women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai, Speaking in God’s Name, City Hall, 2011
Pakistani women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai, Speaking in God’s Name, City Hall, 2011

If fighting gender discrimination within minority communities was enough of a battle, I soon discovered that we also had to fight for our rights against British state institutions.  I was outraged that having experienced enforced gender segregation at Muslim events in our country, these institutions which had a legal duty to uphold the Equality Act, were now prepared to forsake their obligations of gender equality in order to appease the demands of Islamists.  Inspire bravely put its head above the parapet to voice our anger and to push back.

As has always been the case, our voices were minority ones.  Universities UK in 2013 sought to approve gender segregated events on campus if that was to be requested by an Islamic speaker no matter how misogynistic he was. In 2014, the Law Society published a practice note which if left unchallenged, would have also discriminated against Muslim women; read our legal proceedings against them here. More recently Inspire in 2017 challenged the gender segregation policy of Al-Hijrah school, submitting expert evidence in partnership with Southall Black Sisters.  We argued such a policy was a violation of the Equality Act 2010.  Three Court of Appeal Judges agreed.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice – July 2017 Ofsted V Al-Hijrah School, Court of Appeal alongside Pragna Patel and Amina Lone
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice – July 2017 Ofsted V Al-Hijrah School, Court of Appeal alongside Pragna Patel and Amina Lone

 Each and every time we intervened, we, unlike our critics, proved that we were on the right side of history and even the law (Equality Act 2010).  Yet each and every time we did put our head above the parapet we found ourselves in the firing line of a barrage of abuse, threats of violence, racial and religious bigotry and character assignations.  We got the usual “get out of our country” bigotry from the far right, and while not acknowledged enough, we also received anti-Muslim abuse from the hard Left decrying us as “state-sponsored Islamophobes” and “token brown Muslim women.” As a Muslim human rights campaigner, a woman of colour and a victim of physical anti-Muslim attacks this was indefensible.

The overwhelming abuse however, came from Islamists and Muslim activist groups fixated with identity politics who threatened us and our children and who spread abhorrent lies about our characters in order to intimidate us into silence.  They fuelled new and wild conspiracy theories about Inspire over and over again in an attempt to scupper our counter-extremism work.

The unfortunate truth was that Inspire, like so many – in an era of social media and fake news in our post-truth society – became a victim of these unfortunate times that dominate our world today.  But it is precisely these dangerous conditions and our blind unwillingness to verify fact from fiction, which has allowed extremists of all persuasions to move from the fringes into the mainstream.

What my experience with Inspire has given me is a first hand insight into how extremists operate in our country today and the methodology they use to help normalise their toxic conspiratorial worldview within the mainstream.  It has also shown me how extremists and their supporters purposefully target counter-extremism voices; and the lack of assistance and support these vulnerable voices receive from our authorities or civil society. I am determined, in particular, to redress this.

***

Being hemmed in from all corners, there were many times when we felt we couldn’t go on.  It was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.  Who would have thought for example running Making A Stand, an anti-ISIS campaign, (I repeat: an anti-ISIS campaign) which was supported by the Home Office would bring us so much backlash and abuse?

At that time, when hundreds of British Muslims were travelling to Syria and Jihadi John was beheading British aid workers, many were arguing that Muslims leaders needed to do more to speak out and challenge extremism.  Vocal Muslim groups and politicians were arguing that the Government should be supporting and working with organisations in order to safeguard Muslim children.  Mothers were telling us they feared their kids could be radicalised.  Action was urgently required.

Article I wrote for the Big Issue, September 2016
Article I wrote for the Big Issue, September 2016
Making A Stand – Bristol 2015
Making A Stand – Bristol 2015

Having painfully discovered many charities were unwilling to fund such vital work, we decided to take the initiative ourselves and approached the Home Office in 2014 to fund and support our campaign – (watch how our campaign benefitted Muslim women attendees including Sunni, Shia and Ahmadiyyah women.

Making A Stand, Luton 2015
Making A Stand, Luton 2015

 Yet despite this, we found ourselves being repeatedly denigrated and cast in a suspicious light by Muslim groups who themselves had done very little to counter extremism, or who once upon a time had themselves received Prevent funding. We found ourselves not only stuck between a rock and a hard place but between the hypocrisies of this wider debate.

Our MAS campaign and Home Office funding for that campaign ended in 2015.  We did not receive any Home Office funding before or after that campaign. To our complete surprise, Inspire’s work was praised in a 2015 Number 10 Press release announcing the Government’s new Counter-Extremism strategy and fund of £5 million to help build a national coalition against extremism.Once again conspiracy theories and myths were abound.  Our detractors claimed this was proof that we were and that we would be in receipt of millions of pounds of government funding.  Yet we have never received a penny from the Home Office’s Counter-Extremism fund, and like many not for profit organisations – funding – throughout Inspire’s entire existence remained a constant struggle.  Every year, we simply did not know if we would exist the following financial year.  Operating on a shoestring, it hampered our ability to carry out the counter-extremism projects we were eager to deliver.

Yet despite this, Inspire regularly received a disproportionate level of abuse and focus compared to other organisations.  I believe that all too frequently the true motive was a firm opposition to our values and beliefs: equality, human rights, a liberal and progressive outlook.  All of which we see as being compatible with Islam. We were prepared to call out anti-Semitism, anti-Ahmaddiyah hatred, Islamist extreme groups and preachers and other forms of sectarianism and hatred.  We were also prepared to stand up for women’s rights, gay rights and other minority rights.  Nor did we hold an anti-Western or anti-state view and yes we were prepared to work with state and non-state agencies.  This in particular enraged both hard Left and Islamist ideologues. It of course didn’t help that we were women who regularly voiced our “opiniated” views in the public domain! All of this made us the “wrong” kind of Muslim, and certainly the “wrong” kind of Muslim women – unworthy of support or defence.  It was precisely this experience which inspired me to write The Battle for British Islam.  While others often critiqued our work through the poorly constructed prism of “good Muslim/bad Muslim,” for me, Inspire’s prism quite simply, was human rights.

Despite the hard times I will forever look back at my time with Inspire as life-changing.  I learnt much from women like Tahmina, Kalsoom, Yasmin and others who I had the fortune of working with directly.  My conversations with Muslim women, men and young people in cities like Leeds, Burnley or Birmingham were always eye opening.  The training I gave to thousands of teachers over the years and the real stories they shared with me always made me realise just how important counter-extremism work is and why it should be invested in.  Frank and honest conversations with ordinary Brits over the years about their fears of Islamist extremism in their towns and cities, always made me sympathetic to the anxiety of helpless onlookers.  Training I delivered to public bodies – and working groups I sat on, hammered home the huge challenges our authorities face in pushing back against extremism.  The cries of help from parents who feared their children were vulnerable to radicalisation will forever live with me.

These are the ordinary people’s voices we don’t hear, we don’t pay attention to and frankly we don’t want to listen to.  But during all the challenging times I endured with Inspire, it was precisely these people who encouraged me to continue struggling.  And it was their lived experiences that encouraged me to keep on fighting.

Training delivered in Camden – December 2015
Training delivered in Camden – December 2015

It has been an absolute pleasure to serve Inspire and as I move on and Inspire transforms into a charity, I wish the new board of trustees and the new team all the best for the future.  I hope they develop Inspire further, transforming it into an even bigger and better organisation.

But to all our supporters, funders, donors, friends, mentors, colleagues and to each and every person who kept our spirit going either through words of encouragement, sharing a supportive tweet or fundraising for Inspire by running a marathon (!)– words will never be able to express my gratitude to each and every one of you. For your support, kindness and help; and often from complete strangers.  In particular I would like to thank our funders: Sigrid Rausing Trust, Unbound Philanthropy, Barrow Cadbury, Mama Cash and all those Brits who set up monthly standing order forms.  Inspire would not have survived as long as it did, had it not been for your core support and belief in the urgency of our work.

I could write pages and pages of the work and causes Inspire championed and delivered over the last ten years.  But for anyone interested the Inspire website is a recorded account of some of our work and the issues we spoke out about.

It has been an honour; and the lived and eye-opening experience I gained during my time at Inspire will come in great use as I move on into my new role as Lead Commissioner of the Commission for Countering Extremism.

Thank you and till next time!

 

 

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July 2017

Inspire logo counter extremism

Welcome to Inspire, an independent non-governmental counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation. Almost ten years old, Inspire has been at the forefront of empowering women, championing gender equality and countering extremist narratives.  In 2008, frustrated with the lack of concern and will from many so-called representative Muslim organisations (who were typically male-led) in addressing both extremism and women’s rights, Inspire was founded.  Since that time, some of our work has included:

 

update image 1

This is just a flavour of some our work.  Remarkably we have never had more than 2 full time and 1 part time employee in carrying out such cutting edge initiatives and projects.  Our funding has included donations from the public and private philanthropists, support from foundations and charities including Sigrid Rausing Trust and Barrow Cadbury, and in the case of our anti-ISIS project, the Home Office. (For clarity sake we have never received core funding from the Home Office, nor received any funding from them for over 2 years since the end of our Making A Stand campaign.)

update image 3

Yet now more than ever, the work of Inspire is critical.  As we witness the rise of all forms of extremism and the threat this poses to women’s rights in particular, the increasing polarisation and division in our society, Inspire’s aims which include defending our shared values and challenging hate is vital.

update image 2

Which is why we would like to inform you that Inspire is currently undergoing a stage of transformation and transition.  Over the next few months we are pleased to say that we are in the process of restructuring the organisation.  Our aim is to become bigger and better.  This is an exciting time for us, but we ask you to please be patient with us during this time. We are going to be very busy behind the scenes building Inspire.  While we will still be operating and working on a number of important projects, we are temporarily unable to resume many of our current services but please still contact us at info@wewillinspire.com if you have a particular request and we will try our utmost to meet your needs.  If you want to reach out to Sara Khan directly, you can contact her at mail@sarakhan.co.uk.

Over the years, the positive response we have received from ordinary members of the public (both Muslims and non-Muslims) has been incredible.  We have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, phone calls and other messages.  Many Muslims tell us that our work is essential in challenging the regressive, fundamentalist and anti-human rights Muslim lobbies who claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims.  Both Muslims and non-Muslims tell us that we are a voice of reason and that we demonstrably provide a vision of how it is possible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together, on the basis of shared values, in this country we all call home.   The words of support (and donations) from the British public who urge us to continue and to never stop doing what we do, is a heavy responsibility we take seriously and profoundly.  Which is why we are looking to expand Inspire over the next few months.

update image 4

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters over the years and all those who continue to donate to us.  We would not be here today without your solidarity.

We look forward to updating you on our work and organisation over the next few months.

WATCH THIS SPACE!!

 

 

 

    0 0

    Important update from Inspire

    July 2017

    Welcome to Inspire, an independent non-governmental counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation. Almost ten years old, Inspire has been at the forefront of empowering women, championing gender equality and countering extremist narratives.  In 2008, frustrated with the lack of concern and will from many so-called representative Muslim organisations (who were typically male-led) in addressing both extremism and women’s rights, Inspire was founded.  Since that time, some of our work has included:

    update image 4

     

    This is just a flavour of some our work.  Remarkably we have never had more than 2 full time and 1 part time employee in carrying out such cutting edge initiatives and projects.  Our funding has included donations from the public and private philanthropists, support from foundations and charities including Sigrid Rausing Trust and Barrow Cadbury, and in the case of our anti-ISIS project, the Home Office. (For clarity sake we have never received core funding from the Home Office, nor received any funding from them for over 2 years since the end of our Making A Stand campaign.)

    update image 3

    Yet now more than ever, the work of Inspire is critical.  As we witness the rise of all forms of extremism and the threat this poses to women’s rights in particular, the increasing polarisation and division in our society, Inspire’s aims which include defending our shared values and challenging hate is vital.

    update image 2

    Which is why we would like to inform you that Inspire is currently undergoing a stage of transformation and transition.  Over the next few months we are pleased to say that we are in the process of restructuring the organisation.  Our aim is to become bigger and better.  This is an exciting time for us, but we ask you to please be patient with us during this time. We are going to be very busy behind the scenes building Inspire.  While we will still be operating and working on a number of important projects, we are temporarily unable to resume many of our current services but please still contact us at info@wewillinspire.com if you have a particular request and we will try our utmost to meet your needs.  If you want to speak to Sara Khan directly, you can contact her at mail@sarakhan.co.uk.

    Over the years, the positive response we have received from ordinary members of the public (both Muslims and non-Muslims) has been incredible.  We have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, phone calls and other messages.  Many Muslims tell us that our work is essential in challenging the regressive and anti-human rights Muslim lobbies who claim to speak on their behalf.  Non-Muslims tell us that we are a voice of reason and that we are a vision of how it is possible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together in our country we all call home.   Their words of support (and donations) in urging us to continue, to never stop doing what we do, is a heavy responsibility we take seriously and profoundly.  Which is why we are looking to expand Inspire over the next few months.

    update image 1

    We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters over the years and all those who continue to donate to us.  We would not be here today without your solidarity.

    We look forward to updating you on our work and organisation over the next few months.

    WATCH THIS SPACE!!

    Inspire is a non-governmental advocacy organisation (NGO) working to counter extremism and gender inequality. We empower women to support human rights and to challenge extremism and gender discrimination. By empowering women, Inspire aims to create positive social change resulting in a more democratic, peaceful and fairer Britain. Women are key to the development and prosperity of any society; Inspire believes that Muslim women are no different and are capable of being at the forefront of strengthening communities as well as tackling problems both within Britain and internationally.

    Inspire was founded in 2009 after its co-founders had spent over 15 years working within British Muslim communities. They were concerned that not enough was being done to challenge both gender discrimination and extremist ideologies within UK’s Muslim communities. Inspire was created to fill this void.

    Our success lies in our ability to connect with women in grassroots communities and in shaping the debate more widely. We run campaigns, deliver conferences, workshops and programmes to women, statutory agencies and schools across the United Kingdom. We are regularly interviewed for local, national and international media.

    Inspire is a not for profit organisation. We are able to deliver projects through partnership work which in the past have included local authorities, community organisations, schools and police forces.

    We rely on donations and grants to keep the essential work of Inspire going.

    Please support us by donating to us to help challenge extremism and gender discrimination.




      0 0

      Important update from Inspire

      July 2017

      Welcome to Inspire, an independent non-governmental counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation. Almost ten years old, Inspire has been at the forefront of empowering women, championing gender equality and countering extremist narratives.  In 2008, frustrated with the lack of concern and will from many so-called representative Muslim organisations (who were typically male-led) in addressing both extremism and women’s rights, Inspire was founded.  Since that time, some of our work has included:

       

      This is just a flavour of some our work.  Remarkably we have never had more than 2 full time and 1 part time employee in carrying out such cutting edge initiatives and projects.  Our funding has included donations from the public and private philanthropists, support from foundations and charities including Sigrid Rausing Trust and Barrow Cadbury, and in the case of our anti-ISIS project, the Home Office. (For clarity sake we have never received core funding from the Home Office, nor received any funding from them for over 2 years since the end of our Making A Stand campaign.)

      Yet now more than ever, the work of Inspire is critical.  As we witness the rise of all forms of extremism and the threat this poses to women’s rights in particular, the increasing polarisation and division in our society, Inspire’s aims which include defending our shared values and challenging hate is vital.

      Which is why we would like to inform you that Inspire is currently undergoing a stage of transformation and transition.  Over the next few months we are pleased to say that we are in the process of restructuring the organisation.  Our aim is to become bigger and better.  This is an exciting time for us, but we ask you to please be patient with us during this time. We are going to be very busy behind the scenes building Inspire.  While we will still be operating and working on a number of important projects, we are temporarily unable to resume many of our current services but please still contact us at info@wewillinspire.com if you have a particular request and we will try our utmost to meet your needs.  If you want to speak to Sara Khan directly, you can contact her at mail@sarakhan.co.uk.

      Over the years, the positive response we have received from ordinary members of the public (both Muslims and non-Muslims) has been incredible.  We have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, phone calls and other messages.  Many Muslims tell us that our work is essential in challenging the regressive and anti-human rights Muslim lobbies who claim to speak on their behalf.  Non-Muslims tell us that we are a voice of reason and that we are a vision of how it is possible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together in our country we all call home.   Their words of support (and donations) in urging us to continue, to never stop doing what we do, is a heavy responsibility we take seriously and profoundly.  Which is why we are looking to expand Inspire over the next few months.

      We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters over the years and all those who continue to donate to us.  We would not be here today without your solidarity.

      We look forward to updating you on our work and organisation over the next few months.

      WATCH THIS SPACE!!

       

       

      Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

      Sara Khan

      Director and Co-founder

      “Her voice—not the braying of the separatists could be the sound of our shared future.”  Sara Khan has also been described as having “stood up against patriarchy, challenged extremist Muslims and thrown the gauntlet down to far right extremists.”

      Sara is an award winning human rights and counter-extremism activist and author of the best-selling book “The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism.”

      Having worked and actively campaigned for women’s rights within Muslim communities for over 20 years, Sara co-founded Inspire in 2008 to empower Muslim women, raise awareness of their inequalities and challenge the growing extremism often justified in the name of Islam.

      Sara was named by BBC Woman’s Hour as one of the Top 10 most influential women in 2015.  In January 2015 and again in 2016, Sara was recognised as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people, in the prestigious Debrett’s War and Peace category as someone who is working towards peace and stability in the United Kingdom.  In March 2015 she was named  the 2015 Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, the Wendy & Emery Reves Center for International Studies and the Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding at the William & Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.  In 2016, Sara was winner of the Asian Women and Achievement Award in the Social and Humanitarian category.  Sara has been profiled in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Independent and Vogue magazine.

      She has written comment pieces for the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph, the New York Times, the National UAE, the New Statesman and Huffington Post.  She has also appeared on Channel 4 News, Sky News Murnaghan, ITV News, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme, CNN Amanpour, BBC Woman’s Hour among others.  She has been interviewed for BBC Desert Island Discs and BBC HardTalk.  She is regularly asked to speak at conferences, universities and colleges both at home and internationally.

      Creative in her approach, she helped lead Inspire’s Jihad Against Violence and #MakingAStand campaign.  Throughout her life, Sara has led on a number of innovative projects which have included leadership training, capacity building, women’s rights and the role Muslim women can play in countering extremism.   After the 7/7 bombings she sat on the Home Office’s Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Working Group and also sat on the Government’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) External Expert Advisory Group on Girls and Women advising the International Development Secretary.  She is currently sitting on the Department for Education’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group.

      A born human rights activist she completed an MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights. Sara is also a qualified hospital pharmacist and has a Masters in Pharmacy.  Sara has written a chapter for the book “Sensible Religion” published in September 2014 entitled “Retrieving the Equilibrium and restoring Justice: Using Islam’s Egalitarian Teachings to reclaim Women’s Right.”

      Sara is available for public speaking. To get in touch directly with Sara please email mail@sarakhan.co.uk or visit her website www.sarakhan.co.uk.


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      5PillarsUK:  What are Muslims Islamists thinking?

      Despite the global rise of Islamist extremism, the response to it here has been unfortunately predictable and highly counter-productive.  Partly because of widespread ignorance around Islamist ideology, coupled with the active deflection by Islamists themselves and their sympathisers, the debate around Islamist radicalisation in our society is nothing short of regressive.

      Rather than acknowledging the threat it poses, time and effort has been spent on the downplaying and denial (even the existence) of Islamist ideology, coupled with a complete lack of pushback by civil society.  Worse still, some anti-racist groups have partnered with and supported Islamists.  This sorry state of affairs has in some quarters become virtually normalised in British society, in particular within certain Muslim apologist activist circles, the liberal Left and even amongst the authorities.

      Which is why these very same people, who care about upholding human rights and our democratic values, should watch this recent video put out by 5Pillars , a British based Islamist website.  In their 1 min 45 second video, they helpfully expose their own anti-Western agenda and  support for the Islamist worldview by neatly summarising the central tenets of Islamist extreme ideology which include support for a caliphate, Islamic penal codes and physical jihad.

      5 Pillars: “What do "Muslim reformers" want to change about Islam?”
      5 Pillars: “What do “Muslim reformers” want to change about Islam?”

      The same extreme Islamist worldview which was actively promoted for years by the now proscribed Al-Muhajiroun – ALM (led by the infamous Anjem Choudary).

      5 Pillars: “What do "Muslim reformers" want to change about Islam?”
      5 Pillars: “What do “Muslim reformers” want to change about Islam?”

      The same Islamist ideology which also played a part in radicalising some British Muslims to leave the UK in support of ISIS’s caliphate.

      Tellingly, the purpose of the video was to name and shame those British Muslim groups who 5Pillars believe threaten Islamist ideology and beliefs; I am proud to say Inspire being one of them.  Adopting the Islamist old age tactic of charging these Muslim groups of seeking to “change Islam” which needs “defending,” 5Pillars have repeatedly sought to denigrate and vilify counter-Islamist Muslim voices who support human rights, gender equality, and believe in the modern day norm of democratic nation states.

      For decades, defending and promoting Islamist ideology has unsurprisingly been a key focus of British Islamist groups.  Their Islamist outlook however is totally at odds with leading Muslim theologians.  Prominent scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah for example has highlighted how outdated religious laws must always change and has done so since early Islam.  While claiming to ‘represent’ and ‘defend’ Islam, Islamists themselves expose their own opposition to the Islamic tradition and Islam’s own historical record!

      This is certainly the case with the outdated notion of a caliphate, or as scholar Wael B. Hallaq calls it “The Impossible State”  because of the inherently self-contradictory notion of an “Islamic State. ” Today, leading theologians have argued that the caliphate is an outdated concept and that Muslims should adopt the idea of the nation state and equal citizenship .

      Islamists regularly bemoan the end of the Ottoman Empire, idealising the last caliphate.  They do so with selected memory. Their claim to establish a global caliphate is utterly at odds with the historical record.

      It is well known during the 19th Century, how the Empire adopted secular laws and reformed it’s practices which included the decriminalisation of homosexuality.  (5Pillars also attacked the normalisation of LGBTQ ‘lifestyles’ in their video.)   Ottoman society in this period of time began to move away from punishments such as stoning; and the death penalty for apostasy was not implemented.  These laws ironically were hardly applied in practice in Muslim history; Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d.1328) remarked that there has never been stoning in Syria up till his time. Imam al-Burzuli (d.1438) rejected stoning and lashing and replaced them with financial penalties and incentives in the 14th century.

      Yet here we are in the 21st Century where Daesh carried out such practices and where British Islamists continue to support and call for these extreme practices. Telling us the dire state of debate among some British Muslims and the failure of our country to confront Islamist extremism.

      Fundamentally what 5Pillars’ video did so well is a) expose them and b) highlight the existence and support for Islamist extremism among some British Muslims.  The comments on their Facebook page is proof of this.  Despite the regular playing down of non-violent extremism, the video is evidence of how Islamist ideology and the ideas behind it are central to groups like ALM and Daesh.

      Yet as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the British counter-terrorism and counter extremism community, I am tired of those within that community display blinkered thinking and policy. Too often colleagues and partners exclusively focus on Daesh, while ignoring the radicalisation that is taking place right here under our noses by UK based Islamist groups and the brazen promotion and support for Islamist ideology.   It has become apparent to me that even for many well intentioned activists, faith leaders and authorities, challenging this ideology – and the British groups who promote it – has been placed in the “difficult box” leaving it to a few handful of people who are repeatedly vilified as demonstrated in 5Pillars’ video.

      The authorities would do well to heed the words of Jason Burke.  The author, writing about the fall of Daesh’s caliphate, forewarns the next Islamist threat and has argued that Islamist militancy follows the same trajectory; the first a slow, unnoticed period of growth.Many of us are only too well aware of the growth of those ideas in our country, but the truth is nobody is prepared to do anything about them.  Which is why, at our peril, countering Islamist ideology will continue to remain in the “difficult box,” unless there is a sea change in our thinking.

      History, as they say, repeats itself.  We, however, never seem to learn.  Just as we look back now and wonder how as a society we defended and condoned FGM, forced marriages and even CSE (and ignored the voices of the then campaigners), we today are witnessing the same inability and unwillingness to challenge and counter Islamist extremism. Another self-fulfilling prophecy which has already led to devastating consequences and will lead to more.

      Sara Khan

      20/11/2017

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      On Friday, in a landmark judgement, the Court of Appeal ruled – as Asian and Muslim feminists have long argued – that gender segregation in co-ed schools is unlawful sex discrimination and is a violation of the Equality Act 2010.

      The ruling overturned a previous verdict where Justice Jay at the High Court had suggested that “separate is equal” and that neither boys or girls were being discriminated against. Three Judges at the Court of Appeal unanimously disagreed and stated both boys and girls were being discriminated against. As a result, 20 other schools (Jewish, Muslim and Christian schools) are now going to have to change their unlawful policy so that it is in line with the Equality Act 2010. It is worth remembering that schools have a statutory obligation to uphold the Equality Act.

      Having taken OFSTED to court, the school in question whose practice of gender segregation was found to be unlawful was Al-Hijrah, a voluntary aided co-ed school based in Birmingham. Founded in 1988, by the Al-Hijrah Trust, it openly publicises its practice of gender segregation which it says is a defining characteristic of the school and one of the main reasons why some Muslim parents choose to send their children there. This is irrespective of the inadequate Ofsted reports Al-Hijrah has received alongside having been placed in special measures.

      The segregation enforced was extreme. From Year 5 onwards (age 9), boys and girls were segregated throughout the entire school day; during classes, break-times, lunch-times, afterschool clubs and so on. It no longer mattered to the school if for example, Muhammad since the age of 4 had been friends with Maryam and had played with her everyday. As soon as both children entered Year 5 they were now abruptly denied the ability to play and socialise together purely on the basis of their sex. This, was, rightly so, deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

      When co-ed schools have segregated boys and girls for particular lessons e.g. maths to help build girls’ confidence and improve understanding, Al-Hijrah made clear there was no educational reason for its policy of segregating the sexes throughout the day. The motivation was entirely religious based on a particular interpretation of Islam which is not practiced or accepted by all Muslims.

      Inspire alongside Southall Black Sisters acted as interveners in this case alongside the Equality Human Rights Commission and the Department for Education. We made clear in our written evidence that the practice of gender segregation as seen in Al-Hijrah was not a benign practice. On the contrary, the practice of sex segregation should be seen in its right and proper context. Since the latter half of the 20thC, with the rise of Political Islam, religious fundamentalists in line with their ideological worldview, have aggressively sought to restrict and control women’s rights.

      Over the decades, it has been clear that Britain has not been immune to the growing populist trend from the Muslim religious right and in almost every country, where-ever there has seen a rise of religious fundamentalism, women’s rights have come under assault. These new norms have been manifested most clearly through the imposition of gender segregation, dress codes, and the strict policing of women’s sexuality. Supporting the notion of the patriarchal family and traditional gender roles, they forcefully seek to remove women from the public sphere and relegate them to the private sphere which is deemed to be their only legitimate space.

      Education has become a key battleground for fundamentalists. As the UN Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune notes “Fundamentalists everywhere target education in different ways. In some places, they kill teachers or carry out acid attacks on students. Elsewhere they attempt to impose gender segregation in schools or to exclude women and girls altogether. In other places, they seek to change the content of education, removing sex education from the curriculum or censoring scientific theories with which they do not agree.”

      When understood in this context, it is fundamentally clear that gender inequality lies at the heart and is a root cause of gender segregation; and whenever it is manifested it is almost always linked to other sexist and gender discriminatory attitudes and practices.

      It was no surprise to us then, to learn about some of those manifestations at Al-Hijrah. Library books, some of which were prominently displayed on racks condoned violence against women, marital rape and teachings that included “women cannot leave their homes without their husband’s permission.” These messages about the subjugation of women promote chauvinistic rules and expectations of life in the modern world. They were written in our lifetimes; some of these books for example were published in 2009 and they contained intolerant views about women. They did not promote equality of opportunity.

      Excerpts from work written by children and approved by the teachers showed highly gender stereotyped views being expressed and condoned within the school as well as regressive gender roles which sought to confirm that the role of women should be confined to the private sphere rather than the public sphere. These were just some of the deeply worrying findings. But serious enough for Lady Justice Gloster to declare it to be an issue “of such importance that it requires to be determined.”

      And of great importance they are because Al-Hijrah is voluntary aided. For those of us who care about gender equality, it is nothing short of outrageous that the state ends up endorsing such teachings in a state school. Where once again Muslim girls are treated differently and their potential in life is curtailed because of the practices and teachings enforced at such schools.

      For many longstanding Asian and Muslim campaigners, this ruling was long overdue. However not everyone was thrilled that the judgement would now act as a bulwark against those who have no interest in tackling sex discrimination. Some parents did not recognise sex segregation to be discrimination while others saw the judgement itself to be discriminatory against Muslims despite the fact that schools of other faiths would be impacted. Others argued that the parental choice for their children should be respected. Not so, said the Judges. While the Education Act 1996 provides for the accommodation of parental choice “this cannot negate the statutory right of each child to be educated in a non-discriminatory manner as required by the Equalities Act.”

      In what can only be described as a Daily Mail tactic (remember “Enemies of the people”?) some Muslims even profiled each and every one of the Judges’ background pointing to what they saw as hypocrisy that they themselves had attended elite single sex schools. Lady Justice Gloster was ‘accused’ of having been educated at the single-sex Roedean School for Girls.

      Firstly, this case was not about single sex schools. It was about segregation in co-ed schools and Parliament did not envisage or intend segregation by sex in co-educational schools. Secondly, the

      failure to appreciate what a school like Roedean is trying to achieve and Al-Hijrah is incomparable. Take a look at the website of schools like Roedean whose aim for girls is to fulfil their potential and to break glass ceilings. Lady Justice Gloster is evidence of this! Roedean does not believe that gender is a reason to hold girls back from any profession or from playing a full and active role in public life. Nor would they have books promoting terrible views about women, domestic violence or reinforce restrictive views that the role of women is in the private sphere. Religion would not be used as an excuse to limit or deter women’s potential. Single sex girls’ schools in a patriarchal world, have played a critical role in empowering women and girls, not disempowering them and restricting their capabilities as Al-Hijrah sought to do. Rather than promoting equality of opportunity, Al-Hijrah end up enforcing the message that girls are different to boys.

      It was reported that the Muslim Council of Britain were not happy with the ruling either. This is hardly surprising. In 2007 the MCB produced written policy guidance on Muslim pupils in state schools. Called “Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools,” the guidance discouraged many mixed gender activities, music, art, drama, dance and sex education and sought to normalise gender segregation as an essential aspect of Muslim identity. The absence of any reference to gender equality in the document is particularly significant given its claims to support the “Every Child Matters” agenda. And who provided the expertise and support for this guidance? None other than the Al-Hijrah Trust. Gender equality for Muslim girls and boys has not been a priority for the MCB and their opposition to the ruling has reconfirmed this.

      This is why the judgement by the Court of Appeal was so important. The Judges were right to give a telling off to OFSTED and the Department for Education for allowing schools (and others like it) to have allowed such gender segregation to occur for years. However the law on this issue has now been strengthened and is a victory for those of us who subscribe to human rights and gender equality. The policy of gender segregation as practiced by Al-Hijrah and other co-ed schools across our country is unlawful and has no place in our multicultural and multi-faith society. I hope this serves as a reminder that equality and the rights of women and girls especially from minority communities cannot be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion, whichever culture or religion that is.

      To read Inspire and Southall Black Sisters evidence click here.

      Sara Khan

      17th October 2017

       

      0 1025

      COURT OF APPEAL FINDS THAT GENDER SEGREGATION CAN AMOUNT TO UNLAWFUL SEX DISCRIMINATION- October 2017

      In a landmark judgement handed down today, the Court of Appeal found that ‘separate but equal’ treatment on the basis of gender at a school can amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).

      The Court (Etherton MR and Beatson and Gloster LJJ) had been asked to consider gender segregation at the Al-Hijrah school, a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school in which boys and girls are completely segregated from the age of 9.

      The Court found that the school’s policy of strict segregation was discriminatory since it had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the school to both the girls and boy pupils respectively, and could not be justified under one of the exceptions set out in the Equality Act.

      Moreover, Gloster LJ went further and accepted the submissions of SBS and Inspire that the effect of gender segregation, in the specific context of this Muslim school, was not gender neutral but informed by particular precepts and practices of certain Muslim communities.

      Drawing extensively upon the ‘Casey Review’, which was referenced in SBS and Inspire’s submissions, Gloster LJ concluded that the school’s policy was particularly detrimental for girls in that it reinforced the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them differential and unequal status.

      This is an important judgment with far reaching consequences for the rights of minority women and girls to equality and the freedom to participate in public life as citizens.

      To read Inspire and Southall Black Sisters evidence click here.

      Pragna Patel of SBS said: “We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms. For over three decades, we have seen how regressive religious forces have targeted schools and universities as a means by which to control and police female sexuality in minority communities. The imposition of gender segregation, dress codes and sharia laws are just some means by which gender inequality is legitimised and promoted despite the serious and harmful consequences. This judgment is a vital step forward in our effort to persuade the courts and state bodies to take account of the reality of the misogyny and gender stereotyping that is promoted in our schools and universities in the name of religious and cultural freedom. We are delighted that the court has seen through this and upheld the equality principle.

      Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am pleased the Court of Appeal has recognised that in the context of co-ed schools which apply gender segregation throughout the school day, separate is not equal.  Inspire have long argued that the practice of gender segregation is discriminatory and is a violation of the Equality Act.  Over the years, religious fundamentalists in our country have aggressively sought to normalise the practice of gender segregation in our schools and institutions; and unfortunately we have witnessed a growing accommodation to it in particular by local authorities.  This landmark ruling can now act as a bulwark against this.  The Court of Appeal’s judgment makes clear that the policy of gender segregation as practiced by Al-Hijrah and other co-ed schools across our country is unlawful and has no place in our multicultural and multi-faith society. I hope this serves as a reminder that equality and the rights of women and girls especially from minority communities must not be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion.”

       

      Read about Southall Black Sisters and Inspire’s intervention at the Court of Appeal in July 2017 here

       

      END

       

      To contact Southall Black Sisters please contact:

      Pragna Patel
      pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
      020 8571 9595

      0 810

      First published in The Mail on Sunday, 20th August 2017

      Image from Murcia Today

      The Islamic State-inspired atrocity that killed 14 and injured many more in Barcelona will be claimed as another example of the clash of culture, religion and ideas between the world of Islam and the West.

      There will be a swift recognition that the perpetrators were young men, either first- or second-generation immigrants, radicalised by fundamentalist Islamism.

      There will be hand-wringing about what motivates them to carry out such horrific attacks and how to prevent it.

      But to restrict ourselves to the same narrow questions can only result in failure to get to grips with global jihadism.

      I run an organisation which works to oppose Islamist extremism and have seen at first hand the reality of radicalisation of young people in Birmingham, Bradford and Luton.

      It is clear to me that we must also look at the wider context of why so many young people are seduced by extreme Salafi-Jihadism. Only by knowing the nature of the beast can we know how to combat it.

      To do that, we must recognise that despite the oft-repeated claims that there is a clash between Islam and the West, the real battle is within Islam.

      Islam has more than a billion followers, but large swathes of today’s Muslims hold competing and often conflicting claims of what values and principles the faith stands for.

      The result is that contemporary Islam is suffering a colossal crisis of identity which has created a vacuum. Islamist extremism and the terror it incubates has helped fill the vacuum.

      Millions of Muslims across the world subscribe to interpretations of Islam that endorse co-existence, humanity, tolerance and compassion.

      They genuinely believe Islam is a religion of peace. It’s why for centuries Christians, Muslims and other minorities lived together peacefully in many Middle Eastern countries before the ascent of ISIS.

      When my parents moved from Pakistan to Bradford in the 1960s, they and many others of their generation had no expectation of Sharia law or wearing the veil. They did not believe Islam was incompatible with a secular democracy.

      They were comfortable with being British Muslims, proud to integrate with their adopted country while keeping their religion.

      However, equally a growing number of Muslims here and abroad have a different understanding.

      Their beliefs are based on a politicised, puritanical ideology which is anti-Western, advocates religious supremacy, intolerance, the requirement to live in a caliphate, and an opposition to democracy and fundamental human rights.

      They look to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who once claimed: ‘Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting.’

      This was once a minority interpretation.

      But over the past 40 years, aggressive Saudi proselytising of Wahhabism, the tyranny of authoritarian leaders in Muslim countries, and the propaganda opportunity provided by Western intervention in Muslim countries, has seen an exponential worldwide growth.

      In 2015 the security organisation The Soufan Group revealed 27,000 Muslims from 86 countries had been drawn to ISIS’s so-called caliphate.

      But rather than being an authentic representation of Islam, the fundamentalist ideology of Salafi-Islamism is actually a far-Right interpretation of it.

      The ideology of the Salafists has won over an increasing number of young Muslims who misguidedly believe that Salafi-Islamism represents ‘normative Islam’.

      You might expect second- or third-generation immigrants to be well integrated into British society. But it is among these young people that radicalism is spreading. They are of a generation where the internet is more influential than the mosque.

      Just like the white supremacists in the USA, they have been exposed to YouTube preachers of hate. In powerful and emotive propaganda films, these Islamist preachers oppose democracy and integration and tell them they should be living in a caliphate.

      I recall speaking to one young British Muslim woman who was adamant the extremist lectures she had been attending were mainstream Islamic teachings.

      She did not understand she was defending a far-Right Islamist ideology and had no understanding of the differences between Islam itself and politically inspired Salafi-Islamism.

      It is clear to me that Salafi-Islamism has become mainstream and that more enlightened versions of the faith have been marginalised. It is here that the battle against extremist Islamism is critical.

      After the attacks in Spain, the Syrian Muslim scholar Muhammad al-Yaqoubi tweeted: ‘The Barcelona attack proves that we Muslims haven’t done enough to counter extremist ideology in our communities….it frustrates me when some Muslims say: “It has nothing to do with Islam.” ’

      No, IT has. ISIS is from within us and is our problem. It is a problem we must tackle. We need to recognise that statements condemning terrorism will not diminish the appeal of Islamism.

       Groups such as ISIS recognise that the ‘them’ and ‘us’ narrative is an essential part of their recruiting propaganda.

      Anti-Muslim bigotry has the same effect, as former CIA director David Petraeus acknowledged when he said such hatred ‘directly undermines our ability to defeat Islamist extremists by alienating [those] whose help we most need: namely, Muslims.’

      Instead we need to challenge head-on the worldview and ideology of the extremists.

      Muslim theologians need to provide an alternative to the toxic narrative propagated by Islamists and clarify theological issues such as jihad, sharia, the caliphate and the global Muslim community (ummah).

      ISIS and its allies have been hugely successful in using the internet to spread their propaganda of hate.

      Now those same techniques should be urgently used to powerfully articulate an Islam which embraces equality, human rights, freedom and democracy while exposing the incompatibility of Salafi-Islamism with Islamic teachings.

      Similarly, counter-terrorism initiatives need to recognise this existential battle for the soul of Islam and support those Muslims who are on the frontline. It is a battle we must win.

       

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