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England’s growing Islamic awakening

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Visitors read information board about Muslims in Britain during an open day at Finsbury Mosque in London. Photography: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Islam becoming the dominant faith in England

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O’Neill’s Pub now occupies the former Muswell Hill Presbyterian Church in North London. The church closed for lack of interest and contributions.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom. Most of my time was spent in my ancestral homeland Shropshire County on the border of Wales.

I went there to get a close look at the spiritual history of the land; and what I discovered was profoundly surprising. I found that the God of Abraham the English once sought in Christian churches and Jewish synagogues is now more likely to be worshiped in Muslim mosques! Sadly many churches have closed, and many of the buildings have been converted to bars, dance clubs, skate boarding rinks and grocery stores. There are now six mosques in Shropshire–five of them opened in former church buildings.

It does appear that over the past 50 years the British people have lost faith in organized religion much faster and more completely than many other western states. The most recent survey to show this comes from Win/Gallup, which found that Britain now appears to be one of the most irreligious countries on earth, with only 30% of Brits calling themselves “religious.”

Quite apparent in Shropshire County

Mohammed Abbasi of Football for Peace with Paul Armstrong, director of Association of British Muslims.

Mohammed Abbasi of Football for Peace with Paul Armstrong, director of the Association of British Muslims.

In England Islam is growing rapidly, and the numbers of Muslims worshiping faithfully is increasing daily. Islam is expected to become the most dynamic religion in the United Kingdom in just 10 more years.

According to the British online journal The Mail (2 September 2016), “Mohammed,” for the second year in a row, remains at the top of the list of most popular baby boy names in England and Wales.

Quite a few former Christians are finding Islam to be more loving, kind and emotionally supportive than the cold, dying Christianity offered by the more traditional denominations. As British men and women are finding Islam to be a “living faith” to their liking, closed church buildings are finding new life in Islam.

An Englishman by the name of George, in his mid-sixties, shared his observation with me. When I told him I was Muslim, he said, “I’m not interested in converting to Islam, but I do think Islam has more to offer the people of England than the passive, fake religiosity and unconcern that has taken hold in many Christian churches.”

He told me he identified with the concerns of Muslims who preach modesty and dedication to family life and service to others. “They are more what I think Christians ought to be,” he said.

International growth of Islam

According to the Pew Research Center, worldwide, “The number of Muslims will grow more than twice as fast as the world’s population from now until 2050.”

While the world’s population is projected to grow 35 per cent before the middle of the century, the number of Muslims is expected to increase by 73 per cent–from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.8 billion.

In 2010, Muslims made up 23.2 per cent of the global population. Four decades later, they are expected to make up about three-in-ten of the world’s people (29.7per cent), the Washington, DC-based think tank said.

Muslim leaders in Shropshire

Sam met with Abdurraheem Green, an English

Sam met with Abdurraheem Green, an English convert to Islam and founder of Islamic Education & Research Academy (iERA).

In the short time I was here I was able to a number of Muslim leaders here in Shropshire County.

I was particularly impressed by the outreach of the faithful at Telford Central Mosque and the Shropshire Islamic Foundation.

Members of the six Shropshire mosques are offering spiritual counseling and organizing shelter to the homeless. They are reaching out to refugees who are fleeing war and offering healthcare and other assistance to needy British individuals and families.

I was honored also to meet Abdurraheem Green, founder of the Islamic Education & Research Academy (iERA), a dynamic organization based in Shropshire. Abdurraheem is a Muslim convert who is known in Muslim communities for his work on Peace TV and Huda TV and on college and university campuses. For the better part of 30 years, Green has been active in the field of dawah, inviting people to Islam.

I am grateful to Abdurraheem for having invited me to his home for dinner and introducing me to his wonderful family. (He has been blessed with 10 children!) He told me about his work with iERA. I was captivated by his genuine, meek and beautiful spirit. I found him to be a man full of God’s grace and mercy.

Also, meeting with me at the Telford Central Mosque were Mohammed Abbasi of Football for Peace and Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, director of the Association of British Muslims–the UK’s oldest Muslim organization. I was deeply impressed by the fervent spirit of all these leaders and all the Shropshire Muslims I met. Their desire to make a positive difference in the lives of broken and needy people was clear.

What we Muslims must consider

The question we Muslims must ask is, what kind of Muslims will be produced simply by birth statistics? It is not enough to say that one is Muslim simply because he or she was born to a Muslim family.

Yes! Those who are born Muslim must be imbued with a living faith–given to self-denial and to prayer and service to others.

I have heard it said often by Muslim leaders travelling from the Middle East to the West, “In the West we have seen ‘Muslims’ without Islam, and here in the Middle East we often find Islam without Muslims.” In other words the outward manifestation of faith is not always evident in the lives of those who consider themselves Muslim simply by birth.

Further thoughts

Since 2011 Muslim Relief for victims of war has expanded nationwide.

Since 2011 Islamic Relief for victims of war has expanded nationwide. Thousands of British Muslim men and women serve as volunteers.

It is not enough to say one is born Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

Truly, a vibrant, heart-felt, life-changing Islam is needed in England and our world today—not a religion of just traditionally “born Muslims.”  I am talking about a living faith most evidenced by the truly concerned humanitarian servants it produces.

One must believe and act accordingly to the dictates of faith! Of what value is a Jew who does not truly worship wholeheartedly the God of Abraham? Of what value is a Christian who does not follow and obey the teachings of Jesus (pbuh)? And similarly, what good is a Muslim who simply says he is Muslim by birth, but does not submit daily to God, observing and obeying the truths of the Qur’an and all God’s prophets?

Among early Christians the issue of faith and works was fiercely debated. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Injil / Epistle of James 2:15-17).

And we have this promise from God in the holy Qur’an, “Those who believed and did good works, We shall blot out their transgressions and shall reward them according to the best of that which they used to do” (Qur’an / Al Ankabut 29:7).

It is absolutely true that genuine faith will be evidenced by the good works we are commanded to do. God desires obedience from each of us. Ours must be a pure faith planted miraculously in the hearts of men, women and children by the very God of Abraham (pbuh), transforming those who believe into servants of God and providing hope and direction for all mankind.

Islam’s English history and interfaith outreach

The British Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), one of the oldest Christian denominations in England, has developed strong ties with Muslims in a number of communities. Most recently, Quakers and Muslims have realized a working union on several levels–a powerful force for reconciliation and peace. These positive dimensions, they say, stem from “the love of God and of neighbor, and are at the heart of both Muslim and Christian faiths.”  Quakers are working to develop peaceful understanding both locally, nationally and internationally with their Muslim brothers and sisters.

Islam is not new to England. Its positive influence on British society began in the 19th century.

Please take a few minutes to watch the following BBC documentary about the history of Islam in England. Here you will hear the little-known story of three British leaders–William Quilliam, Baron Headley and Marmaduke Pickthall–who embraced Islam at a time when to be a Muslim was to be seen as a traitor to the Church of England and to the Crown.

This superb BBC program looks at the amazing achievements (good works!) of these three men and how their legacy lives on today.

November 29, 2016 Posted by | Interfaith, Islam, Refugees, Religious architecture, Religious Reconciliation, Travel, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Muslim Refugees Face Love and Hate

Samuel Shropshire speaks at rally to welcome Muslim and Christian refugees in Bratislava, Slovakia. The rally was organized by Slovak Catholics and Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR).

Samuel Shropshire speaks at rally to welcome Syrian refugees to Bratislava, Slovakia. The rally was organized by Slovak Catholics and Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation (MVPR). Working together we can accomplish great things for God and humanity.

Refugee Crisis and European Response

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHA German rescuer from the humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch holds a drowned migrant baby, off the Libyan cost May 27, 2016. The baby, who appears to be no more than a year old, was pulled from the sea after a wooden boat capsized last Friday. Mandatory Credit Christian Buettner/Eikon Nord GmbH Germany/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. TEMPLATE OUT.

A German rescuer from the humanitarian organisation Sea-Watch holds a drowned migrant baby, off the Libyan cost May 27, 2016. The baby, who appears to be no more than a year old, was pulled from the sea after a wooden boat capsized last Friday.  (Click photos to enlarge.) 

More than 1.3 million refugees had crossed into Europe by March, 2016. They came by land and sea. This influx of refugees sparked a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the millions of arrivals. It created division in the European Union over how to best deal with resettling people. While Sweden, Germany and Austria offered an immediate welcome, some nations gave way to right-wing extremists and racists, refusing to help.

While the vast majority of refugees arrived by sea, many chose to walk to freedom and safety, principally via Turkey to Greece and then Albania and northward! Most hoped to reach Western Europe to join relatives already resettled there.

Adding to the horror of the crisis was the number of deaths occurring at sea. Now, nearly two years into this crisis, refugee ships continue making the crossing, some sinking in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

And just this past week came a battered, blue-decked vessel that flipped over on Wednesday as terrified migrants plunged into the waters of the Mediterranean. The next day, a flimsy craft capsized with hundreds of people on board. And on Friday, still another boat sank into the deceptively placid waters.

Now another week and three sunken ships are again confronting Europe with the horrors of its refugee crisis, as desperate people trying to reach the Continent keep dying at sea. At least 700 people from the three boats are believed to have drowned, the United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday, in one of the deadliest weeks in the Mediterranean in recent memory.

Most, attempting to escape war, terrorism, poverty and starvation in their homelands, are desperate to reach Europe, Canada and America, where they believe a new and better life awaits them.

Fear and rejection

A rally organized by the Slovak group Stop Islamisation of Europe and backed by far-right politicians

A rally organized by the Slovak group Stop Islamisation of Europe and backed by far-right politicians shouts “Refugees go home!”

But what they face in the West, in some cases, is extreme opposition based on misguided fear, anger and racism.

Since April 2015, the European Union has struggled to cope with the crisis, increasing funding for border patrol operations in the Mediterranean, devising plans to fight migrant smuggling, launching Operation Sophia and proposing a new quota system to relocate and resettle asylum seekers among EU states.

Individual countries have at times reintroduced border controls within the Schengen Area, and rifts have emerged between countries willing to accept asylum seekers and others trying to block their arrival.

According to Eurostat, EU member states received over 1.2 million first time asylum applications in 2015, a number more than double that of the previous year. Four states (Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Austria) received around two-thirds of the EU’s asylum applications in 2015, with Hungary, Sweden, and Austria being the top recipients of asylum applications per capita. The main countries of citizenship of asylum seekers, accounting for more than half of the total, were the war-torn nations of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of refugees. But the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, as well as abject poverty in Kosovo, are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.

According to the UN, there are more 60 million refugees in today’s world. And some nation’s are not at all friendly to these men, women and children who are seeking safety and a better life.

After Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, came out last year against taking in refugees, the great majority of which are Muslim, Cyprus and other nations have also sought to block refugees from entering their nations.

Hate and religious discrimination

Shropshire addresses crowd of several hundred Slovaks who came to support the refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dominik Smrek and Shropshire address crowd of several hundred Slovaks in Bratislava. They came to encourage support for the refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some have sought to reject refugees simply based on their religious beliefs.

“We would seek for them to be Orthodox Christians,” Cyprus’ Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos told state radio. “It’s not an issue of being inhuman or not helping if we are called upon, but to be honest, yes, that’s what we would prefer.”

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico also complained about the flow of refugees, setting an arbitrary number of “200 Christians” to be received.

Fico has taken a hard stand from the beginning, echoing far-right Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński, Viktor Orbán and Czech President Miloš Zeman in an openly Islamophobic campaign against both the refugees and the EU’s attempt to redistribute the refugees.

Although the leader of a (nominally) center-left party, Direction-Social Democracy (SMER-SD), Fico has a history of nationalist statements, mostly against Roma (so-called “Gypsies”), which have landed him in trouble with his European allies in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

Despite threats from S&D to censure him and his party, Fico doubled down by making various Islamophobic statements and threatening to take the EU to court over its refugee plan. He even went so far as to say that he wanted to put every Muslim in Slovakia under surveillance!

Slovakia’s most recent elections

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who railed against the refugees. His appeal to extremist groups in Slovakia failed to secure him a majority coalition in the Slovak parliament.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who railed against the refugees. His appeal to extremist groups in Slovakia failed to secure a majority coalition for him in the Slovak parliament.

These days we expect elections in East Central Europe to be bad news for liberal democracy. In 2014 Hungary re-elected its strongman Viktor Orbán, despite the fact that he had transformed his country into an narrow-minded democracy, and in 2015 Poland brought back Law and Justice (PiS), the party of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who has been praising Viktor Orbán’s “Budapest Model” since 2011.

Surprisingly, Fico’s courting of right-wing groups did not help him in the Slovak general elections. Based on the results Smer-SD was the big loser of the election, winning just 28.3 percent of the vote, a loss of 16.1 percent compared to 2012!

Clearly this is not because of a lack of support for Fico’s anti-immigration positions within the Slovak population. Even before the refugee crisis hit Europe, Slovaks were among the least positive towards foreign immigration within the EU, and, given the various mass demonstrations during 2015, that situation has not changed for the better.

But the demonstrations did not just bring people together to voice opposition to Muslim refugees, they also gave a platform to a variety of far-right activists and groups. The most visible was Marian Kotleba, former leader of Slovak Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi party that was disbanded by the Supreme Court.

Kotleba has since bounced back, founding the extreme right People’s Party of Slovakia (ĽSNS), and getting elected governor of the Banská Bystrica Region in 2013. Kotleba and ĽSNS were very active and visible in the anti-immigration demonstrations in Slovakia and were rewarded with 8.0 percent of the vote (an increase of 6.4 percent) in the 2016 national elections. Even more shocking, ĽSNS was the biggest party among first-time voters, attracting a staggering 22.7 percent among 18 to 21 year olds!

What then should be our response?

In such crises, it is understandable that citizens are concerned about a mass influx of foreigners—especially when it involves hundreds of thousands of men and women of different faiths and cultures. After all, settling refugees in our communities exhausts our own governments’ resources, making it difficult to meet the needs of our own citizens.

But we people of faith have a higher calling to resist extremist politics when it is in opposition to immediate human need for compassion. We Christians and Muslims must respond as we believe Jesus and Mohammad (PBUT) would respond, encouraging their followers to assist helpless pilgrims and sojourners. There is a very famous Arabic statement in this regard, “The foreigner is blind even if he has eyes,” which indicates the vulnerability of the stranger and suggests that the stranger needs help and guidance.

What is it like when hundreds of thousands of men, women and children flee war? Watch the video below, and learn from the masses of Syrian refugees who are now making their way to Europe under the most difficult of circumstances. Watch and pray! And please give so Muslim Voice for Peace & Reconciliation can make a difference for Muslims around the world by encouraging an end to religious discrimination:  www.mvpr.org

May 31, 2016 Posted by | Human Rights, Peace, Refugees, Religious Reconciliation, Terrorism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments