Muslims and the Concept of Integration in the UK

The Munich speech delivered by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 marked a watershed in respect of the ongoing debate surrounding the merits of multiculturalism, identity and integration within the United Kingdom.

Cameron’s discourse addressed an important point in that he asked a fundamental question of British Muslims in respect of whether they have embraced the social and national fabric of the nation and whether this vision remain a distinct dream as far as the nation’s policymakers are concerned. This article shall attempt to look at this issue to see whether Muslims have integrated into British society.

Before we analyse the very crux of the manner, it is important that we understand the dynamics of the term ‘integration’. The term integration is defined as the bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society or an organization; desegregation’. Having established the definition of the term ‘integration’, let us now examine whether Muslims have integrated into British society in the last 70 years.

One should remember that Muslims in the UK have a come a long way since the 1950’s and have made considerable achievements as far as establishing businesses, religious and cultural institutions. However, commendable progress has been made in the intervening period, but considerable work is still required in respect of the identity conundrum. The identity question is particularly revealing, especially, if we compare the community here to the Muslim community of South Africa who have been in that country for over 200 years now.

Many a Muslim in South Africa today identify themselves as South African opposed to being an Indian Muslim from the perspective that they have embraced South African values and traditions simultaneously  keeping their Islamic beliefs intact. 

This point is exemplified by the fact that South African Muslim cricket fans are frequently seen flying the Proteas flag at international cricket matches when South Africa play India or Pakistan in Johannesburg! There are a number of Muslims in the UK who are third, fourth and indeed even fifth generation who identify themselves as Indian or Pakistani Muslims today rather than being a British Muslim.

One can ask the question has something fundamentally gone wrong in our communities over the identity issue or is there a deep stigma that prevents us from identifying ourselves as ‘British Muslims’?

In recent days and months, one has heard a number of voices in the Muslim community stating that the UK is not ‘our home’ and or refer to the  term ‘back home’ in regular discussions that take place in our homes and communities up and down the country. The first generation of Indian and Pakistani Muslims are the only group of people who naturally had a right to call India or Pakistan ‘home’ as it was their birthplace. 

Moving back to the present, one asks the question can a fifth generation Muslim in reality argue that India or Pakistan is home or identify themselves as anything other than ‘British’. Those of us who have frequented India or Pakistan a few times in our lives hardly qualify us to be Indian or Pakistani.

Many Muslims born in this country to a large extent are conversant with the English vernacular and have made and are continuing to make an immense contribution to the British way of life. It would be fair to say that Muslims have integrated well into the British way of life based on the points made above, but there are groups within the Muslim community even today who possess the idea that we are only here for a short duration of time before we hark back to the motherland. This narrative has been played over numerous years by various individuals but is yet to bear any fruit in the grand scheme of things.

In respect of the charge leveled against Muslims by certain sections of the media, establishment and the politicians that Muslims do not integrate with other communities or faiths, one has to understand that progress has been made in recent times through a variety of mediums such as inter-faith circles. It is therefore unfair to say that it is only Muslims that have not integrated into the British way of life as there are other communities in the UK who prefer to keep their identity and culture intact by refusing or being hesitant to interact with other constituencies.

The former leader of the EDL Tommy Robinson argued that Sikhs and Hindus have integrated into British society based on the premise that they regularly frequent the pub a few times a week whereas Muslims are missing from this equation, so therefore are found guilty of not having integrated into the cultural fabric of UK society.

Mr Robinson fails to recognise that UK Muslims will never pass his integration test as it is forbidden for Muslims to consume alcoholic beverages!
Multiculturalism has indeed in some ways woven the fabric of British society that is the envy of the world over the last few decades, but at the same time contributed to the phenomenon of polarized communities coupled with the emergence of ‘ghettos’ across the UK. 

The latter has in reality created a situation where some people have never interacted with people of other faiths and cultures apart from the time when they may have been at school, college or work for that matter.

Integration is very much a different proposition to assimilation in that the former allows an individual to retain one’s own unique cultural and religious values and traditions and at the same time participate in British social and cultural life. 

Assimilation is the one area that wherein lies the problem as this concept undoubtedly expects one to abandon one’s own religious and cultural DNA at the expense of a ‘British’ cultural ideology. Therefore, integration is a positive force for change but the same cannot said for assimilation for that matter as it is likely to be source of friction as far as cultural and religious communities in the UK are concerned.

In conclusion, there are many shining and countless examples of British Muslims having successfully integrated into the ‘British way of life’ and is a concept that Muslims need not fear.

Muslims have been living in this country for over 70 years now and the message to the community is that is perfectly possible to retain one’s own religious and cultural values and at the same time make a major contribution to British society.

By Abdul B Shaikh
Deputy Editor of PI Magazine
& Lecturer at Leeds University