Clergy criticise Nazir-Ali’s talk of no-go areas

by
10 January 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Speaking out against a “multifaith mish-mash”: the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali PA

Speaking out against a “multifaith mish-mash”: the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali PA

CLERICS working in predominantly Muslim areas of British cities have rebutted assertions by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, that Islamic extremism and multiculturalism have resulted in “no-go” areas for non-Muslims.

The Bishop’s comments, made in an article for The Sunday Telegraph, have angered many working in interfaith relations, who says that he has undermined years of patient work. He wrote that one result of a worldwide resurgence of the ideology of Islamic extremism had been “to further alienate the young from the nation in which they were growing up and turn separate communities into ‘no-go’ areas”.

Non-Muslims, he said, could encounter hostility in areas where attempts had been made to impose an Islamic character by, for example, insisting on artificial amplification for the Adhan, the call to prayer. Furthermore, the “multifaith mish-mash” of multiculturalism was making it less possible for Christianity to be the public faith in Britain.

The Bishop continued: “If it had not been for the black-majority churches and the recent arrival of people from central and Eastern Europe, the Christian cause in many of our cities would have looked a lost one.”

Clergy on the ground acknowledge that parallel communities exist, but they insist that problems arise from social as much as religious factors, and that many bridges have been built since the riots in places such as Burnley and Bradford in 2001.

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd John Goddard, insisted on Monday: “There are no ‘no-go’ areas in Burnley, or in East Lancashire as a whole. There are areas of separation where there is what we would describe as parallel lives. This can lead to misunderstandings, not least fostered by groups such as the BNP. But there are superb good stories to be told, not least the work of the churches across all boundaries . . . a real attitude of presence and engagement.

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“We remain in all areas. We serve the whole community through our schools. One of the things we recognise is that you have to learn to be church in rather a different way when you are a minority faith.”

Bishop Goddard welcomed the debate, but had problems with Dr Nazir-Ali’s language. “It’s not enough just being nice to each other. It’s asking how we discern the cultural differences that affect the way we practise our faith. The Muslim as well as the Christian community has got to look at that: are the differences that cause separation — for instance those relating to dress — essential to faith?”

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, from the Barnabas Fund, which works to help persecuted Christians, said Dr Nazir-Ali had shown courage in speaking out, and deserved support. “We have been keeping material for a number of years, where clergy are telling us privately what is happening as these areas are becoming Islamic and with effectively a policy of no go,” he said. He described levels of intimidation as “quite significant” when Christians went public with their experiences.

Dr Sookhdeo, whose book on British Islam is to be published next month, described the response of government departments as “disingenuous”.

Spokesmen for all three main political parties were quick to dismiss Dr Nazir-Ali’s comments on Sunday.

A group of clerics, working in what they describe as “a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham”, also welcomed the debate. They said, however: “We do not yet recognise the phrase, ‘no-go areas’.” They acknowledged incidents in which people “have been made to feel unwelcome, sometimes even with violence. However, these incidents are not, as far as we can tell, motivated by Islamic extremism. They are, rather, examples of anti-social behaviour.”

The clerics, who included the Revd Peter Smith, the Area Dean of Yardley and Bordesley, paid tribute to the “significant support” and “friendly encouragement” they received from Muslim neighbours and religious leaders.

Dr Nazir-Ali stood by his comments on Tuesday: “I deeply regret any hurt, and do not wish to cause offence to anyone, let alone my Muslim friends, but unless we diagnose the malaise from which we all suffer, we shall not be able to discover the remedy.”

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Leicester

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Leicester

Canon Dr Andrew Wingate is the Leicester diocesan Director of Interfaith Relations, and lives within hearing distance of the mosque, whose call, he says, is an accepted part of the environment.

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Canon Dr Andrew Wingate is the Leicester diocesan Director of Interfaith Relations, and lives within hearing distance of the mosque, whose call, he says, is an accepted part of the environment.

Canon Wingate, who works closely with Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, accused Dr Nazir-Ali on Tuesday of “alienating the very extensive and responsible work that is going on”. He regretted that the Bishop had not brought his concerns to any of the councils, but had chosen to air them in a newspaper.

Canon Wingate, who works closely with Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, accused Dr Nazir-Ali on Tuesday of “alienating the very extensive and responsible work that is going on”. He regretted that the Bishop had not brought his concerns to any of the councils, but had chosen to air them in a newspaper.

“An enormous amount of energy has gone on since the mid-’80s, from the Church of England and others, to enable structures and councils and listening to one another. This is at least a diversion, and at the most devaluing what his own Church is trying to do,” he said.

“An enormous amount of energy has gone on since the mid-’80s, from the Church of England and others, to enable structures and councils and listening to one another. This is at least a diversion, and at the most devaluing what his own Church is trying to do,” he said.

Oldham

Oldham

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo had been told that parts of Oldham were already under shariah law. The Area Dean of Oldham, the Revd Peter McEvitt, said on Tuesday: “That certainly is not my experience. We have had no such indication through the deanery clergy or LEP partners. Post the 2001 Ritchie report, we have engaged at every level into the interfaith forum. This just doesn’t ring true.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo had been told that parts of Oldham were already under shariah law. The Area Dean of Oldham, the Revd Peter McEvitt, said on Tuesday: “That certainly is not my experience. We have had no such indication through the deanery clergy or LEP partners. Post the 2001 Ritchie report, we have engaged at every level into the interfaith forum. This just doesn’t ring true.

“There may be areas where we are in a minority in terms of the population, but we do not feel a minority in Oldham. Even in one of our parishes where the white population consider themselves a minority, the school has an excellent reputation, with a substantially, though not exclusively, Muslim intake.

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“There may be areas where we are in a minority in terms of the population, but we do not feel a minority in Oldham. Even in one of our parishes where the white population consider themselves a minority, the school has an excellent reputation, with a substantially, though not exclusively, Muslim intake.

“But it may be that the Bishop has evidence: he must be called on to substantiate his remarks. They would not be substantiated round here.”

“But it may be that the Bishop has evidence: he must be called on to substantiate his remarks. They would not be substantiated round here.”

Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets

The World at One on BBC Radio 4 suggested that “no-go” areas existed in Tower Hamlets. But representatives of the Borough Council, the Metropolitan Police, the Inter Faith Forum, the East London Mosque, and the Area Dean of Tower Hamlets strongly rebutted the idea.

The World at One on BBC Radio 4 suggested that “no-go” areas existed in Tower Hamlets. But representatives of the Borough Council, the Metropolitan Police, the Inter Faith Forum, the East London Mosque, and the Area Dean of Tower Hamlets strongly rebutted the idea.

In a joint statement, they said: “This area of the East End of London has been home to successive generations of immigrants to Britain for over 300 years, and we are aware that each group — whether French Huguenots, European Jews, or Bangladeshi Muslims — have been subject to such scare-mongering . . . We do not shy away from the problems and challenges to be tackled in this borough — but they relate far more to social deprivation than to religious intolerance or extremism.”

In a joint statement, they said: “This area of the East End of London has been home to successive generations of immigrants to Britain for over 300 years, and we are aware that each group — whether French Huguenots, European Jews, or Bangladeshi Muslims — have been subject to such scare-mongering . . . We do not shy away from the problems and challenges to be tackled in this borough — but they relate far more to social deprivation than to religious intolerance or extremism.”

Manningham

Manningham

Canon Arun John, the Team Vicar of St Paul’s, Manningham, in Bradford, ministers in an area that was the focus of the 2001 riots. Practising Christians are a minority of five per cent. Yet, in three years, he has not felt in any way threatened by Muslim dominance. The Ouseley report, which was commissioned before the riots, described the city as “gripped by fear”, as segregated communities fragmented along racial, cultural, and faith lines.

Canon Arun John, the Team Vicar of St Paul’s, Manningham, in Bradford, ministers in an area that was the focus of the 2001 riots. Practising Christians are a minority of five per cent. Yet, in three years, he has not felt in any way threatened by Muslim dominance. The Ouseley report, which was commissioned before the riots, described the city as “gripped by fear”, as segregated communities fragmented along racial, cultural, and faith lines.

The challenges of a run-down community, with high levels of drugs and prostitution, had its own effect on the community at large, he said on Tuesday. Canon John, who originates from South India, formerly worked in Johannesburg in a context that was 70 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Hindu, and ten per cent Christian.

The challenges of a run-down community, with high levels of drugs and prostitution, had its own effect on the community at large, he said on Tuesday. Canon John, who originates from South India, formerly worked in Johannesburg in a context that was 70 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Hindu, and ten per cent Christian.

He says that the Sharakad programme — the Urdu word means “Let us have communion” — in Manningham “is increasing our own religious literacy about each other. I honestly have quite positive stories.” He does acknowledge, though, a sense that religious communities’ boundaries are becoming harder.

He says that the Sharakad programme — the Urdu word means “Let us have communion” — in Manningham “is increasing our own religious literacy about each other. I honestly have quite positive stories.” He does acknowledge, though, a sense that religious communities’ boundaries are becoming harder.

“Our church is a minority, conscious of its minority status, and our boundaries will be slightly well guarded. In the same way, Islam and Muslims here in Bradford are very conscious of making theirs strong, and Sikhs and Hindus the same, because they have to survive and live here.

“Our church is a minority, conscious of its minority status, and our boundaries will be slightly well guarded. In the same way, Islam and Muslims here in Bradford are very conscious of making theirs strong, and Sikhs and Hindus the same, because they have to survive and live here.

 “I consider this natural from my own 20 years of interfaith work. Where community projects are not going on, and the old communities are dwindling, there are viewpoints like Michael Nazir-Ali’s around, saying there are spots which are no-entry areas. The Asian community is ghetto-minded; they want to live with each other and feel more secure.

 “I consider this natural from my own 20 years of interfaith work. Where community projects are not going on, and the old communities are dwindling, there are viewpoints like Michael Nazir-Ali’s around, saying there are spots which are no-entry areas. The Asian community is ghetto-minded; they want to live with each other and feel more secure.

“But the ‘white flight’ is more of a social/psychological reality than a religious reality. The Manningham cluster of churches has a very important role to play in saying: ‘We are here. We have not given away the area.’”

“But the ‘white flight’ is more of a social/psychological reality than a religious reality. The Manningham cluster of churches has a very important role to play in saying: ‘We are here. We have not given away the area.’”

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