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Eavesdrop on Islam

by
12 April 2011

Simon Ross Valentine listens to the debate

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Wandering Lonely in a Crowd: Reflections on the Muslim condition in the West
S. M. Atif Imtiaz
Kube Publishing £9.99
(978-1-84774-024-3)
Church Times Bookshop £9

ONE of the best ways to understand what Muslims think about life in Britain is to listen to their concerns and views. This book gives us the chance to do just that.

Using previously published essays, lectures, and personal anec­dotes — such as his involvement in the anti-war march in London, in September 2002 — Atif Imtiaz shares his thoughts on terrorism, integration, the media, Western for­eign policy, and various interfaith issues.

Highlighting how Muslims are often “represented as the ‘other’”, Imtiaz discusses the “effects of such a representation on identity”. He explains how Muslims, particularly the young, perceived as being “dif­ferent”, are caught between a rock and a hard place. Pulled between two conflicting cultures — Islam with its roots in Pakistan, Bangla­desh, and elsewhere, and the host, non-Muslim, secular British society — such Muslims grow up in a soci­ety that can often seem indifferent, if not hostile, to their faith.

Having criticised Western in­volve­ment in Muslim lands and the tendency of the media to “stereo­type” Islam, Imtiaz focuses on the Muslim community itself. He em­phasises the need for Muslims to “have a knowledge of British cul­ture, history, politics, and literature if they are to live here”. Recognising the need for role-models to guide Muslim youths, he states how “com­munity leadership is severely dys­functional,” with “very few national leaders who command the respect of the community and of wider society”. With the training of imams in mind, he calls for the creation of “religious leadership . . . that will help to generate a language of integration that we need so much”.

Some, particularly feminists, will disagree with the book’s claim that women are not oppressed under sharia. Others may question how, in defence of female circumcision in Islam, the author draws a compar­ison to “breast enlargement, plastic surgery as a whole that seeks to pursue accepted notions of beauty”. Controversial, and provocative, this is a useful book for anyone inter­ested in Islam and community cohesion, not least because, as the foreword states, it “reads like eavesdropping-in on a community which has too often been misrep­resented, simplified and even, on occasion, demonised”.

Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a freelance religious consultant and writer on Islam, and serves as a Methodist local preacher.

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