Towards a Western Islam

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Event Transcript: Towards a Western Islam

Date: 18:00-19:00, 15/07/2019

Venue: Committee Room 5, House of Commons

Speaker: Zainab Al-Suwaij

Chair: Andrea Jenkyns MP

 

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this HJS event here at Parliament, I’m Andrea Jenkin, member of Parliament for a northern constituencies near Leeds and I’ve had a great pleasure in working with HJS with some of the things they’ve done. I’m going to be speaking briefly, just for a couple of minutes, because you’re not here to hear me, you’re here to hear Z. Then what we’ll do is open it up to the floor with questions, but we’ve got a lot of people in the room, so can we make sure that we don’t have any wafflers as we say up north. There’s no grand standing but if you can get strait to the point with your question as we’ve got a fantastic lady here exactly what she’s going to say to respond to your questions, so thank you.

I’d like to start by thanking the Henry Jackson Society for inviting me to chair this event this evening the society really does play an important and unique role in seeking thoughtful solutions to tough questions facing liberal democracies. In the last twenty years one of these questions is the role of Islam and its interaction with Western society, and this is where we are going to start this evening. I heard some mobile phones going off, its usually mine, so if anyone has got a mobile phone could you put it on silent. When we think of Western societies they have been characterised over time by the ongoing pursuit of a more free society. These features include the support for a democratic form of representation government, of a plurality of opinion, a belief in an open and tolerant society, and freedom of religion, and respect for gender equality. A successful society based on individual and civic rights, aiming to promote economic and social flourishing, in the post war period we the west have sort to continue to build upon the liberal worldwide view, in which such features are non negotiable. Unfortunately this world wide view has been met by a number of challenges, the development of a radical fringe within Islam, with a particular interpretation of both its religious faith and political social ideology, has inevitably created a source of tension. This fringe, a minority, attracts marginalised individuals and feeds them with a simplified perverted view of Islam; and radical preachers and far right poster boys feed into this – escalating tensions and putting communities against each other. These magnify primal identity politics, instead of focusing on the common ground which unites us all. The tension has (as we’ve seen) meant that Britain, and across Western Societies, some parts of Islamic communities are somewhat adrift from the pursuit of a Western, liberal society. For policy makers and those in government, this can be a problem as we should all aspire towards a harmonious society that interacts peacefully under a unity of values. This influence in different communities in Britain, who do not share a belief in democracy, the place for a plurality of opinion and the individual and civic rights, then it can be said that there is not one British societal vision, surely a successful society rest upon a shared and basic understanding of such liberal principles.

Today’s events looks at addressing this exact question, the starting point could be that there has always been a great diversity within the Islamic tradition. There is a room for interpretation and variation – you only need to look at Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others in the 1960s, long before various political events to see there have been alternatives. Furthermore, in the experience of the English migration into Britain the practice of faith and views from first generation to second and third generation migrants; in other words Islam’s identity has changed throughout the centuries and so has its relationship towards western values. Today we have someone who is at the forefront of this relationship and knows far more than I do! Zainab is the cofounder and executive director of the American-Islamic congress, which is an organisation founded in the wake of September eleven, to foster tolerance from a civil society and civil rights; and mobilizes a moderate voice in the American Muslim community. In her role she speaks widely on religious freedom, disinformation, and the use of technology and social media for both recruitment and social activism. At the AIC she has worked with students and youth on social entrepreneurship and community engagement, countering violent extremism; and before founding the AIC she taught Arabic at Yale university, so we’ve got a bright lady as well! Under her leadership the AIC has been expanded into an international organisation, with now six bureaus worldwide, including: the US, Iraq, Egypt, and the newest location is Tunisia. So, from her experience at the American Islamic congress, Zainab will share her thoughts on how can an authentic western Islam emerge; this includes the obstacles that British and American Muslims must overcome when representing their religion, and the need to bridge political divides and bring more nuances to views of Muslims and Islam. Zainab will deliver her talk, and following this there will be opportunities for questions. Thank you very much

[Applause]

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

Good afternoon. First I would like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for hosting such an important event, and thank you very much for that introduction and what you have said about the challenges facing today, as Muslims in the Western World and what is the best way we can lead our beliefs into a safe haven that can have a better future for many generations to come. Glad to be in this beautiful room and in the House of Commons, where a lot of issues and a lot of laws have been debated here (not only on a national level, but also on an international level). So to start with what we are seeing, many people say, the Western World and moderate Islam and extremism and what we see on TV and so on and so forth, the list is really long, but we say with the rights of Islam, first of all Islam is not new to the Western parts of the world, it has been there for decades and decades – if not centuries. On the other hand, what has changed in these recent years, there are so many things, the rise of extremism, around the world – not only in the Muslim world but also in the West, puts the question in front of us. As Muslims living in the western world, have we failed to deliver the message? Have we failed to improve our community and our society? Have we failed to protect our religion and our identity from being hijacked by radicals and extremists and voices of hatred? These are the challenges we are facing today and with that comes so many different questions we have faced so many challenges, after every violence/attacks – Europe, US, the rest of the world – we have seen a huge reaction from the community and from the people; as well as the Muslim community itself is not really feeling secure and safe. The challenges we are facing, people in the West know little bit about the Muslim community, their views shaped by the terrible news on TV, there does not exist much understanding for Muslims: their culture, heritage, and political views. Stereotypes are in there, also even well-meaning people think they have  to go to an Iman for an inter-faith dialogue. This is a problem we are seeing repeating itself every single day in many parts of the world, but also lots of the good will people want a good relationship with Muslim neighbours, as well as with the international Muslim community.

With the Jihadist movement continued to expand their reach, therefore the anti-Muslim bigotry is becoming more and more mainstream, we can see that going from one place to another. This puts us in front of a big challenge in here, that, we have also a verse in the Quran that says ‘God does not change conditions of people, until they change themselves’ from that we can take ‘what is our responsibility as moderate Muslims in the West’ and ‘what can we change and what can we do to make our lives better and how can we make our communities better, and safe, and also be a good citizen of the countries we are living in (because people do not understand much of that as well)’. The issues we are seeing, one of its great challengers is moderation, our religion is scarred and must remain so. We must change a lot of things: the way we worship, the way we – to fit with the way that the time is changing. So we see a lot of issues that’s been raising, we have, for example, an increasing of suffering in the world and an increase of violent extremism and that causes a huge disaster throughout the world – fragmenting the Muslim societies which represent over thirty million people/Muslims in the West. This number is increasing; because of the migration, because of refugee issues, wars and stability in certain Muslim countries therefore a lot of people come into this part of the world; seeking safety and security. Divided, these communities are divided a lot based on ethnic lines (Pakistanis, Bosnians, Iraqis, Indonesians, so on and so forth), they are different in their thinking as well as they are different than when they spend a lot of time here, they are thinking become different than Muslims in the Muslim world. They are enjoying freedom, democracy, rule of law, stability, and so on and so forth. Therefore, this makes their way of thinking and addressing pertinent issues, if they relate to community or Islam different than the way it’s been addressed in other countries, or the countries of their origin. Also the division based on the level of how religious they are – secular versus conservative (or practicing), also there is the division on political views, there are those with a very radical views and agenda versus the main stream one we see. Also we have Islamist and Muslim organisations around a radical political agenda and how much they push for some organisation, I’m not saying all, but how much they push for this radical agenda within their own communities, and this jeopardises the safety of Muslim community within the Western world, also jeopardises the integration into society, and keeps these people isolated from the rest of the world, and becoming productive citizens. Also the influence from the middle east, which have certain political agendas, and most of these agendas are not mainstream agendas, many of these agendas are very radical ones, and effect people directly, and very deeply interferer with their lives.

You mentioned in the sixties how things have been, or the seventies, and now we are in an era which is totally the opposite of from that side. When did it happen, and what has changed? Over the five decades Muslims have been taking over, or rather, radical Islam took over the Muslim community structure. These things did not, necessarily, go in the right general direction. So we are suffering from it as people who are proud of our faith, at the same time we are looking and pushing for more stability. We don’t want to lose our kids to extremism, we don’t want our community to reform from being a mainstream to a radical or too extreme community. This is definitely effecting us and our being here and elsewhere. Political leadership in the West among the Muslim communities is mainly dominated by Islamists, unfortunately, this is the issue we have been suffering from – radical agenda on foreign policy, religious affairs, inter-faith relations. The majority of Muslims have remained silent while these people dominate, some people are embarrassed by their Muslim identity and they don’t want to reveal it, some people are different, other are drugged by the quality of life in the Western world and they want to fit, and just be normal, they don’t want to deal with this issue. The lack of leadership within the community has put us in this very difficult situation. A challenge felt very strongly in the Muslim community, there are a lot of challenges that we see, we see the issue of different minorities in the countries we are living in, there are hate speech, antisemitism, the issue of women’s rights, LGTBs, people’s freedom of religion, freedom of speech, so on and so forth. Most of these things are being guaranteed by the law inside these countries, but people do not want to really adapt it, nor do they want to use the law to make their lives and those of others easy.

Domestically Islamist groups have made other countries and also that been looking at the international conspiracy theory that’s been attacking them, or they feel that, and they create this fear monger among people inside the community.  They have made people afraid, scared, they don’t’ want to seek out and live their normal life and make them very into themselves in one circle and they don’t want to leave it. Certainly that created uncertainty, because when you de-humanise the outside world for people, people tend to have that circle and they don’t want to leave it. Therefore create a huge gap between the two, and you always want to give them that feed that information of being victimised by the society, being marginalised by the society, you don’t have the same opportunities that makes you equal citizens, even though you are in a country which guarantees all of these under the law. We have seen that kind of resentment, in our Muslim community, and the Western world, because of all these kind of sermons and disinformation that has been fed into our youth to the families and so on and so forth. It makes them much more resentful and much more isolated and therefore not integrated into the society.

The list is long, but there are a lot of initiatives that we are trying to build, we want to draw attention to the work that we do in the United States as a Muslim American, we have several programs that we have to help our community emerge from the situation they had, to a more mainstream level. After 9/11 the Muslim community was very closed, they open up not much. Also there was an urgent need from the outside world as they are seeing the images on TV of 9/11 and how horrific that was, they wanted to see – to discover their Muslim neighbours and wanted to know who they are. There is a big curiosity and less information from them. The Muslim community was opening their doors, trying to explain and to open to the outside world and bring them to. As well as there is that urge, that people want to learn. I remember, I used to work in a place where I was the only Muslim female in the organisation and the next day, after 9/11, I went in and saw all my female colleagues wearing headscarves in solidarity with me, that certainly touched me deep inside. When people talk about the others, and are insensitive, that they don’t understand – that was not the case. I’m sure you’ve seen and witnessed so many people like that, especially after horrific events like this when it happened in the country.

The issues and the programs we have seen – we are start talking about hate speech and how hate speech and live to hate crimes, and what is our responsibility as Muslims living in this country, living in America, to protect our community and our people? We work equally with people of other faith [Muslim and non-Muslim], we do not designate our programs to Muslims only, but instead we open our door for both – to learn from each other, to understand from each other, to work on projects together for their own community, and that went a long way. We have seen and witnessed voices of radicalism as well, and what is the best way to deal with it: radicalism in the work places, radicalism in Mosques and community centres, literature, as well as in college campuses – a lot of students and young people are being radicalised on college campuses (social media has a large effect). When we start talking about these things in the early 2000s, people thought, oh why do you talk about these issues, we don’t have it. The roots were there, the seeds were there, but people did not want to acknowledge it. We started talking about it, but people shied away – they didn’t want to talk about it or address it. Now in the past four or five years the picture has changed, these people, who used to close their doors, they are coming now – seeking help. But after what? After losing a son or a daughter, or a member of their community that went to join radical groups overseas; overnight they leave a letter for their parents saying we have left – and the parents have no trace of them. As well as this, we have seen issues with increasing violence in the communities, domestic violence, have increased actually. Now we are getting calls at eleven, twelve a clock saying ‘we have an issue, can you help us?’ . Why do we have to wait until these things hit hard in our community and do not do the prevention part before they hit that level? Is it part of our culture, is it part of our what? When we approach we started a program for youths in about 87 college campuses around the US, and this program is designated to help young students improve their activism skills on human and civil right issues, leadership skills, and how to stop any kind of extremist or radical movements in their surroundings and how to help elevate their own communities. Thousands of students have joined this project, Muslim and non-Muslim and they elevate it, the feeling, not only among their universities and class mates and so on, but also among their communities as well. Many of them play a very strong part in the places where they are, after graduating from college and going to the workplace – how much they have advance push for a better solution.

Program that we have implemented around the Muslim World and North Africa in about fourteen countries, this program designated what we felt our responsibilities as Muslims living in the world, enjoying freedom, democracy, and stability, rule of law and all of that – and what is our responsibility, how could we share these experiences, and what we have gained with the Muslim world and other parts of the world as well. To reduce violence, to give woman’s rights, to encourage social entrepreneurship. Youth represent over 70% of the population in the Western World, there are almost zero programs that have been designated for them, they are very easy to be grabbed by radical movements. What are these communities doing in the Muslim world itself. Meanwhile in the Western world everyone is trying to have that diversity, to have them feel like they are welcomed, to feel that they have no boundaries, that they are citizens, and they can enjoy the freedom, the rule of law and rights  – they can live a good life. With that we see that fragment and contradiction, where all the privileges that Muslims enjoy in the Western World, against it there is uncertainty, extremism – there are extreme voices against those of stability and reason and democracy. What we try to reach, to try and achieve is how can we make our community successful, safe and away from any voices of radicalism. This effort does not need to be only Muslims, non-Muslims need to join the effort, and combine that effort to emerge from the status we are at now. To isolate and eliminate the voices of hatred, the voices of extremism, and radicalism.

I would like to stop here and am happy to take any questions.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Thank you Zainab, you’ve given us a lot of food for thought and its very inspiring what you’ve done – so thank you. Kicking off with questions, if you could put your hand up, if you’re from a particular organisation please say were you’re from and what your name is, and then the question please.

This lady over here.

Woman 1:

[Inaudible]

From the UK association of Jews from the Middle East,

I was just wondering, thank you very much Andrea

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Thank you very much

Woman 1:

I was wondering if there is any contradiction between Sharia law, a practicing Muslim woman, and Western values if you like. I mean do you find that there is a contradiction between the two? That you have to make a choice? Because, as you know, Sharia law has a view of women, and women’s rights that may well be in contradiction

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

That’s a very good question, thank you for asking. As a Muslim living in America, the practice of Sharia law, the practice of Islam, is a personal thing. I always believe in separating things, to practice Islam is one thing, just as you are practicing Judaism, or Christianity, or Buddhism or any other religion. But being a good citizen, this is something that should be the goal of every individual, and I don’t see that contradiction, because this is something personal, as much as I am proud of my religion and culture, and this and that, I am also a proud citizen of the United States of America, and I don’t see that contradicting with this , in fact I see it enhancing because there are some values that I have learned at an early age that also enhance my country of citizenship and what I can contribute to that community as well. So this contradiction – I don’t see it, unless people have a different understanding of an extreme, radical Sharia law, Islamic law, that they want implement, that certainly does not represent me, or many other mainstream Muslims living in the West.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Ok the Gentleman

Man 1 [Euan Grant]:

Euan Grant, Henry Jackson Society member.

I worked in international development projects in the Arab World, most recently in Jordan. I’ve seen the work you’ve done on the table next to me at a hotel restaurant of a person who was killed in a suicide bombing a few days later. I’ve also seen the total failure of international economic development to engage on situations on the ground and engage with the national populations and organisations. My question is, on that aspect, what sport are you getting for your program from Sunni Arab governments, Sunni non-Arab governments, and Shia organisation – I suspect you’re probably not getting anything from the government of Iran, and successful developments have your program had in engaging in Europe, because I think really the European countries collectively have a long way to go.

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

You mean the support we get from governments in the region?

Man 1 [Euan Grant]:

Private sector, public, NGOs, Governments…

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

The programs that we do oversees, in Arab and Muslim Countries, are basically an effort that we do as an NGO, based on the need that we see in these countries. Some countries are in need of youth social entrepreneurs development, some countries need to development woman’s rights issues, some countries are in need of reforming education systems, some countries are in need for reducing violence and this is a big program that we do. These governments, if you are an NGO working in these places, if you are not encroaching on government action, or criticising their agenda, then you are somewhat safe. But if you want to go to a country, I will give you an example, and you ‘you don’t have a civil law, you don’t have developed family law’ then you are basically getting into the government business, and they have the right ot ban you from getting in there and also we have some people, and some activists that are working on these issues – they’ve been banned, some people who were writing or blogging have been put in jail, to supress in one way or another certain opinions on laws. It doesn’t matter if you are in this country or that country in the region, if you are stepping into a higher level of engagement of the country, they can turn around. I had one incident, when we had conference for youths for example, the intelligence of this country, they were around us, from the gardener who cut the grass, to the guy who cleans up, and every time we have our meeting with these sixty youths from across the middle east, they go back to their rooms and search their stuff, and they come to u, (you see this young people studying at night after the conference, you know having conversations in the lobby with the guy who clean up and says ‘Islam is the solution, forget about these kind of things’. So the struggle is really high, and it is very big, so if you overcome it in one place then you find it somewhere elsewhere.

Andrew Jenkyns MP:

We’ve got mainly men on the list asking questions, so any ladies in the room, if you’ve got a burning question do ask it. The gentleman in the front there in the chequered shirt.

Man 2:

Thank you very much, a very interesting talk, I’m just wondering you see, what you talked about, you see mostly in Western society the [inaudible], especially in this country where they have come from common grounds you see, Indo-Pakistan you see, they were mostly coming as workers, they were not sophisticated, now a new generation is coming. But I want to preface my remarks with the idea that the Indian society has been responsibility for Islamophobia, the Muslim council of Britain has produced substantial evidence to the Tory party’s responsibility of Islamophobia on such a great scale. The question of Sharia, that we talk about, Sharia is so misrepresented in this country – the archbishop of Canterbury has written. Mainly you see the traditional instances of substantially reformed Sharia as such [inaudible]

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

Tunisia is a different example, I know the society, it went through a shift, they had a dictatorship regime, the situation was very oppressed, people could not even breath without the government minding their every daily business. After the regime is gone, they went through that shift. But the culture of the Tunisian people, yes its an Arab Muslim country, but when I worked there I saw there is another trend to it, or another flavour. Which is they have been effected, very much, by the Western culture as well, by the French culture. You can see that in the street when you walk, you can see that in the behaviour that they do, for them – they pray and they do all of these things, but this doesn’t stop them from doing other things in life. So I worked closely with hundreds of people there, running their projects and helping them develop their community. I’ve seen the shift, when they had voices of radicals into their community and try to hijack their community – they don’t want another group to come and control their mind and their community, so they fought it. They worked so hard. I remember, I was going from Egypt to Tunisia. I was with one of my colleges, we planned to go to Tunisia to see what is going on, to see if we could develop our programs in the country. We went from the terminal in the shuttle bus, we saw an Imam standing there, and a young guy, both with beards. So they start talking to each other ‘hello, hello what are you doing’ and he said ‘I’m going to Tunisia’ and the Imam asked the younger guy ‘so are you going for [indaudible]’ and the guy answered ‘no, Jihad and Sharia law’. Now how is this going to make me feel, I’m going in the same plane as them!

Man 2:

Jihad is a misunderstood term. I want to answer some of the things from earlier

[PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

We might have to ask you to leave if you do not respect that other people want to ask questions. The gentleman at the back, thank you.

Man 3:

Thank you, thank you for coming, as a member of the Iraqi based [inaudible].

Just one point Ms Jenkyns, in regards to Iraq, the golden day was in the fifties, with the monarchy, when we had Jewish, Christian and other ethnicities. My question is aimed at Zainab, I do empathise with the gentleman from beforehand, the Henry Jackson Society does have a slight reputation for these anti-Islam and I think it would be good in the future [PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER].

It would be good to have a discussion in inter-faith, and on Sharia law and Orthodox Jewish law and you know, if you want to get into Christian, evangelicals as well. What I question here is, do you think, Muslims who come over, should be assimilated, learn the language, speak the language – to be in Rome as Romans essentially, whilst practicing their religion and enjoying the tolerance and freedom of society, whether its in the US or the UK. That’s all I think

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

I think its important to learn the language, why do you immigrate to a country where you are not intending to learn the language, or to share your views and your life, and indulge yourself in the life. Why not stay in your own and you don’t have to bother yourself or others and take the place of others who want to have a decent life? It is important because we need to push these thoughts for the younger generation, we need to make them feel that it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, and what is your heritage, you’re proud to have your own roots that you come from, and also you are proud to be a citizen of the country that you are living in. Living the life of a mainstream citizen of that country. We have these similar issues in the US, in the past few days I was in Manchester and Birmingham, and I looked into some of the situations over there and looked into the programs that have been implemented there and also some of the challenges that both communities face. But why do we have to say both communities? Why don’t we say it is our community, it is a diverse community of different faiths, different colours, different backgrounds, and so on and so forth

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

A very good point. We’ve got, gosh about eight people wanting to ask questions, so its going to be very tight to the end, but we’ve only got the room till seven. So lets ask the question very directly. The gentleman in the blue checked shirt

Man 4:

Thank you very much to the Henry Jackson Society for inviting you, and great for you coming all this way. Yesterday, in the cricket crowd, in London, after winning a match in the Cricket World Cup, the English captain, Ian Morgan – who is only 24 – and the journalists ask him, I think he is of Irish origin, ‘was it Irish luck that won the match?’, he said ‘no it was only because of Allah, it is Allah doing that we won the match’. What is your take on that?

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

Cricket is a great game; I wish I knew more about it [LAUGHTER]. Look God has different names, our faith and our beliefs varies, and if that is what he believes as a person, then he is entitled to his own beliefs. I don’t see any contradiction. I certainly didn’t see that, but you are living in a free country, and this is the thing, free societies provide that, sometimes in other countries, with different players who are oppressed and can’t express his thoughts and feelings – he would be disappearing without you even knowing.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

I’ll be taking two questions at a time. We’ve got our former MEP Syed Kamall here, and we’ve got a lady over there who has a question – would you like to go first.

Man 5 [Syed Kamall]:

Thank you very much, and the Henry Jackson Society for putting this on, [indaudible].

First one is, you talk about the agenda of the extremists, I think one of the problems we have as Muslims is most of us just get on with our lives. They just live their lives perfectly happy

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

You think their lives are as radical as that?

Man 5 [Syed Kamall]:

No – I’m saying most Muslims are having normal lives. As such what happens when the extremist radicals, who have an agenda, which is why we need people like you, and others, who have an agenda. The second thing we’ve got to be aware of really is the fact that Islam is a faith between the individual and God. There is no real hierarchy

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

We do need the question

Syed Kamall:

So this is what I wanted to ask you. When you have these issues of fighting back against extremism, the extremis accuses the secularists of being anti-religious. How do you combat that?  I saw your website, and a lot of it says you are a non religious organisation, I can see extremists showing it to young Muslims and saying ‘see they are not even a Muslim organisation’. How do you go on?

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

And your question please?

Woman 2:

Henry Jackson produced a report on MEND last year, which is a house of Commons [inaudible] with extremist connections, and my question is just – one of the themes of that is about non violent extremism, and I’d like to know if your project, which mainly focusses on social cohesion, are you dealing specifically with non-violent extremism in the curriculum.

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

That’s a very good question, thank you. To answer your question, first about how we portray- we work on human and civil right issues within the Muslim context, we do not reach religion, or any of that, there are many other organisations that do this. We focus specifically on these issues. Yes sometimes we have people coming from this side, or the other side, saying ‘you’re against Islam, you’re against Muslims’ we do not take a stance. We have certain rules and regulations, the pillars of human rights, this is what we follow. We appreciate every background and denomination since it does not harm people and race violence. To answer your question: we work on several programs to combat, or prevent, to counter violent extremism in certain areas. Sometimes we get calls from the society to be part of creating programs, and to be a part of creating things to overcome this problem which has been raised. In some other times, no, there are a lot of education from our part which we feel responsible that we need to make our community aware and educated about certain issues which we see as being very important and timely. This is to keep their generation safe, to keep them integrated, to keep their mentality open, and to appreciating the diversity they are living in. When we talk about non violence – you said non violence?

Woman 2:

Non violent extremism

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

This is an ideology which has, sometimes certain groups, they have certain agendas, so they try to spread it; in the community unfortunately.  They start with non-violence, and then emerge to many others. If you are not, for example, committing any form of violence but you are twisting the mind, or reforming the mind of certain individuals in the community to become radicalised, to dehumanise others: people of other faiths, people of other colours, people of other heritage – than this is the seeds for violence later on. This is what we are trying to protect our communities from.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Thank you very much. The chap in the striped shirt, and then the gentleman in the black shorts.

Man 5:

Just a specific question, maybe a comment. You said you take religion as a personal thing. Are you in line with the thoughts of the Suffi’s that it’s a personal relationship with God and are you a reformist. Or are you simply a social project to enhance the development individual within your community.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

The chap here with the laptop

Man 6:

I’m Thomas Dingham, director of strategic engagement at Beta Rahkma, the Muslim international affiliate of Ulema, which is the world’s largest Muslim organisation from Indonesia. We had the pleasure of hosting Zainab in October in Jakarta. I just wanted to ask, does Indonesia have anything to offer Muslims more broadly when it comes to dealing with issues around Sharia Law and civil society and the state – or does it not.

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

That’s a good question, to start with talking about religion is a private matter, the way I practice is something that I feel is defined by the way I grew up, my family raised me, I come from a very religious family. But within my teaching, what I have been taught, it is different than what I have seen and witnessed, with the radical movement wanting to impose their radical ideology on people. The practice of Religion itself, the religion, the prayers, the fasting – this and that – this is something that I feel is a very private relationship between you and your creator. The guy you want to worship and follow the rituals, its not [inaudible] I feel its my own way, and each person has its own way to do that. No one should interfere with this kind of relationship. In fact, I see a lot of people are being wanting to make the worship of god public, through dealing with others in a not nice way – through violence, through hardship, through radical voices. This is something that we are trying to do the opposite of. Looking into people’s needs, as Human Beings first. There right to practice their religion, be it that they are Muslims, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, it doesn’t matter. We appreciate that background, the people are sometimes atheists and don’t want to practice anything. This is your own issue, and we have nothing to interfere with. We are responsible and looking into the community, and the best way of making our community safe from harassment, this is what we are trying to focus on.

Well, thank you very much for your question, and I’m very happy to see you here again, we had a wonderful conference in Indonesia. Certainly the Indonesian model was very impressive, I was in Indonesia in November last year, and for me it was an eye opener. Just to see how people practice Islam. Now I have visited so many different countries around the Muslim world, and the non Muslim world, but Indonesia was a decent, simple, but at the same time very progressive type of practicing that they have. They bring the rituals of Islam into their daily life, in a very easy understanding. When I came to Jakarta, the capital, they had a huge Mosque there, and what was in the front of the Mosque – a church, and people go here, and they cross the street and they go there. Everyone is living together, in this group or the other group. I think this model, of what I have seen in Indonesia is pretty remarkable. It needs to be seen and exposed to the other parts of the Muslim world, as a community that understands- also they are not immune from voices of radicalism that they have there, unfortunately. But they are working their best, they are making the voice loud and heard. We are a peaceful community, we want to worship god in the way we wish, we don’t want to harm anyone, we just want to coexist and live a decent life. So I appreciate your question, thank you.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Final two questions, we’ve got the lady and the gentleman next to her.

Woman 3:

Ok, you started your lecture with if there has been a failure to deliver our message, when the title of the lecture is towards a Western Islam, so you put this religion just for some people. Why don’t we translate the word Islam, or the word Muslim, they are words that have meaning, and ours are only 10% [inaudible]. It should be translated just the way we translate Christianity

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Could you ask your question?

Woman 3:

So the question is why don’t we translate the word, and if we translate it, and make a Muslim a peaceful person, than we will have answers to many questions. We will understand it is not between you and God, it is between you and the other person. Also, it is very clear in the Quran that the roles that make the religion are the strait path, which is the ten commandments, so actually we all have one religion – it is peacefulness, be peaceful to others and we owe it to live peacefully. Then we will have no problems with violence.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Ask a question please because we are really running out of time.

Woman 3:

Why don’t we translate it!

[PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

How do you want to translate it?

Woman 3:

Peacefulness! Be peaceful – no Muslim, Islam

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

Muslim and Islam is an identity name, that’s it. When I say: I am a Muslim, I am an American, an Arab, I am white, I am tall, I am short. This is the way we present

Woman 3:

You don’t need to say I am Muslim, say I am peaceful. The Police

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

What do you say

[PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]

Probably you don’t want to identify as a Muslim, but I do want to identify as –

Woman 3:

People know me through the way I deal with them.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Final question Sir.

Man 7:

Hi, thank you for your talk. We heard a lot about ‘we Muslims, as Muslims, the Muslims must, the Muslim world, the Muslim community, uh, the Western Muslim community’ as if all Muslims around compromise one monolithic identity. My question is: what research have your organisation done on Muslim communities around the world to arrive at these generalisations.

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Could we have your name and organisation

Man 7:

I’m just a passer-by who walked in.

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

Thank you for your question. When I talked about we as a Muslims, I talk from a situation I know off, and as I am living in the US. I’m not generalizing, I am seeing facts, I have witnessed

Man 7:

With respect, those are anecdotal evidences – I was asking what research you’re doing on Muslim communities around the world.

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

We are dealing with these people on a daily basis

Man 7:

Again this is –

[PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]

That is anecdotal, what research has your organisation done on Muslim communities around the world to arrive at these generalisations

Zainab Al-Suwaij:

I’m not talking about all Muslims around the world – these are facts.

[PEOPLE TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]

 If you want specific numbers, if you want specific groups, then there are sometimes issues which are designated for certain group in a certain country, sometimes no. Sometimes the issues are much bigger than that. I am talking about issues that I have witnessed through my travel, through my work, through the programs we have implemented. As well as the challenges we are facing – when I said, you know, from the beginning, that Muslims are diverse, they are divided – based on the level of education. I mentioned this in the beginning, so I am not putting everyone in one picture, or in one category. Even within one family you have people of different opinions. Thank you very much

Andrea Jenkyns MP:

Well thank you everybody for coming today, There have been some fantastic questions, some challenging questions – which is what its all about. Thank you for the Henry Jackson Society for organising this event. And thank you for this outstanding, brave lady.

HJS



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