Why Should Muslims Engage Politically in the UK?08 Dec 2019
The emergence of the recent video of Asma Shuweikh, a Muslim woman defending a Jewish family being verbally attacked on the tube, made me think about how we Muslims should use our voices to not only protect other communities, but also our own rights. Historical precedent shows how numerous communities before us were able to enact change through voting for or protesting against policies that affected their lives and future. We are not different, and this is of utmost importance, especially as we continue to witness increasing Islamophobia and hate speech directed towards us.
With the 12th December elections fast approaching, we need to be reminded that voting and political engagement is an integral part of the democratic process. The decisions we make over the coming days will affect each and every one of our lives for the next four years at least. From Brexit to the NHS, to rising Islamophobia, our engagement with the political process should not be taken for granted. Isolating ourselves as a community will only bereave us from the rights and privileges we are guaranteed not only by the political system, but also our faith.
As a minority, we are largely misunderstood and oftentimes targeted for our beliefs; even by an unacceptable number of people who make up our elected representatives. Our voices need to be much louder. If we don’t effectively communicate these concerns to our government and parliament, how can we hold them accountable if they fail to fulfil their obligation to protect us as citizens of the country?
This can change if more Muslims proactively engage in politics and public life. Our engagement will result in our elected representatives hearing our concerns and understanding us better, which in turn, will dispel some of the ignorance and misrepresentations being put forth.
While most of us believe that political engagement is restricted to merely voting, it is so much more than that. It can range from writing to the local MP, to responding to a local or central government consultation, or sitting on a community advisory forum at the local police force. As someone who has ‘been there, done that’ I truly believe that engaging with MPs, civil servants and instruments of government is one of the most effective ways of ensuring our opinions are heard by those who are in charge of making decisions that affect our daily lives.
That being said, there are a few things to bear in mind. I won’t pretend, and nobody should expect that writing one letter, or attending one meeting, will suddenly fix everything. Political engagement is a process, which you must continuously engage in, rinse and repeat. If done correctly and persistently, this process can result in great impact.
Personally, I witnessed this first-hand. Not long after graduating from law school, I wrote to my local MP to complain that there is little support from the government for hundreds of thousands of post-graduate university leavers like myself, and many of you out there, who are entering a shrinking job market. Several weeks later, he offered me a job in the House of Commons.
At the time, there were very few Muslims working for MPs or Peers. Due to our lack of engagement, it was clear that few Parliamentarians really understood what Muslims care about. He supported me in re-establishing the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Islamophobia during my spare time. Not long after, MPs (including Ministers) would call me requesting simple advice, such as: “I want to visit my local mosque but I don’t know how to meet them and don’t want to offend anyone – can you help?” Fast forward almost ten years, my colleagues and I established an active and respected cohort of cross-party Parliamentarians – currently in the form of the APPG on British Muslims – who are now leading the change for a working definition of Islamophobia, among other things which have been adopted by all but one political party.
This form of political engagement, and other efforts carried out by many respected individuals throughout the country, is a step forward for our community in achieving the change that we want to see. It is through these efforts that we can undo the years of hate speech and misunderstanding surrounding Muslims. We must stop detaching ourselves from these issues, as our faith itself calls for us to be more active within our societies.
Going back to Asma Shuweikh, the brave defence presented by the Muslim sister in standing up for the rights of others shows that we can affect social change for our communities. This social change can and should also be extended to politics. We are witnessing a defining moment in British politics which we must take advantage of, to determine the kind of society and country we wish to live in.