The Report Launch
22 November 2012, Zakat House, London
RMW and An-Nisa Society formally launched the Faith & Khidmah campaign with the publication of a landmark report on Muslim civil society at Zakat House on Thursday 22 November 2012.
Entitled "Faith, Khidmah and Citizenship: Connecting Spirituality and Social Action to Build Civil Society", brought together the presentations and views of Muslim civil society activists who attended our symposium in May 2012, which kicked off the campaign.
Shaykh Faid Muhammad Said, a prominent religious scholar, opened the day with a reading from the Qur’an that tells the story of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his legacy of khidmah (service). Emphasising the role of intention in social action he said there were five messages connected to Ibrahim. The first is to understand the honourable status of being of khidmah; secondly, a Muslim is of Khidmah to all of God’s creatures regardless of their faith; thirdly, true khidmah is always undertaken in a state of genuine humility; fourthly, khidmah is performed with the understanding that it is never perfect and one always ask for forgiveness for obvious shortcomings; and finally, acts of khidmah should always be part of a long term strategy based on sustainability and set targets.
Abdul Rehman Malik, Programmes Manager for Radical Middle Way chairing the event introduced the report and said that the goal of the report is simple: to start a national campaign to build a vibrant, resilient and relevant Muslim civil society in Britain through a process of consultation, collaboration, consolidation of good practice and the sharing of fresh and innovative perspectives.
In his opening remarks Fuad Nahdi, Executive Director of RMW, called for action emphasising the need for a wide range of organisations and individuals to join hands to ensure a Muslim civil society that can meet the needs of all communities and contribute to the common good.
“What is now wajib (obligatory) and has always been is to invest in our communities, in our social, cultural, economic and political lives. Now is the time to initiate a nation-wide movement that would call for more transparency and accountability to those who collect millions from our generous people but are not sensible or sensitive to our own needs and requirements,” he said.
Describing the report as a reconnaissance document he said he hoped it would help those who are serious about the issue to plan and strategise. “A notable exception in the document is that it, rightly so, moves away from the fiqh-fixed debate of minority and majority. It is written by a group of people for whom being British citizens is as important as being Muslims. They see no contradiction or conflict of interest. Actually they are convinced that their message of their faith can only bring more light, more relevance and more harmony to the whole society.”
Humera Khan, co-founder and trustee of An-Nisa Society, highlighted key aspects of the report and the proposed campaign. She said An-Nisa Society and Radical Middle Way brought their individual unique experiences and strengths to the project. While both organisations have their own bodies of work they share a common focus of harnessing traditional knowledge for contemporary challenges and engaging with grassroots communities. Quoting from the Faith and Khidmah report Humera said that “Communities cannot mend themselves” and that we need to harness all aspects of Civil Society. Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable within Muslim communities by mainstream service providers needs to go hand in hand with developing community initiatives that empower ordinary citizens to act, engage and make change. Humera said that the objectives of the Campaign in not to re-invent the wheel but to enhance and enable what is already developing out there and to support it with a vision of how a successful Muslim civil society can look like and become.
In their responses, Shahien Taj, Executive Director of the Henna Foundation, spoke about the challenges facing grassroots organisations and highlighted the vital leadership role women play in the Muslim voluntary sector, which is not recognised or supported. She gave examples of services that were much needed but non-existent due to lack of funding and resources.
Birmingham University's Dr Laura McDonald addressed the need for engagement with public policy while maintaining integrity and independence. She spoke of the need for quality research on the scope and impact of Muslim civil society and voluntary action. She highlighted that there are 'structural inequalities' affecting Muslims, which creates barriers. The government has, by only speaking to Muslims through the lens of security, tainted the relationship and it has led to Muslims disengaging. Muslims are constantly dealing with crisis and are reactive and defensive which makes it difficult to move forward. A confident Muslim civil society is essential to change the dynamics and give us ownership of our own agenda – after all she said, “it’s our community.”
Ted Cantle, Founder and Executive Chair of the Institute for Community Cohesion welcomed the report and started by saying that it was refreshing to attend an event that was about a positive and constructive initiative concerning Muslim communities. He then spoke about the context; the national and local impact of globalisation and the climate of change that concerns all. Faith has recently come into the public sphere, which this country struggles with. However, societies are no longer secular. He said Prevent, the government’s counter terrorism strategy, has left a legacy, which is counter-productive. The government has not recognised the damage Prevent has done to Muslims by turning them into a ‘suspect’ community. He stressed that the lessons must not be lost.
He advised that the Khidmah campaign must look beyond social welfare provision to other forms of non-governmental action such as business, trade and political networks which are fundamental to notions of civil society. He said there must be a balance between working within our own communities and making the mainstream adjust to the idea of a faith-based approach. He pondered whether, in the current constrained climate where support for specific communities is reduced, we could expect the mainstream to take on faith-based services?
Dr Musharraf Hussain, CEO and Imam of the Karimia Institute, spoke about his experience of training and nurturing hundreds of grassroots activists and called on the campaign to employ an Islamic theology of social actions to meet the moral and ethical challenges facing Britain.
Participants asked probing questions about charitable giving, historical perspectives of citizenship and civil society and the need to re-examine the role of mosques and Islamic centres.
Zakat House's Fadi Itani advised that as the campaign moves forward, it is vital that traditional and established institutions are included and nudged along.
Jack O'Sullivan, journalist, campaigner and editor of the report, concluded the session emphasising the importance of making Islamic genius and creativity accessible to all.
John Eversley, Senior Lecturer in Voluntary and Community Organisations at London Metropolitan University said after the launch: "I really welcome the launch of the report on Faith, Khidmah and Citizenship as part of the programme of work by An-Nisa Society and Radical Middle Way on involvement of Muslims in Civil Society. There is clearly a lot of activity by Muslims and Muslims organisations, but civil society organisations face many challenges. I believe that a programme that embraces the theology of social action and practical problems of funding and governance will prove very valuable."
Khalida Khan, Director An-Nisa Society said after the Launch “This campaign aims to develop our thinking as to what constitutes a Muslim civil society and to seek Islamic solutions to contemporary economic, health and social problems as well as building on our rich cultural heritage. The last decade or so has seen very difficult times for British Muslims. But we now urgently need to step back to reflect and concentrate on creating a vigorous and vibrant Muslim community in this country. We are delighted with the positive response to this initiative and we feel confident, God willing, that the time is right to make constructive change.”
The audio and video recordings of the proceedings will be up on this site shortly.
Radical Middle Way and An-Nisa Society thank Zakat House for sponsoring the launch. Also to all the volunteers and sponsors for their help and support.