One of Britain’s leading Muslims says he has “sleepless nights” about the growing radicalisation of the younger Islamic generation and that community leaders have closed their eyes to major problems in their midst.
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham admitted his fears as a survey reveals over one-third of young Muslims take a more hard-line approach than their parents and want to live under Sharia law in Britain.
He said many of them are suffering “an identity crisis” and the Muslim community in Britain “needs to reform” itself. The Rotherham peer said: “We need to ensure we are part of British society. We have to change the way we live — we are not living in south-east Asia. We have to deal with the challenges of 2007 rather than looking backwards.
“We have a huge challenge as a Muslim community to look forward as British and European Muslims. We need to adapt to the culture rather than confusing it with religion.
“We should integrate more — it’s our duty to integrate more and be responsible members of society.”
The politicisation of young Muslims in Britain was brought sharply into focus in 2005 after the July 7 bombings. Revelations that the four suicide bombers hailed from normal family backgrounds in West Yorkshire sent shockwaves through the community.
Video messages recorded by ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan, who lived in Dewsbury, and Aldgate bomber Shehzad Tanweer, from Beeston, Leeds, called on young British Muslims to take up their cause, with Tanweer saying Britain had declared war on Islam in its “crusade against the Muslims”.
The survey published today — carried out by independent think-tank Policy Exchange — shows many young Muslims feel politics are also central to their beliefs.
The poll of more than 1,000 British Muslims found support for Sharia law, Islamic schools and covering up in public is significantly stronger among young Muslims than their parents.
The number who said they would prefer to live under Sharia law than British law increased from 17 per cent of over-55s to 37 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds.
It found 74 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds prefer Muslim women to choose to wear the hijab (head scarf) compared with only 28 per cent of over- 55s.
And while seven per cent of all those surveyed “admire organisations like al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West”, the figure increased from three per cent among over-55s to 13 per cent among 16 to 24 -year-olds.
Lord Ahmed said community leaders have failed to deal with the growth of a potentially dangerous politicised Islam. “I am so worried. I have sleepless nights worrying about my community.
“The real problem is the community is not ready to accept what is going on. Instead, community leaders close in.
“There is a real problem in terms of young Muslims and an identity crisis.
“They have been educated in the UK, they don’t feel Pakistani or Bangladeshi, they don’t feel mentally connected to this country — they feel British and yet they don’t have an identity in this country.”
The peer acknowledged there were continuing problems with younger Muslims experiencing racist attitudes but he was very critical of community leaders and mosques for allowing extreme political ideologies to flourish.
He said mosques have “not been able to give direction”, blaming this in large part on many imams not speaking English.
“Most young people found in the late 90s and early 2000s there were enough political, ideological groups in universities who were prepared to give them an identity — even an extreme identit,” Lord Ahmed added.
“Community leaders never grasped this situation and don’t understand it even today.
“They live in a different world — they don’t see the gap between the young and older generation and the rebellion in terms of identity.”
He said that although he disagreed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he totally rejected the notion of mixing violence with Islam which brought the religion “into disrepute”.
The poll found that while the most Muslims feel they have as much, if not more, in common with non-Muslims in Britain than with Muslims abroad, the figure dropped from 71 per cent of over-55s to 62 per cent among 16 to 24-year-olds.
Munira Mirza, the lead author of the report, said the results suggested Government policy had sharpened divisions.
She said: “The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multicultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.
“There is clearly a conflict within British Islam between a moderate majority that accepts the norms of Western democracy and a growing minority that does not.”
She added: “Islamist groups have gained influence at local and national level by playing the politics of identity and demanding for Muslims the ‘right to be different’.”
But the report also found that authorities and some Muslim groups had exaggerated the problem of Islamophobia, which had fuelled a sense of victimhood among some Muslims.
Despite widespread concerns about Islamophobia, 84 per cent of Muslims believed they had been treated fairly in British society.
Just over a quarter (28 per cent) believed that authorities in Britain had gone “over the top” in trying not to offend Muslims.
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