We can go back to the end of last century when there were Muslims in Woking and Liverpool where they established mosques. But I think the greater number of Muslims started to arrive here from the Indian sub-continent and from the Middle East in the 50s and also during the 60s.
          Most of the Asian Muslims who came to this country came as economic migrants in search of work and because of their  perception of looking for jobs they thought they would go back to Pakistan, India and  Bangladesh after they had earned enough money.
          But then in the 60s things started to change because they started to  invite their families. Then in the 70s the whole system  had changed because many of those who came here to work and then return to their own countries knew that they would stay here and this was their home.
          It was at the end of 60s that I actually arrived here with my mum because my father worked in steel factories in Sheffield. But there are many thousands of those families who  arrived in the late 60s and in the 70s. And gradually as people made their mind up that they were going to live in this country this was our home, we started to establish businesses, work and integrate in certain ways in that we started to participate in the British society. And rightly so. Today  we have over 160 local councillors, two members  in the House of Lords who are Muslims, one in the House of Commons. We have over 1000 mosques and there are 60 Islamic schools which are  funded totally voluntarily by the community,  except two which are receiving state funding.
          So if you look at the Muslim community as a whole then I think there is no other community that has succeeded in a short time period as much as what we have. Two million Muslims living in this country, we have put together probably  something like £300 million worth of assets with  are our religious properties and also organisations which have community centres.
          So I think in those terms we have succeeded a lot. Today we have doctors, engineers, and government departments  consult Muslim communities over foreign policy. Even the Home Secretary has his own advisers. The Agriculture & Fisheries Department and many other organisations also have their own advisers.
          And if I can tell you that when I was appointed to  the House of Lords in my maiden speech I talked about all our achievements.  But I also pointed out that we have the greatest number of Muslims in terms of the total number of prisoners in British prisons.  There are over 4000 Muslims who are in British Prisons but there is no rehabilitation scheme, there is no provision for them. So I raised this question in the House of Lords and asked the government to appoint a full time adviser. I know that there are many organisations who are already calling for this but in my maiden speech when I raised this the Home Office actually invited me to talk to them.   And I think this week, [mid July 1999] or next week, they should be announcing the person who has been appointed as an adviser to the Home Office on Muslim issues,   who will be looking after the affairs of Muslims.
          So I think there is a  great deal that has been done. But unfortunately there are many, many problems within our community too. We have the highest unemployment. If you look at the figures there is a very small percentage that actually achieves in education, 24 or 23% in many towns and cities where there are high numbers of Muslims. There are even less than 20% who achieve between grade A – C in GCSE’s.
          And if you look at those who go to university the percentage of those who achieve higher grades is very low too. And if you look at the communities we are quite divided in terms of our nationalities. We have Pakistanis, Kashmiris, Bangladeshis. We really need to have a unity of purpose rather than the kind of unity we normally talk about.
          When I was appointed in the House of Lords, I will tell you some of my experiences. I can say that very proudly that when I was appointed there was no Koran for me to take an oath because according to the British law in the House of Commons you can take the oath on any holy book that you actually believed in. But in the House of Lords you could only take the oath on the Old Testament of the New Testament. So it was assumed that you are either a Christian or a Jew if you go to the House of Lords.
          So when I talked to the king of arms and said that I wanted to take the oath on the Koran he said that the statute does not allow it. So I came back to the House of Lords and I talked to some of the parliamentary advisers and they said could you not  find a better place to break the law other than the House of Lords. Because if you break the law in the House of Lords that would become a precedent in itself.
          So I decided to take a Koran and I took the oath on the Koran, and now, in sha Allah, it is a law of this land that you can the oath on the Koran in the House of Lords. So I donated the Koran to the library.
          I think that for many of us, many of our Muslim brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter which part of the Asian sub continent or Middle East we come  from we do not understand British political structures.
          And I could give you some  examples. When I became a member of the House of Lords many of my colleagues thought I had become  a lord mayor. I was invited to  address many meetings and they said Lord Mayor Nizar Ahmed.
          One of my friends actually telephoned Azad Kashmir when I was appointed and told the  Quartely Times that I had been appointed to the House of Lords. So the next day Quartely Times printed  a front page story saying that Nizar Ahmed has been elected as councillor in the House of Lords.
          This is the  kind of misunderstanding that has been created. My mother thought that I was appointed as a district land registrar. Most people who congratulated her she said he is now a district land registrar. My niece who is about nine years old she said she was watching television and mummy told that you would be working in that red chamber where most elderly men sleep on red couches. That is another perception of British society of the House of Lords.
          But there is very serious work that goes on in there. I can assure you that apart from legislation there are some very serious political debates. And because I have been involved with the Kashmir issue I can you that there a number of occasions when I have held debates or raised questions in the House of Lords on  the abuses of human rights. I have been to a meeting that was held on the human rights situation in Bahrain and Libya and Iran and many other very serious issues that are raised in the House of Lords either in the chamber or in the committee rooms.
          My experience is quite wide when I go to the House of Lords every Monday morning I go through the black rods entrances. The new police officer who normally stands there asks have you come to deliver, man. And I say I actually work here. And he says do you work in the kitchens then.  And I say I am a member of the House of Lords and he will say sorry my Lord.
          It is quite difficult for people to accept that a Muslim looking like me with my colour. I made sure that I invited  so many brothers and sisters from all over the country, from all over the world actually. Whoever comes there I always see them, they walk around, and I think most people  accept it.
          In fact I enjoy it when the door keepers say to me good morning my Lord. But  at first when they said good morning my Lord I used to look to see if there was somebody else walking behind me.
           Regarding serious work I think that as Muslims we have a very important role because Britain plays a very important role internationally. I went to America and I said to the American Muslims (there are six to eight million Muslims in America) if American Muslims and British Muslims can organise together and if can work on political platforms and on issues that relate to Muslim countries as well as being British, as well as being American, as they are, we can become stronger than any Muslim state, any Muslim country in the world.
          America and Britain play a very important role in the world and as British Muslims I think that we play our part in paying taxes in taking part in education, health and the environment. As  a Muslim I am not ashamed of being involved at a political level.
          I know that we have problems from some, or a few of those, activists from the Middle East, more than the Asian sub continent who think that we should not take part in the British political structures because it is kufr. I don’t know from where they derived these fatwas.
          Having a clean environment is part of Islam, having good housing, good health, good education is part of Islam.  And I think we should be proud of the fact that we are British and we are taking part in politics here. We should be proud that as British people, that as those of you who actually live in this country that we should participate and we should have our say and we should represent our views and our communities views.
          Being a member of the House of Lords I have not had to compromise anything to do with my religion.  The only time I had to vote against the government or  not necessarily against the government but my colleague Labour peers was on the question of gays and lesbians. Lowering the age of consent. This was a free vote and as a Muslim I voted against it. But there is no harm in you voting against it  even if you are part of a political process, part of a political party because that is your belief and you should be raising that within the political party.
          To stay out of the political structures, to stay out of the political system, you are  depriving not only yourself but the rest of the community as well. And I think that creates many problems within the community as a whole and it has many repercussions on the rest of the community.
          I talked about unity in Britain and unity of purpose. So I should just say a few words about unity and what I mean by unity.
          One important factor we must not forget and strive for at all times is the attainment of unity. But the unity I am talking about is not the typical kind of unity we Muslims are famous for. Now here I am talking about unity of purpose and goals that are compatible with our beliefs as Muslims.
          Not a unity based on personalities, cliques, parties or associations. The unity  that we need is a unity that appreciates our diversity, respect our experience and pool our resources  together so that we are of maximum benefit to our community and society. It is a unity based on inclusion, not exclusion, a unity that is informed by  Islamic teachings that we achieve more together than alone. A basic requirement for this kind of unity to emerge is to institute in our actions the principle of transparency and accountability. All of us who say we work for Islam must at all times  understand that in order to succeed in effective mobilising of the good will of both our communities and those whom we want to work with, it is essential that we prove we have nothing to hide.
          Our thoughts strategy and action should be a matter of public discussion and involvement. Muslims living in the West like everywhere else have no secret agenda, no sinister motives. Our concerns, hopes, fears and aspirations are those of every and each decent citizen in our society.
          I have to say that at times when those five who were arrested in Yemen people like Omar Bakri was standing in front of the tv cameras and saying our mosques are used for training  Muslims as soldiers and for army training. This is something I have never seen in any mosque. And  when  someone  claim that, it puts fear into the rest of the community.
          So we, the  majority of Muslims living in this country, need to raise our voices. These people do not represent us, they do not have anything to do with us, they are a very small minority and they have their own views. In any society, in British society, there are small groups small factions that have all sorts of sinister motives and their own agendas.
          You can’t blame us because they claim to be Muslims. We want  protection for our families, good education for our children, respect for our women and our elders and dignity and honour  for ourselves and our neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, religion, beliefs or their agenda.
          We must teach society and ourselves the values of living in an open and civil society. We must strive to be exemplary citizens of the country we live in. Gone are the days of organising ourselves in exclusive groups or movements. That approach has failed. It is about time we accepted  that fact.
          If we are to move forward there are certain issues  we have to deal with. One is the recruitment of talented young people, boys and girls. This we must do regardless of their obstacles. Any such effort would provide the evidence that we are sincerely working for the future and that we value our efforts to the extent that we want to ensure their continuity.
          The involvement of women can never be over emphasised. It is crucial. It needs to  be unconditional, sympathetic and totally devoid of patronising attitudes. The fact is that whether we like it or not we need our sisters, we need them to enrich us with their ability to view a situation in a more holistic manner.
          We need their skills at averting conflict and confrontation. And they are very good at that. We need their support and goodwill. Without it most of the things we have achieved would have been impossible.
          In the end the success of Muslim communities living in Britain depends on how we can nurture and foster the Muslim identity, especially among our young people.
          It is a duty and a major challenge for all of us to work to make the noble and glorious teaching of our faith attractive to our youth. We need to find ways to introduce their rich artistic and cultural heritage into their lives.
          We need to liberate Islam from the myopic and distorted cultural understanding. We need to show our young brothers and sisters that Islam is not a faith of only don’t do this and don’t do that. We need to capture the imagination and commitment of the brightest members of our community. We must recognise the Rumi and Ibn Khaldoun among us.
          This is a challenge and this is the challenge which we now  have to face.
her scholarly resources and equipment will be required.
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