Muslim Leadership in UK: Failures and Futures

Open Discussions/Gulf Cultural Club

Muslim Leadership in UK:

 Failures and Futures

Miqdad Versi*

Neil Jameson CBE **

Luqman Ali***


The Muslims presence in UK has become an integral part of the social, cultural, economic and political realities. Until the late eighties this presence was confined to individuals and small organised bodies including mosques and students organisations. But in the past 25 years this presence has transformed into organised institutions. Yet centralised effective leadership has remained as elusive as ever. This has led to ideological vacuum which was soon filled by extremist tendencies that attracted Muslim youth and fundamentally changed perceptions with regards to UK Muslims. How to address this leadership deficiency? How to bring about harmony to the community and empower it to play constructive role within the UK mainstream politics?

Date: Tuesday, 12th April 2016

Chairman Shabir Rizvi:  The topic of  Muslim leadership needs to be addressed especially in the light of events in the last couple of weeks and months. Both on what’s up and social media a lot of discussion has been taking place on the Muslim leadership in the UK. I am a second generation immigrant whose father came here in the 60s and got involved with a mosque. I myself was involved in mosque activities. There appears to be something lacking especially for the third generation immigrants. There is always a debate about whether the third generation youngsters can at all relate to the current leadership in mosques. But it is not only mosque  activities. We have built mosques and centres for 50 years but we have not set up any think tanks or policy making organisations. We have not  set up organisations which will really contribute to Muslim welfare in the UK. We often think about Kashmir and Palestine – external issues. There is no doubt that those issues impinge on what is happening to the Muslim community but we negate what is happening here. The whole issue of why don’t Muslims participate in demonstrations. I also remember when St Pauls was occupied by the occupy movement. I spoke to the imam about holding Friday prayers there and no one was interested to do that. That sort of activity could really put Muslims on the canvas.

 Miqdad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain:  Thank you very much for having me here today with an audience some of whom I recognise  are far more qualified to speak on this topic but I will give my best shot to framing the discussion in a way that makes sense to me. Before I get onto the failures I think it is very important to set the context by  understanding the successes. Without understanding what has gone well it is very difficult to identify where the problems are.

As Muslims in the UK we have seen the Trevor Philips poll talking about integration. We also have to recognise that in reality according to Professor Simpson who is one of the leaders in the country discussing and looking at integration, Muslim communities have actually become less concentrated in specific areas between the 2001 and the 2011 census. In reality the communities which are most segregated in certain areas have been the Jewish and Sikh community. The Jewish community in particular has become more concentrated in certain areas over the last ten years but only slightly.

Muslim communities are becoming part of society. There are 13 Muslim MPs.Who would have thought the mayor of London, one of the most powerful positions in the country could go to a Muslim.  In great British institutions like the British Bake off we have Nadia Hussein,  the apprentice with Nouren Ahmed, the Olympics with the poster boy Mo Farah. With the cricketers you have Moin Ali and in the Dragons Den there is James Khan. You have the reality that in major  British institutions Muslim communities have developed in a way that shows that the representation is there in main stream British society. In the media we have for the first time a Muslim woman who wears the head scarf presenting the news on Channel 4. We have Muslim communities really contributing to the financial world. Over £30bn of the UK economy comes from British Muslims. We have a trillion dollar halal industry and a trillion pound Islamic banking industry. Muslim are flying the flag for Britain on major life style concerns.

Lets try and understand the success that British Muslims have had in building institutions and mosques.  Thirty or forty years many people used to pray in houses, in small rooms. Many of these have become mosques and institutions have been built. We have individual grant bodies which have been set up to help those who are poor. We have food banks such as sufra. There has been a lot of outreach done with the creation of the Muslim-Christian Forum.

Through this we understand that there has been significant progress. There has been a lot of success. We should not just think about the problems, or the failures or the challenges without understanding the context in which they occur.

In 1997 Muslim communities from across the UK came together to form the Muslim Council of Britain which has its own positives. So we recognise through time where we are as a society. We recognise the benefits that Muslim communities have brought to this country. There is an element of British values which Muslim communities have actually contributed and are not necessarily deficient in any way. That is the background that I wanted to give before talking about some of the challenges that I see ahead.

When you have a situation where you have three million Muslims here in the UK to expect there to be a singular leadership, or a singular voice, or a singular way of thinking, would never be realistic. We have to recognise the limitations and the reality of the fact that with such a diverse community half of whom were born in Britain and half of whom wern’t and sixty percent of whom come from the Pakistani and Bangledeshi communities. The other forty percent come from covert communities – Bosnian, Turkish and many other communities, the Arab community.

With that diversity of language, culture and thought, liberal versus conservative, Shia verses Sunni verses Ahmedi, all these different types of people who identify as Muslims it is a very diverse community. To think of being a single leadership would always be very difficult to have.

So when we see this background I see  a significant number of challenges that are being faced and many  things that need to be done. The first is the big challenge of dealing with a diatomy  between the grassroots and the leadership. Very often when you want something to happen, when you want to influence change ,leadership has to work in a certain way and very often that way is not necessarily popular within all grassroots communities. Being able to marry the two up has been something that no Muslim organisation I have seen so far has been able to deal with. That has been the major failure in my opinion.

The second area of concern or failure potentially is this idea of sustainability and funding. Most Muslim organisations in the UK whether it is mosques or whether it is other groups, struggle very much when it comes to funding whether it is running costs or whether it is thinking about research for the longer terms. Without fund raising in an appropriate way you are unable to build the institutions to be able to do the work that is required. We will come to the work that  should be done in a second.

The outlook of many of these organisations is sometimes challenging. Without these resources what do you do? What do you focus on? Do you just focus on the reactive – the fact that Trevor Phillips decides to say something which many people consider to be problematic and challenging and potentially causing many challenges to the Muslim community? Is that what you focus on, just reacting to these things because if you don’t do it who else will? Is that the primary focus?  Or  do you say we are not going to bother about that and only think about what is right for the long term? Just spend all our time on capacity building, sustainability and funding? What do you do? Where do you focus your time?

Or do you try and do a bit of both and fail in both? It is a very difficult challenge and managing that balance between the two is very difficult to do. The other areas of the outlook. Muslim communities have been very insular and inward looking in terms of the issues on which campaigns are done.  You will have Muslims who are involved in mainstream issues but as a whole the idea of coalition building has not worked in Muslim communities as well as it should. At this moment in time one might argue that Muslim communities are facing very similar challenges when it comes to facing the secular discussions within society. Faith  communities are very united around many of the concerns that are raised but at the same time there still has not been that much coalition building between faiths as could be done.

There are fantastic initiatives such as  Citizens UK which are already in place which have worked very hard and have a huge success in doing this. The Muslim communities outlook on this is not necessarily the right one. And then you have the big problem of sectarianism within Muslim communities. This is more true with certain institutions then others. It is a very big and very difficult challenge and there are very few national organisations which are able to deal with the variation of views between different schools of Islam. The view on Syria for example which varies so dramatically between different schools of thought in general. So dealing with that challenge has been a huge success in some areas but it has also been a monumental failure.

When you have a sustainable organisation that is able to deal with the grassroots and bring the grassroots together on that journey, which has the funding in place that it needs to do it, which has thought about the coalitions that it wants to build to be able to do it. What should it do and what hasn’t it done? We talked about capacity building but let me discuss that further. Whether it is leadership development, whether it is working with young people and understanding the real models in society and giving that ambition to  many people in society who do not necessarily have it, whether it is ensuring that there is fairness between both genders in particular. This is another major concern in Muslim communities between men and women. Whether it is trying to ensure that when you have an institution when you help to support other organisations, those can be done in a mutually beneficial way rather than in a competitive way.  There are cases when one organisation has been set up specifically to undermine other organisations.

With all that in mind what should be done? We have talked capacity building? One of the things we talked about but we need to mention it further is research. When we want to try and do something for communities it is essential to have a fact basis on which action can be taken. You will have seen some fact bases being created on which action is taken. But there is a lot more to be done in creating the fact basis on which future policy should be based. A think-tank has been talked about. A lobby group which can advocate  the specific policies.

I think on the political lobbying side there has been some success but there have been a lot of failures because of the challenges in dealing with some governments or governmental institutions which are not necessarily favourable towards Muslims. And we have noticed that Muslim organisations as a whole are not as well attuned to raising funds and lobbying and giving  donations to different political parties. You see that 70 – 80% of British Muslims end up voting for one party. When that is the case it is very difficult to have the influence among all parties to ensure that your views towards the common good can be heard effectively.

These would be my short thoughts on the issue. We are in a very challenging situation for the future. If many  of these issues to do with sustainability, to do with funding, to do with coalition building and not competition in a negative way, without bringing in  people from all different schools of thought, without bringing in men and women and trying to move away from the reactive to a more pro active way of doing things – if we do not do this I can see a situation where  many organisations will have to either put up and do this or shut up and leave. We are in a very difficult situation where this is the case. I can see many organisations limping on, struggling very much, being based on the work of  only a few individuals, and without broader support,  without broader capacity building these institutions that have been built up through time. They have and many successes in the past but they have also had huge failures but they will never be able to succeed.

Many people have tried to create these institutions such as the Sufi Muslim Council by the government.  There are also plans to create what might be a future Muslim Leadership Council by another part of the government. When lots of these institutions have attempted to be created they have failed miserably and when we have the paucity of Muslim organisations that are left, they have stood the test of time, my view is that we need to support, strengthen and build for the future not let them die and wither and we will be very worried and we will  not have a future for our community.

Neil Jameson CBE, Executive Director Citizens UK: I am very grateful for the invitation and I have to add a few caveats: I am not a Muslim. Frankly I do hesitate to criticise a community that I do not know that well. I do know it fairly well. So I apologise if I offend anybody. There is nothing worse than someone coming from outside the institution and telling them what to do. I have a reasonable track record of experience which I bring. As I say, I am not a Muslim, I am a Christian, a quaker, I have been an organiser for the past 27 years and I work with a lot of Muslim institutions. I apologise if I offend by appearing to lecture, or even hector.

There is a crisis going on. What I am is a democrat and if there is a community that is nervous about participating in public life or is not participating as fully as it could that is  very unhealthy for any democracy and that is the authority which I bring. During the last ten years the community has been getting less enthusiastic about participation and more nervous about doing so and that is very serious for  British politics. There are reasons for this and you live with them.

The onslaught by the media on anybody who effectively puts their head above the parapet is relentless. The fire fighting that that the Muslim Council of Britain and other such alliances have to do on a regular basis when there is an incident means that it is extremely difficult to get any business done when the business is constantly having to apologise for the community, remind people that this is not done in the name of Islam and never get to the business that the institutions were created for which is to negotiate with the government and the public sector and give young people role models.

So it is pretty tough and it has got tougher and I feel for you and identify in solidarity as a democrat that it is not good for Britain, for any community, Jewish Muslim whatever to feel not welcome and not to participate and for some young people to say we are not welcome here, we are going somewhere else, possibly to ISIS. So that is the crisis I speak from.

I have been an organiser for the past 27 years. I have had the privilege of building alliances which have included significant Muslim organisations. The East London Mosque has been a member of the East London community organisation now called London  Citizens since we started and we are about to have our 20th anniversary. So there are a lot of good news stories and we need to promote them despite the yes, but stuff which is what we get a lot of.

So that is  my experience. We have now managed to build nine such citizens alliances across the country. In Wales there is a very big alliance. It is the same idea. Institutions join, institutions pay, institutions agree to work together on something which is  very good for democracy which is called the common good. That is the strap line of the Muslim Council of Britain. It exists as a universal quest. These are the things we can agree on and we can pursue them.

The truth about Citizens UK is that we think power is the determining factor in success. It is not just Citizens UK – it is any struggle. The power that we seek is the power of being in relationship with people. That is the power with people and we think historically that is very important. People panic over power, even the word power gets a bad press but it does not with the people who have power because they like it.

My argument would be that it is the determining factor in wining. So if a community is not participating it is more likely to lose on issues that matter to its members. Lose on jobs, lose on wages, recognition, issues of stereotyping, relations with the press, those sorts of things.

In the citizens alliances we try to build a group of people who understand that and that this sort of power is universal, healthy and neutral. It can be used for good and can it be used for ill. But the more it is shared around in institutions, the more we fund our own communities the safer it is. If the power thing gets out of control people pull their money out when it stops. So we have all sorts of checks and balances in Citizens UK over the last 20 years which have worked for us but the pattern of Muslim communities joining has reduced rather than increased. We find it more difficult to recruit Muslim institutions for the reasons I have given at the beginning.

Another mantra which I will leave with you is that if you are not at the table you are on the menu. The Islamic community is on the menu. That is why we organise people to be at the table. In two weeks time six thousand people, two thousand of them Muslims, will meet at the Copperbox in the Olympic Park to hold accountable the two people who want our vote for the mayoral elections. One of them is Muslim which is splendid and one of them is not Muslim which is fine. The six thousand people are well organised, they have an agenda, it is not about Islam, is it not about Israel it is about housing. The crisis in London is about housing which is an issue for all of us. We organise around things we agree on. We park a lot of stuff at the door: Israel, Palestine, ideology. We do not start with those issues because if you start with those issues you will never get very far.

In citizens we start with those things which we can agree on. This is often dirty streets, lighting which does not work, fast cars, drug dealing. There are many issues we can unite around in the context of an organisation that is teaching people how to be powerful leaders in their community.

The positive about the Muslim community – and there are many, many positives – is you are the most generous community of all the faiths. You give way above the percentage than other traditions. However  you don’t invest in leadership. As far as I know the Muslim Council of Britain has two staff. That is a sort of a scandal. The MCB does not take money from the government. In the past it has taken money for projects but not for core organising. If you want to compare them to the Board of Deputies I don’t know what their budget is but they are well invested in by a much smaller community. And they have a recognition that the MCB would die for.

The British government has not formally met with the MCB since 2006. So as a democrat it is unhealthy to have a government no matter what colour. It started with Labour who is basically not negotiating with in my opinion is a pretty perfect representative body for the Muslim communities. That is not a good thing and there are different reasons for this. It is not healthy for a body that was crafted over two years with a constitution that is impressive. It has had very impressive leaders as secretary general who put their head above the parapet, had a tremendous amount  of negative press. You have to be a hero to stand for the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain or the Deputy Secretary General. It is a hiding to nothing. The community criticises its own representatives. This is equally unhealthy if the community is not recognising this body which it has put together.

The plus is that the Muslim community is very generous. The negative is that it is not generous enough to build its own leadership and an independent body that is acceptable to the government. To cut a long story short Citizens UK is a training organisation and about 15 years ago a man called Tahir Alam came for training from the Islamic Society of Britain. We spent six days in community organising and training. And so many Muslims have attended along with Jews and Christians who want to learn how to participate in public life. He said at the end of the training that he learned a lot about the importance of participation. He realised that a lot of his members of the Islamic Society of Britain were not participating much. They spent a lot of time in ICB meetings talking about this and that but frankly none were school governors. He said I am going to go back to Birmingham and I am going to persuade my colleagues and others to become governors to become  governors in a school in  Birmingham.

This is what he did and the consequences of that  are just terrible and I feel responsible for it because it led effectively to  whistle blowing. The fact was that there were good people standing as governors in Birmingham and they would not stand again. There is now a crisis in recruiting Muslims to be governors. They joined for all the right reasons which was to participate in public life and inevitably wanted some of the values. He is a ruined man. He is the only man in Britain who has been effectively purged from having any contact with a school. If he joins the school as a volunteer the school will be closed down. It is a terrible experience.

We could also get into Luther Rahman’s experience as the mayor of Tower Hamlets who we knew well. I do not want to get into the details of that but he is also a ruined man. So as a result of people putting their head above the parapet and using the systems that are available to them it is not a good story. It is not healthy for our young people to see their people doing that unless they are footballers – but that is superficial.

We are blessed by women coming in as members of parliament and by men coming in. There are more Muslim women in parliament then there are men. That is a fantastic story and we need to tell it. We need to tell the story of generating your leadership for civil society which is equally important and in a way more important. So the mosques have the right leadership. They  must have a training programme which teaches young people to be active in public life I would argue around the issues that young people are talking about. And there is always Islamophobia to talk about. But equally there is housing, there are schools, there is the level of education, there are dirty streets and so on.

This has led us  to become an alliance who now knows a fair number of people. I manage to pull together large assemblies of people which are always mixed to initiate the Citizens Commission on Islamic participation in public life. The state is just waiting to see what we come up with. We have managed to persuade Dominic Greave the previous attorney general to  be the chair of this group. It is a group of military folk and conservatives, business leaders four of whom are Muslims leaders, 15 of whom are not. They will listen to the grievances  of the mostly Muslim communities in the cities they have been to.

On purpose they are spending a year listening to the stories of people who have had mostly a mixed experience. A lot of good stories but a fair amount of negative ones to produce a small report. But it will be based on the views of a lot more people  than the  Trevor Philips poll on which he based his comments. They are coming up with what we call a compact which is where we need your help. A compact is a deal.  Dominic Greave is a very impressive fighter for human rights. He has been very strong with the Muslim community. He has access to the prime minister which is partly why we have constructed the commission in that way. So if this commission says prime minister or even Mr Cobyrn you have to deal with this community, what have we got to do to make that happen then that should be listened to.

The compact plan which is significant is basically what is the deal. The business community  can help much more than it currently does. Not just the Muslim business community, the whole business community. The business community is as worried as you are about a whole group of people feeling so alienated that the youngsters feel they have to go to Syria. That is very unhealthy for anyone but one can understand that because of the plight we have referred to.

Part of the compact is that the government needs to work with a Muslim body if that needs reshaping. It does work with the Board of Deputies and it does work with Christians and Jews on issues which are slightly less important than the issue of the whole community feeling disenfranchised. So we hope the  compact will be published in April. We want a lot of people to participate in what are the solutions to the crisis that we are talking about. We welcome ideas from everywhere. These hearings are very powerful. People are coming to them in fairly large numbers mostly with grievances. The commissioners are taking it very seriously. Dominic Greave goes to all of them. He is giving a lot of time to this as well as chairing these committees.

We are looking for solutions. What can we do with a weighty set of commissioners who are not all Muslims by a long shot to identify the plight we have talked about. We have to tackle the growing disenchantment of the Muslim community and the temptations of ISIS, because the temptations of democracy are so much better, so much  healthier for you, the non Muslim community as well. So I leave that with you. The compact is coming but we want as many Muslims as possible to come up with the solutions for that. The commissioners can be taken very seriously because of the time they are giving to hear the grievances and looking for the solution to correct the imbalance of power I am talking about.

Luqman Ali, CEO & Artistic Director,  Khayaal Theatre: First of all I would like to thank the organisers, Saeed Shehabi and Fatema Dosa for inviting me to share some reflections. I am going to share some reflections on the theme. As an artist usually when I am invited to events like this I tend to think that people have invited me because they are looking for something unexpected to happen. Artists tend to see things a little bit differently. We tend to throw curved balls and I will not disappoint.  I would like to thank my colleagues, I consider the people I am sharing the panel with to be colleagues. It is a real honour to hear their reflections and to hopefully add value myself.

When it comes to the issue of leadership my view is that we are looking at the issue from an angle which is not really faithful to our principles as Muslims. Leadership in Islam has to do first and foremost with a spiritual reality, a spiritual truth, a spiritual identity. Allah when he speaks about the strength and power of Muslims he talks about the heart. “We brought a cord to their hearts.”

So Muslims must  place the issue of leadership into the context of their hearts. The issue of leadership becomes something that is intangible in relation to the material and physical world. It has to do with the conceptual in what I would describe in shorthand as a discourse  of story and dream.

If you want to integrate or unite people around a purpose you have to begin with the conceptual. You have to begin with the imagination. You have to capture and cultivate peoples imagination beyond this world of multiplicity into a higher realm, a place which is characterised not by conflict but by unity tawhid.

So  I think that the problems of leadership in Islam come down to the fact that our value for the conceptual and our value for the imagination has been undermined by material and physical considerations. We are always talking about buildings and status of various types of leaders. We are investing  in those. We do not have to invest in human beings. Our investment in the conceptual, our investment in the imagination can be brought down to what shahada means.

We are Muslims by the fact that we profess a shahada. Shahada means to witness, to  see things as they really are, to have a vision which unites and integrates those things which appear to be irreconcilable.  For me as far as the leadership issue is concerned within my community and my family, I am  more interested in the conceptual. I am more interested in whether there has been an investment in the conceptual maturation of the various individuals involved rather than the various material considerations that there might be.

We touched on that when we mentioned the think-tank. The think tank is the investment in the conceptual, the intangible, vision in order to bring about a coalition of people. In Islam we are concerned first and foremost with the coalition of parts. So I am going to pepper my talk with a little bit of poetry. I hope you will indulge me. The verse is called an invisible pile of wood. It is about intangibles.

It is often nothing the master says that keeps the desired fire in me alive. Wherever the master goes an invisible pile of wood tags along that he keeps throwing logs on into my soul’s hearth.

This allows me to get to the issue of the conceptual. Allah  when he began his mission was concerned with peoples hearts. He was concerned with the imagination, so much so that people accused him of being a sair (a magician) because of the way in which he captured peoples imaginations. And he  cultivated a unifying vision of stories and dreams which motivate people to assemble around a higher purpose and a higher cause.

Not only did he do that. He also understood that if you want to transform people positively you have to give them a story to tell themselves which addresses the issue of actualising their full potential. He did this so much that one of the allegations which the people threw at him was this  is addressing us in fables. Allah commends the Prophet. He says tell the people the stories so that they will reflect beyond their physical and material considerations to a zone of reality and truth that is the ultimate unifier of people.

Allah says o human beings, have reverence for your Lord who created you. If we want to see the emergence of effective leadership which is faithful to the example of the Prophet (bpuh) we have to go back to assessing  to what degree we are investing in the conceptual, in spiritual integrity, in those principles which accord to a human beings personal responsibility. We must all be personally responsible, accountable.  One centralised organisation, or one individual will not work for us. That is not the way in which I see leadership. That is the first issue that I want to draw attention to.

The second issue is around the issue of models. We have to create models for mosques, models for community organisations, which are best practise  models which come out of local cellular integral communities which are inter generational which are inter gender and which reflect the highest value of Islam which is tawhid.

These models must be local and that is something that Citizens UK is doing around the issue of local mobilisation. There are areas in the UK where we have a  high concentration of  Muslims. If we were to develop to models in some of these areas which address the conceptual issues there will be a path finding formula which will be transferrable to many communities around the country.

The issue of finances is one which I need to address.  The Muslim community is the biggest contributor to charity. They are the most generous charitable givers. But the way in which our charity funds are being used are problematic to say the least. We have a situation where investment in human beings is at the very bottom of our priorities. We have a situation where if you want to take in money for the Muslim community you set up a charity where you take in sadaqa and zakat or khums.

We don’t take the resources and invest them in the community they have come from. We set up projects and fund exclusively your own projects with money that you have taken from the wider Islamic community.  You create what is effectively a cartel. I am sorry to be so blunt.  There are zakat and khums cartels whereby if you have one of these organisations or charities which is taking in these kinds of resources you are empowered to do work. What this means is that our younger generation which is not in a position to set up those cartels are left out in the cold pretty much in terms of their development in communities, in terms of  investing in their talent and potential in communities.

I think this is tragic. We are probably now the desert and the meal is about to end. We do not have much time. It is time for us to now announce a state of emergency in the Muslim community in regard to these issues. I wish I could paint a positive picture but I can’t. What I am seeing from primary school age to secondary school age is a lot of confusion, a lot of conflict and mal adjustment.  There are really no investors in the potential that is coming up.

There are very few Muslim organisations dedicated to investing in potential. If we want to elevate our leadership both qualitatively and quantitavily I think we have to address the issue of investment in people and maybe we can have a kitemark on some of these charities investing in people to incentivise them. We should start doing this in a great way.

* Miqdaad Versi is Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain with a specific focus on Counter-Terrorism and Islamophobia. He writes opinion pieces in the Independent and Guardian on issues related to British Muslims, and has raised concerns on behalf of the MCB on all major broadcast and print media. Miqdaad is also a Board Member of the human rights organisation Rights Watch UK (formerly British-Irish Rights Watch), the co-ordinator for the local council of mosques in his area (Muslim Forum of Middlesex) and a member of the Executive Committee of his local mosque.

 ** Neil Jameson has been Executive Director of Citizens UK for the last 24 years and Lead Organiser with London Citizens for the last 18 years. As such, he and his colleague Organisers are now driving the UK’s largest and most diverse Community Organising training institute, professional Guild of Organisers and a growing network of broad-based Citizens alliances in London, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Birmingham and Cardiff. He is a Community Organiser – seeking out talented leaders and young Organisers who have the courage and commitment to work with others democratically to strengthen civil society and pursue the common good. Citizens UK’s members initiated and still steer the UK’s Living Wage campaign which is now delivering £210m in higher wages to 45,000 low waged workers and their families. Neil has been named by The Guardian as one of the UK’s most significant public servants. In 2012 his work for civil society and east London was recognised when he was made an Honorary Fellow of Queen Mary University of London. In January 2016 Neil was  awarded a CBE for in the New Year Honours for “services to communities and organising social justice”

Luqman Ali is CEO & Artistic Director,  Khayaal Theatre. He initially trained in  the sciences of Islam and the languages (Arabic, Persian and Urdu) and cultures of the Middle East and the Sub-continent. He spent a decade working for publishing houses in the USA  and the UK.  In 1997, Luqman  co-founded Khayaal, the first professional theatre company  of its kind offering audiences a fascinating experience of classic Muslim world culture through contemporary stagecraft.  He went on to pioneer the theatrical interpretation of the tales of Jalaluddin Rumi  and Fariduddin Attar producing numerous theatrical shorts including Four Mystics and a Merchant, Bad Beard Day, Between the Devil & Me and Tattoos in Qazvin. In 2004, he broadened the scope of his work adapting traditional tales from right across the Muslim world in Tales from  Muslim Lands which included Peony Garden on Nanshan  Mountain, Bling Bling Blind, Incey Witty Spider and Man Take Thy Flight.

Luqman’s  latest works are Sun & Wind, a spiritual reflection on  extremism and Hearts & Minds, a theatre-in-education  play for young people exploring issues of identity, citizenship and extremism. Luqman is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the  Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship and a member of the Concordia Forum.


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