Making mistakes – Evolution of a community

Hussain SHEFAAR

When a (friendly) journalist recently asked what advice he can take for his fellow journalists from the Muslims community – I replied, ‘allow us to make mistakes’.

The media is paradoxical when it comes to the coverage of Muslims. On the one hand, Muslims are portrayed as non-Europeans, alien and radical with an agenda to take over Europe. On the other hand, we are supposed to be ‘angels’ who can do no wrong. The essential problem lies in ignoring history. No community of minority ethnic or religious origin in European history was integrated without its people committing mistakes, and of its own making.

Whether it was the black Caribbean community or the Jewish community – it took a while for it feel ‘at home’ and get it right. In fact, one may argue we still have far to go! The main European Muslim communities are at most 50 years old (of course, with origins going back hundreds of years). The settled communities from France to Italy to the UK are mainly economic migrants, living in some of the harshest conditions of poverty, unemployment and affected by many social problems.

Since arriving at the capitals of Europe and other metropolitan areas – mosques have been built, associations founded, and many have tried to contribute to the areas of thought and education. Whilst most have integrated and have become part and parcel of European society, others are still struggling. In view of our evolving thoughts, ideas and most importantly a confidence in our own identity as European Muslims – we are going to make mistakes. We have built many mosques which do not allow access to women or are unwelcoming to the youth. We have made mistakes in almost all aspects, most of all we have failed to communicate a message that can be understood by all.

More mistakes? Yes – we will and we should. Prophet Muhammad taught us that children of Adam are bound by their nature to make mistakes, but the best of them are those who repent and return to God, realising their mistakes and ready to make amends. In most cases the Muslim organisations, mosques, welfare groups and publications that were established were merely an import from ‘back home’, planted with the same objectives, mission statements, and structures without any consideration for the new reality Muslims found themselves in – as a minority community in a multiracial and multi-religious society.

As the first generation became naturalised citizens of their respective societies, their message also became more focused and relevant to dealing with their new problems and context. This is evident from the speeches, literature and message of the sixties and seventies – and compared to the last decade, it’s clear how much has changed. That is not to say that we don’t have within these communities a ghettoised minority, we still do.
Organisations like the Islamic Forum of Europe have also played their part and contributed to our society through its various programmes and projects, that much is clear to most objective observers. To deny this contribution and such efforts would be unjust. IFE, however, cannot rest on its laurels as recent events have demonstrated, mistakes can be made easily. IFE needs to recognise that it too, like the rest of society is not immune to making mistakes.

It is only through self-reflection, humility and consultation that IFE will grow in stature. Fair criticisms should be welcomed as they present an opportunity for advancement. There is always room for more discussion and debate and listening to both its friends and critics. Indeed, not all critics are necessarily adversaries. With an open heart and sincerity IFE should (and I’m sure will) listen to those criticisms that would help it to grow and better itself. With a strong membership base and grassroots support – it can achieve much more.

This is a contribution to the debate – an open and critical appraisal of all activities in the community that could help shape a vibrant and dynamic Muslim community. A community here to be a force for good in our society.

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