Comment: A call for tolerance between London’s Muslim and LGBT communities

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

In light of recent events in east London, Wais Islam, a former Tower Hamlets Labour councillor, says it’s important to remember the area belongs to people of all ethnicities, sexual orientations and religions.

As a British Muslim I strongly condemn the vigilante patrol group that has caused national outrage by making a video in which they harass non-Muslims with homophobic remarks and by forcing them to throw away their alcoholic drinks on the street as well as calling Whitechapel a Muslim area. I am against the idea of calling the group a Muslim patrol because they do not represent us in any form or with any approval. As a former Labour councillor for Whitechapel Ward and first Tower Hamlets Olympic Ambassador, I found the cowardly actions of these individuals to be totally against the principles of Islam as our Lord, Allah the Almighty says in the Qur’an “let there be no compulsion in religion”.

Such an extremely small minority of abusive youngsters who have no understanding of Islam are simply unrepresentative of the Muslim community. I grew up in Whitechapel and it belongs to people of all ethnicities, cultural orientations and religions. It has more alcohol outlets including bars, restaurants and pubs as well as off licenses than much of Kensington and Chelsea and three mosques only! Whilst there is a large Muslim population in the area living primarily in social housing the majority of residents are non-Muslims, especially with the influx of working people and students. This gentrification does not define it as a Muslim area.

These are anecdotal incidents that are not tolerated by Muslims in the UK and we urge the media not to sensationalise it by giving these vigilante groups too much publicity because their views are neither representative of Muslims in general or Islam which advocates peace and tolerance for the entire humanity. Muslims ruled Spain for over 700 years where Christians and Jews were allowed to live harmoniously side by side and flourish in society. British Muslims are active citizens in British society and condemn such harassment by any vigilante group in the name of Islam. Local religious institutions have condemned it too, not all are mentioned in the press.

What must happen now is that London councils should encourage greater community cohesion amongst disaffected young people of all ethnicities. Tower Hamlets council should demonstrate greater commitment to the One Tower Hamlets community theme. For that to happen, some sort of Youth Cohesion initiative should be launched for Muslim and non-Muslim youths (or Christian and non-Christian youths) to integrate or assimilate more through social and educational activities while preserving their cultural values. Equally, adults should be encouraged to socialise through, say, tea sessions with others from different ethnic backgrounds. Islam has no ethnic barriers so the indigenous white non-Muslims and Bangladeshis and Somalis should mix more in Tower Hamlets.

To avoid the danger of isolating Muslim children from mainstream society and future employment, some Muslim parents should also consider the impact of religious schools (and white parents those of the new free schools) in the borough and how they influence social exclusion for innocent children who should otherwise thrive in secular Britain in terms of economic and academic prosperity.

This incident calls for greater debate on things like whether employers in Canary Wharf are doing enough to recruit local unemployed youth many of whom happen to be Muslim and often feel deliberately ostracised by the glass ceilings created by bureaucracies also in the City of London. Perhaps it is a feeling of isolation that these homophobic, although anecdotal, incidents keep happening which is why it is important to engage Muslim youth in mainstream society. We all have a moral duty towards creating Britain a more multicultural and liberal society where individual orientations are respected by people of all ethnicities and religious and non-religious backgrounds.

As Christianity and Islam are arguably the only two religions in the world that share the same Amen after the Lord’s prayer or supplications for God’s acceptance there’s absolutely no reason why members of both communities cannot continue to live side by side simply because a couple of bigots insult people in East End streets like the EDL because of their perceived ethnic and religious backgrounds. Local residents are saying they want to see Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers, THEOs, in the area, not ‘theos’!

Wais Islam is a former Tower Hamlets Labour councillor and 2012 Olympic Ambassador.