'Islam is a strange religion'

Ajmal Masroor challenges some of the preconceptions about his faith

'Muslims are not normal and Islam is a strange religion!' Do you believe this or do you demonstrate this in your direct and indirect behaviour?

Ask a Muslim this question and I can almost guarantee you that he/she would have felt treated like this, if not on a regular basis, occasionally. This has become the popular perception amongst many non-Muslims today. Once I went out for dinner with a group of people.

They all ordered alcohol and I ordered a glass of fresh juice. This sparked off a discussion amongst us all, why I did not drink alcohol; in the course of the discussion one of them asked what was wrong with me that I do not drink?. I explained to them that according to my faith drinking or taking any intoxicants was forbidden.

I know this makes me different from the popular culture here in Britain but what is wrong with being different? In fact Islam encourages me to challenge such cultural values, not to shove Islamic values down anyone throat, but to engage in a reasoned rational discussion about the benefit and harm of some of these popular cultures.

I remember another occasion when I was invited to speak at an event and I said to a group of white English audience that I was English. I heard murmurs of disapproval from the audience. One elderly lady stood up in protest and said 'young man you are not English, the best you can be is British and you should be proud of it'. She further explained to me that only people with Anglo-Saxon heritage and white skin complexion can claim to be English. I know I was making a controversial claim but can we ever imagine accepting someone who is brown or black, English and Muslim?

Ajmal Masroor is regularly invited to speak on issues on integration and Islam in the modern world. He leads Friday prayers in several Mosques across London.
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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