'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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Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland