'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.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496