Integration, not assimilation

I'm ready to integrate. But are you ready to accept me?

The question of integration has been thrown around very irresponsibly by many people, especially the politicians. The onus has been squarely placed on the Muslim community and the assumption is that if the Muslim community integrates Britain would be a spectacularly cohesive and multicultural country. This is far from the truth. Today’s Britain has many social problems that can not be traced back or solved simply through integration.

Islam does not see any problem in integration. In fact, it strongly encourages Muslims to take full part in society and its institutions. At least this is what the faith says. In reality it may not be the case. While I am not justifying the lack of integration of Muslims, I am extremely alarmed by the lack of honest and serious debate around the topic.

Firstly, integration needs a comprehensive definition. It needs all stakeholders to agree on a set of common values. In my view, integration could be defined as "the bringing of people of different racial, ethnic or religious groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society and its institutions". Integration could also mean a process of desegregation, ie. dismantling of ghettos and removing barriers. Integration is the total opposite to disengagement.

Secondly, when I explain that Islam encourages integration, I ask you not to confuse it with assimilation. Islam would be opposed to any notion of assimilation. Integration is not about socially engineering a new generation based on no distinct faith, ethnic or cultural identity. This is precisely what assimilation would do. Islam proposes people to become loyal to their faith but their cultural or ethnic differences a reason for greater interaction and celebration.

Thirdly, integration it is not a one-way street. Minority communities do not have a moral obligation to integrate into the majority community. Such a suggestion assumes the majority communities’ values, lifestyle, cultures and customs are superior. This is simply an arrogant supposition. Integration must have an element of give and take and willingness to share.

Integration is not the end but simply a process where people of all background come together to make connections and develop shared values mutually. The outcome is a cohesive and integrated society. Integration is like a watch. A watch has small components inside; each component by itself can not be called a watch, although they may function individually. However when all the components are arranged in an orderly fashion the watch works perfectly.

All cultures, faiths, traditions and customs together would form an integrated society. If we take the example of the watch, every component is vital; similarly every stakeholder in such an integrated society would be a crucial partner. It must be a relationship based on proportionality and most certainly on equal worth and respect.

There are many challenges we need to overcome. When we are developing common values the biggest and most pressing question is how to resolve the problems of cultural norms and values that are at polar ends.

There are several examples I can mention that would make developing shared values very difficult. Such as, for one, the fact that British society’s social life is based around drinking alcohol while it is totally forbidden for a Muslim to drink, buy, sell, carry or sit around the same table where alcohol is being consumed. This means Muslims are not able to socialise with the non-Muslim communities fully where drinking alcohol is so prevalent. Would that prevent us from developing common values?

Let us take another example. The interaction between men and women in Islam is substantially different. While in this country physical contact between the sexes is normal in Islam there are restrictions - and these are for a reason. In today’s Britain sex outside marriage has become a cultural norm while in Islam sex outside a marital relationship is not allowed.

Despite some of these intrinsic differences I am, along with majority of the Muslim citizens of this country, willing to integrate fully but are you willing to accept me fully? My definition of integration is to retain my identity and values and you retain yours but we agree to interact on civic duties as equal partners, we work for the well being of our country and all the citizens. We run our affairs in a democratic, pluralistic and transparent manner. The aim would be to create a society in which we have unrestricted and equal association.

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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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State