The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has written a letter to 1000 Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom, asking them to explain how British Muslims can become part of British culture and how they can integrate into British society. The following are His Holiness Younus AlGohar's comments on this subject.
Some of the Muslims think that Islam cannot be part of Britain and Muslims cannot integrate into British society; some others say that Muslims can integrate into British society. First we would like to see what integration is and what exactly it means.
In the olden times, when different regions of the world were ruled by kings and premiers, the kings would keep certain individuals around them who would ensure that the culture was alive and enriched. Different departments were in operation which would ensure that art was promoted. There were comedians who would make jokes, some of which would be practical jokes. There was a royal comedian in India; oftentimes he would take a guise of somebody, come before the king and ask the king to recognise who he is. Oftentimes, the king would recognise him. Then, one day, he said, 'Now watch out. I am going to take a guise of somebody and you would never ever be able to recognise me.' Then he went into a secluded area. He grew his beard, he grew his hair on his head and he would engage himself in the worship. He would stay in the jungle and after some time, people would pass by him and see that he was always engaged in worship. People started to respect him; they thought he was a saint of God because he would never talk to anybody and he was always engaged in worship. In no time, the news reached the ears of the king. People said, 'He is a great saint of God. He doesn't talk to anybody. We bring stuff and he doesn't even look at them. He is so sincere with God.' So the king was really surprised and he felt an enormous amount of respect for the man who was allegedly a saint of God. The king went to see this man; when the king saw him, he kissed his feet and said, 'Pray for me. You are a great saint of God.' He said, 'King, do you recognise me?' He said, 'No.' He replied, 'I am the same person who would take many guises and you would recognise me. But this time you failed.' If you want to take the guise of somebody, you have to adopt everything that he does.
In a similar way, when we see Pakistanis, Indians or other Muslims that are permanently settled in the UK and we want them to integrate into British society, what exactly does it mean? What measures have to be taken for this integration? How do we integrate into British society? Does it mean that we adopt the British sense of humour or does it mean we should put a British flag on our houses and learn to speak English? Does it mean we adopt the cultural values of Britain? What should we technically do? One important question is: does this integration include religious practice as well? For example, there are certain types of food that Muslims do not consume. There are certain types of drinks that Muslims do not consume; Muslims do not want to eat pork and Muslims do not want to drink alcohol. So, is this integration going to be affected by the fact that some of the members of the British society do not want to drink alcohol while others are drinking alcohol? Some fractions of British society want to alienate themselves from consuming pork and some other fractions in society, who are known as Hindus, want to be vegetarians. If you talk about different religions strictly, then Hindus are not allowed to consume alcohol. Hindus are not allowed to eat beef. Pure, sincere Hindus are not allowed to eat any kind of meat. Sikhs are not allowed to eat eggs or meat. So, what type of integration are we discussing?
Integration is the requirement of uniformity. In order to look the same, you need integration. You develop some commonality that is so obvious, that the world will recognise you as a member of British society.
However, if Hindus do what they are supposed to do according to their religion and Muslims do what they are supposed to do according to their religion, as long as long as their religious practice is concerned, nobody is going to recognise them as British citizens. Muslims of other countries do the same as Muslims of this country do: Muslims of Saudi Arabia do not eat pork and do not consume alcohol. I'm not including those who violate the religious law; those who do everything are not practising Muslims. Although Muslims and Hindus [today] are doing everything, there are some lone wolves who want to carry the flag of Islam even if they have to carry it alone who want to preserve their cultural and religious values only after the age of 60. When they have done everything in life, then they want to become pious and dedicated to Islam. What kind of religion is this? That is dubious.
Rumi said, 'To purify yourself, illuminate your soul and purify your heart while you are still a youth is a custom of prophets.'
But the thing is: people become prone to practising a religion only when their youth is gone, only when the vigour is gone from their bodies.
Something should be so outstanding that it should add as a unique feature in the character of different people who come from different countries, who practise different religions, who have different cultural backgrounds. It should be something which Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and different people from different religions who have now become British citizens should adopt. That one unique feature in their character should stand out so that when people see them, they can say, 'They are British.'
The way people are explaining and conceiving integration into British society does not fit into my brain. If integration into British society means you should start drinking alcohol, then every country in this world has alcohol and every member of the society is drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol and eating pork doesn't mean you are now a British Citizen; because if this proves that somebody is a British citizen, then people in Nepal are also eating pork. So then, anybody who drinks alcohol and eats pork is a British citizen? This is not British culture. It is about their ideology. What is their ideology? From the mainstream Christian faith, they have isolated themselves and they have invented a newer form of Christianity. Religion is now under the control of politics. The Church of England is not mainstream Christianity. It means the politicians can make amendments in that religion any time. Catholicism is not practised as a national religion; [Britain is] neither Protestant neither Evangelic, neither modern science, neither Latter Saints of Jesus Christ nor Jehovah's Witness. They have their own brand of religion which has become part of politics.
What I understand and I openly say is that when somebody is granted British citizenship, he has to make a promise to the Queen that he is going to be loyal to the Queen and to the country. If you practically do this, this is enough for you to integrate into British society. I have said it many times: being a British citizen, your permanent abode is the UK and you are living here. This is your country now, so be loyal to the country and the land.
Be loyal to the country and its laws and its values, even if you practise different religions. If you want to be a practising Muslim, fair enough: be a practising Muslim, but at the same time, you should respect British values, their culture and their political point of view. That is my understanding.