A new in-depth report says more needs to be done to help Muslims fulfil their potential to benefit society. PERRY AUSTIN-CLARKE reports….

TALK about Muslims to some people in Bradford, whatever their cultural background, and they’ll tend to echo the widely-spoken view that they are either a disadvantaged group or some sort of threat to society.

Is that because of a general ignorance or misunderstanding of Muslim culture? Is it because of an illogical fear of strangers, foreigners, immigrants or just anyone who doesn’t share the same background or beliefs?

Is it because Muslims themselves, like other cultural or minority ethnic groups, have tended to live together in concentrated urban areas? And have they done so because of their own unwillingness to integrate or because of a fear of not being accepted?

The answer is probably at least a mix of all of the above, to a greater or lesser degree, but it’s clear that, with the ever-increasing threat of extremist violence, the UK desperately needs to take steps to avoid the danger of increased polarisation of communities.

Helping and encouraging British Muslims to play a fuller part in public life and develop confidence in their own position in our society should, in turn, lead to better integration and enable the whole of society to reap the benefits of more active involvement by members of the UK’s fastest-growing faith minority.

So says a new report, Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All, the result of an 18-month commission sponsored by Citizens UK, a body which organises communities to “act together for power, social justice and the common good.”

Chaired by former Conservative attorney-general Dominic Grieve, and made up of high profile names from the worlds of business, academia, politics and faith, the commissioners travelled to hearings across the UK to listen to more than 500 hours of testimonies and evidence detailing the experiences of Muslim and non-Muslim individuals.

Mr Grieve said they were acutely aware of the sense of increasing division and polarisation in the UK caused by the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester “justified by their perpetrators in the name of religious belief.”

“The fact that those beliefs may be utterly rejected by the vast majority of British Muslims does not mean that such events have no impact on the relations between them and the rest of the British population,” he said. “Polls demonstrate significant scepticism across British society about the integration, and even the shared allegiance, of their British Muslim fellow citizens.

“In turn, British Muslims have mixed views about the extent to which they have equal status or access to equal opportunities within the UK. This dynamic creates the risk of a downward spiral of mutual suspicion and incomprehension, which makes the need for action to break down barriers and bring people together all the more necessary.”

The report sets out to find “practical and actionable recommendations on how to enable British Muslims to take on a more active and visible role in public life.”

Among the case studies highlighted is the work of the Bradford-based QED Foundation, which aims to improve the social and economic position of disadvantaged communities. Its campaign to encourage south-Asian “high-flyers” to apply for Civil Service careers was featured as an example of best practice in promoting diversity.

QED founder and chief executive Dr Mohammed Ali OBE said: “Both Far Right and Islamic extremists feed off misunderstandings and disaffection. This is impossible in a society where people of all faiths can collaborate at work on a daily basis and everyone knows that success is dependent on skills, talent and hard work, rather than employees’ religious backgrounds.”

One of the biggest issues, the report says, is that contrary to public perception Muslims are not all part of one big community with a single, homogenised view of the world: for instance, of the UK’s 2.7 million Muslims, barely half originate from Pakistan and Bangladesh, more than a million are not Asian and a tenth of all Muslims are white.

In an effort to tackle such misconceptions, the Commission has put forward 18 recommendations, including:

• Local authorities and civil organisations working together to develop cross-community relationships.

• Employers getting more involved in education and promoting opportunities amongst a wider talent pool, particularly in secondary schools.

• Local authorities, schools, colleges and youth clubs expanding opportunities for young people from different backgrounds to meet and share experiences.

• The Government reassessing the way in which it engages with the UK’s Muslim communities and developing an integration strategy aimed at a shared goal of a cohesive British society built on common principles.

• The Government adopting a definition of anti-Muslim prejudice in the same way other hate crimes are considered; convening an Independent Review of Prevent and asking local authorities to develop local Prevent Advisory Groups.

• Muslim umbrella bodies introducing voluntary standards for mosques and Islamic centres, reforming mosque committees and improving access for women.

• Mosques investing in British-born Imams who are better able to deal with the challenges facing British Muslims.

• Muslim professionals helping strengthen their own communities through lobbying for change at mosques and funding modernisation schemes.

The Bradford-based Muslim Women’s Council has welcomed the report’s “more nuanced” understanding of Muslim communities.

A spokesman said: “Instead of shifting the blame for the lack of integration wholly on the Muslim community, it dissects the structural barriers which might prevent integration, be they economic or social, and points out that integration is indeed a two-way street.

“The Muslim Women’s Council welcomes the call for greater clarity on a notion of what it means to be British. A clear-cut notion of identity that embraces all and excludes none must be demarcated, instead of one which seeks to otherise the Muslim community.

“We welcome calls for British-born Imams whose cultural understanding, familiarity of the language and direct experience growing up in the UK themselves, will resonate more with young people and better serve the communities they are leading.

“The report acknowledges the positive contribution of interfaith work to bridge-building between communities, but it also acknowledges the incredible potential of Muslim women in creating positive change in their communities.

“One of the most important recommendations is for political parties to engage women and to challenge the toxic culture of baradari clan politics which have muffled the voices of Muslim women for so long.

“We look forward to seeing how the Government will proceed to action these points.”