09 Jun 2007

Islamic London

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Michael Hodges, in Time Out London, looks ahead with optimism to London’s Islamic future.

Islam is not an alien religion to London. At the end of World War I the city sat at the heart of an Empire that had 160 million Muslim subjects, 80 million in India alone. London was the largest Islamic capital in the world. Forty years later and the end of the Empire, unrest and war and poverty in south Asia had lead to mass immigration to the mother country and London became a Muslim capital in another sense.

According to the 2001 census there are 607,083 Muslims living in London (310,477 men and 296,606 women). The majority of Muslims live in the east of the city and, by 2012, the Muslim Council of Britain estimates that the Muslim population of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest and Hackney will be 250,000. There are plans afoot (though no formal application has yet been submitted) to build the UKs biggest mosque – capable of welcoming 40,000 worshippers – near the 2012 Olympic site, a move which has prompted predictable outrage from some quarters. Consequently, Muslim disillionment with a reactionary and often ill-informed press is at an all time high.

But rather than fear the inevitable changes this will bring to London, or buy in to a racist representation of all Muslims as terrorists, we should recognise both what Islam has given this city already, and the advantages it would bring across a wide range of areas in the future. …

Islam offers Londoners potential health benefits: the Muslim act of prayer is designed to keep worshippers fit, their joints supple and, at five times a day, their stomachs trim. The regular washing of the feet and hands required before prayers promotes public hygiene and would reduce the transmission of superbugs in London’s hospitals.

Alcohol is haram, or forbidden, to Muslims. As London is above the national average for alcohol-related deaths in males, with 17.6 per 100,000 people (Camden has 31.6 per 100,000 males), turning all the city’s pubs into juice bars would have a massive positive effect on public health. Forbid alcohol throughout the country, and you’d avoid many of the 22,000 alcohol-related deaths and the £7.3 billion national bill for alcohol-related crime and disorder each year.

‘The world is green and beautiful,’ said the prophet Muhammad, ‘and Allah has appointed you his guardian over it.’ The Islamic concept of halifa or trusteeship obliges Muslims to look after the natural world and Muhammad was one of the first ever environmentalists, advocating hima – areas where wildlife and forestry are protected. So we could expect more public parks under Islam, but halifa also applies to recycling: in 2006, 12,000 Muslims attended a series of sermons at the East London Mosque explaining the theological evidence for a link between behaving in an environmentally sustainable way and the Islamic faith. …

Application of halal (Arabic for ‘permissable’) dietary laws across London would free us at a stroke from our addiction to junk food, and the general adoption of a south Asian diet rich in fruit juice, rice and vegetables with occasional mutton or chicken would have a drastic effect on obesity, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorders and associated public health problems. As curry is already Londoners’ and the nation’s favourite food (see our Brick Lane food feature), it would be a relatively easy process to encourage the adoption of such a diet. Not eating would be important as well. The annual fasting month of Ramadan instils self-discipline, courtesy and social cohesion. And Londoners would benefit philosophically and physically from even a short period when we weren’t constantly ramming food into our mouths. …Each Muslim is obliged to pay zakat, a welfare tax of 2.5 per cent of annual income, that is distributed to the poor and the needy. If the working population of London, 5.2 million, was predominantly Muslim this would produce approximately £3.2bn each year. More importantly, everyone would be obliged to consider those Londoners who haven’t shared their good fortune. London would become a little less cruel.

Under Islam all ethnicities are equal. Once you have submitted to Allah you are a Muslim – it doesn’t matter what colour you are. End of story.

What would Richard Coeur-de-Lion say?

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Hat tip to David Ross.

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