Viewpoint: Muslim faith at the heart of Preston life

Mukhtar Master addressing a vigil on Preston's Flag Market in support of the victims of the Manchester bombing
Mukhtar Master addressing a vigil on Preston's Flag Market in support of the victims of the Manchester bombing
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Campaigner Mukhtar Master is at the heart of Muslim life in Preston and here outlines the role the community plays in the city

As the month of Ramadhan draws to a close, and the Eid festival is almost upon us, I thought it would be an opportune time to reflect and give my very own personal perspective on current affairs regarding Muslims and Islam.

My parents came to the UK in the 1960s as economic migrants and as such my father worked shifts at the Courtaulds factory in Preston, trying to support a large family. I was born at the old Sharoe Green Hospital in Preston. I remember in my youth there was a huge amount of general ignorance about Islam.

In fact, it would be fair to say faith was perceived as a very personal matter and was never really public. I recall growing up in an era when ‘halal’ meals at school were unheard of and tensions in society seemed more focussed on race rather than faith. It was very much the time of the likes of the National Front and Enoch Powell. Faith and Islam, was very passive in British society, as mosques were few and far between and British Islam as an identity had yet to develop. However, develop it did do, such that Muslims became an inherent and important part of all aspects of British life.

Fast forward to 2017, and the current political environment in the UK has changed the status quo. The British Muslim community are the singularly most highlighted, derided, mentioned, legislated against, victimised, scrutinised, marginalised and, dare I say, demonised community in the country. This entire narrative is one which is generally painted by the media and governments, both nationally and internationally. Muslims are continually painted as not being ‘British’, but then go on to win ‘The Great British Bake Off’. Muslims are painted as being unpatriotic, however, play cricket for the national team and thus knocking Norman Tebbit’s ‘cricket test’ into the long grass. Muslims are painted as being secretive despite now having National mosque Open day events throughout the country. If you were to believe the media – you would be led to believe there is now an ‘idealogical war’ and even a threat ‘to our way of life’. Honestly, what a load of total and utter baloney. Before you judge an entire community then I would just like you to contemplate and reflect on some of the following recent contributions from our local Preston Muslim community:

l Helping our ‘neighbours’ in Cumbria after the floods;

l Raising £100,000s for new equipment for the Royal Preston Hospital – which was unaffordable through the NHS;

l Filling the depleted food stocks of Preston’s Salvation Army Food Bank to the point where they had to say ‘no more – we have no room;

l Feeding the homeless in Preston;

l Hosting a community celebration event based on love and generosity, when the English Defence League came to Preston to divide the communities of the city.

In fact, many of the local evening schools for Muslim children, known as madressas, now include ‘ilm 2 amal’ as a standard part of their curriculum. ‘Ilm 2 Amal’, means ‘knowledge to action’. It is a practical way in which to instil good, moral and ethical traits and conduct within young Muslim children. As part of the learning, young children have given gifts to children in hospital, visited and fed elderly residents in a local Preston care home, welcomed refugees from Syria and even distributed food and gifts to local residents.

The national media and politics have an enormous impact on the way in which we perceive the world around us. However, I would urge caution in making that the only source of information on which to judge the Muslim community as a whole. There is a famous and wise saying which states – ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. I would honestly urge you to meet your Muslim neighbour, visit your local mosque and learn about the religion which you hear about incessantly through all forms of media. I can assure you that you will only find a religion which is sublime in its simplicity and unparalleled in its emphasis on peace and moral conduct.

We live in times which are definitely challenging, not least for the Muslim community of which I am part. I have to be honest, and I will not be the only Muslim to say this, however, these challenges do make me worry for the future – not least for my children. But I draw comfort from the fact Preston is a model city which epitomises exactly how community relations should be between our many and varied community groups.

Times have certainly moved on since the first of the pioneering Muslims came from the Indian subcontinent to towns such as Preston to make a new life for themselves in the 50s and 60s. The current challenges are certainly huge and daunting, however, British patriotic blood now runs through the veins of their descendants and hence are unlikely to turn on one’s heels. We are very much part of the fabric and culture of the wonderful city in which we live and that is why it is known as Proud Preston.

* Mukhtar Master is an anti-war campaigner and a father-of -four who has lived in Preston all of his life and works in local government.