How would you describe your religious/ideological identity?
I am a Muslim. I was brought up within Islam. I practise sometimes. I don’t practise it daily because I find it difficult… with everyday life.
My mum still practises and my nephews have to go to mosque. There is still part of everyday life, but I think as you get older you have to make your mind about things. I wouldn’t say I am keeping away from it, because of the news and stuff which is coming around the world, but I don’t know, I no longer practise it daily…
Is GB an equal and tolerant society?
Parts of Britain are tolerant in relation to religion and belief. The big cities are. In places where there are not many Asians, people tend to be wary, in white areas, people are still surprised to see Asian people there… It is hard to explain and you wouldn’t really understand it if you are born here in Manchester… but I would say 90% of the country is tolerant.
In a city like Manchester it is absolutely fine.
Are there any challenges to living in accordance with your beliefs?
I don’t think there are challenges as a Muslim in Manchester. Religion gives you laws, things which you can and you cannot do, but people are still going to do things prohibited by Islam, because this is the west, and you wouldn’t get in trouble here as you would in Muslim countries. So, I think it is a lot freer here than I would feel in Pakistan, where my mum and dad were born. I was born here in England.
How does Islam view human rights? Has it influenced the way they are understood in the world?
I don’t think Islam has influenced the way human rights are understood in the world. I don’t think it is very friendly towards human rights. They don’t really listen to anyone and they do it their own way. Everyone has their own interpretation of Islam. So, if you live in a Muslim country and the law is, say, sharia law, then you can get the worst outcome… for instance, if you steal… but here that wouldn’t happen, as we have proper courts, that have nothing to do with the religion.
I don’t think Human Rights are incompatible with the Muslim faith though. It is, however, incompatible with the way Islam is interpreted on many occasions… like women rights, for example. Islam says that women are equal to men, but we know that women in South Arabia, for example, aren’t allowed to drive. That is not very equal, is it? That has nothing to do with Islam, but it happens. I do like Baroness Warsi, who left the conservative party over Palestine. She stood up and nobody else did. She quit. She is Muslim… It is her. I am kind of glad that she cares about other people in the world.
What do you think of faith schools?
I think schools should be free from religion. I think education has nothing to do with religion. We should keep them separate. You can teach children at home, after school, but in schools you have to learn a mix of other cultures. If you don’t, you make yourself isolated in a way from other societies. I would say that Islamic schools are not in the best interest for children, not at that age anyway. I think when you are older you should choose how much you want to learn about Islam, but not in your teen years, not in your school. Schools should focus on education and religion is not… you can educate someone on religion, but that is different. It is like politics. You should not mix politics with religion. That is always a source of problems.
Should there be exemptions from discrimination law for religious people?
I am not in favour of exemptions (on discrimination law) for religious groups. I think everybody is capable to do a job, and I don’t think you need a label on someone for a job. As long as they do the job well… I don’t really know. In the Muslim religion a woman can teach boys, but a man can’t teach the younger girls. That is how we were taught. I think that is down to tradition. I don’t know… I don’t think it makes any difference. Not to me.
The law of the country must prevail and religion should come second because they are not all the same. So, there must be a higher power, and that is the Government, which makes the law. So, if the Government says that you cannot discriminate gays and lesbians, if you are open to the public, that means you are open to everyone. You cannot pick and choose… So, I would probably be in favour of the gay couple.
Is democracy a positive thing?
I undoubtedly prefer democracy over other systems.
Should judges have more power to control Parliament?
I would probably give more powers to the courts, because the courts are less likely to be biased than the Government. The Government is more likely to do something in their favour. I am sceptical when the Government does stuff. You can trust the judges. They always do their job and I trust their decisions, whilst politicians tell us that they will do x and y and they don’t do.
I certainly trust our judges more than our Government.
What do you think about devolution?
Devolution has been a positive development for the UK. I know we are all part of the UK, but they are also their own countries and I think they can manage their own countries too. I don’t think London should… it likes ruling the whole of the UK and then London grows and leaves the rest of the country behind. I think devolution can create a better country. I would like to see greater powers for Manchester. It could be similar to Wales. I wouldn’t like to see it like London. London is for the rich. Manchester is not that bad. We have all we need, but greater powers could be better. Manchester has a great location. It rains a bit, but it is ok.
What responsibilities do people with power have to society?
I think whoever breaks the law must be responsible. I don’t think the rich should have more powers, just because they have good jobs. If they break the law, they should be accountable for it. Politicians get away with far too much. For instance, the expenses, the way politicians employ members of their own family… it just looks dodgy when you are employing a member of your own family, doesn’t it? You see a lot of rich people… in jobs like politicians… getting away with crimes, whilst power people cannot get away with. This divide is unacceptable.
What responsibilities do we all have in society?
I think I owe the rest of society to see everyone the same, to try being a good person. I am not outspoken, but… just go with the flow.
Are politicians representative of wider society?
I don’t think our politicians represent society. I think they represent rich people. They don’t represent the working class people, they don’t know how much the food costs for a week. I think the average politician is an upper class man, with a good background, private education, and things like that. I think they are all like that. I would like to see more people of working class background getting into politics, to top jobs, in order to represent people who don’t have a say.
Have you campaigned on any issues you felt strongly about?
I haven’t written to MPs, submitted petitions, etc, but I use Facebook to raise awareness of issues like Palestine, and about ISIS, and how they don’t represent Muslims. These are the things that affect me most. I think war anywhere in the world… You can’t close your eyes and ignore what happens in other parts of the world, just because we live in England. So, maybe using Facebook is the way I try to have some influence.
Do public authorities (e.g. local authorities, NHS, the police, etc) have a good understanding of your needs?
I think the NHS treats everybody the same. In schools… schools where I went to were mainly Asians. So, the schools were fine… We had no problem at all. I think the police can be racist. I don’t really trust the police, just with the whole… The police are in the middle, between the judges and the politicians. The police are not all that bad, but some of them are intimidating, they are not that friendly when you need help. Once I got burgled, they were like… well, sort it out yourself… and I think it is because we are Asians, and where we live really… I lived then with my mum… I live on my own now and my mum with my sister. I have never been taken into hospital, but my mother was. It is good that they have halal meat. Her requests were accommodated in the NHS hospital and I think that is really nice. I wouldn’t say they have to do it… because we could still have a vegetarian option, which I think it is fine…
Do you feel that you have a duty to speak out against injustice?
I think my faith as a Muslim requires that I speak out when I see any injustice, and I must speak on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable of our society. I would probably intervene if an unjust situation took place. It depends on the situation. Sometimes intervening can make it worse… If I am in the gym, I would say ‘this is not the place’… but if a man and a woman were having an argument on the street, I would probably intervene but I would be very careful about what I said. It depends on the situations again.
Is the Rule of Law applied equally? How does it compare to other countries?
Unfortunately, at the moment the Asian community is regarded as terrorist… not always, but many times… by the police. When I go to the airport, I always get questions such as ‘where am I going?’, ‘who am I going with?’, and it is just… not very nice, especially when you go to places like Spain or Paris. Even when I went to Canada… ‘why are you going to Canada?’, ‘who are you going to see?’… It is not very nice. They don’t ask anybody else. When I went to Amsterdam… They were checking passports and it was only me, a black guy and a Jewish guy who were stopped… and we were waiting there… It is not very nice… People like politicians, on the contrary, receive preferential treatment. They get away with all this fraud, taxes, all these loopholes… They are not held accountable, but they hold you and me accountable… we get fined… They don’t treat people the same and the rich are treated completely differently.
I think Great Britain is quite similar to Europe as far as the RL is concerned. Europe and here are a bit on an edge with Muslims… not everyone in England thinks Muslims are terrorists, but I think small communities look at your skin, and they think you are a terrorist. I don’t think England is a bad place. I think it is a good place on the whole.
What is your view on the increase in police powers which we have seen in the past few years?
I think the increase of the powers of the police to combat terrorism has been an overreaction. Stop and search… keeping people in jails for a long time… checking people’s emails, tapping… I think it is over the top now. It is too much. I think if you keep labelling people all the time, they don’t have an option. I heard people saying ‘if they think I am terrorist, I’ll become one… because I am getting all this trouble for nothing’. All these people who have joined ISIS feel they have been let down. I think the Muslim community should also support them, it is not only the police… I think Muslim leaders must also support young Muslim people.
I think we are aware of the dangers. What people don’t understand is that ISIS is not part of Islam, not the Islam in which we believe. They will kill us as well. So, I can’t really go out there and preach to people who don’t really understand, because I think me and you would be the same to ISIS. They would kill us both. I wouldn’t be the right type of Muslim for them. I think the police shouldn’t be so broad when they say things like that. However, you cannot really control everyone, because then we wouldn’t be living in a democracy.
Are there any legal rules you find restrictive?
I am not aware of any legal rule which has an impact on the way I practise my faith. I think it is quite free… there are five mosques where I live. It is a small area and there are five mosques… There may be more. People are quite nice. You don’t get in trouble. It is predominantly Muslim, but some of my neighbours are black, some are white… but they don’t mind. They always say hi. They are always quite pleasant. When I was younger, the race issue was more important, but not anymore.
Is it important to you to obey the law of the land? Or can you envisage any circumstances under which you would feel morally compelled to breach the law?
If I were really poor and I had no money and I had to feed my family, maybe I would feel compelled to break the law. This sort of circumstances only, otherwise I wouldn’t break the law.
Is there anything else which you would like to add on this topic?
We need to educate people more about different types of religion. When I was younger, in our RE class, I learnt about different religions and I had an understanding of what different religions entail. There was Christianity, Sikhs, Hinduism… I don’t think we talked about Judaism. We talked about the major religions. It was for a year, but I think it gave us a good understanding of different cultures and religions. I am not saying we should all believe in the same anyway… I thought learning about faiths was very positive. I wouldn’t get rid of RE in schools, but I would get rid of religious schools.
When we had assembly, we read hymns when we were younger but we didn’t pray. It was just the start of the day. My nephews have assemblies now too. It is more like singing and getting on with the week. In my nephews’ school it is all mixed… there are white kids, Polish, black, Chinese… It is not too bad.