There has been a steady evolution within Muslim civil society in Britain since the 1980s. The activist groups that were prominent in the 1980s and 1990s, most of which were influenced by reform movements from the Indian subcontinent, have gradually given way to a more complex landscape of campaigning, lobbying and charitable organisations. Today, there is a vast range of Muslim civil society groups involved in everything from overseas development, environmental activism and social support to campaigns to increase the ‘Muslim vote’.
Yet the intense focus on Muslims in the UK media – especially in relation to questions about extremism, segregation and women’s rights – means Muslim civil society organisations do not always operate in a hospitable environment. Allegations about links to radical revivalist movements have been common, and some organisations have been subject to abuse by the far-right. Muslim groups themselves have also disagreed over approaches to political campaigning and the appropriate response to anti-Muslim prejudice and religious violence.
In this series, Public Spirit examines different forms of Muslim civil society activism, providing an insight into a broad range of Muslim organisations and giving an overview of the transition from the 1980s to the present day. The first three articles, by Sadek Hamid (Liverpool Hope University), Sophie Gilliat-Ray (University of Cardiff) and Timothy Peace (University of Edinburgh), trace this development of Muslim civil society.
In The evolution of British Islamic activism, Sadek Hamid focuses on Islamic activism, showing how the forms of Islamic revivalism prevalent in the 1990s have been displaced by fresh movements characterised by a new cultural confidence and an emphasis on British identity.
In Muslims and the anti-war movement, Tim Peace looks at the legacy of Muslim involvement in the anti-war movement, highlighting how the 2003 protests helped initiate new forms of political involvement among Muslims.
In Muslim chaplains in British public life, Sophie Gilliat-Ray on the other hand argues that the emergence of Muslim chaplaincy in Britain is illustrative of how Muslims are embedding themselves in British public life.
The final three articles are all by senior members of Muslim civil society organisations, including British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD), the development charity MADE in Europe and Tell MAMA, which seeks to improve reporting of anti-Muslim attacks.
In Challenging supremacist ideology in Islam, BMSD’s Director, Tehmina Kazi, asks what can be done to help those challenging Islamic supremacism?
In Anti-Muslim prejudice: the new frontier, Tell MAMA’s Fiyaz Mughal outlines the work of his organisation and the challenges it has faced.
Finally, in Giving and campaigning in the Muslim charitable sector, Mohammad Zaman from MADE in Europe makes the case for greater political activism among Muslim charitable groups.