Are British Muslims receiving preferential treatment in education and finance? That was the conclusion of Daily Express columnist Peter Hill. But do any of his grievances ring true? In short, they do not. The first point of contention focuses on exams and Ramadan.
“The latest nonsense is a plan to bring forward school exams so they don’t clash with the Muslim period of Ramadan. There is an alternative proposal to give extra marks or special consideration to Muslims who have to sit exams during Ramadan.”
Both the Daily Mail and Telegraph covered this alternative proposal. But at this point, change remains speculative.
In higher education, some universities do not recognise Ramadan as a legitimate extenuating circumstance. But many will consider amending exam timetables with enough notice. Again, this is not just for the benefit of Muslims.
For example, Jewish students at Oxford can request to change exam dates when observing the Jewish Sabbath. Students observing Ramadan can request to sit exams in the morning.
Like Halal meat and Sharia law, these alarmist stories are cyclical. In 2010, the Daily Mail ran the headline, “Council forces schools to rearrange exams and cancel lessons to avoid offending Muslims during Ramadan.” The Daily Star ran the headline, “Headteachers told to stop sex education lessons during Ramadan.” Yet, there was no evidence of Stoke-on-Trent Council forcing anything upon schools with their guidance.
Peter Hill’s next point of contention is Sharia law.
“The Government also wants to start a sharia-compliant student loans system to get around the Islamic ban on charging interest.
This might mean Muslim students pay back less than others. Solicitors have also decided to work with sharia law and courts and councils spend millions on translation.”
But as the government consultation on Sharia-compliant loans states:
“Any such alternative finance product would not result in a student being in any way disadvantaged or advantaged over a student who took out a traditional student loan.”
The guidance drafted for Sharia-compliant wills is non-binding. Mr Hill also implies that the £140m a year spent by public bodies on translation services is for the sole benefit of Muslims.
Islam is not a mono-ethnic faith. But this conflation positions British Muslims as a ‘foreign’ (non-white) element. It also ignores the variety of secondary languages spoken in Britain.
Peter Hill soon turns his focus abroad.
“I wonder if Muslim countries go out of their way to cater for other faiths. Actually, I don’t wonder.
They think “unbelievers” don’t even belong to the human race.”
Again, that point is not true. In Iran, Christians hold two seats in parliament while other religious minorities (Zoroastrians, Jews and Assyrians) have one representative in parliament. Jordan also reserves some parliamentary seats for Christians. In Pakistan, the National Assembly reserves ten seats for non-Muslims. At a parliamentary level at least, religious minorities do exist in the above countries, yet much more needs to be done to ensure minority rights and organisations like Faith Matters are actively pushing for countries like Pakistan to ensure the minority rights of Christians, Shia and Ahmaddiya’s through projects such as the Connecting Communities project. The examples given therefore do not take away from the fact that much more work needs to take place to ensure minority faiths in these countries though what it shows is that Mr Hill is factually wrong in the glib assertion that he has made that in Muslim countries ‘unbelievers do not even belong to the human race.’
Perhaps most disturbing of all, is Peter Hill’s final paragraph:
“Those who don’t like the set-up should either make their own arrangements – there are plenty of Muslim banks and financial institutions here – or move to somewhere they feel more comfortable.”
That rhetoric once again positions British Muslims as the ‘other.’ It also denigrates the many Muslims who feel more proud to be British and who value this country and all that it stands for, whilst being proud Muslims. Sadly, Mr Hill’s article get’s a thumbs down from us and we hope from those who see a better future for communities in our country through less isolation and alienation and through more engagement, co-operation and understanding.