Like most viewers, I was gripped by the BBC’s Muslims Like Us. Ten British Muslims were put in one house Big Brother-style. Within the first few minutes, most of them had taken against the notorious Islamist Anthony Small, who now calls himself Abdul Haqq.
That gave the programme makers exactly what they wanted. A sharp contrast between thoroughly westernised Muslims who didn’t mind going to a karaoke bar and having a drink or two versus the dogmatic Haqq with his hang ups about segregation and women’s dress.
But this is a false dichotomy. Haqq isn’t just a socially conservative Muslim who believes women should cover up and that gays are un-Islamic. He’s a bit more than that. Haqq has been an associate of the now imprisoned extremist Anjem Choudary and has expressed repugnant opinions about those killed in cold blood by Daesh.
Of course, we want Muslims to respect the British values that poll after poll shows we do indeed support. This includes things like the rule of law, free speech and accepting the religious views of your neighbours. It means rejecting the idea of a violently established caliphate and playing a part in our democracy.
However, don’t force Muslims into a wholesale rejection of everything they hold dear in order to fit in. If a woman chooses to wear the niqab, for example, don’t make her feel she’s now a member of Anthony Small’s gang. I suspect most Muslim women, regardless of how they dress, have no wish to wait hand and foot on the kitchen avoiding Islamists.
Pluralism means accepting a very wide range of views while drawing red lines around what all of us agree is completely unacceptable. Opinions that lead to attacks on person and property or encourage hate speech against any section of society must be outlawed. But religious conservatism is something we should be strong enough as a society to both represent and tolerate.
Strengthening Faith Institutions Programme Director @sfitogether
Faiths Forum for London