The British Board of Scholars & Imams

Month: November 2020

Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

The recently published EHRC report (November 2020) has shown evidence of institutional and structural racism experienced by ethnic minority academics. Empirical research focusing on Muslims provides evidence of widespread experiences of Islamophobia (anti-Muslim discrimination) (Allen, 2014; Awan and Zempi, 2019).  Islamophobia has been reported in Higher Education (Scott-Bauman, 2019; Stevenson, 2018); NHS (Malik et al, 2019); and when seeking employment (Wykes, 2018).

In Higher Education, research confirms that Muslim staff and students, as well as those perceived to be Muslim, experience varying forms of Islamophobia which go beyond social exclusion (Hopkins, 2011; NUS, 2012). These include microaggression, increased surveillance and anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims continue to report discriminatory incidences which are defined as Islamophobic (Saeed, 2018; Thomas, 2016). Since the ‘war on terror’, increased securitization relating to legislation and policies together with religious profiling of staff and students have become acceptable and regular at UK universities. Islamophobia is tolerated in HE, with increased incidences and non-existent institutional response procedures (Tyrer and Ahmad, 2006; Ullah, 2016).

Ramadan (2017) shows Muslim academics are casually associated with the discourse of terrorism by others on their campuses. Respondents recount being questioned by colleagues on local and global events which are framed in the public domain through the lens of ‘Muslim extremism’. Furthermore, Islamophobia is gendered, and visibly Muslim women academics experience a range of Islamophobic microaggressions in their interactions with staff and students (Ramadan, 2017; 2020).

A common finding across these studies is that Islamophobic incidences on campus continue to go largely unreported, unacknowledged and unchallenged. Thus, universities have become places of hostility for many staff and students who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

The anti-Islamophobia BBSI working group urges the Higher Education sector to urgently tackle Islamophobia on campus by:

  • Redressing the lack of recognition that Islamophobia is distinct from other forms of racism and needs to be challenged at all levels of the university.
  • Providing a consultation with Muslim students and staff to raise their concerns and involving them in framing campus-based policies and strategies.
  • When signing the ‘Race Equality Charter’ (REC) institutions should incorporate detailed assessment of what constitutes Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • Implementing REC assessment which investigates and addresses the impact of Islamophobia on academic appointments and promotions procedures.
  • Setting up robust reporting, complaints, grievance, and wider reporting procedures which specifically include recognition of Islamophobic behaviour, its consequences, and appropriate institutional responses.
  • Including well-developed anti-Islamophobia training for EDI postholders across all HE institutions.

Notes to Editors

  1. The BBSI is an apolitical national assembly of imams, traditional scholars and Islamically literate Muslim academics.
  2. The BBSI supports Muslim academic staff and students and supports #IAM2020 Islamophobia Awareness Month 
  3. For further information, please contact info@bbsi.org.uk

 

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    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    From the exec summary of BBSI-G10 – Published on 8 Nov 2020

    There is latitude within the current wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. This may change if the regulations change. Madrassas should consider on their own facts whether this is the case for them, and liaise closely with their local authority and the police, as well as ensuring that the education can be delivered safely. Online education should carry on where possible.

    A more detailed discussion:

    The importance of education in our religion cannot be understated; the very first revelation received by the blessed Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was to ‘read’, and the Quranic verses and hadiths about the merit of seeking knowledge are too plentiful to mention. This importance, not merely to the education of children (and adults), but also in terms of secondary benefits of freeing up parents and carers to seek work and income, as well as rest and respite, has also been recognised by the government.

    Safety remains the key consideration. As with prayer and opening places of worship, our position is that cessation of such activities as congregational worship or education can only be countenanced because of an over-riding preventative (mani’) – here, maintaining the health of attendees and the community in general. As such, our position is dependent upon whether or not the preventative measures will actually achieve this end. It is recognised that we now know a lot more about the virus than we did six months ago, especially in terms of who is affected, how it spreads and how to mitigate transmission.

    In this, we rely on expert opinion, who now indicate that such gatherings are safe enough to be allowed. Hence a major difference between the first and second lockdown is that places of education – schools and universities – are open this time. However, this blanket permission has not been extended to out-of-school settings, such as madrassas.

    The BBSI fully recognise that religious education is just as important as (if not more so than) mainstream education, and continue to advocate for this position in the forums in which we are involved – although it should be noted that our taskforce does not advise directly on the question of education. This is the responsibility of Department for Education. Our position is that, given that education is important and schools are deemed safe enough to be open, madrassas should also be open as long as: (1) educational gatherings are deemed safe by the Public Health experts, and (2) they are sure that they can follow the government health and safety guidelines.

    However, there appears to have been significant confusion about whether madrassas can in fact remain open during this period of lockdown. This confusion is caused, it seems, by the apparent contradiction between the government guidelines and the wording of the legal regulation. In the most recent update, including the legislation that has been passed in parliament, it is apparent that the default position is that madrassas should not be open, except in particular exceptional circumstances: that they are providing “necessary and reasonable” “education”. The regulation is silent on what this means, and leaves the determination of whether this is the case up to interpretation by the providing bodies; the guidelines on the other hand provide examples which do not appear to be restrictive (ie: there may be other examples). The most important of these is that if the madrassa is providing an essential child-care service to parents who have to go out to work or study.

    As such, this is a legal test which each madrassa will need to look at on its own facts.  It should also be noted that this may well be resolved one way or another in updates to either guidance or regulations, and that ultimately it is the local authority that will determine how the rules are to be interpreted and understood. Our advice, therefore, is to liaise closely with the Local Authority and Police, and provide clear examples of the types of permitted activity occurring on one’s premises. In summary, there appears to be latitude within the wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. What precisely this entails should be a matter for discussion between madrassas and the local authority, unless and until the ambiguity in the central guidance is resolved.

    We will continue to advocate for the importance of religious education, as we are advocating for the centrality of places of worship and communal prayer. We would also encourage the use of online education where possible, and remind all of the importance of containing the spread of the virus, especially in our community which has been affected in an outsize way.

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON KEEPING MOSQUES OPEN FOR PRIVATE WORSHIP – BBSI-G10

    1. The various pieces of guidance are issued by central guidance, interpreted and enforced by local authorities, and then implemented by masajid. This means that there is a lot of scope for difference of interpretation and potential confusion.
    2. BBSI, being part of the government taskforce, have co-authored and signed a high-level inter-faith letter to the government that strongly reinforces the necessity of faith in the life of the community, and the centrality of the masajid in providing this. We also support the statements regarding this issued by various Muslim organisations. We are also working to establish collective worship as soon as possible and iron out any confusion arising from Government Guidance.
    3. During the November lockdown, masajid can remain open for individual worship, and where possible, we should continue to honour them whilst maintaining safety. We advise all masajid to notify the local authority and police of any permitted activity according to the Regulation to avoid any misunderstanding and misapplication of the Regulation.
    4. However, it has been made clear that, unfortunately, no communal worship allowed at all, including Jumua and both formal (Imam-led) and informal congregations. We advise all Masjids to follow the Regulation and Gov Guidance. Where there is apparent conflict with the Regulation and Gov Guidance, follow the Regulation, seek legal advice and clarification from the LA and Police. It is important for masajid to be aware of any dangers and concerns as a result of Covid19 both locally and nationally.
    5. There are no change to the regulations for funerals, and janaza congregations can occur with up to thirty participants.
    6. There is latitude within the current wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. This may change if the regulations change. Madrassas should consider on their own facts whether this is the case for them, and liaise closely with their local authority and the police, as well as ensuring that the education can be delivered safely. Online education should carry on where possible.
    7. Jumua cannot be performed virtually – see our previous guidance for details of this.
    8. We remind all believers that, notwithstanding the importance of our places of worship, it is a religious priority to maintain our own and others’ health, and we urge Muslims to continue to care for themselves and all members of the British community, and to keep safe.
    9. This is likely to be another very difficult period for all of us. We may well once again encounter deaths and serious illness in our community, the inability to perform our religious obligations, increasing isolation, worsening mental illness and extreme pressure on the NHS and its staff. Where there is an increase in infection rates, hospitalisation and deaths and the capacity of the NHS is overstretched to breaking point consider further voluntary limits of even permitted activity at the Masjid.
    10. Lastly, We ask Allah that all of us are given the taufiq to turn to Him in supplication, patience and worship.

    For full guidance please click BBSIG10 – Guidance on keeping mosques open – lockdown 2

    Operation Vaccination in Muslim communities

    Operation Vaccination in Muslim communities

    Flu affects our immune system, making it easier for us to contract other infections, like COVID-19 or pneumonia, and can make other long-term illnesses worse. With Muslim communities having higher mortality rates of COVID-19 than any other faith group, flu threatens to further impact the health of our communities.

    Operation Vaccination is a campaign to increase awareness in Muslim communities about the importance of getting the flu vaccination this winter. 

    This campaign has the potential to save thousands of lives insha’Allah, as past flu outbreaks have caused between 4,000 to 22,000 deaths in England alone.

     

    Download Key Facts sheet: OV_KeyFacts

    Please see more details: https://mcb.org.uk/resources/opvac/

    LOCKDOWN – UK 2.0

    LOCKDOWN – UK 2.0

    Public Announcement from The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI)

    Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in consultation with community organisations, health and medical experts, the BBSI has been providing ethico-religious guidance to the community. At the outset of the pandemic, the BBSI, along with the other faith organisations, was invited to be part of the government’s taskforce. We have been and are actively liaising with the MHCLG government task force as advisory members to ensure that the eventual guidance reflects the needs of the Muslim community. We have also been liaising closely with many Muslim groups up and down the country to develop this.

    The closure of places of worship (including mosques) was inevitable during the first nationwide lockdown restrictions. The government since then has been working with faith communities to enable the guidance to reopen and open safely, providing clear operational guidance for ensuring that faith communities can continue to provide this essential service, whilst adhering to clear scientific and operational guidelines. These have been developed with faith organisations like the BBSI, as well as SAGE, to ensure that they are comprehensive but also – crucially – theologically non-prescriptive. We have also been working with medical experts and organisations to provide relevant guidance to the Muslim community – ensuring that both religious and spiritual needs are being met while safeguarding the community from any potential harm of covid-19.

    In the 72 hours since the Prime Minister’s announcement of another lockdown, the BBSI has been advocating for places of worship to be allowed to continue to hold congregations and to fulfil their spiritual and religious commitments. This is on the basis that they have proven to be both safe and ever more essential in our current crisis. We have raised the following points and will continue to do so at the relevant level:

    • Faith communities have gone above and beyond to make their worship and service covid-19 safe. It is our clear understanding that there is minimal evidence of any significant transmission in mosques that have been fully compliant with the co-produced guidance.
    • The paramount importance of social and spiritual connectedness for holistic spiritual, psychological and social wellbeing must be factored in while devising the guidance. Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, we have seen an increased number of the UK population (and worldwide) developing mental-health related difficulties. When the tier system was introduced, facilities like gyms were made an exception of for wellbeing reasons. It is our argument similar considerations should be factored in for places of worship.
    • We have strongly advised that the guidance does not account for the variation of forms of worship in the community. This is reflected in the language of regulations, that implicitly assumes that worship is (or should be) performed in a certain way, and demonstrates a subconscious bias that has real-world effects on how our places of worship are utilised.
    • We have also advised that it may have the undesired effect of disadvantaging certain faith communities over others, which is likely to subsequently lead to a sense of unfairness and being put upon. This is, of course, over and above the sense of diminishment of the importance of faith that many British faith groups felt was unfortunately on display in the announcement of the second lockdown. Furthermore, we have counselled that equalities legislation also needs to be borne in mind, to ensure that no one is being unduly disadvantaged.
    • In addition, we have advised that given the centrality of the scientific recommendation in driving guidance and regulations, that the government guidance should work towards nuancing the language such that it amounts to a set of exclusion criteria on the basis of health and safety evidence, rather than implicit pronouncements about how faith communities do or should perform acts of worship. In this way, the regulations will be explicitly faith neutral, and yet at the same time can be quite prescriptive about actions or circumstances that increase risk unacceptably. We are actively working with MHCLG to nuance the wording of the guidance to ensure this.

    The BBSI, along with other faith communities, are part of the government taskforce in an advisory capacity. Our responsibility is to advise the relevant stakeholders to consider the variations of the faith communities we have in the UK so that they can fulfil their social and spiritual activities. We wish to acknowledge the tireless work of MHCLG in both listening to faith groups and advocating for the centrality of faith in getting us all through this pandemic. In the end, though, it is up to the relevant decision-makers to make the final call.

    We have – and will continue to do – what we can, while working with medical and scientific experts and other faith groups. On behalf of the Muslim community, we will also be writing directly to the Prime Minister. We want to reassure the Muslim community that we have been working proactively in the best interest of our community, while trying to provide contextual guidance so that we all are able to fulfil our religious, social and spiritual activities. We pray for your continued support in doing so.