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A new report on what it means to be a Muslim in Britain says that a secular British state allows Islam to be practised freely in an atmosphere of respect, security and dignity.

The report exploring the philosophical and theological perspectives of the issue is titled 'Contextualising Islam in Britain: Exploratory Perspectives', and is the outcome of a nine-month project hosted by the University of Cambridge. A total of 26 Muslim scholars, academics and activists representing a diverse spectrum of views from Muslim communities in the UK took part in discussions about what it means to live as a Muslim in modern Britain.

The report covers a wide range of issues including secularism, democracy, Sharia, human rights and citizenship.

The group agreed that Muslims should assert and teach what they see to be the truth of their faith, but also recognise the existence of different religions and the right of others to do the same.

The study urges Muslims to identify shared values between Islam and other world views, pointing out the Holy Qu'ran's emphasis on qualities such as good neighbourliness, charity, hospitality and non-aggression.

The report also redefines a number of terms which the authors believe have been misinterpreted. It notes, for example, that both Muslims and non-Muslims often have "skewed understanding of the term Sharia, which conjures up images of floggings and beheadings."

"The process has already succeeded in bringing together Muslims from a wide range of backgrounds who, in spite of those different backgrounds, have been prepared to work together. What we want to do now is stimulate further dialogue with a wider group of Muslim leaders and communities," said Suleiman.

Minister for Communities Shahid Malik said: "This is a ground-breaking report from a wide cross-section of British Muslim scholars, academics and community leaders. I hope that this report by Cambridge will inspire wider debate from communities across the country on the values that we all share".

He added: "Following the terrorist attacks in New York and London, many Muslim leaders expressed concern that their religion was being misrepresented and misinterpreted. The silent majority of Muslims have since fought hard to restate their religion as they see it and this report is an important contribution to that."

This article first appeared on Zee News on 27th October 2009.

A report from an American think-tank has estimated 1.57 billion Muslims populate the world - with 60% in Asia.

The report, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, took three years to compile, with census data from 232 countries and territories.

It showed that 20% of Muslims lived in the Middle East and North Africa.

The data also showed that there were more Muslims in Germany than in Lebanon, and more in Russia than in Jordan and Libya together.

Surprise

Researchers analysed approximately 1,500 sources including census reports, demographic studies and general population surveys.

Senior researcher Brian Grim told CNN that the overall figure was a surprise and said: "Overall, the number is higher than I expected."

The report, published on Wednesday, also found that Ethiopia has nearly as many Muslims as Afghanistan.

MUSLIM POPULATION BY REGION

* Asia and the Pacific: 61.9%
* Middle East - North Africa: 20.1%
* Sub-Saharan Africa: 15.3%
* Europe: 2.4%
* Americas: 0.3%

Amaney Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, told the AP news agency: "This whole idea that Muslims are Arabs and Arabs are Muslims is really just obliterated by this report."

Instead the report found that more than 300 million Muslims live in countries where Islam was not the majority religion.

Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims.

Most Shias live in Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.

Europe is home to 38 million Muslims - around 5% of its population with European Muslims making up slightly more than 2% of the world's Muslim population.

More than half of the 4.6 million Muslims in the Americas live in the US - however they make up just 0.8% of the population there.

The Pew Forum has said the findings will lay the foundation for a forthcoming study that will look at how Muslim populations worldwide have grown and what they may look like in the future.

It also plans to compile figures for the other major world religions.

According to internet-based group, Adherents, there are currently 2.1 billion Christians, 900 million Hindus and 14 million Jews worldwide.

This article first appeared on BBC News online on 10th October 2009.

he municipalists of Lancashire could have done themselves a favour by describing the official they sought to employ as a community relations officer, or something featuring the term "cohesion". But every specialty has its buzzwords and so they advertised last month for someone to lead a "mythbusting project" to promote harmony and counter slurs about migrants. Soon they were taking fire. Mayday, Mayday.

"Anger at £30,000 plan for race 'myth-buster'," said the Daily Express. "Pointless non-jobs," said Richard Littlejohn. Another harrumph from the Taxpayers' Alliance. And predictably, across the internet, ridicule and outrage.

But spend some time in Lancaster or Morecambe and the idea hardly seems outrageous. You quickly find out that it isn't a council initiative. It involves many agencies, including the police and the fire service. The county council, Tory-led, mind, is providing admin but isn't paying. There's a grant from a government pot, funded by the cost of visas.

Yes, mythbuster is a funny job description, but what do you do when faced with a leaflet saying that Muslims in the region are responsible for all the drugs? Or that English workers are unemployed/homeless/under-educated/unhappy because of the Poles? When BNP extremists become MEPs and win a seat on Lancashire county council? The air needs clearing. Someone has to do it.

Liz Neat of the National Coalition Building Institute shows me around the west end of Morecambe with Magda, a tireless liaison worker. Magda is employed by the fire service but, with a smile for everyone, she's a bridge between officialdom and Poles in the area.

Things are happening in the west end, new shops, community facilities being built. There's tension between the settled and the recently arrived, but there are also attempts help them interact. Cultural events are good; anything involving food especially so. It's the social glue. Volunteers work in a drop-in centre, newsletters are crafted. People are trying to build.

But it's difficult, especially when perceptions are set, prejudices fed, and the air is rendered toxic. If a mythbuster helps Lancashire breath more easily, what's £30,000? It's a snip.

This article first appeared in the Guardian on 9th October 2009.

The Archbishop of Canterbury condemned policymakers for failing to consider the cost of the Iraq war as he led a memorial service today for the 179 British personnel who died in the conflict.

In a nuanced but powerful sermon, with Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and the Queen in the congregation, he warned against the influence of the "invisible enemy", which in Christian parlance means the Devil, in determining policy during war.

"The invisible enemy may be hiding in the temptation to look for short cuts in the search for justice, letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face," he said.

The Archbishop, who has previously criticised the "ignorant" and "flawed" policy in Iraq, was careful to praise efforts of the troops on the ground and commend the sacrifices made.

The main thrust of his address at the Iraq remembrance in St Paul's Cathedral, though, was the shortcomings of policymakers in Iraq.

Quoting a passage from the Bible which refers to "spiritual wickedness in high places", the Archbishop said: "Many people of my generation and younger grew up doubting whether we should ever see another straightforward international conflict, fought by a standing army with conventional weapons.

"We had begun to forget the realities of cost. And when such conflict appeared on the horizon, there were those among both policymakers and commentators who were able to talk about it without really measuring the price, the cost of justice."

The Archbishop was clearly referring to the cost in human lives, both British military and Iraqi civilian, as well as the cost to the taxpayer, which amounted to £7.8 billion.

He and others, including coroners who have held inquests into the deaths of the 179 service personnel, believe that decisions made on equipment in the early stages of Operation Telic in Iraq, notably the deployment of lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers from Northern Ireland, led to a high number of deaths because they proved vulnerable to roadside bombs planted by Shia militia extremists.

Dr Rowan Williams's criticism of the Government's failure to evaluate the cost, and thus the risks,  of putting troops in harm's way without adequate equipment is a reflection of his longstanding personal opposition to the war. The equipment issue will be one of the key elements of the official inquiry into the Iraq war announced by Gordon Brown this year.

Chapter six of St Paul's letter to the Ephesians, which was the second reading at the service, is one of the most powerful in the Bible.

The King James version renders it as: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

Dr Williams said that the campaign in Iraq, which provoked demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of protesters in Britain and around the world, would for a long time exercise historians, moralists and international experts.

"In a world as complicated as ours has become, it would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be."

With Iraq veterans and bereaved families also in the congregation, and senior royals including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal, he offered advice on how to resist the temptations against which he warned.

"St Paul tells us to wrap ourselves around with the truth, to be defended by justice and to be impatient only for peace. These are not remote ideals for a religious minority. They are essential advice for those caught up in the anxious, fast-changing world of modern military operations, with the intense, even harsh, scrutiny they get from observers and commentators worldwide."

Also present were two former heads of the Army, Sir Mike Jackson and Sir Richard Dannatt, and Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary.

The sermon echoed the controversy provoked by a previous Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Robert Runcie, who won the Military Cross during the Second World War. In 1982, at the Falklands thanksgiving service, he aroused the fury of the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, when he asked the congregation to pray also for the relatives of Argentine soldiers killed in the war.

Dr Williams said: "The demanding task of winning local trust in a chaotic, ravaged society like post-invasion Iraq was one of the heaviest responsibilities laid on armed personnel anywhere in recent times.

"Many here will know just how patiently and consistently that work was taken on.

"The moral credibility of any country engaged in war depends a lot less on the rhetoric of politicians and commentators than on the capacity of every serving soldier to discharge these responsibilities with integrity and intelligence."

He added: "Reflecting on the years of the Iraq campaign, we cannot say that no mistakes were ever made, when has that ever been the case?, but we can be grateful for the courage and honesty shown in facing them."

He concluded by thanking "those who have taught us through their sacrifice the sheer worth of justice and peace and who have shouldered some of the responsibility for fleshing out the values most of us only talk about".

Dr Williams has made several attacks on the Government over the Iraq war.

In December 2006 he told Radio 4's Today programme: "I am wholly prepared to believe that those who made the decisions made them in good faith, but I think those decisions were flawed.

"And I think the moral and the practical flaws have emerged as time has gone on, very painfully, and they have put our own troops increasingly at risk in ways that I find deeply disturbing."

In an article for The Times he criticised "ignorant" decisions that had put the lives of Christians in the region at risk.

The Iraq war claimed the lives of 179 British personnel, 178 servicemen and women and one civilian Ministry of Defence worker.

Mr Blair looked solemn as he listened intently to the Archbishop's address.

This article first appeared in the Times on 9th October 2009.