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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.