Why speaking English matters – for everyone

Posted on 20 January 2016

QariI was showing an unusual visitor round Leeds Makkah Mosque, where I am the Imam, this week – the Prime Minister, writes new British Future trustee Qari Asim.

He chose his visit as an opportunity to talk about English language and integration – specifically calling for greater efforts towards the integration of Muslim women in Britain.

He suggested that a better command of the English language among Muslim women could make communities “more resilient” to radical ideologies and better equipped to resist the narratives espoused by the likes of Daesh.

In setting out his vision for integration, the Prime Minister focused on three areas – areas which I believe most people, including most British Muslims, will agree are important foundations for integration:

-that speaking English holds the key to successful integration, helping people from different communities to engage with each other and unlocking better economic opportunities;

– that where women in our society are disempowered we must do more to empower them to have a greater share of voice.

– and that extremism is a threat to us all and we have a shared responsibility to tackle it and root it out.

The Prime Minister himself has shown commitment to engaging with the Muslim community, and during his visit I had an open and honest discussion with him and with Louise Casey, who is leading the government’s new integration review. We talked about the challenges faced by the Muslim community and the lack of engagement by the government with British Muslims on issues of concern to them. He spoke to groups of Muslim women and sought their views on ways in which those currently on the fringes of full social engagement could be brought firmly within its folds.

Few would disagree that speaking English holds the key to successful integration, helping people from different communities to engage with each other. A solid command of the language is central to unlocking better social and economic opportunities; without it, individuals may be less employable and therefore less able to have any kind of independent financial standing. To that end, any initiative to help improve the language skills of migrants is to be welcomed.

The rules, however, need to be fair and the policies applicable to all. Muslim women who are unable to speak English are no more of a hindrance to integration than women of Polish, Romanian or other backgrounds who move to Britain. They should not be treated any differently.

Similarly, it is not only Muslim women who are disempowered. Whether women are Muslim, from another faith or of no faith at all, more must be done to empower them to have a greater share of voice. Unfortunately, the subjugation of women is a feature of many cultures and societies; it is by no means an issue exclusive to the Muslim community in Britain or anywhere else in the world. Where such suppression exists, it needs to be identified and tackled at the grass roots level.

The number of Muslim women who speak little English is, in any event, small. Around a third of the Muslim population is under the age of 25, born and bred in this country with English as their mother tongue. A couple of decades ago, they may not have been as fluent in English as the current generation of women – but they still shared British values: respect for the rule of law, democracy, justice, giving and caring. They made considerable sacrifices to educate their children and make them proud British citizens, who contributed to British society.

Perhaps the younger generation of Muslims do not feel the same sense of belonging. It is this issue that requires further study and investment. This will be key to tackling homegrown extremism and prevention of online radicalisation. But I believe it is a mistake to draw a link, however remotely, between Muslim mothers with a poor command of the English language and homegrown extremism.

This new announcement has the potential to leave the very group it seeks to help even more vulnerable. Singling out Muslim women and linking their situation with home grown extremism may only serve to alienate and isolate sections of the Muslim community, playing into the hands of those – on both sides – who want to create division within our shared society.

Muslims have suffered considerably as a result of the rise of extremism, particularly in terms of the number of lives lost around the world but also through the rise in anti-Muslim hatred. The foul and divisive views of extremists will only be defeated through us working together, with mutual co-operation between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens, and with government agencies too. This in turn can only be achieved through the parties trusting and respecting each others’ views. Extremism is a threat to us all and we have a shared responsibility to tackle it and root it out.

British Future trustee Qari Muhammad Asim MBE is chief Imam at Leeds’ Makkah mosque and a senior lawyer at global law firm, DLA Piper. He is the only Imam in country who leads daily prayers at the mosque and also works full-time in the corporate world.

Qari is an independent member of the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred working group, senior editor of ImamsOnline, a platform promoting mainstream Islamic voices and combating online radicalisation, and an advisor to the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and an executive member of the British Muslim Forum.





  • Comment by Iftikhar Ahmad at 15:28 on 22.01.16

    Learning and Speaking English Language

    I’m not sure how learning English will help stop extremism either, many of those who have carried out/plotted atrocities have been highly educated. Speaking English does not promote integration into British, American and Australian societies, and broaden opportunities. English speaking Muslim youths are angry, frustrated and extremist, thanks to state schools with monolingual non-Muslim teachers and English language. English language is not only a lingua franca but also lingua frankensteinia. Human right are also covers linguistic right. Cultural and linguistic genocide are very common. British schooling is murdering community languages like Arabic, Urdu and others. English is today the world killer language. Linguistic genocide is a crime against humanity and British schooling is guilty of committing this crime. Language is not just a language. It defines one’s culture, identity and consciousness. It defines how we think, communicate and express ourselves. The fact is the most South Asian Muslims have come to know Islam by way of Urdu, the children’s alienation from the language that connects them the heritage of their parents and grandparents is disturbing. As a matter of fact, one has to get to know his mother tongue well if one is to master any other language.

    He wrote in The Times how he met Muslim women, some of whom “painted an alarming picture of forced gender segregation, discrimination and social isolation from mainstream British life”.

    “This is Britain. In this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and who they love. It’s our values that make this country what it is, and it’s only by standing up for them assertively that they will endure,” he wrote.

    The Prime Minister has privately argued that one of the main reasons why young Muslim males fall under the spell of fanatics is because their mothers have too much of a subordinate role within their communities to argue against the influence of the extremists.

    He is expected to call for more Muslim women to learn the language so they can make advances in the job market and take on a more influential role.
    Prime Minister David Cameron will call on Muslim women to learn English to counter extremism.

    Mr Cameron has been shocked by the fact that at least 700 people from the UK – the vast majority of them young males – have travelled to support or fight for jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, with about half having since returned to Britain. Most who have gone are thought to have joined Islamic State.

    He has argued with advisers that he needs to ‘lift the horizons’ of women in those areas where the language barrier contributes to them being trapped outside the workforce. What about all the British people living on the Costa del Sol who can’t speak Spanish. They shop at Tesco, have English Pubs and watch the BBC.

    The Muslim Council of Britain has objected to what it describes as an attempt to place responsibility for extremism entirely on Britain’s Muslim population, arguing that they are also ‘struggling to challenge the terrorist narrative’. Beat fanatics by teaching them English? The national language here in Israel is Hebrew. Terrorists and their terrorist harbouring families here know Hebrew – children terrorists know Hebrew. The man is an idiot. He cannot seriously believe the guff written above. If they learn English and go out and get a job, they will stop young Muslims being radicalised. The man is an incompetent feminised man, who measures everything by women taking men’s jobs. Does he understand nothing at all. The UK was targeted for many years by IRA Terrorists , and THEY all spoke English , So Cameron , what is your point??????????? I really hate to say this, but Billy is right. People automatically judge a Muslim community as a ghetto before they’ve seen a single mosque. You never heard somebody say “Oh boy, let’s play ‘spot the white guy!'”? Because it’s a common thing. You see the skin colour, you assume Muslim. Language and culture come secondary, because you can’t pretend you care when total strangers are speaking a language you don’t understand. I don’t talk to strangers much anyway, so I don’t much give a shit if I can’t understand them.

    Ishtiaq Ahmed, an independent councillor in Manning ham, said it was nonsense to suggest men did not want their wives to learn English. “If I was going to bring a wife over from Pakistan, the first thing I’d do is make sure she was learning English. It would make life a whole lot easier,” said the councillor, who is mixed race, his grandmother a Geordie of Irish extraction.

    Ahmed said it was a mistake for the prime minister to equate poor language skills with extremism. “The Asian community has built walls in Bradford so high they can’t see beyond them, but with that statement Cameron makes Muslims feel they aren’t part of mainstream Britain,” he said. “Even me, someone of mixed race, born here and very much embodying British values, I am starting to feel very disenfranchised and alienated by the current political and media discourse about Muslims.”

    Not everyone in Manning ham thinks speaking English should be mandatory. Noreen Husain, 34, said people should be able to do what they want. “When white people go to Pakistan we don’t make them speak Urdu, do we?” she said in a broad Yorkshire accent. “Everyone has the right to speak whatever language they want. We’re a free country.” I question the necessity of ‘integration’ anyway, I don’t see why anyone should have to integrate to a hostile, deeply racist country but there you go.

    Islam has a following of over a Billion people. Just let that sink in for a second. A billion people. If Muslims are all terrorists then surely we all would be dead!!! The truth is most Muslims are jus like the rest of us. Good hard working people, who go about their business, have families etc and enjoy living and appreciating the UK or western way of life. 🙂

    Extremism did not start last year, even 10 years ago but back in 1991 during first gulf war and has had 25 years to brew. so a few picture and talking isn’t going to solve this. plus have hearted views from Muslim community leaders who are just giving lip service to government stating either now to do with them or we’re tackling it its a joke. and anyone with half a brain can smell the bull.

    The solution is, why not lie detector all or just a broad section of Muslims and ask direct question their views regarding England, Christianity, there sympathies, and a direct question do you support isis? Answer is when you go around causing terrorism in Muslim countries then expect Christian countries to be targets too. You yourself said it started during gulf war when the Christian crusaders started that war. So answer is you kill their children in return they will kill yours. Christian terrorists should stop causing wars in Muslim countries will equal no terrorism in Christian countries. Simple But if you want to complicate it then we can go back to the crusades too. Which you are still engaged in.

    The British people living on the Costa del Sol who can’t speak Spanish but ony their mother tongue which is English. They shop at Tesco, have English Pubs and watch the BBC. What do you think about them?