Check against delivery
I’m delighted to welcome you all here today to our launch. It’s been a fair time coming, we’ve been working on the organisation for a year now. I’d like to first of all pay tribute to the work of all the volunteers that have made the foundation what it is and what it will be.
It’s an honour for me to work with such a committed and talented team.
The anniversary of the airport attack is an appropriate time to discuss our plan of action, not least because it was as a result of the attack that the need for the foundation became apparent. There wasn’t a natural platform for younger Muslims to properly vent their feelings about the atrocity that had taken place. We organised the first Muslim demonstration against Al-Qaeda anywhere in the world, and it’s that type of trend setting creativity we want to regularly bring to the Islamic scene.
Scotland is the best place to have this kind of discussion. If we were launching this body anywhere else in Europe we would first of all have to state our position and action plan on integration. Scottish Muslims are part of the rich tartan of this country. No one can dispute that. Research has shown they feel more Scottish than the rest of Scotland!
This is I believe a model for the rest of Europe. I’ve had cause to spend a fair bit of time recently with Muslims from across the continent. One such opportunity was with a group of 20 European Muslims on a State Dept trip to the US earlier this year. At one point we were visiting a redneck school deep in the heart of Texas. We had to introduce our countries at assembly. So on my turn I’m giving it that we’re the font of the Enlightenment, the inventors of tarmac, television the telephone and the birthplace of ‘soccer’.
The other Muslims spoke negatively or at best neutrally about their birthplaces. They have it tough. Even in comparison to our English brethren, community cohesion is much more favourable here. We are virtually the only country in Europe whose government can have a slogan such as “One Scotland, Many cultures” without there being an outpouring of bile from the press.
With us not having to dwell on integration we can focus the discussion on how we deepen Muslim contribution to Scotland.
We see Islam as a force for good. There seems to be two types of Muslim organisation out there. One says that Islam needs to be brushed aside, that we need in essence de-Islamify ourselves. This isn’t realistic or necessary.
Our approach is to accentuate the progressive elements that are inherent within the Islamic faith. Our 5 objectives are based on what modern scholars say are the very objectives of Islam – freedom, respect, education, families, social justice.
I’d imagine though that you don’t normally associate freedom with our faith. But this was one of the reasons Islam was such a revolutionary message in the early days. It smashed tyranny wherever it went, and people embraced it for its openness. Nowadays you look at these very same lands and they are ruled by the most odious of tyrants.
Worse still, some people think that Muslims support these guys. We don’t!
And this brings me to the second type of Islamic group that is out there. Those that are too defensive to admit where things are going wrong. This is a shame because self-criticism is central to our faith. We’re told to take account of ourselves before being taken account of.
And the biggest problem with this approach is that if you don’t admit there are problems, you’re not going to have any solutions.
Action is what we’re about. Our slogan is belief in action. The two go hand in hand. We want to lift those Muslims that have a sense of fatalism and cynicism out of this and onto constructive activity.
One of our core focuses is on Muslim youth. Most of the SIF team are young themselves so this is important to us. Half of the Muslim community is under 25, making them not just the future, but our here and now.
Scotland is not getting the most of their potential. There are issues around education, employment and crime. Everyone also wants to talk about extremism too.
Our leadership training programme aims to teach how to be good Muslims and good citizens, and indeed that the former demands the latter. We have already held a number of residential weekends and day programmes, all of which have been oversubscribed. We intend to widen and deepen this area of work.
When talking about youth, the topic of Islamic schools inevitably crops up. We believe that the establishment of a state funded school would be an excellent addition to our diverse education system. It’s something that will no doubt be taken forward with local authorities later in the year.
But this would only benefit perhaps 200 kids. By contrast, we estimate there are literally thousands of kids that are attending daily after-school madrassahs in local mosques. All too often these establishments are poorly resourced and poorly financed. Many adults will sadly tell tales of the joyless existence played out during childhood.
I heard one of the most prominent imams in the country acknowledge that 2 hours every night meant a child could spend over 5000 hours of childhood at madrassah and be absolutely no better off than someone who hadn’t.
This has serious implications. It’s an added strain on young people that not many factor in. Less time for homework, less time for play.
We’re committed to working with our mosques in improving the standard of these institutions. They should be able to impart not just Quran and Islamic studies, but help boost wider educational attainment. They should produce citizens. They should be centres we can all be proud of.
On the issue of Muslim and non-Muslim relations we are planning a massive festival entitled IslamExpo in early 2010. It will be the largest event ever held by the Muslim community in Scotland, but it is not aimed at them. We will talk to the entire country.
Not only that, but we believe this will be an opportunity to reach out to the Muslim world. Some talk about a ‘clash of civilisations’. Scotland is uniquely placed to help avoid this happening.
Glasgow Airport showed us we can’t stay out. The festival will show the world how Muslims and non-Muslims can co-exist. We’ll reach out to progressive elements in the Muslim world. This cultural engagement will enrich us all.
But there is a financial engagement too. London has presented itself as a ‘gateway’ to Islamic finance and brought in billions of pounds to the economy. There is no reason why Edinburgh and Glasgow cannot be hubs and benefit from this investment too.
Ladies and gentlemen, sisters and brothers, when we went round consulting about what SIF should be and do the two things that kept coming up again and again were that we need to elevate our youth and secondly fix the image of Islam in the public mind.
This is exactly what we’re going to set about doing and we hope to work with you in the coming months and years on this.