Category: Muslims

Coronavirus Bill

My Lords, I commend the Government for bringing forward this important piece of legislation. We are indeed facing challenging times. The coronavirus has caused widespread disruption and tragedy. Families have been torn apart and businesses forced to close.

I was in self-isolation but felt that it was important to contribute today as this Bill raises important questions about the treatment of the deceased. The permission granted to local authorities to cremate the deceased caused anxiety within the Jewish and Muslim communities. I therefore broadly welcome the Government’s decision to amend the Bill to provide safeguards against this practice. I pay tribute to members of the Muslim community, who have all worked together on this issue to face the problems in a true spirit of solidarity.?

There should be respect for the souls of our dead. Our collective human dignity and preservation should not be compromised and defeated by this pandemic. It is important to emphasise that Islam strictly forbids cremation of the deceased in any circumstances. There are verses in the Holy Koran which state that the body must be buried. We regard what is written in the Holy Koran as the words of God, and we need to abide by them. There is a great deal of disquiet and concern about the provisions of the Bill relating to this subject.

I have had discussions with, and received correspondence from, leaders of mosques, burial grounds and Muslim organisations, and scholars, who all recognise the practical challenges of burials due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has caused deaths in the community to become a major talking point, as a number of Muslims have underlying health issues including heart and lung conditions and diabetes.

Although I welcome the Government’s concession, I fear that it may not go far enough, as there is a chance that cremations could occur in exceptional circumstances. I would therefore be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to whether Her Majesty’s Government will give further guarantees to ensure that cremations do not take place against the will of the deceased’s loved ones in any circumstances. These guarantees are absolutely essential.

The Muslim community is keen to work with local authorities to find solutions to the challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic. A fatwa has been issued by the Ulama Council of the UK Islamic Mission, which has declared that the practices of Ghusl and Kafan have been suspended in the present climate. Ghusl means washing the body and Kafan means shrouding the body in accordance with Islamic principles. The deceased’s body will therefore be buried as it is received in a body bag. Furthermore, the burial prayers will be performed in a graveyard from a convenient distance at the time of the burial or offered at the grave after the burial has taken place.

Today, I was told that there is a shortage of body bags in mortuaries. That needs to be addressed. Mosques and burial grounds are providing protective clothing to their members who will deal with burials. The number of friends and relatives of the deceased at the funeral is being kept to a minimum. The community also acknowledges that there may be problems regarding burials in the light of a shortage of land and is willing to work with authorities to find solutions. A number of proposals have been made, including: burying bodies one on top of the other; burial in the garden of the deceased person, if this is possible; and burial in mass graves. In relation to the latter, local authorities will need to provide the appropriate land for this to happen. Today, I spoke to the head of a major Muslim charity who is willing to provide support.

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for our global and local communities. It is vital that we strike a balance between addressing the concerns of our communities and enforcing this important legislation.

Lord Bethell the Minister in his winding up speech included the following paragraph:

I am sincerely grateful for the important contributions made by my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who asked what steps we have taken to ensure that there are no forced cremations for religious followers. This is a very delicate issue, and stakeholder engagement has been moving and persuasive. I reassure noble Lords that we are engaging with faith communities to make sure that contingency measures are designed with due consideration for different practices around managing the deceased.

During the Ministers reply Lord Sheikh intervened and said as follows:

Is my noble friend able to give me the guarantees that the community is looking for with regard to burial and cremation? They are looking for assurances and guarantees.

The Minister Lord Bethell answered as follows:

My noble friend Lord Sheikh spoke very movingly. The amendment agreed to in the Commons is, I believe, an extremely important step in the right direction. A huge amount of discretion is given to local councils to make arrangements with the communities that they know best. This is a set of decision-making that is best made at a local level, and for that reason I would prefer to leave it in the hands of the amendment and in the hands of the local councils. However, I want to be clear that faith communities will be involved in the drawing up of statutory guidance that will be issued before any direction affecting burial or cremation is issued. It is of the utmost importance during this difficult time that we continue to respect people of faith and their beliefs.

Link to full debate on Hansard.

World Muslim Leadership Forum

Lord Sheikh was invited to attend and make the Welcome Address at the Fourth World Muslim Leadership Forum at Lambeth Palace in London. Lord Sheikh is a European Patron of WMLF. The title of the Forum was: “The Role of Muslim Leadership in Rebuilding Islam’s Global Image”.

This conference aimed to join Muslim leaders from different corners of the globe to explore key issues, address the challenges and provide innovative solutions to delinking perceptions of associations being made between terrorism and Islam. Through strong leadership the conference led by example in opening up the discussion around this crucial challenge.

Delegates included parliamentarians, politicians, experts and scholars, UN bodies, the interfaith community, activists, policy leaders, development practitioners and corporate leaders.

The below pictures show the event Lord Sheikh hosted in the House of Lords on behalf of the WMLF which was held prior to the Forum.

Righteous Muslims

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Lord Sheikh hosted an event in The House of Lords on The Righteous Muslims – Recognising the courage of Muslims who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Lord Sheikh mentioned that at Vad Vashem which is the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, honours nearly 25,000 righteous persons and over 70 Muslims have been added to this list. He said that throughout history there has been a bond linking the Jews and the Muslims together and we must always appreciate this and continue with this bond, there are many commonalities between the Jewish and the Islamic faiths. Lord Sheikh said he believed in interfaith dialogue and was a Patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim charities.

Lord Sheikh emphasised that when he was growing up in Uganda one of his closest friend was a Jewish boy whose family came from Cochin in India. He also said that it is written in the Holy Quran that if anyone kills a person it would be as if he killed all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved all of humanity. This is very similar to what is written in the Talmud which is: if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world. There is anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic practices in UK and elsewhere and we must get together to combat these actions.

The other speakers were Lord Stone, Rabbi Natan Levy, the Board of Deputies Interfaith and Social Action consultant, Fiyaz Mughal, Director of Faith Matters.

Contributions of Muslims in the First World War

My Lords, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentleman.

Good evening, Assalaamu Alaikum.

I am pleased to welcome you all to this meeting in the grand surroundings of House of Lords.

The purpose of the meeting is to commemorate the contributions of the Muslims during the First World War and also strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Community.

I spoke twice in debates in the House of Lords to commemorate the centenary of First World War.

Today I want to focus on the contributions of Muslims during this war.

The significant part played by the Muslims is not widely acknowledged and the sacrifice made them and the suffering that they endured need to be fully appreciated.

I hope following today’s discussions we can all appreciate their contributions and perhaps address this imbalance.

India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies, a total of 1.5 million during the First World War, and even more in World War II. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

There were in fact 400,000 Muslims who were part of the Volunteer Army.

They fought out of love and loyalty to the King Emperor and the Empire.

This marked the first time the Muslim soldiers ever fought on European ground.

They were originally called upon for help when the British Forces were suffering heavy causalities which reinforces just how historically important their role was.

Indian Expeditionary forces, of which there were seven, provided crucial support and fought directly alongside British Forces in Europe for example at the battle of Neuve Chapelle, they provided half of the attacking force.

A British General described them as a magnificent body who performed the most useful and valuable service.

The expeditionary forces also saw action in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Palestine, the Suez, Gallipoli and Palestine.

More than 74,000 Indian troops which included Muslims were killed or declared missing in action during World War I, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the Allied Forces.

Participants from the Indian sub-continent were recognised for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War with over 9,200 decorations, including 12 Victoria Cross medals.

Sepoy Khudadad Khan who was a Muslim was the first native-born Indian to win the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers.

He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment.

There were two other Muslims who were awarded the Victoria Cross and their names are Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan.

There were many military hospitals set up in UK and perhaps the most famous of which was in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton where Indian soldiers including the Muslims were treated.

A number of Muslims who died as a result of their injuries sustained during the action in the First World War were buried on the Horsell Common in Woking.

We should never forget their contributions. The Union Jack meant a lot to them and a number of them paid the ultimate price. The Muslim soldiers were able to prove that it was possible to be loyal to both their faith and a country simultaneously.

Jahan Mahmood who is a military historian will talk about Contributions of the Muslims in greater detail when he makes his presentation.

Now I want to talk about the relationship between the Muslim community and the Armed Forces.

I would like to maintain and strength the harmonious relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community.

I am actively involved in promoting this, both on the ground and at the various meetings that I have addressed. I am committed to this cause; in fact, I am wearing a Royal Navy tie given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk I gave at HMS “President”.

The Armed Forces have set up the Muslim Association of the Armed Forces.

I was in fact present when Lord Richards launched the Association and became its founding Patron.

I am very pleased that the Armed Forces Muslim Association has been moving forward since its inception.

The Association has organised several activities which I have attended and I will support them as much as possible.

You will notice that I am wearing a Royal Navy tie which was given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk which I gave at HMS Preisident.

I have also been given a RAF tie and and handkerchief which was presented to me by Squander Leader Zahour Hussain.

Unfortunately Squander Leader Zahour Hussain is unable to be with us today but he and other RAF officers including a Group Captain came to see me in the House of Lords last Friday.

I would like to mention that I speak on defence matters in the House of Lords from time to time.

There are over 600 Muslims who are currently serving in the British armed forces.

There are now nearly 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom.

Muslims have done very well in every field in this country.

I would like to encourage more of the ethnic minorities to join the Armed forces and the police force.

Muslims are now part of the British population and it is important that we get involved in every walk of life.

It is also imperative that we must maintain and strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslims in the country.

I am sure that Brigadier Alastair Aitkens and Captain Naveed will talk about this matter further.

As we with members of the Armed Forces and there is fighting in Syria and Iraq I would like to focus particularly on the role of Islam in the conflicts we are seeing in the Middle East.

I believe that it is important for the honest, peace-seeking, law-abiding majority of Muslims in this country and overseas to speak out against those who commit evil in the name of our religion.

The so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam.

They are harming women and children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts.

There are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare, which were laid down by Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr.

Those rules include the following:

  • give diplomacy a chance before battle starts; respect treaties;
  • do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons;
  • do not destroy crops and trees;
  • protect all places of worship; treat well all prisoners of war;
  • allow the bodies of soldiers slain in battle to be buried in dignity.

These rules of engagement were laid down well before the Geneva conventions. The acts of the so-called jihadists are totally unIslamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.

In the 7th century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration, which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the well-being of everyone in Jerusalem.

Subsequently, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace.

Before him, when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Caliph Omar and Saladin.

The so-called jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. That is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Koran that there is no compulsion in religion.

In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so-called jihadists and our relationship with other communities, I emphasise that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah says:

“O mankind! We created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another”.

We live in the United Kingdom, which is very much a multicultural society, and it is important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country.

Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings.

It is written in the Holy Koran:

“If anyone killed a person it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind”

A tiny minority of young Muslims in the United Kingdom have chosen to join terrorist groups overseas.

These young people have been radicalised. Parents, community and religious leaders have a role to play in ensuring that individuals do not fall prey to extremists’ teachings.

There must be supervision of the social media as young people are been radicalised by propaganda on the social media.

We must listen and communicate with the younger generation and gently put them right in order that they can follow the right path.

We need to ensure that the imams are appropriately trained and can effectively communicate with the young.

I am very keen that we interact with the Muslim Youths and promote them in every way.

I am very glad that our MC today is Zaniab Sheikh, she is indeed one of the many young Muslims who are progressing well in United Kingdom and we must all encourage them in every way we can.

Thank you.

Contributions of Muslims in the First World War

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Lord Sheikh hosted a meeting the House of Lords to commemorate the contributions of the Muslims during the First World War and also strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community. Lord Astor of Hever, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) attended and spoke at the event.

Brigadier Alastair Aitken OBE and Captain Naveed Muhammed of the British Army also both attended and spoke. Jahan Mahmood, Military Historian, gave an outline of the Muslim contributions during the two World Wars and also brought items of memorabilia. There was also a Quranic recital by Imam Asim Hafiz OBE who is the Imam to the Armed Forces.

In his speech Lord Sheikh mentioned that India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies, a total of 1.5 million during the First World War, and even more in World War II. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. He also said that there were in fact 400,000 Muslims who were part of the Volunteer Army and they fought out of love and loyalty to the King Emperor and the Empire.

Lord Sheikh also mentioned that participants from the Indian sub-continent were recognised for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War with over 9,200 decorations, including 12 Victoria Cross medals. Sepoy Khudadad Khan who was a Muslim was the first native-born Indian to win the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers.

Lord Sheikh is very keen to build a stronger relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community.

Sunni Muslim Association

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Lord Sheikh hosted a group of children from the Sunni Muslim Association in the House of Lords. The children were given a tour of Houses of Parliament and Lord Sheikh explained the workings of Parliament and encouraged them to get involved in politics. They also had afternoon tea in the House of Lords following the tour.

Bashir Maan Archive

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Lord & Lady Sheikh travelled to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow to launch the Bashir Maan Archive which is dedicated to preserving the contributions of South Asian and Muslim Communities in Scotland. Lord Sheikh spoke at the event and congratulated Bashir Maan on his distinguished career – he was the first elected Muslim to public office as a Councillor for Kingston ward of the City of Glasgow in 1970. Lord Martin was also in attendance.

World Muslim Leadership Forum

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Lord Sheikh made the keynote speech at the outset of the World Muslim Leadership Forum – Global Challenges and Contributions for the Muslims in the 21st Century. People from across the world were in attendance including Honorable Hubbie Husain, County Minister of Garissa, Kenya, Baroness Uddin, Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve MP and the Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP. In the evening, Lord Sheikh hosted the dinner in the House of Lords for attendees of the Conference. On the second day of the Conference, Lord Sheikh also chaired the session on Global Food and Water Security.

Niqabs

Lord Sheikh:

To Ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to proposals for a ban on the niqab in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): The Government would oppose a change in the law as being out of keeping with our nation’s long-standing approach to religious tolerance. A ban on what citizens can wear in the street would be an attack on the British rights and values of freedom of speech, freedom to associate and freedom of worship.