Category: Speeches

Offensive Weapons Bill

My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with Amendment 70. The amendment seeks to protect the tradition of the kirpan and those who possess it. It permits individuals to possess the kirpan for, “religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”. There is disquiet among those in the Sikh community, who feel that their right to possess a kirpan is being threatened, and they need assurances to be able to do so. There needs to be a comprehensive solution which is acceptable to the Sikh community.

I was born and brought up in east Africa, where there were people of different religions and racial backgrounds. I learned to speak several languages and developed an understanding and respect for all religions. I am actively involved in promoting harmony and peace between various racial and religious groups. Although I am a Muslim, I am a patron of non-Muslim associations, including the Sikh Forum and the British Sikh Association. I am also the chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide, which promotes the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.

I have a strong connection with the Sikhs and have visited their temples, which are called gurdwaras, on numerous occasions. I have studied Sikhism and have written a book on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In this book, I have included some principles of the Sikh religion and also mentioned the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus. The 10th and last human guru was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699, he created the Khalsa, a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of his faith and trained as warriors. Today, the Khalsa community comprises a significant proportion of the Sikh community. As has been mentioned, Guru Gobind Singh Ji also proclaimed five kakars, which were kacha, karha, kesh, kanga and kirpan.

Sikhs are proud of the five Ks and therefore comply with what has been proclaimed. The kirpan represents the values of the Sikh faith and is an essential article of faith for the Khalsa Sikhs. The kirpan is curved, contained in a sheath. It is often made of steel or iron and can be of varying sizes. It is normally worn in a strap, which is called a gatra. In the Sikh community, the kirpan is used for ceremonial and cultural practices such as during weddings and processions. It is also used in martial arts and can be given as a gift. In fact, I was presented with a kirpan in Amritsar when I visited the Golden Temple. My family’s connection with Amritsar goes back nearly 200 years, so I was privileged to be presented with a kirpan, among other items, in the Golden Temple.

? The UK as a whole has a long history with the Sikhs, stemming from colonial India and the World Wars. We recently celebrated the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on the contribution of the soldiers from the sub-continent of India. India raised an army of over 1 million soldiers, 20% of whom were Sikhs. We owe gratitude to the Sikhs for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our way of life. This amendment is an opportunity to provide a specific defence for those who possess—I emphasise “possess”, as they do not necessarily wear it—the kirpan.?

I cannot recall any occasion where a Sikh possessing the kirpan has used it as an offensive weapon and caused physical harm to anyone. This afternoon, in fact, I spoke to an ex-commander of the Metropolitan Police who verified what I say; it has not been used as an offensive weapon by the Sikhs. I therefore feel that a kirpan should not be deemed an offensive weapon and provision must be made for that in this legislation. As has been mentioned, the Sikhs are law-abiding people. The kirpan needs to be exempted from the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Lord Sheikh in response to Baroness Barran: I have had representations from various Sikhs in the past few days—not members of the association but ordinary Sikhs—asking me to speak on this subject. They feel very strongly about it. What is being asked for is reasonable. As I said, there is great disquiet among Sikhs that this is happening. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that she enter dialogue and not close the door. That would be greatly appreciated by the community—I do not necessarily mean the association; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has already alluded to that. Let us have a discussion with the community to see whether an amicable settlement can be reached that is acceptable to it. I speak as a Muslim and not as a Sikh.

Islamophobia

My Lords, I am very glad that we are having this timely discussion on Islamophobia today. I am also very pleased that recently there was a debate in your Lordships’ House relating to anti-Semitism. I am totally against anti-Semitism and feel that we should all get together and combat it in every way we can. Unfortunately, xenophobia has to some extent crept into different walks of life in this country and certain people behave very badly towards minorities. Whether it is deliberate or based on misunderstandings, we must all make an effort to combat this trend.

I am proud to live in a country where there are numerous communities, and all races and religions are tolerated and in fact accepted. Xenophobic attacks are increasing in regularity, and some people feel it is fair game to engage in nastiness towards people who are different from them. I believe there are more similarities than differences between people, and I am very keen on promoting harmony between all communities. I might add that I am a patron of Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that work towards achieving that goal. That is the reason why I have tabled this debate today.

Furthermore, I have submitted an application to the House of Lords Liaison Committee asking for a special inquiry to be undertaken on the subject of Islamophobia. I hope that my application is successful, as Islamophobia needs an in-depth study. A poll by ComRes in October found that 58% of people agreed with the statement: “Islamophobia is a real problem in today’s society”. It is crucial that we combat all forms of Islamophobia, from subtle and institutional Islamophobia to discrimination and hate crime.

Discrimination in the workplace creates economic insecurity. Muslim women, for instance, are 85% less likely to be offered a job if they wear a veil. Muslim women face further prejudice, which was seen in August where women wearing the burqa or niqab were compared to letterboxes and bank robbers by a prominent politician. I spoke against those unsavoury remarks, but unfortunately I was subjected to hate mail and harassment. We parliamentarians should not create divisions by using inflammatory language. Instead we should encourage the discussion of contentious topics in a considered and inoffensive way. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? Furthermore, does he agree that discriminatory remarks should not be used as a platform to gain political advantage?

Unfortunately, I feel that elements of Islamophobia have crept into the political parties. I have written and spoken about this issue, and have gone public regarding the problem. I feel that political parties must hold an inquiry to establish if there is such an issue and the extent of the problem. The parties can then look into any remedial action that needs to be taken. Does the Minister have any view regarding that?

The Home Office recently published figures that reveal that 52% of reported hate crime victims overall were Muslim. In fact, last month I hosted an event for Tell MAMA due to the increase in hate-crimes. Hate crimes include physical assault, verbal abuse and incitement to hatred. Between January and June 2018, Tell MAMA recorded 608 reports that were verified as ?being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic in nature. Two-thirds of those verified incidents occurred on the streets, with the majority being towards Muslim women, with one-third being online. The level of hate crime is of great concern to me, and these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents go unreported. The actual numbers are much higher and on the increase.

It has also been noted that Islamophobia is an issue for people of other religions and ethnicities. For example, Sikhs have been subjected to hate crimes on the basis that they were perceived to be Muslims. This is totally wrong and we must get together to combat hate crime.

Does the Minister feel that the police are doing enough to combat hate crime and can anything else be done? Can the police be provided with extra resources to deal with the problem? Institutional Islamophobia also has a great impact on the lives of British Muslims. For instance, I believe that the media must seek to become more balanced in its coverage, basing reporting around facts rather than predetermined narratives.

I strongly believe in upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but these must be exercised with a great deal of care and responsibility. The news media has become increasingly fixated by attention-grabbing, often outrageous headlines at the expense of accurate reporting. There is an association of Islam with crime and terror, which serves only to spread and normalise Islamophobia. Crimes are committed by people of all religions and races.

We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims in this country. There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom who have come here from different parts of the world. Muslims have done well in every walk of life and contribute significantly to the advancement and well-being of the country.

I add that Muslim charities undertake good work in various parts of the world and provide aid to Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Muslims provide support to people of all races, colour and religion all over the world. In July, I referred in your Lordships’ House to the fact that British Muslims gave more than £100 million to charity during the month of Ramadan last year. This figure equates to £38 a second. In his reply, my noble friend Lord Bates referred to the generosity of British Muslims and queried why there was an absence of media coverage of such charitable acts. I am most grateful to him, as he made a valid point.

Furthermore, I recently hosted an event to discuss the contribution of Muslims to the First World War, and spoke in your Lordships’ House on the matter. That significant role is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. In fact, at least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought in the allied forces with dignity and honour. In this respect, I have written a letter to the Minister asking whether the Government would consider putting up a memorial to them. Has he had time to consider my request?

The contribution of Muslims to society must be appreciated, as it sets out the philosophy of Muslims and of Islam itself. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase and that ?there are problems associated with some sections of the community. A tiny minority of people practise and promote ideas which are totally un-Islamic. They have misunderstood our glorious religion, and what they do and have done is not in accordance with Islamic principles. It is wrong to condemn the entire community for the actions of a misguided minority. I add that terrorism radicalisation needs a holistic approach and should involve contributions from many, including local authorities, the police, schools, prisons and members of the Muslim community itself. I emphasise that the Muslim community has an important role in combating radicalisation, but the community needs to be fully consulted. Does the Minister agree with the point I am making?

Sometimes, problems arise because of a misunder- standing of Islamic principles, so we should all work together to alleviate these misunderstandings. However, an issue that has to some extent impacted dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims is the rise of populism and the existence of extreme right-wing groups, some of which have promoted negative perceptions of Muslims. The rise of populism in some parts of Europe also worries me. Earlier this year, a “Punish a Muslim Day” letter threatened violence against Muslim MPs, mosques and ordinary Muslims, and I am pleased that this was condemned by right-thinking people. Muslims can be seen as un-British by extreme far-right groups, yet in 2016, it was established that 93% of British Muslims felt that they belonged to Britain.

It is true that the United Kingdom has fared better than other countries in terms of resilience against far-right groups, which has lessened their impact. In fact, we can celebrate that we have now had Muslim Cabinet members, a Muslim is mayor of our capital city, and we hold positions both in national and local politics. However, we cannot forget the impact of Islamophobia in this country. Indeed, 70% of British Muslims in 2018 reported that they had faced religious-based discrimination and prejudice. I am sure that your Lordships are aware of the recent incident of a Muslim refugee boy being physically abused and bullied at school. I add that the British people abhorred this abuse and raised a fund for the family. This reaction by the people must be appreciated.

It is imperative that we create a definition of Islamophobia to make a meaningful change. The APPG on British Muslims recently launched a definition of Islamophobia, drawing inspiration from the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This definition reads: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

I believe the definition is clear and lucid. It was developed over six months, with input from a wide range of sources, academics, parliamentarians, community- based organisations, and government-supported and funded NGOs. It has also received a great deal of support across the community. In fact, it has been supported by over 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics from different background and over 60 cross-party parliamentarians. Will the Minister consider the acceptance of this definition and schedule a meeting where we can discuss the way forward?

Finally, I thank all noble Lords in advance for taking part in this important and topical debate.?

Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I again ask my noble friend whether he has any views regarding the erection of a memorial to commemorate the work done by Muslim soldiers and labourers.

Lord Bourne

apologise to my noble friend for not picking that up earlier. The first I heard about the letter was when he mentioned it. I will go back to the department, find out what has happened to the letter, take it very seriously and respond to him, but I did not know about it until he raised it, so I will follow that up, if I may. I shall say something about the government position on Islamophobia later, if I may.

Lord Sheikh

Is the Minister prepared to enter into dialogue with APPG members to discuss a definition? That would be a good start.

Lord Bourne

My Lords, I am always open to dialogue as an individual, but I want to clarify the Government’s position on where we stand. As I say, we need to look at the need for a definition and whether that will make things better. Consequent to that, we can move things forward. But I am of course always open to dialogue.

Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I feel is timely and very important. I would also like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his excellent reply, and for the summing up that he has just concluded. I will pick up on some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Warsi spoke passionately about the need for a definition. I am grateful for the background she gave us regarding the work of the APPG. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke at length about hate crimes against Muslims, in particular against women. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, made some relevant points regarding discrimination against all communities. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made the point—I am so glad he said it—that Christians must stand by Muslims.

People will be celebrating Christmas very shortly. I point out that, in the Holy Koran, we have a chapter that talks about the birth of Jesus. We believe that ?Jesus is one of our prophets. My noble friend Lady Jenkin referred to the lack of Muslims in the field of employment. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made some salient points about the demonisation of Muslims. She also talked about populism and the problems that Muslims face in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, spoke about the injustice of discrimination. I am glad he referred to the point that in this country we have multiculturalism; people of all races and religions live here and are accepted.

The Minister made some relevant points, although he has not answered all the questions that I posed to him. Perhaps he would like to look at Hansard. I would very much appreciate a response to the points I raised. I was very pleased that he agreed to look at the question of definition, which we referred to. I am glad that he said that this will be done and I look forward to receiving the response of the Government.

With that, I thank everybody for their contribution. It has certainly been an interesting and lively debate. Motion agreed.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Armistice Day: Centenary

My Lords, we all know that this year marks the centenary of the First World War Armistice. The centenary reminds us of the pivotal role that our Armed Forces have played in shaping our country’s history. This was a conflict that resulted in suffering on an unprecedented scale.

I pay tribute to the contribution of Muslims during the First World War. The significant part played in the First World War by Muslims is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. Efforts must be made to redress that. I hope that today’s debate will inform others and help to address this imbalance.

At least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought with the allied forces with dignity and honour. They came from many different countries, including Algeria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, India, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia and the United States. A million soldiers and labourers came from Egypt, 80,000 soldiers came from Tunisia, 63,000 soldiers came from Morocco, 173,000 soldiers came from Algeria and 5,000 soldiers ?came from the United States. In fact, 10% of the Russian army’s total strength was Muslim, about 1.5 million soldiers.

Muslims were recognised with decorations for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War. The Légion d’honneur was awarded to the Moroccan Division. During the Battle of the Marne, these brave soldiers were successful in halting the German troops’ advance on Paris. This incredible feat was called the miracle on the Marne. However, only 800 of the 4,000 Moroccan soldiers survived the battle. Furthermore, in British West Africa, 30% of African Distinguished Conduct Medals awarded to those who served were given to Nigerian Muslims who fought in Cameroon.

Muslim contributions were not only confined to military activities. Muslims also served in army nursing units, and in fact the Hui—the Chinese Muslims— were a substantial part of the Chinese labour force in Europe, on the eastern front, in Africa and in Mesopotamia.

Muslim soldiers shared their food with locals who were suffering from the famine in Europe. Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr laid down clear rules of engagement in warfare. One of the tenets in Islam is that Muslims should treat enemy soldiers with respect and look after them. In view of this belief, Muslim soldiers asked their officers to ensure that captured prisoners of war be taken to a place that had been prepared for them, and that they be properly fed and not harmed or tortured. Muslim soldiers felt that prisoners of war should be treated with mercy and kindness. Furthermore, Muslims shared their native traditional medical knowledge with nurses and doctors who had run out of medical supplies at the battlefront.

I turn now to Muslims from India. Although I was born in east Africa, I have Indian heritage. My grandfather joined the British Indian Army and fought in Palestine. This subject, therefore, is of personal interest to me. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army, with a total of 1.5 million soldiers during the First World War. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There were 400,000 Muslims from India who were part of the British Volunteer Army. They fought out of love and loyalty to the King-Emperor and the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.

The First World War marked the first time that Muslim soldiers ever fought on European ground. They were originally called upon for help when British forces were suffering heavy casualties. This demonstrates just how historically important their role was. There were seven Indian Expeditionary Forces that included Muslims and they provided crucial support, fighting directly alongside British forces in Europe. In fact, at the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle, they provided half the attacking force. A British general described them as a magnificent body that performed the most useful and valuable service.

The Indian forces also saw action in east Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli and Palestine. More than 74,000 Indian troops, including Muslims, were ?killed or declared missing in action during the First World War, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the allied forces. Indian troops were awarded 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses. Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first non-white person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers. He was a Muslim who came from a place called Chakwal in present-day Pakistan. He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment. He fought in Belgium in 1914 and single-handedly kept German forces at bay in the Battle of Ypres after all his comrades had been killed, right up to the point where his position was overrun. It is thought that his actions helped to ensure that two vital ports used to supply British troops remained in allied hands. Two other Muslims were awarded the Victoria Cross: Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan. Such stories are significant as they personalise the efforts of Muslims in the armed forces, allowing us to see beyond statistics and into the hearts of these brave soldiers.

A number of Muslims who died as a result of injuries sustained in action in the First World War were buried on Horsell Common in Woking. The Muslim soldiers were able to prove that it was possible to be loyal both to their faith and to a country simultaneously. For many Muslims, religious observances were crucial for coping with the hardships and challenges on the battlefront.

I also pay tribute to other Indian soldiers in the British Army who were Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and from other religions. As mentioned earlier, there were 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India. We should never forget their contribution. The union jack meant a lot to them and a number of them paid the ultimate price. Will the Minister comment on the contribution of Muslims during the First World War? Last week I arranged a meeting in the House of Lords to discuss that contribution, which was attended by several parliamentarians, including my noble friend Lord Lexden. The event created a great deal of interest and was very much oversubscribed.

Ethical Finance and Community Development Forum

Lord Sheikh attended the Ethical Finance and Community Development Forum on 8th September 2018 at Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School.

Lord Sheikh Is Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and gave the keynote speech at the forum.

Lord Sheikh commended the university for establishing the International Centre for Management and Governance Research and supports its aim of bringing together academic and professional knowledge on international management and governance. Lord Sheikh spoke of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and their work. He then talked about ethical finance developments in the UK, especially in Scotland where there is a long history of financial services, including ethical finance.

The Forum was an important platform to discuss the role of ethical finance towards the development of community and people across races, religions and backgrounds.

 

 

 

Safeguarding in the Aid Sector

Lord Sheikh (Con)
My Lords, I note that letters have been sent to charities which have received UK aid. I am a patron and supporter of a charity which is undertaking work in 12 countries. I had a long meeting with the trustees yesterday, and we decided to tighten and toughen our safeguards. My point is: could charities which have not received such aid be written to to ask them to tighten up? I am deeply concerned about what can go on, and if they are not UK-aided there are possible concerns and problems.

Lord Bates
That is a really good idea and I am happy to take it away and think about it. It may be something for the Charity Commission to take leadership on, but if there is anything we can do to support and strengthen safeguarding, particularly for charities working overseas, we will want to consider it.

Lord Sheikh
Would my noble friend consider taking further action?

Lord Bates
As I said, I am happy to take back that suggestion about what more could be done, but the very fact that my noble friend as a trustee is now asking those searching questions of his organisation, although it is not in receipt of government funding, bodes well for the approach which is being taken more generally to improve safeguarding across the sector.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Russia

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for initiating the debate. I will specifically talk about the UK’s relations with Tatarstan and how we can strengthen our ties with it.  Tatarstan is a semi-autonomous republic in Russia located in the center of a large industrial region of the Russian Federation. I have been to Kazan, which is the capital of Tatarstan, and spent a few days there. I spoke to the people of Kazan, both Tartars, and Russians, and I found that the relationship between Muslims, Christians, and others are extremely friendly and cordial. In Kazan there is a place called the Kremlin, where a mosque and a cathedral face each other. This is symbolic of the friendship between all the communities in the region. As someone who is interested in promoting interfaith dialogue, that pleased me a great deal.

The President of Tatarstan visited the United Kingdom in November last year and met with us in the House of Lords. He was indeed very friendly and requested that I attend a business conference in Kazan. He also invited us to send a trade delegation from the United Kingdom to Tatarstan. I will attend the conference in May, and I hope that we will be able to arrange a trade delegation of British businessmen to Kazan. The president is very keen to strengthen trade and educational and cultural ties between Tatarstan and the United Kingdom. We should actively pursue these and achieve the right results, which will be mutually beneficial.

I will mention some details about Tatarstan and the opportunities that we can pursue. Tatarstan is one of the leading and most economically developed regions in Russia, rich in natural resources. It is prosperous in many ways, presenting opportunities for us to be involved in. At a conference held in London in November last year, His Excellency Mr. Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of Tatarstan, said that Tatarstan is interested in attracting British businesses, technology, and investments to the region and that they will readily provide support for these activities. The president further said that there are opportunities for British companies to be involved in areas such as power engineering, the automotive industry, production of auto components, IT, agro-industrial activities, engineering, pharmaceuticals, aircraft construction, the oil and gas industry and the transport sector. In addition, they would like to develop and expand their Islamic finance market. That was music to my ears as I am actively involved in promoting our expertise and knowledge in Islamic finance overseas.

President Minnikhanov also noted that Tatarstan is an innovative region which ranked first in the Russian national rating for investment for the third year in a row. In addition, the Russian Federation Government have launched a project in which special economic zones have been created for businesses to manufacture, manage or invest. We can get involved in those zones.

Tatarstan would also like to strengthen and forge educational links with British institutions in the UK. Given that there is only one university partnership with Tatarstan—with Cardiff University—this is an area that is worth looking into. I hope very much that we can look seriously at expanding our links with Tatarstan, and there is certainly an appetite in Tatarstan to do so. I ask my noble friend the Minister if she would like to comment on our relations with Tatarstan.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Islam: Tenets

My Lords, I begin by expressing my disquiet and resentment at the wording of the Question for this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has referred to Islamist terrorism. I feel that to use “Islamic” or “Islamist” relating to any form of terrorism is completely wrong. Islam is a religion of peace and does not allow any form of suicide attack or terrorist activity. A terrorist should be referred to as a terrorist without reference to any religion. During the IRA activities, it was inappropriate to associate terrorism with a particular religion. It would be greatly appreciated if one were careful about using appropriate language in your Lordships’ House, otherwise, it may cause offense to the people of this country.

I received numerous complaints from Muslims when it became known that this debate had been tabled. Islam is indeed a religion of peace and I promote this fact in my coat of arms. Even when we greet somebody, we use the phrase As-sal?mu ‘alaykum, which means “peace be upon you”. I would like to emphasize that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has said: “Whoever kills a human being, it is as though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a human being, it is as though he has saved all mankind”. This is very similar to what is written in the Talmud. Islam and Judaism, like other religions, both value the sanctity of life.

There are more than 3 million Muslims in this country and nearly all of them are peace-loving people. They have been successful in every walk of life and have contributed to the advancement and well-being of this country. I appreciate and understand that a tiny minority have acted very badly and committed criminal offenses. What they have said and what they are doing is totally un-Islamic. Islam teaches us to celebrate the difference and diversity which God has purposefully created in our world.

The Question of this debate refers also to UK Muslim leaders. I consider myself to be one of the Muslim leaders. I am very active in combating extremism and radicalization among all communities, and I have attended and spoken at numerous meetings. I have been involved in initiatives and have taken positive action to deal with the issues of radicalization and extremism. To deal with them requires a holistic approach and we must all work together. It should involve the community, local authorities, schools, universities, prison authorities and the police. Mosques, Imams and Muslim centers also have a vital role to play. We must also take steps to combat radicalization through the use of the internet, notably through social media, and for this we must work with organizations that can do so effectively. Because of the shortage of time, I cannot enumerate the steps to be taken, although I have prepared an extended report on these issues.

I am also actively involved in promoting interfaith dialogue and I am a patron of five Muslim and non-Muslim organizations which are involved in these activities. In the Holy Koran, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has said: “O mankind! We have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another”. As Muslims, we should get to know one another and people from other communities, as commanded by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

Radicalisation and extremism cannot be dealt with by looking at theological issues because we need to take positive steps. I am proud to be a practicing Muslim. I have studied the Holy Koran and the Sunnah. I doubt very much if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has made a deep study of Islam. I feel that a debate such as this, tabled by him, can create discord and lead to further problems.

In verse 106, Surah An-Nahl refers to the notion of Taqiyya—hiding one’s faith in life-threatening conditions—as only self-defense. Mainstream Islam does not accept the current situation anywhere in the West as threatening Muslims to an extent that they would need to hide their faith identity to survive. This question is therefore completely irrelevant. In regard to Al Hijra, in verse 97, Sura An-Nisa refers to Taqiyya in compelling cases where Muslims cannot practice their faith for fear of persecution and threat to their life. In such extreme circumstances, they are advised to leave the land of hostility for a safer place. Again, no such conditions exist in the West to compel Muslims to migrate away from the West. This is again totally irrelevant and taken out of context.

In Islamic terminology, abrogation means lifting a ruling indicated by a sharia text, on the basis of evidence from the Holy Koran or consensus of the Sunnah. In most cases, the abrogation was to make things easier for Muslims or increase the rewards. As a Muslim, I say that it is totally unnecessary to re-examine the three points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I want to emphasize that any act of terrorism is not in our name.

Finally, I urge everyone in the country to be united and stand together to combat any form of radicalization or extremism, in whatever form it comes.

Link to Full Debate Hansard

Exports: Africa and the Commonwealth

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Popat on securing this debate and on his excellent speech. I also welcome my noble friend the Minister to her new role on the Front Bench.

I was born and brought up in east Africa. I am a strong supporter of the Commonwealth and the African countries. I have visited a number of countries overseas and know their ambassadors and high commissioners in London. I have also met members of their diaspora in the United Kingdom.

I have spoken in your Lordships’ House several times previously on various aspects of trade with the Commonwealth and the African countries. Today, I will talk specifically about the Islamic finance market in the United Kingdom and the opportunities to promote this in the Commonwealth and the African countries.

I declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance. My background is in financial services and I have a long and strong connection with the City of London. In fact, my full title is Baron Sheikh, of Cornhill in the City of London. The APPG is a robust body and enjoys strong cross-party support in both Houses of Parliament.

The UK has the largest Islamic finance industry outside the Muslim world. We have five fully sharia-compliant licensed banks and 20 banks offering Islamic finance services. We were the first western nation to secure a sovereign sukuk. The net assets of Islamic funds in the UK are $728 million, and 65 sukuks issued at $48 billion have been listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The global market for Islamic financial assets grew by 7% last year and it stood at $2.3 trillion at the end of December 2016. With global Muslim population numbers expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.8 billion in 2050, the demand for Islamic finance products and instruments will indeed continue to grow.

Islamic finance is also an attractive proposition for non-Muslim consumers who wish to have a more ethical form of finance. Although penetration of the industry as a whole is low, the levels of public awareness and understanding of Islamic financial products and services are increasing. I believe that there are still considerable opportunities to develop and grow Islamic finance in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, particularly across Africa and the Commonwealth.

The APPG on Islamic Finance aims to promote the understanding and development of Islamic finance in the UK as well as in overseas countries. The UK has been providing Islamic financial services for more than 40 years, while government policy over the last decade has created a fiscal and regulatory framework that encourages the growth of Islamic finance.

Services in the UK are offered by financial intermediaries, asset managers, insurance providers and more than 30 international law, accountancy and consultancy firms. A number of them attended the stakeholders meeting that I will refer to later. The UK is the leading centre of Islamic finance education training, with four professional institutions and nearly 70 universities and business schools offering Islamic finance courses and degrees.

The APPG believes that, by harnessing our status as the leading western hub, Islamic finance can offer a great way to build new relationships and access new overseas markets. This is particularly important post Brexit. As the global market for Islamic finance expands,  UK organisations and institutions are well placed to help develop, support and optimise Islamic finance frameworks within the emerging sectoral markets where there is growing domestic demand.

This very point was made at the dinner that the APPG recently hosted in London for 30 guests. They represented around 16 countries and were visiting London for the Global Islamic Finance and Investment Group, which is an important platform to discuss the global opportunities and barriers facing Islamic finance. We can certainly play a role in this regard.

Last week, the APPG held its inaugural stakeholders meeting, which was attended by 30 Islamic finance practitioners. The discussion addressed the very matter of exporting our Islamic finance capability, and there was a desire among the stakeholders to be more involved in overseas activities. I believe the time is now right to better understand the global demand and develop a UK proposition that meets this need.

DfID can play a greater role in achieving this objective. I had a meeting with DfID about three weeks ago to discuss the matter, and we were pleased that DfID attended last week’s stakeholders meeting. It has a growing interest in Islamic finance from a financial inclusion and development perspective. We welcomed DfID’s suggestion of working with the APPG and the stakeholders to develop export opportunities for the UK Islamic finance sector.

In conclusion, I believe that our domestic capabilities, coupled with the growing demand for Islamic finance in Africa and Commonwealth countries, present a great opportunity for the UK to export its expertise in this area. I request that the Government, regulators and our Islamic finance industry work together to showcase our capability in Islamic finance at a global level.

What are my noble friend’s views on the export of Islamic finance activities, and would she would be willing to work with the APPG and the stakeholders to promote these activities?

Link to Full Debate Hansard

Previous Bilateral Trade: Sudan

Lord Sheikh
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sudan.

Lord Sheikh (Con)
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan.

The Earl of Courtown (Con)
My Lords, the Department for International Trade has a dedicated presence in east Africa to promote trade and investment, and works with DfID and the FCO to support UK businesses there. We welcome the lifting of US economic sanctions, and are tracking emergent opportunities. However, political and economic factors make Sudan a challenging place to do business. The need for reform is central in our engagement with the Government of Sudan.

Lord Sheikh
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. In the light of current preparations for Brexit, and given the US revocation of sanctions on Sudan, I hope that we can now consider Sudan as a valuable potential trade partner. What support are the FCO and the Department for International Trade rendering the UK-Sudan trade and investment forum to be held in London in December? What are the Minister’s views about areas which British companies and businesses can look into in order to undertake bilateral trade with Sudan?

Link to Full Debate Hansard

Sri Lanka

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Naseby for bringing this important subject before your Lordships’ House. I am a friend of Sri Lanka. I have visited the country three times and met its leaders and other senior figures. I also enjoy a healthy long-standing relationship with its high commissioner in London. Here in Parliament, I am a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka. I have raised issues relating to Sri Lanka on several occasions in your Lordships’ House. I believe that it is in the political and economic interests of the United Kingdom to maintain a close and productive relationship with Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was torn apart by civil war. Conflict prevailed for 26 years and caused immeasurable suffering. An estimated 100,000 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more lost their homes. It has been eight years since the fighting ceased. People are now returning to their communities and attempting to rebuild their lives. In order for permanent peace to be achieved, the Sri Lankan Government are making the necessary reforms towards reconciliation. I am pleased that this is being done. However, they must ensure that all communities feel that proper and transparent justice has been served for the atrocities that took place. Until this happens, wounds cannot be fully healed.

It is important to note some of the specific positive measures that have already been taken by the Sri Lankan Government. A national policy on reconciliation and coexistence has been approved to serve as a framework to prevent conflict reoccurring. A task force has held public consultations to inform the development of new and transitional systems of justice and reparations. Powers have been devolved from the presidency to the Parliament, and presidential term limits have been reintroduced. Independent bodies have also been set up to maintain oversight of key public institutions, including the police and the judiciary. The security services are also being trained to fully comply with international human rights law, particularly with regard to people who have been arrested or detained. It is  important that we applaud this progress and use it to provide further incentives for Sri Lanka to continue such momentum.

The European Union took this approach earlier this year, when it granted Sri Lanka enhanced market access status through the generalised scheme of preferences, which is commonly known as GSP+. This removes around two-thirds of import duties on Sri Lankan products entering the EU market. The EU Trade Commissioner stated that this was a vote of confidence that Sri Lanka will maintain its progress in implementing international conventions. She also mentioned that the situation was still unsatisfactory in many areas and that more work needed to be done.

Indeed, there is some concern that the progress of reform has slowed in recent months. Much more assertive efforts need to be made in a number of respects. Of particular concern are the tens of thousands of people who are still unaccounted for. Many people are still seeking the truth about what happened to their friends and family during the war. There are horrific accounts of people being forcibly removed from their homes by heavy-handed military or police officers. There are many allegations of human rights abuses on both sides. Whatever the truth, it is important that the allegations are investigated swiftly and with transparency. The integrity and impartiality of the judiciary will be crucial in this respect.

The Government recently introduced the Office of Missing Persons. This office will attempt to search and trace those who are missing and determine the circumstances in which they went missing. It is now important that progress is accelerated. I support the calls for Sri Lanka to produce a timetable for implementation of further reforms, particularly with regard to transitional justice mechanisms. There also needs to be much faster movement towards revising the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is viewed by many as a key cause of human rights abuses.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism visited Sri Lanka in July. His report stated that positive steps were being taken, but that Sri Lanka was still falling short on measures that would achieve long-term solutions and benefit all communities. Specifically, he said that he was encouraged by the Government’s zero tolerance of the use of torture, but that it had become so endemic in the security sector that it remained a little bit of a problem. In short, the Sri Lankan Government are trying to put—and seem committed to putting—the right policies in place. However, the level of fundamental change required in practice is proving somewhat difficult in some areas.

Last month, President Sirisena made an address to the United Nations. He spoke of the importance of protecting and strengthening democracy and of using power responsibly. He was also clear in his commitment to build a society that promotes true freedom and equality. He was equally clear on the need for support from the United Nations in order to fully achieve these aims. I received his speech as an acknowledgement of the work that still lies ahead, but also as a plea for respectful support from the international community.  There was clearly a sense of caution that, if measures are imposed too heavily and hastily, there is a risk of destabilising progress. What was my noble friend the Minister’s reaction to this speech?

I must also mention the importance of economic prosperity for Sri Lanka. I held a debate in your Lordships’ House on increasing bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. Trade can serve as a route to improve the financial position of many and can assist a country’s economic and social development. Sri Lanka has much to offer and I hope that we will look more closely at furthering our trading relationship with it, particularly as we look beyond Europe.

Since the conflict ended, successive Sri Lankan Governments have set a course for the island to become a major commercial maritime hub. I reiterate what I have said in your Lordships’ House with regard to trade with Sri Lanka. Britain should look carefully at the opportunities to exploit the rapidly changing economic landscape of this region. There are already about 100 British companies successfully operating in Sri Lanka in an environment that is already seen as one of the most liberalised economies in south Asia. Yet more rapid growth is expected, with an array of free trade agreements coming on stream to facilitate access to massively expanding Asian marketplaces. Sri Lanka should be seen as an excellent staging post for British businesses in the post-Brexit era to penetrate major markets from India to China. What positive action is being taken to accelerate trade between Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom?

Sri Lanka has undergone extreme turmoil and is still in the early stages of reconciliation. Peacebuilding is slow and often frustrating. The unity Government have made strides that were not possible just five years ago. We must recognise this and understand the fragile climate that still exists. I hope we can move forward with a policy of positive engagement, firm scrutiny and support for Sri Lanka. Finally, I would ask my noble friend how best we can achieve these objectives.

Link to Full Debate Hansard