Homelessness is on the rise in the UK. Image: Leo Reynolds/Flickr, CC 2.0
“Jeremy Corbyn, charity begins at home”, proclaimed Councillor Shazia Bashir as she stood at the podium of the Conservative Party conference last week.
Like Councillor Bashir, I am a Muslim woman. As Muslims we know that it is our duty to provide for the vulnerable and less fortunate in society. Islamic law states that those who are able should donate 2.5% of their income annually for charitable purposes – a practice known as ‘Zakat’. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Quran states: "My Mercy extends to all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who have God-consciousness and give their Zakat and those who believe” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:156).
Research by Just Giving and ICM in 2013 showed British Muslims give more to charity per capita, than all religious groups.
I’ve recently been involved in a Food Drive in central London to feed the homeless, with a charity called ‘Who Is Hussain?’ There are many Muslim charities – the National Zakat Foundation, Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief, and the Ummah Welfare Trust to name but a few.
But charities and goodwill alone cannot alleviate our concerns. It is only through systematically addressing the issues that the homeless and destitute face. During the food drive last week I began to realise that whatever we were able to provide was merely a drop in the ocean of need. We could have stayed there all night if our resources hadn’t run dry.
Councillor Bashir’s party have seen the number of children living in poverty increase to 4.5 million children. Seen over a million people using foodbanks. Seen homelessness increase 50% in London alone. Seen at least 440 homeless people die in the UK in the past year.
Councillor Bashir may stand at a podium at the Tory Party Conference, and represent a seat in Peterborough where there is a tight-knit Pakistani community – but she definitely does not represent Muslim values or Islam. She certainly does not represent me as a visibly Muslim woman in the UK, nor, I would guess, a lot of the 2.7 million Muslims in this country.
As a Muslim woman, I am horrified by lack of attention to the vulnerable in our society. I am also horrified by the anti-Muslim sentiment which is rife within the Conservative Party. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly warned about the Tories’ “bigotry blindspot”.
It is almost as though the Councillor was not aware of the comments made by Boris Johnson MP in the summer, or the comments reposted on Facebook by another Tory Councillor comparing Muslim women to patio umbrellas.
Such comments are dangerous. There has been a 26% rise in attacks against visibly Muslim women in the last year, and they are often more likely to be targeted than men.
Shaun Bailey – recently selected as the Tory candidate for London Mayor - has also been vocal in his views about minority communities. In 2005 he wrote that by accommodating people that are Muslim and Hindu through multicultural teachings and holidays, “we rob Britain of its community” and risk turning the UK into a “crime-riddled cesspool”. This is the man the Conservatives have chosen to stand as a Mayoral candidate in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Bailey also recently ran into trouble for retweeting a post that included an image of our current mayor of London Sadiq Khan with the caption “Mad mullah Khan of Londonistan”. This is nothing new for the Tories, they have mastered the act of running racist and Islamophobic campaigns in mayoral elections. Who can forget the horrendous campaign that was run by Zac Goldsmith against Sadiq Khan.
But the silence from Theresa May is deafening.
The reality is that such a campaign could be run again and again, as no one is holding the Tories to account. When prominent MPs are able to make derogatory statements about the Muslim community and are not disciplined, one questions the due processes within the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson has yet to apologise publicly for his remarks about ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, but the impact of his remarks have had devastating consequences for many Muslim women across the UK.
Baroness Warsi has repeatedly highlighted how issues of Islamophobia must be addressed to ensure that the flames of discrimination, bigotry and racism are not fuelled. Islamophobia has "passed the dinner-table test" and become widely socially acceptable in Britain, according to Baroness Warsi.
The MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) and AVOW (Advancing Voices of Women, Against Islamophobia), have both written to Brandon Lewis in the last two months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into the blatant Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. They are still awaiting a response.