The voices of young Muslims must be harnessed to combat Islamic extremism in Britain, argues the Vice President of The Young Muslims UK
Turning 18 is a momentous occasion.
Most people mark the event partying, at a pub or with their mates. I, on the other hand, celebrated my eighteenth sitting in Homeland Security at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina.
I had been held with two other young Muslims on the way to a national leadership retreat being paid for by the Foreign Office - clearly documented on our travel itineraries.
I had no real qualms with being held, of course these men were simply doing their jobs in ensuring the safety of their nation. But was this a sign of things to come for me as a young British Muslim?
Be it the reaction of some senior politicians to well known Muslim organisations, or government white papers constructed with the help of so called “anti-extremism” think tanks, young Muslims cannot be blamed for thinking the state is not on their side.
Let's face it, Hazel Blears's clash with the Muslim Council of Britain earlier this year, over its alleged support for a document that advocated Hamas military action in Gaza, did little to draw a wide-range of Muslim voices into the public confrontation that ensued.
This simply assisted in the alienation of those who are in reality not only the best equipped to fight extremism, but actually the ones most likely to do so.
Many young Muslims, like myself, were born and bred in the UK, giving us not only a strong understanding of our religion but also a sense of “Britishness” which has allowed us to amalgamate our faith with our nationality. The result is an outlook which is a far cry from the Islam presented in the tabloid headlines.
The practise of any religion requires knowledge and belief in the teachings of the faith, which provides a universal moral code to live by. It really is rare to find young people who are willing to sacrifice all that has been made so appealing through ‘pop culture’ for the sake of a greater existence.
To me this sacrifice is minute compared to the power my faith gives me, be it strength and patience in times of difficulty, or humility and gratitude when all in life is going well. At a time when Muslims are often alienated and portrayed as villains in the media, this journey can be a difficult one.
I find it hard to comprehend that this very same Islam is being used as justification for causing widespread terror and chaos. In reality, this is not the same faith.
After all, the Qur’an states: “...whosoever killeth a human being...it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” (S5:A32)
So rather than spending millions on targeting extremist organisations, which are finding new, covert ways to operate on a daily basis, why not simply dry up the stream of vulnerable young Muslims that flows into them by ensuring they feel as though they belong and are appreciated by society as a whole?
British Islam is far from the evil doctrine it is often portrayed as. I have witnessed it produce a young generation with ambition, knowledge, wisdom and strong moral belief allowing them to stand up for what they believe in.
It is they who hold the key to eradicating the cancer of extremism from our society.
Zeshan Rasul is Vice President of The Young Muslims UK – a national voluntary organisation aimed at providing a vehicle for young Muslims in Britain to improve society.