Manchester hosts Citizens Commission on Islam

The Manchester Mosque shared Ramadan with non-Muslims, July 2015/ShiaWaves - YouTube
The Manchester Mosque shared Ramadan with non-Muslims, July 2015/ShiaWaves - YouTube

Citizens UK, the national community organising charity, is visiting Manchester today for a public hearing for the Citizens Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life. The Manchester Universities' Jesuit-led Catholic Chaplaincy is acting as the local agents of Citizens UK for this event: Chaplain, Fr Tim Byron SJ, and the Muslim Chaplain for the University invited those who are to give evidence and have arranged for the University to host it - although the Commissioners have been arranged from London. The public hearing will be taking place in the Council Chamber of the University of Manchester on Oxford Road. The national Commission, chaired by Rt Hon Dominic Grieve PC QC MP, is investigating how the Muslim community could better participate in the life of British society.

The Commission is touring the UK and holding hearings in a number of towns and cities, including those where Citizens UK works directly with civil society institutions. It will hear their testimony as well as evidence from the Muslim communities, business, education and government bodies. The Manchester hearing will see community leaders come together to put forward their concerns and recommendations to a group of Commissioners including Rt Hon Dominic Grieve MP, General Sir Nick Parker and Ms Jenny Watson (acting in a personal capacity). This morning, the Commissioners will hear from Sir Peter Fahy and David Andersson QC (Independent Reviewer for Counter Terrorism) at a private session; this will be followed by a public hearing in the afternoon, at which speakers will include the Bishop of Salford and the Vice President of the Islamic Society at Manchester University.

Fostering Muslim-Christian relations

“Civil society must be accessible to all,” says Dominic Grieve MP. “A fractured social system will only worsen the current situation where a small minority of young Muslim men and women somehow see life with IS as a better choice than their situation at home. The best way to understand a situation is to speak and listen to the people involved. I look forward to working with the other commissioners to hear the experiences of those wishing to participate in civil society.”Chaplain Fr Tim Byron SJ welcomes Muslim medics to Holy Name Church, January 2015

The Catholic Chaplaincy at Manchester Universities has been closely involved with initiatives to foster harmonious relations and dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Last year, a group of 20 Muslim doctors and surgeons from the North West led by Dr Manzar Ul Haq were warmly welcomed at Sunday Mass at Holy Name Church, where Dr Ul Haq spoke about the majority of the Muslim Community being opposed to senseless violence and the need to live in peace and harmony. Meanwhile, the Chaplaincy’s Homeless runs that take place most nights during term-time at Manchester University have been enhanced by sharing them with Muslim students.

Inclusion in democratic action

“Our mission is to develop the capacity and skills of communities so they become involved and politically active for the common good,” Neil Jameson, director, Citizens UK says. “It’s in the interest of the country as a whole to have a vibrant civil society that challenges and holds those in power to account. Yet Citizens UK’s current experience is that Muslim leaders are retreating from public life, fearful of being tarnished as extremist simply for having faith, and groups who work with prominent Islamic institutions are being pilloried for partnering with alleged extremists.” Mr Jameson adds that it is becoming increasingly difficult to include the Muslim community in Citizens UK’s work, with the result that this disadvantaged community is distanced from the mainstream further still. “Inclusion in democratic action is the best alternative to apathy, sectarianism and to violence,” he says. “We hope that following a period of listening and reflection the commissioners will develop a series of recommendations that civil society and other sectors including government and business can act upon to reverse this trend of alienation.”

The full list of this afternoon’s speakers is:
Tony Lloyd, Mayor of Greater Manchester & Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner
Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England (2011-15)
Saffa Mir, Vice President – University of Manchester Islamic Society
Rt Rev John Arnold, Bishop of Salford
Ivan Lewis MP, Member of Parliament for Bury South
Prof. Claire Alexander – Professor of Sociology, University of Manchester

The Manchester hearing will be followed by a number of visits to other cities scheduled for the first quarter of 2016, including Nottingham and London. It is expected that the Commission will take a year to undertake this national listening process, before reflecting and producing a report and recommendations at the end of 2016, which will together will help form a Compact that Muslim communities and other institutions and groups will voluntarily sign up to.