Secular Muslims like Sajid Javid in prominent government posts are victories for the battle of hearts and minds.
In tough times for Muslims in public life, a cohort of secular Britons hailing from Muslim communities are challenging assumptions and extremism on all sides. This week, as a result of the Home Office scandal on the treatment of ‘Windrush’ immigrants, Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP was forced to resign. Replacing her is Sajid Javid, former secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Britain’s first Home Secretary of South Asian heritage. It has been noted that Javid shares a remarkably similar profile to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Both of them are children of working-class bus drivers hailing from the Pakistani migrant communities that arrived in Britain from the 1960s. While much is to be made of these two triumphant examples of an immigrant story in Modern Britain, both Javid and Khan are also united by their Muslim background. Khan professes as a practising Muslim and Javid practices no religion but both have borne heightened scrutiny in the public eye as prominent British Muslims.
Khan and Javid are a part of a rising wave of secular Muslims in British public life. These figures of practicing faith or none believe in the value of their Muslim heritage as well as recognising the importance of freedoms that Britain’s secular democracy provides-for this principled stance they are the targeted by extremists of all denominations. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Javid penned an eloquent response for The Times, offering a steadfast commitment to secular freedoms. He wrote, “Liberal democracy is the finest form of government ever devised,” he went on to declares that we in the West must not allow “hard-won freedoms” to be lost in the face of violent intimidation. Khan too has spoken out boldly in declaring that not enough has been done to root out extremism within Muslim communities in Britain, while never once backtracking from a resolute belief that there is “no contradiction to being British and Muslim”. For both the far right and Islamists, no figures draw more ire than secular Muslims in the public light. Khan as Mayor has received no shortage of flack for his firm commitment to London’s diversity and celebration of London’s annual Pride-putting out of line with the majority of Britain’s Muslim communities where LGBT people remain marginalised.
Elsewhere in London, just days before Javid’s promotion, the organisation British Muslims for Secular Democracy gathered to celebrate its 10th anniversary. There, launching the event, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown declared their mission creed; not to judge who is ‘the right kind of Muslim’ but to bring together Muslims of all sects and faiths to promote a democratic mindset, free thinking and a commitment to secularism. Flanking her were Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Dr.Omar Khan of Runnymede trust and also amongst them Nazir Afzal OBE hailing from Javid’s hometown of Rochdale. Afzal too had made himself a target for extremists for his unceasing commitment to justice in Britain. Through his work as Chief Prosecutor in the CPS, he prosecuted Danish cartoons protestors calling for beheadings on the streets of Britain and as a result, was added to a jihadi death list. He went on to oversee the prosecution of South Asian and Muslim grooming gangs in Rochdale where much had been made of the ‘political correctness’ behind institutional failures to protect young girls. Outspoken on issues of gender-based violence and their ties to extremism, Afzal went out on a limb resigning as Chief Executive of the Police Crime Commissioners Association so that he could speak out publicly on the issue after the Manchester bombing.
Together, the emergent ‘Broad-Mosque’ of secular Muslims in British public life is the greatest possible counter to both the nativist far-right and Islamists within Britain’s Muslim communities. Britain’s future, multicultural in heritage but united in its commitment to secular democracy, rests on the shoulders of these few forthright figures. Their cause is our cause, and we must be behind them.