Where are the Muslim enclaves in our towns and cities? Are they really no-go areas and are they forcing others out? John Cornwell, one of Britain’s leading historians and commentators on religion, navigates the multicultural minefields that are polarising the nation.
Â Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest). Ash-hadu alla ilaha illa-llah (I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah).
The call to prayer resounds across the rooftops before dawn, bringing echoes of the Levant to provincial Luton and its 30,000 Muslims. But for infidel locals, the holy wake-up is a curse. “I’d like to pull the plug on that caterwauling,” a second-generation Luton Irish woman tells me. “I go to work, and I’ve got two small kids. It’s just not fair on non-Muslim families around here.”
While nearly three out of four people in Britain claim some form of Christian affiliation, Christianity makes ever less demands on the public space. Even nativity plays are surrendering to the sensitivities of secularists and other faiths. But the impact of Britain’s estimated 1.6m Muslims is increasingly assertive. Asian Muslims account for about 1 in 50 of British citizens, yet they dominate entire districts in the vicinities of their more than 1,350 mosques: 10 of them in Luton alone. Are Muslim enclaves making a contribution to a flourishing multicultural mosaic? Or are they undermining the cohesion of Britain’s civil society?
When Archbishop Rowan Williams delivered his ratiocinations on adoption of sharia, it sent shockwaves through the nation. His initiative was emphatically rebuffed. Earlier, Michael Nazir-Ali, the Pakistani-born Anglican Bishop of Rochester, caused a rumpus by calling for an end to “‘no-go’ areas” for non-Muslims in Britain, suggesting Islam must integrate with us. He was applauded and disparaged in equal measure by faith leaders and community activists. Muslim extremists issued death threats. But where are the alleged “no-go” areas?
And how do they constitute a danger to the fabric of British society?