In April 2018 Manchester Metropolitan University asked me to give a talk in early 2019 as part of their theme "Manchester International City." I gave the presentation on 27 February 2019.
My relationship with Manchester is very personal, as I have lived there for almost all of my life. Accordingly, I chose the title "My International Manchester."
I recorded my talk. Accordingly, below are:
My first presentation recording was done on the spur of the moment, just putting my iPhone 6 on the table and relying on its built in microphone. See my page Lecture: One Muslim’s Perspective on Religious Freedom.
Once I found recording presentations worthwhile, I purchased a high quality Sennheiser digital lapel microphone which plugs into the lightning port of my iPhone. That produces a much better recording.
I am happy to share the original PowerPoint slide presentation.
The question and answer session was also recorded. However, I am not publishing the audio recording for three reasons:
Instead, I have listened to the Q&A session and, where I regard the questions as being worth sharing, have written down a condensed version of the questions and my responses, improving the clarity of both the question and the response where appropriate.
The main issue was lack of contact between Manchester’s Muslims and Jews, rather than any particular difficulties. This differs from the situation in, say France, where from time to time there is hostility between Muslims and Jews.
The forum was created primarily for instrumental reasons. Muslims and Jews are relatively small minorities in the UK, and face similar problems such as occasional attempts to ban religious slaughter, circumcision, coroners refusing to privatise rapid burial etc.. We are more effective protecting our common interests if we do so together.
A particularly good example of such combined lobbying is my petition to protect halal and kosher slaughter.
The wonderful thing that the forum has achieved is that as initial strangers have got to know each other, we have moved beyond instrumental goals to developing personal friendships. You know that you have achieved something when Muslims and Jews are able to tell each other somewhat “edgy” jokes knowing that it will not harm their friendship.
Perhaps the most important part of our impact is the external media impact which arises when our press releases become published stories. This has helped to change the overall atmosphere in Manchester by showing people that Muslims and Jews in Manchester do things together.
The state cannot force people to mix. It starts with your own individual mindset. For example, when choosing a university not to automatically pick one because you expect to find many people from year-round background there. Choosing to engage in mainstream politics rather than fringe community politics.
Even now, I regularly find myself in environments where I am the only ethnic minority person present, for example the 1900 Club (a Conservative dining club) because I push myself to go outside my “comfort zone.” Such mixing is not only good for the country, it is good for you because it develops you and broadens your contacts. When I meet people in such environments, I am aware that I may be the only Muslim they can ask questions about difficult subjects such as religious extremism.
Such an attitude can be extremely narrowing. It is a question of balance.
For example, most of my eating at home consists of curried vegetables, the kind of food my parents cooked. However, when I eat out, I am willing to eat anything as long as it does not contain any non-halal meat. So I eat food from anywhere in the world. The key point is that I refuse to let my identity be defined by eating only one country’s cuisine, unlike those Asians who just refuse to eat non-Asian food because they regard doing so as a loss of identity.
That is a good challenge. I have to accept that because of my life’s journey, many things are easier for me than for other people. For example, as I have got older, I have been increasingly conscious of the benefit I have from the simple fact that nobody can attempt to “put me down” as unintelligent or undereducated, since I am a Cambridge graduate. I recognise that mixing in certain environments is much more challenging for those who do not have such advantages.
I also accept the point about some rough white working-class areas. In the 1980’s my brother-in-law moved into such an area in Basildon, and after a year or so had to move out due to the level of verbal abuse and vandalism that his family encountered.
However, we all make individual choices. Not everyone involved with the Muslim Jewish Forum comes from a high-status background.