"Reform Magazine" is the magazine of The United Reformed Church.
One of their team recently emailed the Conservative Muslim Forum asking if someone could submit a 400-word response to the question "Is Britain unwelcoming?" They wanted four respondents for their article, and were seeking a perspective from a Muslim.
The answer I submitted is reproduced in full below. You can read about 75% of the text of each response in "A good question: Is Britain unwelcoming?" on the Reform Magazine website. (For the full text, you need to subscribe!)
I learned over a decade ago from Anthony Robbins that the starting point with any question of this type (e.g. "Is food X good to eat?") should be to respond with "Compared to what?" That is why I made a point of comparing the UK's performance with Germany and France.
Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
I came here as a toddler in 1952 and millions have immigrated after me in subsequent years to make our lives in the UK.
While traditional Britons have a reputation for being reserved, and not speaking to strangers unless someone has introduced them, I have never found Britain unwelcoming. As a country we can be proud of our record in receiving and integrating people of different faiths and ethnicities. We have certainly done it far better than two of our neighbours, France and Germany
There are two key reasons why the UK has been able to welcome people so well.
Our country’s concept of citizenship is fundamentally civic, rather than ethnic or linguistic. This may come from having long established ethnic and linguistic minorities such as the Welsh, the Scots, the Cornish, and the Irish for example. In comparison, until recently “guest worker” immigrants to Germany were denied the right to become citizens, because a German was seen exclusively as someone descended from the Teutonic tribes.
Secondly, we have an established church, the Church of England, which has seen its role as acting as an umbrella for all faiths. Accordingly, Britain understands the importance of religious faith far better than an aggressively secular country such as France. I am a Muslim, and from the beginning the law has accommodated the need of Muslims to have meat slaughtered in a halal way, the desire to build mosques and establish religious schools, and the desire of some Muslim women to wear particular religious clothing.
The Government has long understood the need for integration, the importance of outlawing discrimination on grounds of race or religion, and has sought to make our society more cohesive.
The consequence is that immigrants to Britain have been able to integrate into British society, rather than being marginalised as French Arabs have been in the banlieues. At a purely personal level, the British state made it possible for me to attend grammar school despite living in a Manchester slum, and to go on from there to Cambridge University.
The overall national result has been a steady, measurable decline in racial intolerance, and a steady rise in marriages between people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, to the extent that today they are no longer regarded as unusual. These include several in my own family.