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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 13:20 GMT
Faith and the community dream
Ajmal Masroor
Islamic Society of Britain

East London mosque in Whitechapel is an important base for community projects
The decline of religion in Britain contrasts with the strength of faith within Muslim communities. The BBC programme, "What the World Thinks of God" examines the modern world's relationship with God. Here Ajmal Masroor describes how Muslim community groups are helping tackle problems such as crime, poverty and drug abuse.

We all dream about living in a neighbourhood that is clean, tidy, free from crime and vandalism, and where children have space to play and feel safe.

We all want local schools that provide a good education, a local community with social and recreational space and facilities, and local shops that sell quality goods and food at affordable prices.

Most of us also dream of living in a vibrant community, where people respect each other and embrace diversity while living in harmony.

But the reality is often far from this.

Whatever the reasons, modern society in the UK can be blighted by disaffection.

Too many young people do not have a focus for their energies, and seem unable to find time or respect for their communities. That alienation too often leads to crime or drug addiction - especially in more deprived urban areas.

Community action

Local councils or government agencies often view faith-based organisations suspiciously
And it is here, in the heart of Britain's inner cities, that faith-based Muslim communities are at work - seeking to provide individuals with a purpose, to give them self-discipline and a respect for society, to close the gap between the reality and the dream.

"God does not change the condition of those who do not work to change it themselves."

This is a direct quote from the Koran but it is also the mission statement of the MERG agency in East London of which the project manager Mr Ali is very proud.

It appeals to people's sense of responsibility and commitment to others around them, and is able to reach out through a common faith.

This vision taken from scripture is the agency's focus - helping local people to help themselves through more than 30 local community voluntary organisations.

Through training, education or language support schemes, they equip people with the skills they need to get back to work. And there are many other initiatives - women's and youth projects and programmes for drugs rehabilitation and awareness.

Suspicion

But it is not always plain sailing.
IMAGES OF FAITH
A series of images created for What the World Thinks of God

It is astonishing to see the level of ignorance that can exist among the partners involved.

Service providers such as local councils or government agencies often view faith-based organisations suspiciously, while the faith-based organisations feel there is little or no interest in what they do.

One drugs rehabilitation agency set up by local faith leaders has to hide its faith identity because of the difficulty of securing funding for faith-based initiatives.

Yet faith teachings and motivations are proving their value - successfully addressing the problems of drugs misuse - for instance by using faith centres to disseminate information to parents about the effects of drugs.

There are service providers such as the NHS Trust in Mile End which work very closely with the local faith leaders to tackle various social and health-related challenges in the area.

Kensington and Chelsea Islamic Cultural and Heritage Centre and the East London Mosque have also led successful projects that have been developed over years and are very much faith-based.

But I believe the strength of faith communities has not been fully appreciated or utilised.

Islam and regeneration

Teachings of regeneration and renewal are at the core of Islamic faith. With a huge captive audience and a great network with more than 1,000 mosques, the Muslim faith community can play a greater role.

The prophet Muhammad established a whole community based on the notion of collective effort, mutual respect and real partnership.

When he emigrated from his place of birth, Makkah, to the city of Madina, he paired up people of both the cities, instilled in them a sense of pride and honour, deep conviction and love, and united them by faith.

They worked hard to regenerate their city and their neighbourhood.

In the same way in Britain, faith-based organisations, with their access to the masses, can reach out and help regenerate and renew our neighbourhoods and communities.

With greater awareness and real partnerships bridging the cultural divides, Islamic organisations can help our shared communities begin to see real change for the greater good.

On Wednesday, Mark Elsdon-Dew of Holy Trinity, Brompton will be writing on "Re-engaging the lost congregation".


What The World Thinks of God will be broadcast as follows:



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