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Saturday, January 16, 1999 Published at 10:29 GMT


Muslim festival marks plea to be heard

The world's one billion Muslims celebrate Eid

British Muslims are marking the end of the Holy month of Ramadan with a call for greater understanding.

With anything between 1.5-3 million Muslims in the UK, celebrations are certain to be held in almost every town in the country for the festival of the Eid.

It is one of the most important dates of the Islamic calendar, marking the end of a month of fasting for the world's one billion Muslims.

Dan Damon reports on the radical minority among young British muslims
But despite the festivities, British Muslims feel that they are both misunderstood and misrepresented.

Sahib Mustaqim Bleher, General Secretary of the Muslim Party of Great Britain, says Muslims in the UK feel alienated from mainstream society.

He said: "Muslims in this country do not have adequate representation, they are simply not heard.


[ image: Iraq stiill faces bombing threat]
Iraq stiill faces bombing threat
"During the first Gulf War, there was a backlash against Muslim people - women wearing headscalves were shouted at in the street, people who were obviously of Arab background were not given equal job opportunities.

"We contribute a great deal to Britain, yet we are marginalised as a people."

International events and crises only serve to exacerbate and highlight existing problems at home in the UK, says Mr Bleher.

Referring to the attacks on Iraq, he added: "We're very disappointed at how this month of Ramadan started. It is seen as an attack on Muslims, not on Saddam Hussein. The damage is being done to ordinary citizens who have children to feed.

"But the image of Saddam Hussein is used by the media to encourage anti-Muslim feeling. Islamophobia is being talked about, but Muslims really need to be given the opportunity to be heard for that to be dispelled."

The situation in the Yemen is also bearing heavily on the UK's Muslim population - not least because the five of the six young men being held there are British.

[ image: The relatives of those held in Yemen insist they are not criminals]
The relatives of those held in Yemen insist they are not criminals
Mohsin Ghalain, 18, from London; Shahid Butt, 33; Malik Nassar Harhra, 26; Samad Ahmed, 21, all from Birmingham; and Ghulam Hussein, 25, from Luton; along with a sixth man, have been formally charged with being members of an "armed gang" for the intention of "committing murders".

The UK's Muslim community insists that the men were students, in the country for the sole purpose of learning Arabic.

Abdul Rahman, of the Young Muslims, says that British Muslims feel that had the students been white, "strings would have been pulled" to get them out of Yemen.

He said: "When it came to the case of the Saudi nurses, or Louise Woodward for that matter, there was a huge public outcry for the return of those people to the UK.

Conversions every week

"It is widely felt that the government could do a lot more for these young people in the Yemen if it wanted to.

"Non-Muslims seem to regard us as an immigrant population - but there are also 50 converts, or reversions, to Islam every week.

"That is not to say that we have an agenda to infiltrate and convert UK society. That is very far from the truth.

"What we, and many other Muslims feel, is that it is time for Islam to be afforded the same importance as Christianity, or Judaism or any other religion in this country.

"The greatest freedom in the world at the moment is to be found in Britain, the greatest freedom of speech and expression too. But we need to build on it if Muslim people are not going to feel sidelined."

Time of reflection

[ image: Eid: A family time]
Eid: A family time
Their concerns come at a time of reflection for Muslims, with the festival of the Eid.

The festival brings to an end four weeks during which Muslims abstain from eating or drinking during daylight hours.

It can last for up to three days, and begins with prayers. Afterwards, the emphasis is on family, visiting relatives

Mr Shansuddin Siddiqi, of the London-based Ramadan Radio, said: "When we get back from the mosque, we go visiting or we have relatives come and visit us.

"We prepare good food and eat together as a family.

"The children are not forgotten. There might be presents for the really small children, and for the older children, perhaps books or a pen or something useful. Older children might be given money.

"But the most important thing is to give thanks to the creator for revealing the Koran."

Zeeshan Khan, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain, says the day is not unlike Christmas for many Christian families - although he stresses that spirituality is high on the agenda.

He said: "There is a tendency to maybe eat too much, to spend the time with your family, so in that way, it's probably a bit like Christmas.

"And the festival is becoming very slightly commercialised. It's now possible to buy Eid greetings cards, and people are more likely now to buy presents.

"But what is absolutely important is that for a month, each adult has been considering the spirituality of themselves, of their community, of the wider community."

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