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Sunday, November 23, 1997 Published at 07:14 GMT


New voice for British Muslims
image: [ The world outside the mosque can seem harsh and unwelcoming ]
The world outside the mosque can seem harsh and unwelcoming

Members of more than 250 Muslim organisations across Britain are launching a new body to represent them.

But the umbrella group, to be called the Muslim Council of Britain, has already been attacked by Muslim groups which say it cannot represent them.

[ image: mosque is the focus of community activity for Muslims]
mosque is the focus of community activity for Muslims
The organisers say the council incorporates most of the significant groups active in the Islamic community in Britain, though they expect only about half of those invited will attend the launch in Wembley, London.

They say many others are waiting to see how it will work before coming forward.

The council will seek to celebrate the contribution Muslims make to British life. It will also work for the removal of the discrimination and disadvantages which Muslims face.

[ image: Many Muslims are worried about education]
Many Muslims are worried about education
Organisers are especially concerned about high rates of unemployment and the failure so far of Muslim schools to attract state funding in the way that Christian and Jewish schools do.

The council will also work to have religious discrimination made illegal.

But the group is attracting opposition. The Society of Muslim Lawyers said the council's members were completely out of touch with battered women and alienated youths.

It branded the council a bunch of middle-class Muslims looking after their own interests.

Another group complained that the body would be moderate and secular and therefore alien to Islam.

[ image: Many Muslims originate from Pakistan]
Many Muslims originate from Pakistan
Around half the Muslims in Britain came originally from Pakistan, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for around a quarter.

Several hundred thousand originated in Bangladesh, with India also contributing significant numbers.

The largest Muslim communities are in Greater London, the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Lancashire and central Scotland.

Most belong to the Sunni tradition of Islam, which accounts for 90% of Muslims worldwide. Only a small proportion of British Muslims are Shi'as.

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