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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 19:08 GMT
Muslim neighbours scheme launch
London's Globe Theatre
Globe: Hosting Islamic events
Muslims around Britain are being asked to help break down barriers by getting to know their non-Muslim neighbours.

Launching the festival at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, organisers said it aimed to build stronger communities and closer neighbours.

Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Prince Turki Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and senior UK Muslims are at the launch.

It comes after Pakistan's top diplomat to the UK said communities had to do more to integrate.

Launched with a string of lectures at the Globe theatre, Islamic Awareness Week is themed around the idea of Muslim neighbours.

It includes events in 12 cities and towns including Manchester, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Bradford.

Lectures at the theatre include talks on the principles of classical Islamic gardens, inter-faith dialogue and Shakespeare's own view of Islam.

Events around the country aim to combat stereotypes that Muslim communities are distant and removed.

Sher Khan of the Islamic Society of Britain said mutual understanding was a two-way process - but this week would see Muslims take steps themselves.

'Fear and alienation'

"We have noticed a sense of fear and alienation towards the Muslim community and neighbours," said Mr Khan.

"We want people to find out what their neighbour is like and create opportunities for people to interact and get to know each other properly, rather than through the media."

This is about bridge-building - Muslims do need to do their bit but the onus is not on them alone
Sher Khan
Muslims should invite their neighbours around for tea and talk about each others' lives and beliefs, said Mr Khan.

These informal events, along with organised neighbourliness gatherings in a range of cities would help break down barriers and dispel misconceptions, he said.

Events at the Globe include a lecture by leading US Muslim thinker Sheikh Hamza Yusuf on Islamic interpretations of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Birmingham's Evening Mail newspaper is also producing a special supplement on the city's Muslim communities and the wider role of Islam in Britain.

Mr Khan also said the theme of "knowing your Muslim neighbour" was also a response to earlier polling which suggested 80% of non-Muslims believed Muslim communities had to open up.

'Bridge building'

That concern was further echoed this week when Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK said British Pakistanis needed to do more to integrate.
INTEGRATION DEBATE
If you want to have an influence and an impact on this society you must be part of that society
Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK

Dr Maleeha Lodhi said groups could only have an impact on a society if they played an active part - although she also accused Home Secretary David Blunkett of pandering to extremists.

"This is about bridge-building. Muslims do need to do their bit but the onus is not on them alone. There needs to be effort from all sides," said Mr Khan.

"We are concerned about the alienation being created by things such as the Terrorism Act, especially by the media's reporting of it.

"There is a huge amount of coverage over anti-terrorism arrests but very little around releases of people who are not guilty of any crime.

"This is very skewed reporting and there needs to be more balance."

This week also saw the publication of a report into British Muslims which found they are more likely to suffer discrimination on religious rather than racial grounds.

Muslim youths are at increasing risk of social isolation from the rest of society, said the report by the Open Society Institute.


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