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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June 2005, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Profile: Iqbal Sacranie
Iqbal Sacranie: Shy but in the public spotlight
Iqbal Sacranie, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain has been knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Mr Sacranie was born in Malawi in 1951 and his family were among the many East African Asians who followed the British presence out of the continent at the end of the empire.

Educated in London, Mr Sacranie trained as an accountant and went on to become managing director of the family business.

He and his wife Yasmin, who married in 1976, have three sons and two daughters.

During the early 1980s, he joined with many other Muslims in considering how to improve the position of the growing faith community within British society.

Mr Sacranie was involved in a variety of groups which culminated in the formation of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in 1997, an umbrella body drawing support from hundreds of affiliates.

He became the second secretary general of the body in 2002.

In 1999, he was made an OBE in recognition of his efforts in the community, including his work for race relations, charity and in a former advisory role to the Home Office.

But it is his organisation's response and leadership during the continued fall-out from the 9/11 attacks on the US that have marked his time at the head of the MCB.

He has faced challenges to convince the Muslim communities that the body would gain influence in government and to convince government to listen to its arguments.

Too little effect?

Mr Sacranie's critics would say he has had little effect on the government's controversial anti-terrorism laws, something some Muslims believe unfairly target them.

Following the criminal terrorist attack on the Madrid trains, and despite our immediate, public and unequivocal condemnation of those atrocities some, however, continue to associate Islam with terrorism by using such misleading terms as 'Islamic terrorist'
Iqbal Sacranie's 'terrorism letter'

But the MCB chief argues the organisation's ability to be heard in Downing Street and the Home Office has delivered a number of crucial changes.

The 2001 census counted Muslims for the first time - something community leaders had argued was important to understand what was happening within a diverse faith group.

Secondly the government's recent manifesto commitment to deliver a law banning incitement to religious hatred will be regarded as a key policy success within the MCB, should the controversial proposal make it through Parliament.

Within his own community, however, Mr Sacranie has faced challenges to his authority over the organisation's approach to the war in Iraq, its ability to speak for younger generations and its closeness to Whitehall.

While the MCB opposed the Iraq war, smaller organisations affiliated to the umbrella body sought to push Mr Sacranie further when it came to the general election.

The MCB refused to back any particular party and urged Muslims to support candidates based on a basket of issues of concern to the entire community.

But, while the MCB has strengthened its stance on Israel and the Palestinians, this has angered Jews in Britain, leading to Mr Sacranie losing a prestigious interfaith award last year.

Radical fringe

The MCB also faces a separate and continuing public relations challenge.

While its soon-to-be-knighted head seeks to present a calm and reflective public face, the media lens has very often focused on a small but noisy fringe of radicals.

Hit: Iqbal Sacranie assaulted by radical opponents
Some of these figures disrupted the organisation's 2005 general election launch and assaulted Mr Sacranie, ensuring more bad news in the next day's headlines.

His most controversial decision has been to support an MCB letter to all mosques reminding congregations of their obligations in the fight against terrorism.

Although the letter was drafted with the support of senior Imams, it led to accusations from some that Mr Sacranie was encouraging Islamophobia and that the MCB had brought terrorism into the confines of a mosque where the talk should only be of peace.

But he says he is driven by a determination to help others.

When the MCB stepped into the crisis surrounding British Iraqi hostage Ken Bigley and sent a delegation to Baghdad to plead for the contractor's life, many observers were split on whether it was a bold move, a publicity stunt or a well intentioned but na´ve attempt to do the right thing.

Mr Sacranie says he is a relatively shy man in a public spotlight and asks people to focus on the work, not the man.

"It doesn't matter if you have wealth, education or a big family," he recently said. "But if you are sincere, honest, hard-working and a believer in the existence of God, that helps you to go through the obstacles and hurdles in life."

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