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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
What does it mean to be British?
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

BBC Proms
Being British often means different things to different people

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly will set out plans for a national "Britain" day to celebrate Britishness and promote stronger national ties.

So what does it mean to be British? A conference on Islam and Muslims has been considering this question.

Religious leaders taking part this week in the two-day debate on Islam And Muslims In The World Today in London had an idea of what they believed being British was - encompassing core values such as freedom of expression and respect for others.

But they also acknowledged Britain had a long way to go before all its communities were united in common purpose.

US Muslim convert Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, founder of the California-based Zaytuna educational foundation and who has advised the White House on Islam, said he saw little national cohesion in Britain.

"People have more allegiance to football teams than they have to Great Britain. What is the glue that is going to hold society together?"

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson
People have more allegiance to football teams than they have to Great Britain
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson

Britishness cannot be imposed on communities, he said, but Britain did have the ability to lead by example.

"It has to be organic - how do we facilitate this sense of Britishness. But I am optimistic because of that moral compass a lot of British people have. That gives me a lot of hope.

"Britain can do a lot of things to teach mainland Europe about how to respect and engage minority communities - and it could help the US as well."

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain's inter-faith relations committee, said the first step in building a common identity was to identify what it was to be British.

"There is no single definition," he said. "And every person has a different idea of what it means. But, having said that, I believe there are common issues we all subscribe to."

According to Mr Mogra, these include - respect for other people and the rule of law, freedom of expression and religious practice, participation in the democratic system and valuing education.

I have issues about the NHS and transport - but why is it whenever I am engaged, I am engaged as a Muslim?
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra
Muslim Council of Britain

Most of all, to be British, for Mr Mogra, is being tolerant and respectful towards others while at the same time being able to embrace and celebrate difference.

"To give a simple example, which is a bit stereotyped I know, but what British people love is fish and chips. I think that is a great way to cook potatoes and it is a favourite with my family.

"Many white Anglo Saxons like chicken tikka masala. Therefore, we have enriched our lives by taking the best from each other."

'British pride'

But more needs to be done before people feel they belong to one united society, he said.

"We are getting there. But there is too much focus on the Muslim community as Muslims and not as citizens.

"I have issues about the NHS and transport - but why is it whenever I am engaged, I am engaged as a Muslim? I don't demand anything more than others, neither do I expect anything less."

But he remains proud of being British and what that means.

Some kind of national story of the peoples of this western European island has to be developed that doesn't deny people's rights or how we came to be where we are
The Rt Rev Richard Chartres
Bishop of London

"Every day I live as a British person I am proud to be British. This is a country I am extremely proud of. I am privileged to belong to it. I think there is no better country for Muslims to live in."

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, warned that although it was important to establish an idea of Britishness, it should not just become a series of concepts.

"Those great concepts have to be embodied in the community - so we are looking for ways we can engage with one another," he said.

He believed this would prevent people forming "cartoon images" of each other.

And any British identity would have to acknowledge people's "multiple identities", he said.

He added: "Many people are very proud of being Scottish, Welsh, as well as being Catholics and Muslims.

"But some kind of national story of the peoples of this western European island has to be developed that doesn't deny people's rights or how we came to be where we are."




SEE ALSO
Blair in moderate Muslims appeal
04 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Brown speech promotes Britishness
14 Jan 06 |  UK Politics

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