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Last Updated: Friday January 28 2005 19:50 GMT

Hotseat: Islam expert Aminul Hoque

Aminul Hoque
Newsround has taken a closer look at Islam and what it means to be a Muslim.

Aminul Hoque is an Islamic affairs specialist and knows loads about young people and cultural identity.

He answered a selection of your e-mails about Islam.

Sandrah, 11, Middleton: Are Muslims allowed to be friends with non-Muslims?

Aminul: What a good question, my niece asked me that the other day. Of course you can. I can understand why you asked the question because there seems to be a separate division at the moment. There is nothing in the Qur'an of anything about not being friends with non-muslims, as long as you don't compromise your beliefs.

I definitely recommend Muslims and non-Muslims being friends. That way you expose each others beliefs and share knowledge. The UK is famous for being multi -cultural and it is good to have different friends. It is a really positive thing.

Eddie and Danny, 11, Ipswich: What are your hobbies?

Aminul: Over and above my religion is Manchester United! I live eat, sleep and breathe football.

Abigail, 11: Why do Muslims take their religion so seriously?

Aminul: Because it is a guiding principle of their everyday life, guiding everything they do. It is spiritual and linked to everything.

Rajah, 15, London: As a Muslim myself, I would like to know more about Islamophobia and why it exists.

Aminul: Islamophobia is an academic term that is an irrational hatred and fear against Muslims. No-one can understand it but it exists because of a lack of understanding and an irrational fear. People sometimes don't understand what Muslims do; why they pray and why they fast. Islam is the fastest growing religion and people fear it willl take over. The middle east crisis has also fuelled lots of anger.

The only way to combat it is to try to understand Islam and for media moghuls such as the tabloid press to take much more responsibility in how they present Muslims.

Becky, 13, Milton Keynes:Do you like being part of the Islamic community?

Aminul:Yes my Islamic identity means a lot to me.

It has installed discipline and principles in me, and values of education, family, honesty and a hard-working ethos. My parents brought me up with these important values.

This does not mean that I am better than people of other religions, but Islam worked for me and I want my children to grow up with the same teachings. I consider myself to be a British Muslim and I have many other friends from other faiths. I went to college where most people weren't Muslims. I still kept my Islamic identity and I learnt about other values. We all rubbed off on each other but I didn't compromise my beliefs.

I see myself as a 21st century Muslim, I can go into McDonald's and just have a drink and not eat the meat. My non-Muslim friends give me Eid presents and I give them Christmas presents. We go over to each others houses to celebrate together.

Arthur, 15, France: What's the main difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

Aminul: I A different interpretation of the texts. Most Muslims are Sunni. Shia Muslims are in the minority and mostly live in Iran.

Shumon, 13, East London: The question I want to ask is why are Muslims shown in a negative way on TV?

Aminul: An interesting question - I don't know why this happens, It seems to be the trend in Hollywood as well. Muslims are often associated with terrorism and bombs, and that image is very hard to get rid of. Filmmakers and the media have a massive responsibility to stop these negative images.

These images seem to sell, and people have become used to them because they are common. It is time to dispel these myths. 99.9% of Muslims are peace-loving citizens.

Christie, 11 and Leanne, 10: Are Muslims different to us in any way?

Aminul: No. They may look different because of their clothing. Essentially we are all human beings and we all want the same things.

Becky, 13, Milton Keynes:Do you like being part of the Islamic community?

Aminul:Yes my Islamic identity means a lot to me.

It has installed discipline and principles in me, and values of education, family, honesty and a hard-working ethos. My parents brought me up with these important values.

This does not mean that I am better than people of other religions, but Islam worked for me and I want my children to grow up with the same teachings. I consider myself to be a British Muslim and I have many other friends from other faiths. I went to college where most people weren't Muslims. I still kept my Islamic identity and I learnt about other values. We all rubbed off on each other but I didn't compromise my beliefs.

I see myself as a 21st century Muslim, I can go into McDonald's and just have a drink and not eat the meat. My non-Muslim friends give me Eid presents and I give them Christmas presents. We go over to each others houses to celebrate together.

Wasim, 14, Harrow: Do you think hosility towards Muslims will really ever change?

Aminul: Islam is dominating lots of the press, and it is partly because people are trying to understand the religion rather than continuing to portray negative images. The media has so much power and people should focus on the positive rather than the negative. People should look at the positive contributions of all cultures and religions, and try to learn more about them.

Zaariyah, 13, Pakistan: People say that Prophet Adam was the first human being on this earth. Is that true or just a myth?

Aminul: There are lots of different views on this - speak to your parents and ask your local Iman.

Khalil, 16, New York: Over here in NY, where the 9/11 attacks took place, we are having more and more people asking and finding out about Islam. Do you think that the growing coverage of Islam in the media (although it is mostly negative) can in fact have a positive effect?

Aminul: It shouldn't take an incident like 9/11 to get people to start asking questions about Islam, but if people asking questions is good. People are fearful because they don't understand. Promoting communication is really positive and can help to break down barriers.

Noorie, 10, London: Why do some Muslim men have beards ?

Aminul: It is partly to emulate the life of Prophet Muhammad and also personal choice.

Abdullah, 14, Bradford: Why do you think that there are no Muslim celebrities or personalities in the British media?

Aminul: Brilliant question! Konnie Huq is a Muslim and Naseem Hamed is a Muslim and prays publicly before his fights.

I don't know why there aren't more, there definitely needs to be more Muslim celebrities and icons. People need role models and it would be more representative. We need more symbols of our multi-cultural society.

Pataskala, Manchester: I'd like to know why everyone seems to separate Islam from being British? Can't you be both? I have many Muslim friends who say they are British Muslims.

Aminul: This issue of identity is very, very, very important. Many Muslims are accepted within their religion so it is important to them. There isn't one answer about what it means to be British, but there is one answer for what is means to be a Muslim.

I am looking into this with my studies - the "Who am I?" question.

Ian, 12, Redbridge: How did you become an expert in Islam?

Aminul: I don't call myself an expert - other people call me that. I am a Muslim and was brought up in a Muslim household so it is my reality. It is also what I study. I have done two degrees and now I am studying for my PhD.

Nowrin, 10, Nottingham: Is it true there are angels in Islam?

Aminul: Yes. The most famous one is Angel Gabriel (Jibreel)

Lisa, 16, Littlehampton: What do many Muslim children, especially girls, want for an occupation when they are older?

Aminul: They are not different to other girls. Muslims are the same, they might want to be pop stars, pilots, doctors etc

Angelo:What is the stance on marriage? Is it purely arranged by families, or is there room for love-based marriages?

Aminul: Arranged marriages are more cultural than religious. It is not to do with religion.

The distinction between forced marriages and arranged marriages should be made. In arranged marriages, couples are introduced and can choose. This used to happen in Britain not that long ago. Within certain religious boundaries there is room for romance. It is not conventional romance but potential partners can get to know each other.

Ahmed, 15, London: Is the government of this country thinking of banning headscarves?

Aminul: I don't know but I am very worried about what has happened in France. I really hope that the government in this country does not take this stance.

The headscarf is a fundamental part of the Muslim female identity and in a country where we pride ourselves on respecting others beliefs, banning the hijab would be catastrophic.

Hannah, 10: Why don't Muslim boys wear headscarves??

Aminul: The teachings say that Muslim men also have to cover up and dress modestly, but don't have to cover their heads.

Maria, 13: Why are Muslim girls who wear scarves sometimes looked down at by the Muslim girls who don't?

Aminul: Contrary to popular belief and stereotypes, most girls choose to wear the hijab. It often signifies pressure and that they are forced to wear it, but from my experience women choose to wear it. I met lots of girls who chose to wear the hijab, even when their mothers didn't. We live in a western country, fashion and music is everywhere and teenagers like to emulate their idols. So some girls dressed in their modern clothes sometimes see the girls who cover-up as backward, and think that they aren't trying to fit into British culture.

But it is a matter of choice in the end.

Natalie, 14, London:Do you think that wearing the scarf can make Muslim girls more confident?

Aminul: The girls that I have spoke to feel more confident and more independent and would feel bare without the hijab. It allows girls to be free to express themselves. Some girls do not want to be seen as objects and the hijab can act as a barrier for them. The hijab is their private domain.

Tanya, 13, Croydon: Do you think Muslims should go to their own special Muslim schools?

Aminul: I think single-faith schools are a no-no. They do not help with integration.

Everyone doesn't have to be the same but everyone should live side by side. With a common framework, so everyone abides by the same rules. Religious education should be compulsory at GCSE level so children have the opportunity to learn about other people's beliefs. Then they can spread their knowledge.

There should be much more inter-faith communication; we need to get rid of ignorance.



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