What follows is a summary of Islam and Islam-related issues in Britain during June 2015, categorized into four broad themes: 1) Islamic extremism; 2) British multiculturalism; 3) Islamic Sharia law; and 4) Muslim integration.
1. Islamic Extremism and Syria-Related Threats
A new report on surveillance warned that Britain is facing an "unprecedented" threat from hundreds of battle-hardened jihadists who have been trained in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The report said there are now more Britons trained in terrorism than at any point in recent memory.
More than 700 Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq, over half of whom are thought to have since returned home, where they pose a significant threat to national security.
Addressing a security conference in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, on June 19, Prime Minister David Cameron called on Muslims to speak out against the "poisonous ideology" of Islamism that is radicalizing young British Muslims.
Prominent Muslims quickly pounced on Cameron's remarks. Former Conservative Party co-chair Sayeeda Warsi, writing in the Guardian, argued that Cameron's "misguided emphasis" on "Muslim community complicity" would "at best fall on deaf ears, at worst further alienate" British Muslims.
Labour MP Yasmin Querishi said that British Muslims should not have to apologize for the radicalization of British Muslims. "It feels absolutely awful," she said. "I'm getting really tired of having to apologise."
Yousif Al-Khoei, of the London-based Center for Academic Shia Studies, described Cameron's comments as "unhelpful." He said: "If the government is serious about tackling ISIS they really need to take serious steps to tackle rampant Islamophobia -- and we are actually recruiting more youths by targeting religion and targeting the people."
Also in June, three sisters and their nine young children from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who failed to return home from an Islamic pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, were thought to have joined the Islamic State in Syria.
Khadija Dawood, 30, Sugra Dawood, 34, and Zohra Dawood, 33, whose children are aged between three and 15, are believed to have used British social welfare benefits to pay for the trip, which cost upwards of £13,000 (€18,700; $20,000). Friends said the women took their children to war-torn Syria because they did not want them to grow up in England.
Two of the women's husbands, Mohammed Shoaib and Akhtar Iqbal, blamed British police for "actively encouraging and promoting" the radicalization of the three sisters through "oppressive police surveillance."
On June 13, Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who ran away from home in April to join the Islamic State, is believed to have become Britain's youngest suicide bomber when he blew himself up during an assault on an Iraqi oil refinery. Friends described Asmal as an "ordinary Yorkshire lad." That may be true in more ways than one: Dewsbury, a quaint former mill town, has been linked to more than a dozen Islamic extremists, including Mohammad Sidique Khan, the mastermind of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, became Britain's youngest suicide bomber in June, when he attacked an Iraqi oil refinery with a car-bomb.
On June 14, Thomas Evans, a 25-year-old British Muslim convert from Buckinghamshire, was killed fighting while in Kenya for Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.
On June 11, a 22-year-old female refugee from Iraq was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for tweeting messages that encouraged terrorism. Alaa Esayed, from Kennington, South London, was sentenced at the Old Bailey after pleading guilty to encouraging terrorism and disseminating a terrorist publication. She posted more than 45,000 tweets in Arabic on an open account to her 8,240 followers between June 2013 and May 2014, with many tweets encouraging violent jihad. Her account, which included a profile image of a woman in a burka and holding a Kalashnikov, was listed by Al-Qaeda as among the 66 most important jihadi accounts.
On June 4, Mohammed Rehman, 24, from Reading and Sana Ahmed Khan, 23, from Wokingham, were charged with preparing for acts of terrorism in the UK. Both are accused of buying chemicals to manufacture explosive devices and of researching and downloading instructions for carrying out a terrorist attack, including a copy of the Al-Qaeda Inspire Magazine containing a guide on "how to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom." They are also accused of having tested explosive devices.
England's chief inspector of education and head of the school's regulator Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that the teaching of British values is central to stopping British teenagers from joining the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Speaking on the LBC talk radio station on June 16, Wilshaw said:
"It's really important that all schools, be they faith or non-faith schools, whether in mono-cultural communities or not, to teach British values -- the importance of tolerance and understanding other cultures and faiths.
"And if they don't do that, if they don't promote tolerance, then we will mark them down and we will fail them as we have done in some cases."
Pakistani Islamic scholar Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri said that every Muslim student in Britain should be required to take counter-extremism lessons at school to prevent radicalization. Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today program on June 22, Tahir-ul-Qadri argued that lessons on "peace," "counter-terrorism" and "de-radicalization" should be made part of the national curriculum in state schools. "We should try to influence the generations -- whether second or third of fourth -- to always be peaceful and always condemn the act of extremism, act of terrorism wherever it is."
The head of the anti-radicalization group Inspire, Sara Khan, told the Guardian that teachers in Britain are afraid of reporting suspected Islamist extremism among their students out of fear of being labelled "Islamophobic."
Meanwhile, PM Cameron repeated his assertion that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. During an interview with BBC Radio 4's "Today" program on June 29 -- just days after a jihadist with links to the Islamic State killed 38 people (including 30 Britons) at a beach resort in Tunisia -- Cameron rebuked the BBC for referring to the Islamic State by its name. He said:
"I wish the BBC would stop calling it 'Islamic State' because it is not an Islamic state. What it is is an appalling, barbarous regime. It is a perversion of the religion of Islam, and, you know, many Muslims listening to this program will recoil every time they hear the words 'Islamic State.'"
Separately, more than 100 MPs signed a June 25 letter to the BBC's director general calling on the broadcaster to begin using the term "Daesh" when referring to the Islamic State. The letter, which was drafted by Rehman Chishti, a Pakistani-born Conservative MP, stated:
"The use of the titles: Islamic State, ISIL and ISIS gives legitimacy to a terrorist organization that is not Islamic nor has it been recognized as a state and which a vast majority of Muslims around the world finds despicable and insulting to their peaceful religion."
The BBC, which routinely refers to Muslims as "Asians" to comply with the politically correct norms of British multiculturalism, has held its ground. It said:
"No one listening to our reporting could be in any doubt what kind of organization this is. We call the group by the name it uses itself, and regularly review our approach. We also use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as 'so-called Islamic State.'"
2. British Multiculturalism
In June it emerged that police in Birmingham knew that Muslim sex grooming gangs were targeting children outside the city's schools but did not alert the public out of fears of being accused of "Islamophobia." A confidential report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that police were worried about "community tensions" if the abuse from predominantly Pakistani grooming gangs was made public. The report said:
"A high level of organised criminality has now been evidenced both across the force area and regionally, with multiple offenders working together to identify, groom and abuse victims.
"There is strong evidence in the vast majority of all cases that the victims are enticed, stupefied or controlled by alcohol and a mixture of controlled drugs.
"The predominant offender profile of Pakistani Muslim males ... combined with the predominant victim profile of white females has the potential to cause significant community tensions."
In Rotherham, South Yorkshire, two current or former Rotherham town councilors are among up to 300 men suspected of grooming and sexually exploiting girls as young as 12, according to the National Crime Agency. Detectives believe there are at least 1,400 victims, largely vulnerable white girls. Most of the perpetrators are South Asian Muslims. As in Birmingham, authorities in Rotherham have been accused of refusing to act for fear of upsetting Muslim sensibilities.
Also in South Yorkshire, a three-year-old girl was made a ward of court in order to protect her from being forced to undergo genital mutilation. A High Court judge issued a ruling banning the toddler's family from taking her out of the UK or trying to obtain a passport for her. Anyone who breaks the order could face up to 14 years in prison.
The ruling came as David Cameron ordered a crackdown on female genital mutilation (FGM) ahead of the summer holidays, when many Muslim girls are taken abroad to have the procedure performed on them. Nearly 4,000 new cases of FGM have been identified in England since September 2014, when the government began collecting data. Although the practice was banned in the UK in 1985, there has never been a successful prosecution.
On June 10, a 34-year-old Muslim businessman from Cardiff was the first person in the UK to be prosecuted under forced marriage laws that entered into effect in June 2014. The man, who was not identified for legal reasons, was jailed for 16 years after admitting to making a 25-year-old woman marry him under duress. The man, who was already married, "systematically" raped his victim for months, threatened to go public with hidden camera footage of her in the shower unless she became his wife, and threatened to kill members of her family if she told anyone of the abuse. He was sentenced to four years for the forced marriage, 12 months for bigamy and 12 months for voyeurism to run concurrently with the 16-year rape sentence.
In Leyton, East London, the Barclay Primary School banned Muslim pupils from fasting during Ramadan, arguing that the tradition can be harmful to the health of young children. In a letter to parents, the school's principal described how children "fainted" and "became ill" during last year's festival after going without food or water for "18 hours, a significant amount of time for a child." The letter said school officials had consulted experts in Islamic law before implementing the ban: "We are reliably informed that in Islamic Law, children are not required to fast during Ramadan, only being required to do so when they become adults." The move was criticized by local Muslims, who said the school should not "blanket enforce" its own rules when it comes to religion.
On June 8, High Court judge Anna Pauffley said in a ruling that police and social workers, when investigating allegations of physical abuse, should make special allowances for immigrants who "slap and hit" their children because they come from a "different cultural context." She was referring to a case in which an Indian man allegedly beat his wife and seven-year-old son. Pauffley said: "Within many communities newly arrived in this country, children are slapped and hit for misbehavior in a way which at first excites the interest of child protection professionals."
The Children's Act 2004 makes it illegal for parents in England and Wales to discipline children if blows lead to bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches. The offense carries up to five years in prison. Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said:
"We simply can't have a situation where different rules apply to families from different family backgrounds. The law of the land should apply equally regardless of the heritage of the children involved. Children with Indian heritage deserve the same protection in law as white British children. ... I really do wonder sometimes whether judges in our senior courts have adequate training for some of the cases that come before them."
Also in June, a British judge ruled that a terrorism suspect did not have to wear an electronic tracker because it violates his human rights. The suspect, a 39-year-old Somali-born Islamic preacher who is accused of radicalizing young British Muslims, said he thought that MI5 had placed a bomb inside the bracelet, and that wearing the monitoring device was making him "delusional." The judge, Mr. Justice Collins, ruled this amounted to a breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which is meant to prohibit torture.
In Belfast, Muslim students and staff at Queen's University complained about the lack of prayer rooms on campus and said they had no alternative but to pray in corridors and other public areas. They said dedicated prayer or quiet rooms are available in many other universities and public buildings, including airports and hospitals. The university said it would review its amenities.
Speaking on the BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback program, the former leader of the UK Unionist Party, Bob McCartney, said Queen's University was "a non-denominational, non-religious educational institution. He added: "For the university to accept that it has a duty to provide, and presumably pay for, facilities for a particular religion to exercise its rituals would, in my view, constitute a precedent that could give rise to future difficulties."
UK Independence Party MP David McNarry said British society was at risk of being "swamped" by the constant demands of Islam and questioned whether Christians in a Muslim country would be afforded the same consideration. "Society could end up being swamped in terms of having to make room for Islam," he said. "It doesn't seem to be a bit accommodating at all in understanding everybody else's religions."
In Manchester, thousands of people signed an online petition to protest a proposal to turn a Roman Catholic chapel at North Manchester General Hospital into a Muslim prayer room. There already are two Muslim prayer rooms in the hospital but one, for men, does not have washing facilities. Father Ged Murphy said: "We are not against the Muslim community having a prayer room, but don't see the sense in taking away a chapel that is serving one community to serve another."
Meanwhile, London Assembly member Murad Qureshi revealed that Scotland Yard has spent at least £1 million (€1.4 million; $1.5 million) policing rallies led by British-born Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary over the past year. Qureshi, who lives near the Regent's Park Mosque, requested the figures from Mayor Boris Johnson, and said the cost was one reason why some demonstrations should be banned. Qureshi said:
"They are astonishing amounts and it highlights the cost both to the Met [Metropolitan Police Service] and local communities. I think some of these rallies should have been stopped before they went ahead. The Met should do this.
"There is no doubt the cost in policing him [Choudary] London-wide is almost certainly £1 million. I suggest next time they also pick up the bill if they want to demonstrate so eagerly.
"This is the cost of one man's right to protest which I think the Met has interpreted to the extreme. I don't want to get in the way of people's democratic right to protest, but he's abusing it."
While Choudary enjoys taxpayer-funded police protection for his incendiary sermons, an evangelical Christian pastor in Belfast faces prosecution for making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam. James McConnell, 78, faces up to six months in prison for delivering a sermon in which he described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic." The message was streamed live on the Internet, and a Muslim group called the police to complain.
According to Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS), McConnell violated the 2003 Communications Act by "sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive."
Observers say that McConnell's prosecution is one of a growing number of examples in which British authorities -- who routinely ignore incendiary speech by Muslim extremists -- are using hate speech laws to silence Christians, but not others.
3. Islamic Sharia Law
The government's proposed Counter Extremism Bill will not include a crackdown on Islamic Sharia law, even though Home Secretary Theresa May had earlier promised that it would. The policy change sparked anger from people concerned about the presence of a parallel legal system based on Islamic principles. Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said: "I don't think there is a place for Sharia law in this country. That's what I believe is right. I can respect different judicial systems in other countries, but in Britain we have one judicial system -- and that's the one I recognize."
An anti-Sharia group called "One Law for All" issued a statement on June 15 calling on Britain's new government to abolish Islamic Sharia courts, which they described as "kangaroo courts that deliver highly discriminatory and second-rate forms of 'justice.'" The statement said:
"Though the 'Sharia courts' have been touted as people's right to religion, they are in fact, effective tools of the far-right Islamist movement whose main aim is to restrict and deny rights, particularly those of women and children.
"Opposing 'Sharia courts' is not racism or 'Islamophobic'; it is a defense of the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their beliefs and background to be governed by democratic means under the principle of one law for all. What amounts to racism is the idea that minorities can be denied rights enjoyed by others through the endorsement of religious based 'justice' systems which operate according to divine law that is by its very nature immune from state scrutiny."
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) on June 9 said that British shoppers have a right to know whether their meat has been slaughtered according to Islamic law. The call came after a European Commission survey revealed that 72% of consumers favor the labelling of halal (Arabic for permissible) meat.
An EU directive requires animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but Britain has been granted an exemption. The religious slaughter of goats and sheep is commonplace in Britain, and some of the meat is sold into the general market. According to the BVA, "transparency is vital to maintain confidence in the food chain."
House of Fraser, a British department store group with over 60 stores across the United Kingdom and Ireland, launched a new line of Sharia-compliant sportswear for Muslim women. The collection includes unitard bodysuits and lightweight hijabs (Islamic headscarves) for women to wear during aerobics and swimming. The move is aimed at encouraging headscarf-wearing Muslim women to exercise. According to Marie Claire, a monthly magazine for women, only 30% of all women in Britain exercise, but for Muslim women, that figure drops to 18%. The magazine says that many Muslim women do not participate in sports "because of the risk that their headscarves could become loose and fall off."
Tesco, the supermarket chain, apologized for selling smoky bacon flavored Pringles potato chips as part of a Ramadan promotion. The chips were positioned under a Ramadan banner at a branch of the supermarket in Liverpool Street, London. They were removed after Muslims complained. On Twitter, one Muslim described it as "stupidity at its best" while another tweeted: "Please tell me this is a joke."
Meanwhile, a Morrison's supermarket in West London was criticized for selling pork products next to a promotional sticker celebrating Ramadan. A Muslim human rights lawyer, Shoaib M Khan, who spotted the misplaced sticker on a freezer, said it was a "disappointing gaffe." He added: "If you're going to do something like that [Ramadan display] you need to do it properly. I wasn't offended but other Muslims might have been. They need to be careful about this sort of thing."
4. Muslim Integration
In Ilford, Essex, a Muslim woman lost a legal battle to wear an Islamic jilbab, a flowing head-to-toe gown, at a nursery because it posed a "tripping hazard" for children and staff. Tamanna Begum wore a jilbab during an interview for an apprenticeship at Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery, which provides day care to children aged two months and over. The manager said she could have the internship if she agreed to wear a slightly shorter jilbab that did not extend over her feet.
Rather than showing up for her first day of work, Begum filed a claim for discrimination because of her "ethnic or cultural background." She said she had been "insulted" by the manager's request, and claimed that it would be "against her morals and beliefs" to wear a shorter garment.
Judge Daniel Serota upheld a previous ruling by the East London employment tribunal that the gown was "reasonably regarded as a tripping hazard." He also noted that Begum was only asked to wear a shorter version of the jilbab rather than being banned from wearing the religious garment at all.
In Newham, East London, three 19-year-old female college students threatened to file a lawsuit against their school, Newham Sixth Form College, after they were suspended for complaining about "Islamophobia." Tahyba Ahmed, Sumayyah Ashraf and Humayra Tasnim say they are being discriminated against after they sent a "round-robin" email to hundreds of students and staff, in which they criticized a decision by the school to cancel a discussion about anti-Muslim attitudes in society by a panel of invited guests.
Lawyers for the girls warned that the college faces legal action if the girls are not reinstated. The school dismissed the threats, saying that the girls were suspended not because of Islamophobia but because they broke the school's email rules, which require prior permission before round-robin messages can be sent.
In Stoke-on-Trent, the managers of a water park were accused of skirting rules aimed at preventing companies from religious discrimination by planning a women-only night aimed at Muslims, with bikinis banned. Visitors to the forthcoming event WaterWorld have been told they must cover up with "Islamically appropriate" attire at the event, that female-only lifeguards will patrol the pool and that the center will provide a prayer room. Staff will also guard the front entrance to "make sure that no males enter the facility." Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said: "I imagine there would be a lot of outrage if the boot was on the other foot and swimmers were told they had to dress appropriately in respect of Christians. I don't see how this is different."
In Micheldever, a village in Hampshire, England, a 23-year-old Muslim man demanded that Zizzi, an Italian restaurant chain, pay him £5,000 (€7,000; $7,800) in compensation after he found a piece of pepperoni in a meal at their branch in Winchester. Karim Kazane was halfway through a carne picante, advertised as containing beef and chicken, when he discovered the meat banned under Islam. "I have lost trust in eating out completely and never would trust to eat anywhere but home again, because I believe Zizzi have taken that social freedom, once had, away," Kazane said.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.