It's crystal clear that Muslims - or at least their leaders, lawyers and activists - believed that the Race Relations Act of 1976 (now replaced by the Equality Act 2010) was clearly not enough for them. As the Muslim lawyer and writer (for The Islamic Foundation) Nadeem Malik puts it (in the book British Muslims Between Assimilation and Segregation):
“In discrimination terms, the only tangible avenue available to Muslims historically has been to pursue an action under the Race Relations Act 1976.”
Similarly, Muslims had problems with the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Crimes and Disorder Act of 1998. Nadeem Malik also argues that English law “could have extended the Public Order Act 1986 to include an offence of incitement to religious hatred”. In addition, the Crimes and Disorder Act 1998 should have included “religiously aggravated offences”.
Malik is not even happy with what he refers to as “discourses on 'equality'”. More specifically, they are not “religion [Islam] friendly”. Or, in other words, the Commission for Racial Equality does not “provide assistance to those suffering from discrimination on religious grounds”.
So Muslims feel discriminated against not only by those omnipresent 'Islamophobes'; but also by the law itself.
You'll find Muslims generally aren't talking about discrimination in any obvious or real senses: such as when a employer refuses to employ a person simply because he's a Muslim; or when an employer makes Muslims sit in a different part of the communal dining room. Why do I think this? Because laws already exist to deal with such acts of discrimination. That is, if an employer sacked someone simply for being a Muslim (or if he was shown to be refusing work to Muslims), he would be prosecuted or fined within a blink of an eye.
In actual fact, what we are talking about here is Muslims demanding that they be allowed to work according to the dictates of sharia law (i.e., at their places of employment). We are talking about:
i) The “discrimination” that is not allowing Muslim schoolteachers the “right” to take every Friday afternoon off in order to pray.
ii) Muslim nurses - or even surgeons - being allowed to wear the hijab and even the niqab in the surgery.
iii) The right of Muslims working on the tills of supermarkets to refuse to serve customers who are buying alcohol, pork products and Bible-related goods.
iv) The right of Muslims to have prayer-rooms installed in all workplaces.
v) And Premier League footballers refusing to wear the logos of companies which aren't sharia-friendly/'compliant'.
In other words, none of this has anything at all to do with either racism in the workplace or people being sacked simply because they are Muslims. This is about the ostensible discrimination that is not allowing sharia law to be upheld within the workplace. It is, therefore, effectively about the supposed right of Muslims to Islamise the working environment.
That prime contention, to many Muslims, is the fact that Sikhs and Jews, legally speaking, are deemed to constitute racial groups and Muslims aren't.
The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (set up in 1997) saw the “anomaly” this way:
“It has been established through case law that members of two world faiths, Judaism and Sikhism, are fully protected under the Race Relations Act 1976, since they are considered to belong to distinct ethnic groups.”
This is clearly problematic for Muslims. Thus the Commission immediately went on to say that that it“is a serious anomaly that no such protection exists for members of other faiths”.
This is the conundrum that Muslims find themselves in:
i) On the one hand, Muslims continuously stress the “universal nature of Islam” and the fact that “Muslims come from all races”. (Or, as that Commission put it, “Muslims (as also Christians) would emphatically not wish to be seen as belonging to a single ethnic group”.)
ii) On the other hand, being seen as a single race will most certainly confer upon Muslims many legal - and therefore social and political - advantages.
Some of these anomalies are precisely that – anomalies. For example, one tribunal, according to Malik, claimed that
“Sikhs are geographically defined by originating from a particular place in India and that they are bound by their culture as well as their religion”.
So if that's true about Sikhs, then, according to Malik, it's also true about Mirpuris from Kashmir. That is, the Mirpuris “have a particular language, geographic heritage, ancestral links, common culture and religious values”. It's also true “with regard to Pushtuns [Pashtuns?]from Pakistan”. Yet, unlike Sikhs, “it has been found that Mirpuris from Kashmir are not a racial group”.
The illogicality of the argument here - especially from a lawyer - is blatant. Only a tiny a minority of Muslims come from Kashmir or the Pashtun-inhabited regions of Pakistan. Sikhs, on the whole, can trace their heritage to specific parts of India. There will of course be a tiny number of Sikhs who won't be able to do so. Nonetheless, compared to the hundreds of millions of Muslims who don't come from Kashmir or the Pashtun-inhabited regions of Pakistan, the comparison completely breaks down – and Nadeem Malik must know that. The only argument Malik can uphold is that Mirpuris and Pashtuns constitute racial/ethnic groups and that they also happen to be Muslims. But what has that to do with the legal status of Muslims as Muslims in the UK?
The obvious answer to all this is to fully separate racial/ethnic groups from religious groups. Nonetheless, it seems that many Muslims - including Malik himself - aren't happy with that conclusion. Why? Because, as I said, Muslims would benefit enormously from being seen as a single racial group.
Of course this racialisation of Muslims is clearly ridiculous. Muslims themselves - when coming at this issue from the perspective of “Islamic universalism” - agree. Indeed the ridiculous nature of this racialisation of Muslims is noted by Malik himself – if only indirectly. He cites a finding of the House of Lords which
“stated that a person could fall into a particular racial group by birth or by adopting and following the customs of the group”.
Yes; you read that correctly. If a white person were to become a Sikh, he would be deemed - by the Lords and the law generally - to have suddenly fallen under another racial group. And it seems that Muslims want this to apply to white – or yellow – Muslims too.
Some Case Studies
Nadeem Malik cites various concrete legal cases which demonstrate this attempt to racialise Muslims and even Islam itself. For example, he cites the case of J H Walker v Hussain and others in which seventeen seventeen Muslim workers were dismissed for attending what Malik calls “Eid Prayers”. Malik doesn't give many details other than to tell us the racial origin of the sacked workers. He also tells us that they were sacked “on religious grounds”. However, because spending your time praying to Allah (when you should have been working) will not sound too dandy to either employers or to non-Muslims, this mass sacking was given a racial veneer. That is, the Tribunal
“considered that the effect would be to discriminate against most people from the Indian sub-continent and, therefore, would constitute indirect discrimination on racial grounds”.
In other words, these Muslims weren't sacked because of their skin colour or their genetic make-up. They were sacked because they were praying during working hours.
Malik himself sees the problem of racialising this case. For example, “if the seventeen Muslims had been white Muslims they would have had no remedy”. Too right! Hence the required racialisation of Muslims and therefore the localisation of an otherwise supposedly “universal religion”. That is, in order to be given the privilege of praying during working hours (or, in other cases, the “right” to halal produce, a Muslim prayer area, the separation of the sexes, a non-alcohol environment, etc.), these Muslims had to be viewed in strictly racial terms – as a single ethnic group from the “Indian sub-continent”. And that is precisely why they won the case.
Malik cites another case which this time only involved a single Muslim. (The case of X v United Kingdom.) It involved a schoolteacher who wasn't allowed to attend his mosque on Friday afternoons. This time the case was unsuccessful. As Malik puts it:
“The Commission decided that the conduct of the Education Authority did not amount to a breach of Article 9 because he had not disclosed this need [to go to his mosque every Friday afternoon] at interview or during the first six years of his employment.”
Now despite the clear fact that this particular Muslim hadn't told his employers that he would need to go to his mosque every Friday afternoon (alongside the fact that he never said a word about this pressing Islamic requirement for the first six years he taught at the school), Malik still believes that his “rights” as a Muslim were infringed. That is, that he was the victim of “religious discrimination”.
But what if this school had employed two or even ten Muslim teachers who all demanded that they be free to attend their mosques on Friday afternoons? What would have happened to this school then? Would it have to close down completely due to an insufficient number of teachers? Or would the remaining non-Muslim teachers have been required to teach double (or more) their usual number of students? What if, in theory at least, Islam demands compulsory mosques visits on Wednesday afternoons as well?
The Commission which looked into this case provided its own reasons for rejecting this Muslim schoolteacher’s demands. Malik states:
“The Commission decided that a fair balance had to be reached between the Applicant's religious requirements and the Education Authority's requirement to organise the school timetable efficiently.”
Despite that reasonable conclusion, Malik, predictably, wasn't happy with such a verdict. Quite clearly, to Malik and to most Muslims, every demand from fellow Muslims (as Muslims) should be met; whether by schools, factories, McDonald's, universities, Premier League football teams and indeed every workplace in which a minority of Muslims work.
Malik himself offers an argument in favour of a Muslim in a similar, though hypothetical, case. He says that
“a Muslim wants to take a slightly longer lunch break on Friday in order to prayer his obligatory congregational prayer he may not be allowed that extra time, even though he offers to make it up”.
Now this is a silly argument. In many circumstances you simply cannot “make it up” because the worker or employee is needed there and then. It's no use a Muslim schoolteacher saying he will make up the time when there are thirty kids who need teaching there and then. When he makes up the time later there may be a glut of teachers. Similarly, when McDonald's is at its busiest, a Muslim can't simply say that he'll make up the time later. He's required then and there. When he makes up the time later he may not be required. Or take this scenario. A Muslim heart surgeon is the only one available at one point when a patient requires an urgent operation. What would happen if he said: I can't do this operation now because I need to pray. But I'll make up the time later. (Something similar to this happened in real life when a Muslim nurse refused to treat an elderly patient because he had to .... The patient died.)
And just as these seventeen Muslims and that schoolteacher - or at least their lawyers - racialised their religious practices, so some Muslims have, in a manner of speaking, sexualised them too.
For example, in the case of Sardar v McDonald's, Nadeem Malik claims that “Sardar was summarily dismissed for wearing the hijab or headscarf”. Now my bet is that she wasn't “summarily dismissed” for wearing a hijab at all because that makes it sound like it was a case of mindless prejudice. My bet is that she was probably dismissed for health and safety reasons. That is, wearing a headscarf will not be considered hygienic in an environment such as McDonald's. In any case, there would have been some reason why she was dismissed other than the simple fact that she was wearing a hijab. In other words, it wouldn't have been a simple case of “religious discrimination”, as Malik claims. It's hard to know because, as in the case of the seventeen sacked Muslim workers, Malik wants the reader to think that it was indeed simply a case of religious prejudice rather than one of health and safety or being paid to pray to Allah.
So just as the seventeen Muslims, legally speaking, racialised themselves, so this Sardar sexualised herself in order to make McDonald's conform to Islam rather than Muslims conform to the standard practices of the British workplace. Or to put this as Sardar's legal representatives put it:
“We fought the case on sexual discrimination grounds and not as religious discrimination, because religion is not recognised in law. If we had taken the case as religious discrimination, we would have lost.”
It's worth nothing that all these cases occurred before the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006. ( See this link too.) If these situations had occurred today, then they could have all been legally represented as “religious discrimination” cases.
Basically, this Muslim woman knew it was a Islamic matter. Her lawyers knew it was an Islamic matter. And most non-Muslims would know that this is an Islamic - not a “sex discrimination” - matter. Nonetheless, even though it was an Islamic matter it certainly wasn't thereby a religious discrimination matter either. She wasn't sacked because she was a Muslim. She was sacked for not following workplace practices (just as the seventeen Muslims were sacked for the same reason). Now if Muslims want to fuse not being allowed to bypass legal workplace practices with religious discrimination, then no one can stop them. But this is a dangerous path to go down.
What if Muslims demanded that they take the whole of Friday – not just Friday afternoons - off for prayers? What if Muslims demanded the separation of the sexes in all workplaces? What if they wouldn't sit in communal dining rooms if non-Muslims were eating pork? All these things may not be occurring today. But they probably will do in the future.
The question is whether all the demands of Muslims in the workplace should be met even while knowing that they will inevitably become much broader and more extensive in scope in the future. On the other hand, if all these Islamic demands are not met, will the employers be deemed 'Islamophobes' or 'discriminatory'?
Do we deal with this inevitable increase in demands from Muslims with more laws against employers; or do we put a stop to them? Should we ask Muslims simply to follow standard practices in the workplace?
Another point worth stressing is that making endless demands - whether in the workplace, in universities or anywhere - is important to Muslims. Through such demands they can assert their Islamic identity. Such agitation is Islamic 'struggle': both 'inner' and 'outer jihad'. Muslims are testing both their own Islamic credentials and the willpower of the kuffar in Dar al-Harb (the Abode of War). Rubbing up the wrong way against the kuffar - whether employers, Marks & Spencer, university vice chancellors - is a way of asserting both Islam itself and the identity of Muslims as Muslims.
It may sound a little over the top to argue that in the end all this is bound lead to civil war (or, at the very least, to civil conflict). Why do I think that? Because I have seen what’s going on in the Muslim world; as well as what happens when Muslims live alongside non-Muslims. I've also read about the violent and conflict-prone history of Muslim peoples when they have lived side-by-side (though not in harmony) with non-Muslims. Simply look at what's happening today in southern Thailand, Burma, southern Philippines, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Nigeria, west and north Africa, the Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, Yemen, Bahrain and so on. Indeed look at Oslo, Malmo, Stockholm, parts of Paris, Marseille, Alum Rock, Rochdale... Is all this really worth the risk?