Many Muslims don't like the legal fact that Sikhs and Jews are deemed to constitute distinct racial groups; though Muslims aren't.
The prime reason that Muslim activists and lawyers are unhappy with this situation is that they would like to turn the critics of Islam and Muslims (as Muslims – not as members of an ethnic group) into people who would treated as racists by the legal system.
The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (set up in 1997) saw this “anomaly” (as Muslim activists put it) 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's “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 the Commission itself put it: “Muslims (as also Christians) would emphatically not wish to be seen as belonging to a single ethnic group.”)
ii) Yet, on the other hand, if Muslims were seen to constitute a single race, that would most certainly confer upon Muslims many legal - and therefore social and political - advantages. (Such as making Islam and Muslims beyond criticism - legally speaking.)Some of these anomalies are precisely that – anomalies.
For example, the lawyer Nadeem Malik claims (in the book British Muslims between Assimilation and Segregation) that one tribunal stated 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 Nadeem 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 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 the world's Muslims come from Kashmir or the Pashtun-inhabited regions of Pakistan. (Not even all British Muslims come from these areas.) 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. Though what has that to do with the legal status of all 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.
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. (Isn't this what racists are supposed to be doing – racialising Muslims?) 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 many Muslims would also want this to apply to white, brown, black, etc. Muslims too.