• In the city of Bradford, the local Reform synagogue was about to close its doors when members of a nearby mosque and some Muslim businessmen stepped in with money and advice -- and the synagogue has been saved. The two sides have started what they hope will become a tradition.

Although immigration can be of great benefit to societies, when it goes wrong -- such as illegal immigration, or when incomers cannot find work, or when new citizens refuse to adapt to the societies they enter -- the benefits are eroded and the native population starts to resent the people it had originally invited to join them.

The United States seems to have done a good job on integrating its immigrants, to the point where its many groups have made such wonderful contributions to life in their new country that it is hard to see what America would be without them. Although, as Moynihan and Glazer revealed in Beyond the Melting Pot, the pot never completely melts, the Poles have learned to speak English; they pledge allegiance to the flag and they serve -- and die -- in the military. But they still eat pierogi, attend mass in a Polish church, play Polish music (however corrupted) and preserve memories of their grandmothers and grandfathers. To them, the future is American, and tastes of pierogi, kiełbasa, and hamburgers.

The situation in Europe, particularly here the United Kingdom, is not so rosy. We have a largely positive history of deserving migrants wending their way to our shores. Huguenots, Jews, Hong Kong Chinese and others have all contributed well to these islands -- although the Jews have often been treated badly in return. During and after the Holocaust, Britain let very few Jewish refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe enter the country; blocked many thousands from travelling to Mandatory Palestine, and put many more thousands on Cyprus, where they lived under harsh conditions, hemmed in by barbed wire in detention camps.

Thirty years ago and more, Britain started to bring in immigrants from what had been its wide-flung empire, the greatest the world had known (except at one time, the Portuguese empire or the Ottoman). The French did much the same (mainly with North Africans) and the Portuguese, chiefly from the 1990s.

In Britain, most immigrants came from former colonies and related territories such as India (including Pakistan and Bangladesh), Hong Kong, and Africa. More recently, large numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants have come from eastern Europe.

There is a challenge in all this -- integration -- and so far Britain is not handling it well. There have been some, but it is still rare to see a couple of mixed race walking through my local shopping center. Groups of Africans stay together, groups of Chinese, and groups of Pakistanis, Arabs and others seem to do the same. It is common to hear any language but English spoken on the street or in a café, and in one café I go to, Arabs sit at the tables at the front, quite separate from everyone else. To make things worse, most official publications, leaflets for the health service, and other sources of information are published in a dozen or more languages, making it easier for immigrants to avoid learning English. In Iran, I had to cope with the reality that everything was written in Farsi, which I could read.

One community that stands out for what seems a reluctance (and sometimes refusal) to integrate is that of British Muslims, who now number some two million. By 2030, nearly one in ten Britons will be Muslim.[1] They have a strong presence in some cities and towns and cities: 24.7% in the northern mill town of Bradford, 18.6% in Leicester, 24.6% in Luton, 15.8% in Manchester (a major conurbation), 23.6% in Slough. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets (where the notorious East London Mosque is situated), they form 36.4% of the population and are the largest minority group as well as the largest proportion of Muslims in the UK.[2]

Some Muslims do their best to integrate. Others do not. A particularly large obstacle to integration seems to be a doctrine known as al-wala' wa'l-bara,' which roughly translates into "Love and Enmity." According to this, a true Muslim is expected to avoid becoming friendly with non-Muslims and adopting non-Islamic practices [Qur'an, al-Ma'ida 5:51; al-Mumtahina 60:1-9, 13] -- so, no celebrating Christmas with your Christian friends or Chanukah with Jews; no sending your boss a birthday card; no visiting churches or synagogues; no attending Holocaust Memorial Day events, and so on. In 2008, the well-known British Islamic extremist Anjem Choudary stated: "Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. Protect your Paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas."

Sometimes this pressure to divorce oneself from one's fellow citizens can, with radical Muslims, take on a more dramatic form: in 2010, for instance, British soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan, parading through their home town of Barking, were greeted by a mob of Muslim extremists hurling insults. The clashes came little over a year after Muslim extremists screamed "baby killers" and "rapists" at soldiers from 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, who were marching through Luton after a tour of duty in Iraq. The Muslim contingent also spat. Everyone who was there to cheer the parade is likely to have been deeply alienated by this insult to the courage of their soldiers.

Last year brought us several other incidents involving Muslim extremists. In Tower Hamlets, with its dense Muslim population, a number of individuals set up a "Muslim Patrol;" they put posters on walls declaring a ban on alcohol, drugs, immodestly-dressed women and apparently anything else considered non-Islamic. Later, they accosted citizens for their immodest dress or for carrying alcohol, and threatened to kill anyone who broke shari'a law. More seriously, two converts attacked and beheaded a British soldier, Lee Rigby, in Woolwich in London. The men have now been tried and sentenced to life in prison. Their attack was seen by several witnesses and filmed, yet they maintained in their trial that they were not guilty, because, "as Jeremiah Adebolajo claimed, his brother Michael had sought to 'please Allah by fighting in his cause.'"[3]

These are, of course, extremists, and their actions are far from typical of moderate or liberal Muslim opinion or activity. But these individuals do much to alienate non-Muslims everywhere. A more regular demonstration of Muslim separateness can be seen any day of the week in any British town, where there are growing numbers of Muslim women wearing some form of hijab, or headscarf, in public. A small but noticeable group wear the niqab, the veil that covers everything but the eyes. All ages participate in this, but while it is not surprising to see middle-aged and elderly women clinging to the traditions of their upbringing, the practice owes its current growth to young women and teenagers, including well-educated students and graduates. For some it is a symbol of resistance to Western influence, and serves to keep them on the outside. I have lost count of the number of young Muslim women, often startlingly beautiful, wearing tight jeans or short skirts and stockings, in fashionable Western clothes, with expensive designer shoes, yet wearing large, colorful hijabs around faces glowing with skillfully applied make-up. Why do so many Muslim girls dress that way while sporting what is surely a religious garb? Is there pressure from family or friends? Are they only partly Westernized? Do they wish, deep down, to remain apart?

Wearing the hijab or the niqab or any other form of headcovering is not legislated in the Qur'an, the Hadith, or any other scriptural source. The determination to enforce it -- and to call any woman who does not cover up a "prostitute" -- has deep roots in Arab and other Muslim societies, yet there have been a few reform movements that have challenged it. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Babi poetess and scholar Qurrat al-'Ayn taught men, but she did not wear a veil. She was executed as a heretic in Tehran in 1852. Her religious successors abandoned the veil, but to do so they had to pass outside Islam.

If I were young and unmarried I might fall in love with a Christian, Jewish or Hindu woman and hope to marry her. But A Muslim woman may not marry anyone but a Muslim man. This is not a cultural decision, it is shari'a law. While Muslim men often marry Western women (and usually ask them to convert), Muslim women are off limits to Western men. And that reduces yet again any chance of integration -- and is possibly the leading reason the law was established in the first place.

The answer, it would seem, despite the many barriers, is still integration; and here is why. In the city of Bradford, a rather grim northern town with a very high Muslim population, the last remaining synagogue faced closure in December 2012. The congregation of the Bradford Reform Synagogue, like many others, had dropped to 45; between them, they could not pay for the repair work needed to keep the synagogue up during the coming years. The town's only remaining Orthodox synagogue had just closed its doors a month before that. Members of a nearby mosque and some Muslim businessmen stepped in with money and advice -- and the synagogue has been saved.

The Bradford Reform Synagogue, which was saved from closing with the help of local Muslims. (Image source: Alex McGregor/Geograph)

The two sides have started what they hope will become a tradition: the Jewish community invites Christians and Muslims to an oneg Shabbat Friday night evening, while Muslims invite the others for a Ramadan feast, and the Christians include Muslims and Jews during the harvest festival. Clearly, for some the antagonism created by al-wala' wa'l-bara' is breaking down. Some Muslims are becoming integrated in a way we have seen in the United States. That too could be the future; it would taste of gefilte fish, medjool dates, and — if they are all lucky — Christmas pudding, maybe even with brandy cream, for the just the Christians and Jews.

Dr. Denis MacEoin, a Distinguished Senior fellow at Gatestone Institute, was previously a board member of the original UK Centre for Social Cohesion.


[1] Steve Doughty, 'Number of British Muslims will double to 5.5m in 20 years', Daily Mail, 28 January 2011.
[2] Tower Hamlets Council, 'Public Sector Equality Duty — Our Population'.
[3] Vikram Dodd, 'Jeremiah Adebolajo claimed his brother Michael had sought to "please Allah by fighting in his cause"', The Guardian, 20 December 2013.

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