Islam and Islam-related issues were omnipresent in Britain during the month of June 2014. They can be categorized into three broad themes: 1) The British government's growing concern over Islamic extremism and the domestic security implications of British jihadists in Syria; 2) The continuing spread of Islamic Sharia law in all aspects of British daily life; and 3) Ongoing questions of Muslim integration into British society.
1. Islamic Extremism and Syria-Related Threats
The dramatic rise of the Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] in June added a new sense of urgency to the ongoing debate over how to prevent British jihadists from carrying out terrorist attacks in the UK upon their return from fighting in Syria.
British Prime Minister David Cameron warned on June 17 that British citizens and other Europeans fighting alongside Islamist insurgents in Iraq and Syria posed the biggest threat to Britain's national security.
Britain's top counter-terrorism officer, Cressida Dick, on June 22 told the BBC that roughly 500 Britons have now gone to fight in Syria. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Dick warned that British jihadists represent a "long-term" terrorist threat that British police will be dealing with for "many years."
The former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Richard Barrett, on June 22 told Sky News's Murnaghan program that as many as 300 radicalized young men had already returned to the UK. He said it was an "absolute nightmare" for security agencies because they do not have the resources to track all of them.
On June 17, the Daily Mail reported that more British citizens signed up to fight in Iraq and Syria than joined the Army Reserve during the past 12 months. Only 170 extra reservists enlisted over the past year, despite a government target to boost the stand-by force by 11,000 by 2018.
On June 22, the Financial Times reported: "The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has halved its counter-terrorism budget even as officials warn of the most severe threat to the UK from overseas terror groups since the London bombings in 2005."
On June 22, the Sunday Times reported that British jihadists are faking their deaths on the battlefield in Syria in an attempt to return to the UK undetected. In one instance, the martyrdom of a fighter in Syria was announced by his colleagues on social media, only for police to arrest the "dead" individual at the port town of Dover.
The Times also reported that a British jihadist using the nom de guerre Abu Rashash Britani recently posted a message on Twitter that said: "When we establish khilafah [an Islamic state], a battalion of mujahideen shud head to UK & capture David Cameron & Theresa May n behead them both :)"
Another jihadist from Birmingham named Junaid Hussain tweeted that the "black flag of jihad" will soon fly over Downing Street. He also tweeted: "Imagine if someone were to detonate a bomb at voting stations or ambushed the vans that carry the casted votes. It would mess the whole system up." Hussain re-tweeted a warning from a like-minded countryman for British people to "watch out," because "we'll come back to the UK and wreak havoc."
A 19-year-old jihadist from Portsmouth named Muhammad Hassan promised a "killing spree" of British citizens if he were ever to return to Britain.
In a June 22 interview with the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, former British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said that given the increased threat to national security, the British state should be given more power to intercept the communications of Islamic extremists.
Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking at the annual Lord Mayor's Defense and Security Lecture in London on June 24, called for a change to British law that would hand the security services more powers to scrutinize online communications, a bid that has previously been blocked by the Liberal Democrats due to privacy concerns.
May also defended the government's use of surveillance powers. She said:
"There is no program of mass surveillance and there is no surveillance state. The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty, which is to protect the public."
May's denial of the existence of a British "surveillance state" was contradicted by a senior official from her very own office.
A London-based group called Privacy International on June 17 published a 50-page document in which Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (a directorate within the Home Office which leads work on counter-terrorism in the UK), revealed a secret government policy justifying mass surveillance of UK residents.
In the document, Farr detailed how the Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], a British intelligence agency that works closely with the US National Security Agency, justifies the indiscriminate intercepting all online searches and electronic communications over Internet services such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Farr's statement marked the first time the government has openly commented on how it exploits the UK's existing legal framework for surveillance to intercept communications.
Meanwhile, the government said it was stepping up efforts to work with the Internet industry to remove Islamic extremist propaganda that is hosted in the UK or abroad. During a briefing on June 24, a government spokesperson said: "Since December  we have removed over 15,000 pieces of terrorist-related content from the Internet."
The move came after three British jihadists appeared in a recruitment video urging their fellow countrymen to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The 13-minute English-language video entitled "There Is No Life Without Jihad" features one jihadist from Scotland and two others from Wales describing the life and mission of a jihadist.
The imam of the South Wales Islamic Center, Sheikh Zane Abdo, said he feared that the video would encourage other British Muslims to travel to Syria to fight. The imam said:
"I guarantee that many young people who are very susceptible to this type of message will have watched that video and maybe have been encouraged to now go and follow in the footsteps of Nasser and his brother, which is a real problem."
On June 24, the Daily Mail published a map showing how Cardiff, the capital of Wales, has become a hotbed for Islamic extremism. The article says Islamic hardliners are leafleting Muslim communities in the city with propaganda encouraging young men to become jihadists in Syria, Iraq and the UK.
Some of these meetings were allegedly organized by groups linked to Anjem Choudary, a Muslim hate preacher who wants to turn the United Kingdom into an Islamic state.
The Home Office said on June 26 that it was banning three groups linked to Choudary. The groups Need4Khilafah, the Shariah Project and the Islamic Dawah Association are all aliases of al-Muhajiroun, a Salafi-Wahhabi extremist group that was banned in 2006 but has continued to operate ever since then by using different names.
According to a report published by the Times of London on June 27, Choudary's network "has now been proscribed as a terrorist organization operating under 11 different names, but neither he nor any one of his associates has so far been prosecuted for membership of an illegal group."
2. Sharia Law in Britain
On June 25, Britain became the first Western nation to issue Islamic bonds, completing a plan that was more than seven years in the making. Investors placed £2.3 billion ($3.9 billion) of orders, more than 11 times the amount of bonds on offer.
Islamic bonds, known as sukuk, are structured to comply with Sharia law, which forbids interest payments. In practice, this means the bonds are backed by assets or cash flows that allow Muslim investors who are prohibited by Sharia law from buying traditional debt to share in profits or receive rental income.
This sukuk is using an ijara structure, a Sharia-compliant sale and lease-back contract, allowing the rental income of three central government offices to underpin the transaction. In an ijara sukuk, a party leases equipment, buildings or other facilities to a client for an agreed rental price.
The sukuk is the centerpiece of Prime Minister David Cameron's bid to turn London into a "world capital for Islamic finance."
But critics say that Cameron's ambition to attract investments from Muslim investors is spurring the gradual establishment of a parallel global financial system based on Sharia law.
On June 24, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said that a Sharia-compliant alternative to the conventional student loan could become available in the UK beginning in 2016.
Willetts said a cooperative system called takaful was being examined as a way of enabling Muslim students to fund their studies according to Sharia law, which prohibits Muslims entering into interest-bearing loans.
Rather than borrowing money and paying it back with interest to a third party, which is prohibited by Sharia law, students would sign a contract promising to pay the takaful, perceived as a charitable donation.
"It would be a tragedy if any student, particularly a Muslim student because of concerns about so-called interest rates, were put off from going to university," Willetts said. "This does not mean we are introducing Sharia law in the UK," he added.
On June 10, Willis Group Holdings PLC, a multinational insurance brokerage company based in London, launched the UK's first Sharia-compliant commercial real estate insurance. The policy will retain price neutrality, meaning the premiums are equivalent to a like-for-like non-Sharia policy.
The Managing Director of the Willis Real Estate Practice, John Dilley, said:
"Hand in hand with the growth in Islamic finance is the demand for Sharia-compliant insurance cover, in particular for real estate investors. Access to underwriting capacity, which is compliant with Islamic law for major risks, has not previously been available in the UK. Willis has responded to the needs of real estate investors by developing the UK's first Sharia-compliant real estate insurance solution."
On June 6, the British Ministry of Defense (MoD), in response to a Freedom of Information request, admitted that soldiers are unknowingly being fed halal (Arabic for lawful according to Sharia law) meat on military bases.
On June 4, Gardner Asset Management and Shariyah Review Bureau [SRB], a Sharia advisory firm, announced the creation of an Enterprise Investment Scheme [EIS] that will allow Muslims to investment in a renewable energy project in a manner that complies with Sharia law.
The scheme will use an Islamic finance structure known as a wakala, whereby an agent is appointed by investors to manage and run the investment on their behalf, without using conventional interest-bearing debts within the company.
The CEO of London-based advisory firm Simply Sharia, Faizal Karbani, said: "This will be the first certified Sharia-compliant green energy EIS offered to UK investors and we think the structure of the investment fits well with the values and principles of Sharia."
Meanwhile, the Islamic Bank of Britain [IBB], the UK's only wholly Sharia-compliant retail bank, on June 23 named a new CEO. IBB's longest-serving employee, Sultan Choudhury, is being tasked with "delivering a strategy designed for growth and profitability." IBB has never made a profit since its founding in 2004.
3. Muslim Integration
British regulators placed five Muslim-dominated state schools in Birmingham under "special measures" after inspectors found that pupils there were being systematically exposed to radical Islamic propaganda.
Ofsted, the agency that regulates British schools, carried out emergency inspections of 21 primary and secondary state schools in Birmingham after a document surfaced in March 2014 that purported to outline a plot—dubbed Operation Trojan Horse—by Muslim fundamentalists to Islamize state schools in England and Wales.
The inspection reports, which Ofsted made public on June 9, show that Muslim hardliners are indeed seeking to run at least five state schools in Birmingham according to a "conservative Islamic perspective."
Sky News reported on June 3 that senior leaders at three schools in Birmingham alerted the government more than two decades ago about the rising influence of Muslim extremists in the school system, but that their concerns were dismissed because of political correctness.
Separately, the BBC reported on June 2 that Birmingham officials were warned that hardline Muslims were trying to extend their influence in Birmingham schools as early as 2008. Again, no action was taken.
On June 16, a new law entered into effect that makes forced marriage a criminal offense in England and Wales and is punishable by up to seven years in prison. The law also makes it a crime to breach a so-called Forced Marriage Protection Order (issued by courts to prevent people from being married against their will). This crime now carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
In addition, the law makes it a crime to take British nationals overseas with the intention of forcing them to wed, even if the forced marriage does not ultimately take place. It is estimated that every year, hundreds of British girls are being taken out of school and flown abroad to be married, sometimes to men who may be two or three times their age.
Research commissioned by the UK Department of Education estimates that between 5,000 and 8,000 young women in Britain are the victims of forced marriages each year. But some charities say the actual number is far higher: many victims are afraid to come forward.
The BBC reported on June 12 that some Muslim families have begun hiring bounty hunters to track down the victims of forced marriage who try to run away. In one instance, parents in Scotland paid a gang to trace a 17-year-old woman who ran away from home after she was told she had to marry in Pakistan. The bounty hunters eventually found her and fearing for her life, she went through with the wedding in Pakistan.
An image from the video "Right to choose: Spotting the signs of forced marriage - Nayana", produced by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Meanwhile, a radical Islamic group edged closer to building one of the world's largest mosques in London after a star Muslim opponent of the controversial mega-mosque was intimidated into silence.
Tablighi Jamaat -- a fundamentalist Islamic sect opposed to Western values such as democracy and equal rights, but committed to "perpetual Jihad" to spread Islam around the world -- is fighting a no-holds-barred battle to build a massive mosque complex in West Ham, a neighborhood in the East London Borough of Newham.
A public hearing was convened on June 3 to determine whether the mosque will be built. On the first day of the inquiry, however, Tehmina Kazi, the only Muslim brave enough to give evidence against the mosque, abruptly withdrew from giving testimony after being "persuaded" by Muslim hardliners to remove her objections.
By successfully silencing Kazi, Tablighi Jamaat removed a highly effective obstacle to making the mega-mosque a reality. All eyes will now be on Eric Pickles, a cabinet minister, who will take the final decision on whether the mosque project goes ahead.
In Scotland, the Glasgow City Council has authorized the Glasgow Central Mosque to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer -- known as the adhan -- during the Commonwealth Games, to be held in the city from July 23 to August 3.
The adhan will be broadcast once a day from July 10 to August 4 at approximately 10 pm. There will be some overlap with Ramadan, which began on June 28 and runs through July 27.
The general secretary of the mosque, Nabeel Sheikh, said he wants to cater to Muslims visiting the city for the Games. He also said the broadcast of the adhan would help to highlight the "open outlook" of Glaswegians. Sheik added:
"Many of our non-Muslim friends who have visited Dubai, Tunisia or Turkey and have heard the adhan have told me the positive impact it has had on them. The world's media will also be in Glasgow and they can leave with a positive impression of the city and emphasizing the tolerance and open outlook of Glaswegians."
In Edinburgh, a Muslim immigrant from Iran was found guilty on June 3 of murdering his wife because she refused to submit to his authority. Ahmad Yazdanparast, 61, was found guilty of the October 2013 murder of Ahdieh Yazdanparast, 46, the mother of his three children.
During Yazdanparast's trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, the court heard how he doused his wife with gasoline and set her on fire. Yazdanparast's defense attorney told jurors: "He wasn't being listened to, he wasn't being obeyed. He lost control of his wife and he murdered her."
Yazdanparast, who identified himself in court as a "British Muslim," said that in Iran the man was superior to the woman and had authority over her, but in Britain his wife had become too Westernized and was acting as if she were superior to him.
At the Woolwich Crown Court in Greenwich, a 20-year-old Muslim man, Farooq Shah, was found guilty on June 26 of stabbing to death a pregnant Romanian prostitute, allegedly because she was plying her trade near a mosque in Ilford, a town in Essex. He was sentenced to life in prison and will serve a minimum of 29 years.
At the Snaresbrook Crown Court in north London, the trial began on June 24 for five Muslim gang members accused of beating a 23-year-old American student, Francesco Hounye, over the head with a bottle. Prosecutors say the Muslims were angry that Hounye, who had been on a night out and was walking home with a friend in Shadwell, east London, was drinking alcohol on the street.
At the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales [Old Bailey] in London, a 32-year-old Islamic radical from Luton, Abu Rahin Aziz, was found guilty in absentia on June 19 of punching, kicking and striking a football fan named Andrew White and leaving him covered in blood.
The court heard how a group of nine Muslims were handing out Islamic literature and shouting "F*ck the Queen" as White lay bleeding on the ground. Aziz, an associate of firebrand cleric Anjem Choudary, fled the UK before his trial and is thought to have joined jihadists in Syria.
In a separate but related trial at the Old Bailey, nine members of the so-called Muslim Patrol were found guilty of promoting sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims at a protest march led by Choudary in central London. The brawls, which took place in May 2013, are believed to be the first Iraqi-style Muslim infighting on British streets.
In an interview published by the Daily Telegraph on June 17, the former head of the anti-immigrant English Defense League, Tommy Robinson, described the omnipresence of Islam at Woodhill Prison, a maximum security prison where he was serving an 18-month sentence for mortgage fraud.
Robinson, who was released in early June, says many prisoners are converting to Islam in order to become part of a Muslim gang, which gives them some degree of protection. He also says radical preachers are enforcing Sharia law in the prison wings. According to Robinson, "The guards don't run the prison, Islam does."
Finally, a Christian health worker launched a legal challenge after being disciplined by the National Health Service [NHS] for "bullying" a Muslim colleague by praying for her.
The saga began when the Muslim woman asked her colleague, a 37-year-old occupational therapist named Victoria Wasteney, about the anti-human trafficking community work being carried out by her church, located in East London, home to a large Muslim community.
Wasteney later invited the Muslim woman to a community sports day organized by her church. She also prayed for the Muslim woman, who was in tears over the many problems in her personal life.
Wasteney was issued a written warning and forced to accept a range of requirements designed to stop her from discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues. She was also suspended on full pay for nine months.
Wasteney said she was challenging her employers in court because political correctness in the NHS was stifling ordinary conversations about faith. "I believe in tolerance for everyone and that is why I am challenging what has happened to me," she 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.