Islam-related issues were widespread in Britain during the month of September 2014. What follows is a summary of the main stories, presented in three broad themes.
1. Islamic Extremism and Syria-Related Threats
The House of Commons on September 26 voted 524 to 43 to approve a request by British Prime Minister David Cameron to join the American-led coalition against the jihadist group Islamic State [IS], but only in Iraq, not in Syria where the IS has established its headquarters.
The vote came after IS jihadists decapitated the British aid worker David Haines in Syria on September 14.
In a politically correct statement on the beheading, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed that the murder had nothing to do with Islam. "No religion could possibly justify such grotesque acts," he declared.
The same day, a group of prominent Muslims urged the British government to change the way it refers to the Islamic State. A letter addressed to the prime minister stated:
"We do not believe the terror group responsible should be given the credence and standing they seek by styling themselves 'Islamic State.' It is neither Islamic, nor is it a State. The group has no standing with faithful Muslims, nor among the international community of nations.
"We propose that 'Un-Islamic State' (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternative name to describe this group and its agenda—and we will begin to call it that."
Home Secretary Theresa May honored the request. Speaking to the Conservative Party conference on September 30, May praised Islam as a "religion of peace." May said:
"The terrorists who murdered David Haines like to call themselves the Islamic State. But I will tell you the truth: They are not Islamic. And they are not a state. Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran. What they believe has no resemblance whatsoever to the beliefs of more than a billion Muslims all over the world…
"This hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam itself... Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies."
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon revealed that more than 60 British jihadists who have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq are now in police custody. It was the first time that a British official has provided data on the number of detained repatriated jihadists.
Earlier, Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that up to 600 Britons, including 450 from London alone, had left the UK to fight for IS, and that about 250 had already slipped back into the country. Those numbers are higher than previous estimates.
Sky News aired a 12-minute report that tried to answer the question of why so many British Muslims are becoming jihadists. The report revealed a broad consensus among Muslims that non-Muslims are to blame.
The British-Pakistani rapper Kash 'The B.A.D.' Choudhary blamed a "huge sense of injustice" felt by British Muslims, while convicted terrorist Shahid Butt blamed British culture and violent computer games. He said:
"You've got an eight, nine, 10-year-old child playing those kind of violent games with heads blowing off and limbs blowing off. What kind of mentality is that kid going to have? You've dehumanized that person. To go and fight in Syria is as easy as going on holiday to Disneyland. Because you've made it easy!"
Convicted terrorist Shahid Butt blames British culture and violent computer games for the phenomenon of jihadists going to fight in Syria and Iraq. (Image source: Sky News video screenshot)
By contrast, London Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh said Muslim themselves were to blame. Speaking ahead of a counter-terrorism summit at London City Hall on September 12, Greenhalgh revealed that both he and Mayor Boris Johnson had been briefed by British intelligence on cases in which primary school pupils have been subjected to propaganda and "extremist ideology" by their families.
Greenhalgh, who oversees policing in the capital, said that London children under the age of ten are being "trained to be junior jihadis" in a disturbing new sign of the growing extremist threat in the capital. "It's pretty horrendous when you hear how some of these children are being radicalized," he said. "The threat of radicalization of young people is real and this is a problem that is going to be with us not just for a couple of years, but for the next generation."
2. Sharia Law in Britain
A documentary that aired on Channel 4 on September 24 explored the exploding subculture of polygamous marriages among British Muslims. Although polygamy is illegal under British law, it is authorized under Islamic Sharia law. It is estimated that there are now 20,000 polygamous marriages among Muslims in the UK.
Entitled "The Men With Many Wives," the documentary featured Mohammed el Ghannay, a Muslim polygamist from Sheffield whose entire family lives on state benefits. "We've got three wives, one husband, 11 children: we are a family," he says.
Shaheen Qureshi, a twice-divorced mother of eight, also lives on welfare benefits. Her first marriage was to her Pakistani cousin, and her second one was as the co-wife of a Muslim man in Bradford. When asked if she would try polygamy again, she responded: "I would if the other wives were willing to take me on board. It should be like Sex and the City where the four girls are best friends. Spread the love, that's my motto!"
The documentary did not shed light on why the British government continues to allow Sharia law to take precedence over UK law by tolerating polygamy.
Meanwhile, the British government is preparing to begin offering Sharia-compliant interest-free student loans. Under Sharia law, Muslims are forbidden from taking out loans that accrue interest, and some say this makes it impossible for many British Muslims to attend college.
On September 4, the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) published the results of a four-month public consultation, which indicated a demand for a Sharia-compliant alternative finance product, known as takaful, that would involve having Muslim students pay a "donation" into a pool system rather than paying interest.
Separately, women's rights activists accused the Law Society, the professional body representing lawyers in England and Wales, of endorsing discrimination against women by refusing to withdraw its guidance on Sharia wills.
The Law Society recently issued its guidance on ensuring that wills drawn up for Muslims comply with Sharia. The move effectively enshrined Islamic law in the British legal system for the first time.
The guidance informs lawyers that under Sharia, male heirs inherit twice the amount of female heirs and that illegitimate children are not heirs.
In an open letter published on September 17, campaigners said the guidance encourages legal services "to accommodate highly gender discriminatory religious laws that are being increasingly defined by religious fundamentalists in our society."
3. Muslim Integration
In Edmonton, north London, a 25-year-old convert to Islam beheaded an 82-year-old woman named Palmira Silva in broad daylight. Witnesses said they saw the man, who was wielding a foot-long machete, behead two cats before decapitating Silva. Police said they believed the man was inspired by video footage of terrorists beheading Westerners in Syria.
In East Sussex, an Egyptian immigrant shot and killed his seven-year-old daughter and then killed himself after his estranged wife rejected Islam. The couple married in Liverpool in 2005 after the wife, who was Roman Catholic, converted to Islam. But she later rejected the faith, which led to a divorce and a bitter custody dispute over the children.
In central England, a British couple was thrown off a bus and branded racists after a Muslim passenger objected to a nursery rhyme they were singing to their autistic daughter. Nick Barnfield and Sarah Cleaves were travelling with their daughter Heidi on a bus from Sheffield to Doncaster when the 15-month-old began crying.
After the couple started singing the theme song for Peppa Pig, a popular British preschool animated television series, a Muslim woman clad in a hijab became irate, apparently because pork is forbidden in Islam. The bus driver called police and ordered the couple to get off the bus.
In Bradford, three children from a Muslim family were sent to school with "Halal Only" signs stuck to their chests (pictures here) after they were served food that did not comply with Sharia law. Talib Hussain said that his children, who attend the Woodside Academy, were served non-halal food on several occasions and would have to wear the signs from now on.
In Daubhill, a teacher at the Sunning Hill Primary School was suspended after she allegedly made a comment about a Muslim student's headscarf. A girl at the school was fidgeting with her headscarf and the teacher involved was heard to say: "If she was in my class I would chuck the scarf in the bin." The incident was reported to the police and the teacher was suspended pending an investigation.
Also in Bradford, a 20-year-old student named Rabia Qureshi complained to supermarket giant ASDA after she found a pork sausage roll in a packet of vegetarian pastries. Qureshi said she cannot eat the meat on religious grounds.
After carrying out detailed investigation, ASDA cast doubt on the veracity of Qureshi's claim. The company said only cheese and onion rolls had been processed on that particular production run, and on the one previous to that, and there had been no other complaints.
In Leicester, a local KFC fast food restaurant is refusing to provide its customers with hand cleaning wipes because they are soaked in alcohol and might offend Muslim restaurant-goers. A KFC spokesman said the company complies with Islamic Sharia law in "areas where there has been demand from our customers," and advised non-Muslims seeking non-halal options to dine somewhere else.
In South Yorkshire, police were criticized for not acting quickly enough to remove comments on an official Facebook page that blamed Muslims for the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal. The comments were left in response to so-called Jay Report, which found that at least 1,400 children were abused by gangs of men predominantly of Pakistani origin in Rotherham over a 16-year period, between 1997 and 2013.
An angry citizen wrote: "Gangs raping children get let off and ignored, people making comments about it get chased down and treated more severely than the rapists."
In nearby Sheffield, a former care-home worker told the BBC that sexual exploitation of teenage girls by Muslim men was "endemic" in the city during the early 2000s. She said that girls as young as 13 years old were passed around organized groups of Muslims and trafficked to other cities. She said her colleagues were powerless to stop the crimes. Since the BBC report, South Yorkshire Police have confirmed that there are 173 live investigations into child exploitation in Sheffield.
In Greater Manchester, a Muslim man who had sexual intercourse with two underage girls was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison. During his trial, the court heard how 25-year-old Sulman Dar of Bolton plied the 15-year-old girls with cigarettes and alcohol before taking advantage of them.
In Bradford, a 62-year-old Muslim taxi driver named Mohammed Rashid, who was caught on camera sexually abusing an 81-year-old dementia sufferer in her own home, was jailed for 15 months on September 29. Also in Bradford, Mohammed Imran was charged with two counts of conspiring to rape a girl under 16 years of age and one count of arranging/facilitating the prostitution/involvement in pornography of a 13-year-old child.
In Peterborough, 30-year-old Mohammed Abbas was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having sex with a 12-year-old girl. In Sheffield, five Muslims went on trial for allegedly trafficking a 13-year-old girl for sex. In Bucks, eight Muslim men between the ages of 28 and 45 were charged with sexually abusing girls under the age of 16. One of the men has been charged with three counts of raping a girl under the age of 13.
In Guisborough, hundreds of parents were warned about a suspected abduction attempt of an 11-year-old girl by a group of "Asian" men. In Bury, police said that a 32-year-old taxi driver named Atif Ratiq was being investigated in connection with a report of kidnapping with intent to commit a sexual offense. In Walsall, police said they were looking for a Muslim male who sexually assaulted a 24-year-old woman on a bus.
In Dundee, the fourth-largest city in Scotland, a 33-year-old taxi driver named Mohammed Anwar was found guilty of two sex attacks on male passengers. Anwar is married and has five children.
Meanwhile, British media reported that as many as a dozen independent Muslim schools in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets are being investigated by the Department of Education amid fears that Islamic extremists have taken over the schools.
The latest investigations are similar to the so-called Trojan Horse scandal, in which secular schools in Birmingham were found to have been infiltrated by Muslim extremists. The difference is that the affected institutions in Tower Hamlets are Muslim schools.
Separately, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman was accused of electoral fraud after he promised free government housing to Muslims who voted for him.
Finally, Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers in London have been illegally subletting luxury apartments paid for by British taxpayers. In late September, government investigators raided the homes of 21 welfare recipients at four upscale apartment blocks.
In one case, a family of six were receiving £500 ($800) a week in housing benefits to live in a £1 million flat near Hyde Park, which they then sublet to wealthy tourists for up to £3,000 ($4,800) a week. Investigators believe the fraudsters made more than £100,000 ($160,000) each by sub-letting the apartments over a three-year period. The cost to British taxpayers: a quarter of a million pounds.
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.