The controversy began on September 9, the first day of the autumn term, when the college announced that students and employees would be ordered to remove any face coverings so that individuals are “easily identifiable at all times.”
The college’s ban on face-covering niqabs or the body-covering burqas—as well as caps, hoodies and other types of head covering—was billed as a security measure.
Tory MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone told the British newspaper The Independent that the college’s reversal was a shameful disgrace and argued for the urgent need for legislation to ban the niqab in all public spaces.
“People are frightened of standing up and speaking out in this discussion because of political correctness and the intolerant reaction from Muslim groups who jump up and down with fury whenever anyone says that it makes sense for people to go around with their faces perfectly visible to everyone else, which is the way human beings were created in the first place,” Hollobone said.
Hollobone presented a bill in the British Parliament on September 6 that would make it illegal to wear clothing obscuring the face in public; the bill will be considered on February 28, 2014.
In a live debate entitled “Should Britain Ban the Veil?” and aired on BBC Radio 5 on September 6, Hollobone said, “Society can’t function if people go around with facial coverings. If we all covered our faces the world would be a very different place. Imagine Parliament where everyone had their face covered. It makes it very difficult for the police to identify troublemakers. I am sad that legislation may be necessary to address this problem. It’s basic common sense to most people. It would ultimately lead to the breakdown of our society.”
Hollobone denied that his proposal amounted to an attack on Islam: “We have to be quite clear—the burka isn’t religious clothing. It’s a choice.”
Also in September, a taxpayer-funded Muslim school in England inflamed public anger after it emerged that the institution was operating according to Islamic Sharia law.
Islamic fundamentalists running the Al-Madinah School in Derby, an industrial city in central England, had ordered all female teachers—including those who are not Muslim—to cover their heads and shoulders with a hijab, an Islamic scarf.
In addition to the strict dress code, pupils were banned from singing songs, playing musical instruments, or reading fairy tales, activities deemed to be “un-Islamic,” according to non-Muslim staff members at the school.
Critics say the school—which originally marketed itself as an “inter-faith” school in order to qualify for taxpayer monies—promised that at least 50% of its students would be non-Muslim. But after it obtained £1.4 million (€1.7 million; $2.25 million) in government financing, the administrators of Al-Madinah were accused of switching gears by operating the school according to Islamic law, apparently to ensure that the school will eventually be 100% Muslim.
Also in September, the British Department of Education revealed that it is recruiting former agents of the British secret service (MI5) to investigate the alleged infiltration of British schools by Islamic extremists.
The agents will form part of a new counter-extremism unit, established to investigate schools in which radical activity has been suspected. Speaking to the Sunday Times on September 29, Education Secretary Michael Gove said some schools are being “taken over” by Muslim hardliners in the hope of radicalizing pupils and staff. He also said he was determined to “weed out” schools whose practices do not conform to British values.
A survey published by the BBC on September 25 revealed that more than a quarter of young British people distrust Muslims and feel Britain would be better off if there were fewer of them in the country. Of the 1,000 young people questioned in the survey conducted by ComRes, a leading market research agency, 27% of 18-to-24-year-olds said they did not trust Muslims, while 28% said Britain would be better off with fewer Muslims. It also emerged that 60% thought the British public had a negative image of Muslims, and 44% said Muslims do not have the same values as the rest of the population.
A separate survey published by Lord Ashcroft Polls on September 1, showed that six in ten Britons thought immigration had produced more disadvantages than advantages for their country; only 17% thought the pros outweighed the cons. The biggest concerns were about migrants claiming benefits or using public services without having contributed in return.
In London, a judge on September 16 ordered a Muslim defendant to take off her full-face veil to give evidence in court. But—in a case that made legal history—he said the woman could retain the veil for all other parts of her trial.
Judge Peter Murphy said the court should recognize “freedom of religious expression,” but that allowing her to retain the niqab during her evidence, as she wanted, would “drive a coach and horses through justice administered in England and Wales for centuries.” Murphy said he hoped that “Parliament or a higher court will provide a definite answer to the issue soon” to avoid “judicial anarchy.”
Also in September, the British Ministry of Justice confirmed that a total of 186 Muslim inmates at three different prisons are suing the British government, claiming their human rights were violated after tests confirmed that halal food being served to them contained pork meat.
The legal cases are being brought by the prisoners under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which affords the right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
In October, more than a dozen Muslim clerics at some of the biggest mosques in Britain were caught on camera agreeing to marry off girls as young as 14.
Undercover reporters filming a documentary about the prevalence of forced and underage marriage in Britain for the television program ITV Exposure secretly recorded 18 Muslim imams agreeing to perform an Islamic marriage, known as a nikah, between a 14-year-old girl and an older man.
Although the legal age for marriage in Britain is 16, according to Sharia law girls can marry once they reach puberty. The imams who agreed to marry the girl openly mocked the legitimacy of British law, reflecting the rise of a parallel Islamic legal system in Britain.
One of the Muslim clerics who agreed to perform the underage marriage is Mohammed Shahid Akhtar, the imam of the Central Jamia Masjid Ghamkol Sharif Mosque in Birmingham, the second-largest mosque in Britain with a capacity of more than 5,000 worshippers.
On being informed that the girl did not want to get married, Akhtar replied: “She’s 14. By Sharia, grace of Allah, she’s legal to get married. Obviously Islam has made it easy for us. There is nothing against that. We’re doing it because it’s okay through Islam.”
The documentary also shows Akhtar expressing his contempt for British marriage laws: “You’ve got the kuffars[non-believers], the law, the English people that … you know, you can’t get married twice but, by the grace of Allah, we can get married four times.”
Meanwhile, British taxpayers were left to pay a legal bill of £350,000 (€410,000; $566,000) after Muslim parents went to court to win the right to shave the pubic hair of their disabled daughter.
The mother and father of the young woman, who is referred to as “ED” in court documents, said their daughter’s pubic hair should be removed according to Islamic tradition. But their local council, which has cared for the disabled woman since 2008, questioned whether she had the mental capacity to consent to her hair being removed.
After more than two years of legal fights, the Muslim couple abruptly dropped the case on October 22, after a “cultural expert” concluded that “whilst there was a duty to remove pubic hair, both for religious and cultural reasons, there is an exemption for those incapacitated such as ED.”
The local authority involved had incurred costs of £138,000, the couple of £82,000 and the official attorney, appearing for ED, of £130,000, with taxpayers footing the entire bill.
“This is an astonishing sum of money,” a judge at London’s High Court, Justice Roderic Wood, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “I thus remain utterly baffled by the course this litigation has taken, and perplexed by this lack of clarity in their case. Obtaining a 10-day slot of a High Court Judge’s time is not easy, for there are many competing cases of equal if not greater urgency than this one.”
In lead up a final hearing, which had been scheduled for late October, “a great morass” of evidence was prepared, including 740 pages of witness statements, 300 pages of expert evidence as well as other documents, the judge said.
Also in October, the London Stock Exchange said it would be launching a new Islamic bond index in an effort to establish the City of London as one of the world’s leading centers of Islamic finance.
Britain also plans to become the first non-Muslim country to issue sovereign Islamic bonds, known as sukuk, beginning as early as 2014.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the plans during a keynote speech at the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum, which was held in London from October 29-31, the first time the event has ever been held outside the Muslim world.
“Already London is the biggest center for Islamic finance outside the Islamic world,” Cameron told the audience of more than 1,800 international political and business leaders from over 115 countries.
“And today our ambition is to go further still. Because I don’t just want London to be a great capital of Islamic finance in the Western world, I want London to stand alongside Dubai and Kuala Lumpur as one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the world.”
The plans are all part of the British government’s strategy to acquire as big a slice as possible of the fast-growing global market of Islamic finance, which operates according to Islamic Sharia law and is growing 50% faster than the conventional banking sector.
In Scotland, meanwhile, the largest-ever immunization program was halted on October 2 after Muslim parents complained that the so-called Fluenz vaccine contained pork gelatin. The roll-out of the flu vaccine in Glasgow was postponed after parents at Glendale Primary in Pollokshields—which has a large number of Muslim pupils who cannot consume pig products for religious reasons—became aware of the ingredients and complained.
The National Health Service of Greater Glasgow and Clyde, an area that contains the overwhelming majority of the Muslims in Scotland, said that 100 Islamic scholars had agreed that pork gelatin was permissible within a vaccine, but it had postponed the vaccinations anyway “following concerns raised by a small number of parents.”
A similar vaccination program in Leicestershire, England, was halted in September after the same flu vaccine was deemed to be “insensitive” to Muslims.
In November it emerged that Choukri Ellekhlifi, a British man who was killed fighting alongside al Qaeda-linked extremists in Syria, funded his trip by mugging people in an affluent area of London.
Ellekhlifi threatened victims with a Taser-style high-voltage stun gun and forced them to hand over valuables including designer watches and mobile phones.
He lived in London until a year ago when he skipped bail and travelled to Syria to join a group of Islamic extremists waging war on the Assad regime. He was one of three British men killed as their group attacked pro-government forces near the city of Aleppo on August 11. The trio were part of a group of ten British jihadists who joined up with 20 other Britons to fight with the Al-Nusra Front, allied to Al-Qaeda.
Separately, Ifthekar Jaman, a 23-year-old jihadist from Southsea, Hampshire, told Richard Watson—the host of the BBC’s flagship daily news and current affairs program called Newsnight—that he traveled to Syria to fight with the Al-Qaida-linked ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Jaman said he supported the principle of jihad before he left Britain. He told the BBC:
I was already a jihadi [while in the UK] I understood I was on the jihadi path. Where it all began? It began from the book [the Koran]. And I read this and in there you see what jihad is about. I used to be scared of the word jihad. I once went to my sister when I was young I said to her, I saw it in the book and it said fighting. And my sister said to me jihad means what you have in your heart, what you did in your heart. This is what I was taught. It wasn’t taught to me that Islam is peace and there’s no fighting. It is peace but it requires fighting. The duty of a Muslim is to love jihad. One of the sayings of the prophet peace be upon him whoever does not go jihad or doesn’t even talk about it dies with the characteristic of hypocrisy. I am actually a Muslim following the way I should be.
Also in November, the head of MI5 (British domestic intelligence), Andrew Parker, told the British Parliament’sIntelligence and Security Committee that there are thousands of people living in Britain today who support al Qaida; and the head of MI6 (British foreign intelligence), Sir John Sawers, warned that the threat of terrorist attacks against Britain is increasing. Parker said that British intelligence had foiled 34 terrorist plots since the July 7 London bombings in 2005.
In December, two Islamists, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were found guilty of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby outside the Woolwich Barracks in southeast London on May 22, 2013. The crime shocked the country and has drawn nationwide attention to the rise of radical Islam in Britain.
Adebolajo, 28, and Adebowale, 22, were each accused of attacking the 25-year-old Rigby by running him over from behind with a car and then attempting to decapitate his motionless body with a meat cleaver and kitchen knives.
Both men were born in Britain and raised as Christians before converting to Islam as teenagers.
During the trial, Adebolajo said there was an ongoing “war between the Muslims and the British people” and that he was a “soldier of Allah.”
Assistant London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, the most senior counter-terrorism officer in Britain, told the newspaper The Telegraph that British soldiers are at risk from “thousands” of lone-wolf terrorists who hold to a “perverted ideology” like the home-grown fanatics who murdered Rigby. She said the threat could never be eliminated.
Meanwhile, three Muslim men were sentenced at the Old Bailey on December 6 for confronting and abusing non-Muslims in London in January 2013. The three—who called themselves the Muslim Patrol—confronted, physically assaulted, and verbally abused members of the public whose behavior was in violation of Sharia law. They then posted the videos of their actions on YouTube.
Also in December, Marks & Spencer, the biggest clothing retailer in Britain, backed down after facing a boycott from thousands of angry customers who were furious at the store’s decision to allow Muslim staff to refuse to serve customers buying alcohol or pork products during the Christmas shopping season.
The policy was revealed after customers trying to buy pork or alcohol from a Muslim cashier at an M&S store in central London were told that because of her religion, they would have to use another checkout lane.
Critics of M&S’s policy of accommodation said it was just another example of how British law and practice is giving way to Islamic Sharia law and practice.
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 Twitter.