The Welsh Muslim Cultural Foundation has its origins in Wales going back over 16 years when it began as the New Muslims Network – the individuals involved have been around a lot longer. We are a transparent organisation. Even a cursory read of our website, or Facebook page, will give the average person a sense of who we are and what we do. Which is why we were shocked to find ourselves appearing to be described as something akin to a white ethno-pluralist organisation in a recent article by Abdul-Azim Ahmed on ‘Mosques in Wales’.
It is unfortunate that the only three places in the article where the word ‘white’ is mentioned is first in reference to us as ‘largely white British converts’, then to what the author appears to think is our ‘white identity’ centre, and finally, towards the end of the article, a reference to a ‘white supremacist movement’. We sincerely hope this has not caused readers to make any unconscious associations.
Many may disagree with his assessment of the Muslim religious institutional landscape in Wales, but what we found particularly strange was that in the article only our centre was categorised in terms of colour. Our charitable objectives, as set out on the Charity Commission website, are clear, including ‘to promote racial and religious harmony for the public benefit by promoting knowledge and mutual understanding between different racial and religious groups, including the promotion of common Welsh heritage’. Also clear is that we have been established to ‘…benefit the residents of Cardiff and the surrounding area, without distinction of sex, sexual orientation, race or of political, religious or other opinions…’.
As the name of our charity suggests, we have a strong interest in the preservation and promotion of our cultural identity as Welsh people of Muslim faith, but nowhere do we place any emphasis on race or colour, nor even make reference to it, in connection to that identity. We are not, as seems to be implied in the article, ethno-centric, but rather we believe that anyone who is born in Wales, or adopts Wales as their home, is entitled to be considered Welsh. One of our trustees is originally from Cornwall and another from Wessex. Our own families are diverse. Some are Welsh-speaking, others not. The children of four of our trustees are of dual-heritage, with family ties, through either the mother or father, to Algeria, Libya, Pakistan and South East Asia. All of us are passionate about Wales.
This year in the Crescent Centre, we have held iftars (fast-breaking meals) in Ramadhan, Eid breakfasts, story-telling (including tales from India and the Middle East), the study of a treatise by a tenth century scholar from Khorasan (in what is now north eastern Iran), and an event on anti-Muslim Hate Crime. It is unclear how any of the above could be considered an activity which is ‘more reflective of a white identity’. Incidentally, the one event Dr Ahmed did attend, a poetry and spoken-word evening, had an audience which was 30% white and 70% non-white. One of the three artists was of Iraqi heritage and another of Pakistani heritage.
Yes we also support converts to Islam, in part to ensure they don’t feel pressured to abandon their identity on becoming Muslim, which can, as a consequence, alienate them from their families. In a country like Wales, the likelihood is that more converts passing through our doors will be of European descent than not, but converts of African, Asian and mixed heritage have also attended our events and will continue to be supported by us.
What may set our centre apart from many other Islamic centres is our Welsh culture also informs the respectful interactions between the genders – an approach which we do not believe is in any way incompatible with our faith. The space we offer is equally shared and accessible; we do not insist on a segregation rule and therefore men and women pray in the same hall together in emulation of the Prophetic example.
No-one goes to the effort, or invests the sort of time and financial commitment necessary, to establish and run a centre unless the need is there. Muslims who do not feel catered for by the existing community structures will inevitably create their own. But ours is not an exclusive club. We make it clear all are welcome, as long as they are not an aggressor.
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