Taking readers on a personal journey from his time growing up in Lancashire and Liverpool in the 1970s to the present, Zia Chaudhry offers a Muslim’s reflections on growing up in the West in his new book Just Your Average Muslim (Short Books, £8.99).
What is the key message of your book and who is it written for?
The key message of the book for non-Muslims is that sometimes media portrayals of Muslims are not entirely accurate. The key message for Muslims is to inspire them to think about their religion and improve themselves. The idea was that as I was comfortable with both groups I could address them together, with a view to dispelling myths and building understanding between the two.
How do the actions of Islamic extremists affect the average Muslim?
They undermine the trust that non-Muslims have in the average Muslim, thereby making it difficult for Muslims living in western countries. Instead of being able to concentrate on living in harmony with others, they end up spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy trying to explain the actions of the extremist minority.
What do you think of current rhetoric on immigration?
The economic difficulties of the last few years have contributed to the immigration question making the headlines again. The concern is the way that the issues are framed. I have noticed that there seem to be more articles about the contributions made by immigrants, so it may be that we are turning a corner, albeit belatedly.
What role should Islam play in wider society?
In order for the Quran to have a practical use we have to understand its objectives, understand the problems of our society and then seek solutions based upon these Quranic values. And if these values are about peace, justice and fairness, then I certainly hope Islam does have a role to play for wider society.
How can Islam become relevant today?
One area where Islam can be relevant is in the debate about how our societies operate in economic terms. The way that free markets are tipped in favour of wealthy and powerful interests leading, for example, to the abuses by banks, should prompt a discussion of how banks operate. Here the principles of the Quran (that is, interest-free economies) could make a valuable contribution.
What’s the picture for Muslim people in the north?
Many economically deprived northern areas have large Muslim populations (the families of now redundant workforces) and there is a danger of such communities being scapegoated. The subsequent increase in Islamophobia can exacerbate feelings of marginalisation on the part of some younger Muslims.
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