Leicester, one of the most rapidly Islamizing cities in England, has elected its first-ever Muslim mayor.
Abdul Razak Osman, an Indian-origin Muslim who was born in Kenya and who immigrated to Britain in 1971, was sworn into office during an elaborate investiture ceremony at the Leicester City Hall on May 18.
Osman’s election reflects the growing influence of Muslims on local politics in Leicester. At his swearing-in ceremony, Osman declared: “I’m proud to be the first Muslim councillor to hold the position. We’ve had Christian, Hindu, and Sikh and now I’m able to bring the Islamic faith to the office, which is a great honor.”
Leicester, an industrial city some 70 minutes north of London, is often promoted as Britain’s quintessential multicultural success story. Immigrants currently make up nearly one-half the city’s total population of 280,000, and Leicester is on the fast-track to become the first non-white majority city in British history. Many of the immigrants are of South Asian origin; and Leicester — once known as a center for manufacturing shoes and textiles — is now known for its many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim places of worship.
But a sharp rise in Muslim immigration in recent years is upsetting the city’s ethnic balance, and is casting doubt upon the city’s multicultural future.
After Christians and Hindus, Muslims are the third-largest faith group in Leicester. The city’s Muslim population is estimated to be between 11% and 14% (or somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Muslims), which is well above the percentage (4.6) of Muslims in Britain as a whole.
The Muslim population in Leicester is made up mainly of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, as well as Turks, Somalis, Kenyans, and Ugandans. According to the Ummah Forum, “you’d really like Leicester if you want to be around a large population of Muslims.”
Muslim immigration has led to the proliferation of mosques in Leicester, which now has more than 200 mosques and madrassas [Islamic religious schools] and hundreds of informal Islamic prayer rooms located in basements, garages and warehouses.
Leicester is also home to several mega-mosques. The Leicester Central Mosque complex has a capacity for nearly 3,000 worshippers. It also has a school, a community hall, a residence hall for imams, a mortuary, and a guest house. The huge Masjid Umar mosque has four towering minarets and a grand dome that displays Arabic calligraphy from the Koran.
The most influential Muslim in Leicester is Shaykh Abu Yusuf Riyadh-Ul-Haq, a hardline Muslim cleric who runs the Al Kawthar Academy, a well-known Islamic school in the city. Ul-Haq, 41, is also the leader of a new generation of “home-grown” British Islamists who loathe Western values, support armed Jihad and preach contempt for Christians, Jews and Hindus.
Ul-Haq, who preaches in mosques across Britain, outlaws television and music, and says football is “a cancer that has infected our youth.” He is appalled by young women who want to get educated and go to university. He regularly praises the work of the Taliban and their attacks against British troops in Afghanistan.
In a typical sermon, entitled “Imitating the Disbelievers,” Ul-Haq warns British Muslims of the danger of being corrupted by the “evil influence” of Western culture. He also heaps scorn on Muslims who say they are “proud to be British,” and argues that friendship with a Christian or a Jew makes “a mockery of Allah’s religion.”
In another sermon called “Jewish Fundamentalism,” Ul-Haq says: “They’re all the same. The Jews don’t have to be in Israel to be like this. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in New York, Houston, St Louis, London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester. They’re all the same. They’ve monopolized everything: the Holocaust, God, money, interest, usury, the world economy, the media, political institutions […] they monopolized tyranny and oppression as well. And injustice.”
Ul-Haq’s sermons are broadcast to thousands of listeners on Radio Ramadhan Leicester in Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Somali, Arabic, and English.
According to American diplomatic cables that were obtained and published by the website Wikileaks, Leicester is home to the most conservative Islamic population anywhere in Europe.
A leaked diplomatic cable recounts the October 2007 visit to Leicester by Farah Pandith, the U.S. State Department’s Senior Advisor for Muslim Engagement. The stated purpose of the visit was for the U.S. government to find ways to help Britain “update and improve” its approach to stopping “home-grown” Islamic extremists. The document says Pandith found the lack of integration of the Muslim community in Leicester to be “striking.”
About the Author: The writer is the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.
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