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Summary

Show Muslims are normal citizens

1 August 2013

This piece is aimed at Muslims living as minorities, for example in the United Kingdom.

The focus on religious identity

Having lived in the United Kingdom since the early 1950s, I am aware of racial issues and the way that racial discrimination has declined over time. Conversely religious issues played little part in society until the "Satanic Verses" controversy in the late 1980s. Since then, and particularly after the terrorist incidents of 9/11 and 7/7, there has been a major focus on religious identity.

One consequence has been that many British Muslims, including myself, regularly find themselves speaking on public affairs from an explicitly Muslim perspective. For example many of my website pages and tweets involve matters where my Muslim-ness has informed what I have written.

Identity has many dimensions

However, each of us has many components to our identity and it is a mistake to allow one aspect (such as religion) to squeeze out all other aspects. It is important to me that I am:

Even though the list may look long, in reality I could have made it much longer as each of us is a complex human being with many aspects to their identity.

My key messages

I regard it as important for non-Muslim Britons to understand that:

  1. Islam is a religion which significantly overlaps with Judaism and Christianity.
  2. Muslims have much to contribute as equal members of British society.

As mentioned above, many my public writings are directly aimed at spreading these messages.

However, a recent website interaction reminded me that material I write which has absolutely no connection with my Muslim-ness is still important in promoting the second message.

Details of the website interaction

The website Conservative Home recently carried a story “Labour-run Birmingham Council spending money on “shrink” tests for Councillors”. The piece complained that Birmingham Council were spending £1,600 on personality tests for 12 councillors, with a view to later rolling it out to all 120 councillors at a potential cost of £10,000. The piece disparaged the tests being used, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, by pointing out that they are based on theories by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung.

I posted a comment which received a reply and led me to make a further response. These are reproduced below.

Comment by Mohammed_Amin

I am all for saving money. However cutting personnel development is often a false economy.

Myers-Briggs tests are used in many businesses, including my old firm of PwC, and provide meaningful insights into how people work with others and how they can work more effectively. If personality testing for all 120 councillors can be done for £10,000, then in my view that will be money well spent. We should applaud development opportunities for councillors of this type, rather than denigrating them.

I stress that I have no financial or other involvement with Myers Briggs or any similar services.

Reply from swordspoint

Did you really find it useful? I think we've had the tests twice in my office but it tends to be an interesting exercise but I'm not sure how much we get out of it over the long run. If I recall correctly I came out as an INTP!

Further response by Mohammed_Amin

Yes, I found it quite informative about myself, and many of my partners who participated felt the same. In the case of firms like PwC, it is the partners collectively deciding that spending their own money on such services is worthwhile.

I came out as an INTJ. A few years later I was re-tested and came out as ENTJ. (Both the I and the E were moderate scores.) I was aware of how I had changed and the re-test score was not a surprise.

The categories mentioned above such as INTP are explained in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Wikipedia article which also contains references for further reading.

Concluding comments

It was only a day or so after the website interaction that I reflected upon the fact that nothing I had written had any connection with my religious identity. (That is also true of much else that I write but this particular interaction made me think about the implications.)

By taking part in this interaction I gave the following messages to all readers:

  1. I am a Muslim. I did not need to say this as my name shows I was born into a Muslim family. While people can change their religion, almost all readers will assume (correctly) from my name that I am a Muslim.
  2. I have spent large amounts of time in a large corporate environment, especially since PwC is named.
  3. I have a view on the benefits of psychological testing and its benefits for organisational effectiveness.

Accordingly, this interaction helps, in a small way, to normalise British Muslims and to counter the unconscious prejudices discussed below.

Unconscious prejudices

Most people hold prejudices. In many cases these prejudices are very deep rooted but have never been consciously thought about. I recommend reading about unconscious bias.

For example, in 2003 I attended the annual conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica. On the opening evening, shortly after I had arrived, I attended the conference reception. I found the experience very strange and unsettling. As I thought about why I felt unsettled, I realised that it was because every person present was of either Afro-Caribbean or Asian background.

Having grown up in the United Kingdom my entire experience of such functions was that most people attending would be white with the occasional sprinkling of ethnic minorities. It took me about 30 minutes of attendance at the reception before the experience of being in the reception no longer felt strange. The experience has always stayed with me as an illustration of how we all absorb prejudices quite unconsciously.

Although I would never be able to get them to confirm it, I believe that very many readers of the Conservative Home website (who will probably be whiter on average than British society as a whole) will have the unconscious prejudice that if someone has views on the benefits of psychological testing to organisational effectiveness, that person is very unlikely to be a Muslim.

At the back of their minds, most are likely to hold the view that a Muslim is someone who is relatively uneducated, poor, and wears a beard and Asian clothing. In other words someone who would have no experience of psychological testing. In most cases I would not expect them to be even aware that they held deeply held but generally unexpressed views of this type.

Accordingly, by posting my website comment I have acted in a small way to counter such unconscious prejudices. Of course that was not my objective when I wrote my comments; I simply wanted to rebut the facile implication that Birmingham Council was wasting money.

Elsewhere on my website I have encouraged people to make more website comments, and to always do so under their own name. Having more Muslims engaging in such interactions will have major benefits in advancing social cohesion and eroding prejudice, not only when they write about Muslim issues but just as importantly when they write about any kind of issues, and thereby demonstrate that Muslims are normal British citizens.

 

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