Vote 2012: 'Alienated' Muslims urged to use right to vote
- 1 May 2012
- From the section England
A lot of Muslims "feel alienated from the political process", according to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
That has led some to opt not to vote in past elections.
But now the MCB, which represents more than 500 Islamic organisations in Britain, has been encouraging Muslims to vote ahead of the local elections on Thursday.
Talha Ahmad, chair of its membership committee, said: "Political awareness is very low."
He wants Muslims in England to use their right to vote, but feels that political parties in the past have not helped themselves either.
He said: "My own experience growing up in Birmingham was that nobody ever spoke to me. They always just spoke to my dad. It would have made a difference if they had spoken to me or my mum too."
Although Mr Ahmad believes that parties are improving in terms of reaching out, he thinks that Muslims need to take the initiative too, especially as in many areas of social deprivation they "are the worst affected".
"They don't appreciate the power of elected officials, but our feelings are meaningless if we don't make our voices heard," he said.
Ayman Hirji, 30, arrived in England from Kenya 10 years ago and did not vote until the last general election.
"I wasn't aware of how it all worked - I left it to the family to do. I didn't realise how important it was for me to vote," she said.
Mrs Hirji, who works as a finance and administration assistant for community charity KSIMC in Birmingham, thinks this is "probably the case for most people in a similar position to me".
"I pay more attention now to what's going on in the country and its policies."
The younger generation of Muslims could be reversing the trend.
Mishalle Iqbal, an 18-year-old student from Slough, will be voting for the first time on Thursday and said it was "alarming" that so many Muslims do not vote.
"There may be a feeling there is no political party which represents them well, lack of education or knowledge about the voting system or simply not understanding what difference their vote can make in society," she said.
"This is both a right and a privilege we have as citizens of the UK and I think it is vital that we exercise this so we are represented well as a community."
She said she would be voting "because I believe it is vital to take part in society in order to make a difference".
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said that it had not done any specific work within the Muslim community because "this is the role of parties and campaigners".
"Our role focuses on encouraging people - of all groups and backgrounds - to register to vote so, if they choose to, they can vote on polling day."
Mr Ahmad highlighted the recent success of the Respect Party in Bradford West as an illustration of what can happen when Muslims "feel strongly" about politics.
"For issues that matter to them they do turn out. George Galloway has electrified the Muslim community of Bradford."
Despite this, the British branch of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group distributed leaflets outside key mosques in Birmingham, Manchester and London stating that it is "haram" or forbidden for Muslims to vote in the 2010 UK parliamentary elections.
However, Mr Ahmad said that only a "very, very small group of people" still think that voting is "haram".
"Most scholars have come out in favour of voting. I haven't come across one who isn't in favour of voting," he said.
"This year, I'm confident that there will be an increase in turnout."