18 July 2013
Christians and Muslims met in London on Wednesday 17 July 2013 and considered why young black Britons are abandoning Christianity in favour of Islam; why some converts are being radicalised; and what Christian churches can do in response. The all-day seminar informed, shocked and challenged in equal measure.
Speaker Richard Reddie, author of ‘Black Muslims in Britain’ (Lion 2009) explained that the journey from Christianity to Islam amongst British blacks date back to the 1960s, and continues to be an expression of black people’s search for identity and certitude, which converts say they do not find in Eurocentric Christianity; including black churches. Also, a lack of clear answers to questions about some central tenets of Christianity, such as the trinity, proves problematic for converts. As one told Reddie, ‘Islam provided answers to questions I’ve always had; it’s helped me walk a straight path; it’s given my life purpose’. That converts tend to be more zealous is a further to challenge the churches, and the number of converts is growing. ‘Time is not on the Christian church’s side’, Reddie said.
Adverse social conditions such as racism, bad experiences in the Criminal Justice System and deprivation contribute to alienation from society and from churches associated with its value system. Rev Ade Omooba, Co-Chair of NCLF- A Black Christian Voice with colleague Fred Williams, led the meeting in examining horrific images of killings by beheading, burning and the use of machetes in north Nigeria. They explained that the recent killing in Woolwich is symptomatic of common occurrences in places such as north Nigeria and Burmah. Omooba and Williams told the meeting that these atrocities are a consequence people being radicalised so that they lose respect for life. This trend is also becoming evident in Britain.
The seminar heard that a key recruiting ground for radicalisation is prisons where black men are overrepresented. Dr R David Muir, Co-Chair of NCLF – A Black Christian Voice, described the mass incarceration of black people in the UK, similar to the US, as the ‘New Jim Crow’ and a blasphemy against the image of God in black people. British black youths are however at risk of radicalisation in several other spaces, and Taalib Alexander, a former Catholic now a convert to Islam, teacher and director of Alhambra Educational Initiative highlighted family, social class, race and ethnicity as potential contributories or triggers for radicalisation. Alexander described a three-stage radicalisation process of dissatisfaction, renunciation and terrorism and highlighted funding cuts to programmes such as STREET – Strategy To Reach Engage and Educate Teenagers.
Finally, seminar attendees focussed on appropriate responses by the churches. Jennifer Crook, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for the Methodist Church, encouraged zero tolerance of the ‘blasphemy’ of racism in British society which alienates black British young people and renders them vulnerable to alienation and therefore radicalisation. Crook also encouraged churches to aspire to be more than places of shelter from socio-economic, and political storms and instead to become spaces that lead on the quest for a just society. Other responses highlighted were interfaith dialogue, affirming masculinity, countering propaganda, teaching tolerance, helping young people to understand and embrace their cultural and spiritual identity, viewing conversion to Islam as a challenge not a disaster, raising awareness of atrocities around the world, training Christian ministers and lay people to be better able to explain their faith, ensuring iconography affirms black identity (blond-haired blue-eyed Jesus in Black churches is unhelpful for black self-image), encouraging inter-faith dialogue, and putting pressure on government and education authorities towards an inclusive and affirming curriculum.
‘Radicalisation is like a virus, its airborne, it mutates, it’s like a cancer and must be destroyed or it destroys you’ said one contributor.
This statement, the minutes of the seminar, and PowerPoint presentations will be circulated widely throughout the churches and other organisations; and further multi-agency planning will take place in the coming months to take forward these and other anti-radicalisation ideas. However, it is expected that black churches and agencies will take primary responsibility for this agenda.
End…Contact: Bishop Dr Joe Aldred Secretary, Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs, Churches Together in England Mobile: 07775 632288 Email: email@example.com