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The Other Side of Islam

At the Recent Conference organised by the local rotary organisations and the University of Cumbria, I bumped into a striking looking bloke.  he was big and carried himself confidently and was about as Asian as I am Irish.  As we chewed our way through 2 contrasting plates of conference nosh, conversation drifted round to the similarities between the Irish and Kashmiri approach to life.  I won’t bore you with the minuteae – suffice to say we had a good crack about life, business and the universe.  Turns out he is pretty much the new face of  AWAZ who are based near Penrith and who work under the umbrella of Cumbria’s rural diversity programme, who’s remit is to promote the better participation of BME (ie Black and Minority Ethnic) people in the county’s affairs.

Building Stronger Communities by Building Better Connections and Education

AWAZ are organising an important workshop on 25th March to better educate people at large, about the real face of Islam.  We become a bit used to the portrayal of terrorism as an act directly related to the faith of Muslim Peoples around the world.

It’s even got to the point where my 10 year old twists his Buff over his face and jokes about being “Ben Laden” the terrorist. Not a good reflection of media portrayal, or maybe my fathering skills.  However just as the IRA never represented Catholics as a whole and the orange Men were not the face of Protestantism en masse: neither are the perpetrators of recent outrages the true face of the vast majority of followers of Islam.

The conference aims to provide insight into Islam and Muslims in Cumbria. The course will include a visit to the local mosque – how many of you know where your local mosque is? This gives you an opportunity to learn in a safe and open environment.   I have to hold my hands up here and say I am probably as ignorant of the reality of Muslim life as most white, (col)lapsed, Catholics.  This, despite having spent many hours with youngsters in RE sessions investigating materials which attempt to open youngsters eyes to some of the basic ideas and practises behind Islam.

Cumbria … Racist Ehh?

Significantly, statistics point to Cumbria still being something of a backwater in terms of enlightened attitudes to people who aren’t “native” Cumbrian. When this was highlighted with data on racially aggravated incidents against people in Cumbria at an RE course a few years ago, I was shocked; but it made me listen harder to some of the things that friends and acquaintances came out with.  I’m sure many readers of this article will argue vehemently that that can not be true in such a friendly county.  That would run counter to my every day experience of many friends private attitudes.  There is still a strong under current of what I would call Dark Age Attitudes to any body with colour in their skin, from a significant minority of Cumbrian residents.  I hasten to add that I am simply trying to put my personal experience into the context of what AWAZ are working towards.  Their job shouldn’t in theory be that hard … Many of us would probably only have to go back a generation or three to find when our forebears migrated to this area.

The conference starts at 9:30 at the (CVS ), 27 Spencer Street, Carlisle, CA1 1BE

For more information get in touch with Aftab Khan,          E:                T: 07891056902

Download MuslimsinCumbriaFlyer and MICBookingForm

At a time when economic pressures and simple minded fears could easily unleash a wave of tiny narrow minded thinking I hope that the conference is one small step towards strengthening thethe bonds between the diverse facets of Cumbria’s superbly varied communities.  Remember it’s the differences that make us strong.