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British Muslim Voters Getting Active

Published: 01/05/2012 04:18:30 PM GMT
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CAIRO - A new study has found that British Muslim opt out from voting, a trend Muslims refer to decades of political parties failure to reach out to the religious minority as well as Muslims feeling of a lack of representing (more)

CAIRO - A new study has found that British Muslim opt out from voting, a trend Muslims refer to decades of political parties failure to reach out to the religious minority as well as Muslims feeling of a lack of representing political parties.

"I'm not totally surprised, but I'm not happy about it," Talha Ahmad, chair of the membership committee at the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which represents more than 500 Islamic organizations in Britain, told the BBC on Tuesday, May 1.

According to the study, released by research company Ipsos Mori for the Electoral Commission, 53% of Muslims did not vote at the 2010 UK general election.

The data, based on 3,586 adults aged 18 and older across the United Kingdom, also found that 15% of Church of England Christians did not vote, along with 28% who were neither Christian nor Muslim and 23% who said they did not belong to a religion.

Ipsos MORI also found there were more first-time Muslim voters in 2010 than from any other religion.

“Ethnic minority turnout is historically lower,” said Dr Roger Mortimore, director of political research at Ipsos Mori.

“I would expect it to be lower than white British turnout, but that is only a small sample."

Staying away from elections, many Muslim voters lamented the fact that political parties ignored the religious minority, alienating whole generations from the political process.

"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," Ahmad said.

Mishalle Iqbal, an 18-year-old student from Slough, said that many Muslims feel that no political party represents them.

"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," Iqbal, who will be voting for the first time on Thursday.

Britain is home to a Muslim minority of nearly 2.5 million.

New Spirits

With elections being held in 128 local authorities in England on 3 May, MCB has been working to encourage Muslims to take the initiative and go to polling stations.

"Political awareness is very low - a lot of Muslims in this country are still first generation and feel alienated from the political process,” he said.

"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, who arrived in England from Kenya 10 years ago and did not vote until the last general election, was one of those who decided to change.

"I wasn't aware of how it all worked - I left it to the family to do. I didn't realize how important it was for me to vote," she said.

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."

A new spirit among active British Muslims appeared last month after the victory of Respect MP George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election.

Winning 55.9% of the vote, Galloway is an example of what can happen when Muslims "feel strongly" about politics, Ahmad said.

"For issues that matter to them they do turn out. George Galloway has electrified the Muslim community of Bradford," he said.

This new spirit ignored leaflets distributed by the British branch of the Hizb ut-Tahrir group stating that it is "haram" or forbidden for Muslims to vote in the 2010 UK parliamentary elections.

Ahmad said that only a "very, very small group of people" still think that voting is "haram".

"Most scholars have come out in favor of voting. I haven't come across one who isn't in favor of voting," he said.

"This year, I'm confident that there will be an increase in turnout."

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net




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