Muslims In Britain: Past And Present

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           Prof Dr. Mehmet Gormez
          Vise-President / DIYANET

    European Council of Religious Leaders
    Birmingham, UK, 12th-14th February 2007
Mr. Chairman, respectful members of stirring committee, distinguished
scholars, eminent religious leaders, ladies and gentlemen!
It is quite privilege and honor for me to join you in this historic
conference. I must thank the organizers for inviting us to this gathering
which brings together many of the distinguished religious leaders who, I
believe, have spent splendid efforts voluntarily to exhort the religious
communities to a better integration and dialogic relations.
As you know, I am before you on behalf of the religious administration
of Turkey, the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkish Republic.
Professor Ali Bardakoglu, who is the President in charge, unfortunately
was not able to attend this meeting due to scheduled programmes,
although he wishes so much. I would like to present you Mr.
Bardakoglu’s warm greetings. Also it is very grateful for me to attend
this conference after Pope Benedict XVI’s journey to Turkey and visiting
our Presidency on 28th of November 2006. I hope that this meeting will
serve to bring peace to all our hearts and our world. I wish health and
love to all of members and followers of European Council of Religious
I think my duty here today is to present you some information about
historical background of the Turkish speaking Muslim community in
Britain and explore the challenges facing this community today. In my
speech, I will rather prefer to use “Turkish-speaking Muslim community”
to define those who are known as Turkish community in Britain. This
expression seems to me to be more inclusive, since it comprises all
members of the community, regardless of their ethnic origin or where
they come from.
I assume you all know that Turkish speaking community in Britain have
fallen into two main groups: Cypriot Turks, the longest settled group
and Mainland Turks.
Historical background
It will begin by outlining the situation of the Muslim population in
Britain. According to the 2001 census, around 1.6 million Muslims live in
Britain. It is estimated that this figure today is probably near to two
million. This represents 3 percent of the United Kingdom population and
makes Muslims the largest faith group after Christians.1
As for the Turkish Muslims, among this very diverse Muslim community,
Turkish speaking Muslims, both Mainland and Cypriot Turks, have a
relative share of by and large % 10-15 with a population of 250.000.
Although it is almost impossible to establish a very accurate number of

    Ehsan Masood, British Muslims Media Guide, 2006, pp. 7-8.

Turkish immigrants, an estimated 100,000 Turkish nationals and
150,000 Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus nationals currently is
indicated to live in the United Kingdom.
Phases of immigration
When we look at the historical phases of the immigration, it is
interesting that we can find some literary evidences signifying the
presence of the Turks in earlier times, i.e. the midst of the 17th century.
But that this does not show Turkish presence in Britain in such early
times. It rather shows that all Muslims living then in Europe had been
named as “Turks.” In a way Muslims had been identified with the name
of Turks.
It seems that there have been three waves of immigration of Turks to
The first significant wave of immigrant started in the 1940s after the
following years of the World War II and increased in the 1960s. The
second wave is said to start in the 1970s as a result of growing
dissension and violence which followed the birth of the Republic in 1960,
and the division of the island between the Turkish-speaking north and
the Greek-speaking south in 1974. The third wave took place in 1990s.
At this period a significant number came to Britain to seek asylum.
It is obvious that the primary reason behind this growing migration is to
pursue good education, achieve success in business, and leading more
comfortable life. The mainland Turks mostly have established their own
small businesses in catering and small off-license groceries while the
Turkish Cypriots are engaging in different areas of business which are
regarded more prestigious such as accountancy, teaching and
telecommunication etc.
Religious life
Almost % 98 percent of the Turkish population is Muslim. In 1960s,
1970s, the religious life of the Turkish community seems to be very little
organized. But with the settlement of complete family groups in late
1970s, a variety of Muslim organizations began to grow. The rapid
development of the Muslim organizations in Britain can be observed in
the purpose-built mosques, religious supplementary schools and Muslim
associations. In these religious places, a large scale of religious
undertakings has been performed. The positive effects of these religious
activities are also observed in the integration of the Turkish community
into Britain’s social life. There are at least 15 places of worship run by
the members of the Turkish Muslim society in Britain, one of which
having a proper dome and minaret.
Religious organizations

We can say that the religious organizations which have been formed by
the Turkish community differ considerably according to the ideological
and political shape of Turkey and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The fact that Turkish Muslim community is not having a monolithic
culture with monolithic practices and beliefs in terms of religion also
seems to have some effect in establishment of different religious
In Britain, four main groups try to provide religious and cultural services
to the Turks.
The first organized group was the Naqshabandi Tariqah established by
Seikh Nazim Qibrisi in 1970s in a small converted house in London. They
have now a considerable number of congregations, some of whom are
notably British indigenous people.2
The second group can be defined non-governmental religious
establishments such as Suleymancilar under the name of Association of
Islamic Cultural Centre and Nurcular, particularly the followers of
Fethullah Gulen. These two groups among many other minor groups
have been playing major role in shaping the religious life of Turkish
Muslim community in Britain.
The third group who describe themselves as Alavis established a social
and cultural centre in 1993 for their community in London under the
name of England Alavi Cultural Centre and Cemevi. The aim of this
centre is indicated to provide cultural educational activities in order to
protect, maintain, and pass the Alavi thought to future generation, to
respect human rights, freedom of belief, to support and improve
solidarity between ethnic minorities, part of multicultural Britain.
Finally as a governmental religious organization which is associated with
the Turkish state is Diyanet. The aim of Diyanet is to promote Islamic
services in mainstream discourse. Today Diyanet, tries to execute its
mission with the help of its offical representatives in London Turkish
Embassy through the Office of Religious Affairs Counsellor, and with the
support of the well experienced imams and other female religous staff.
All of its religious staff were graduated from the faculties of thelogy in
Turkish universities and well trained in foreign languages. Diyanet not
only provides practical religious services in the mosques, but gives social
and community services outside mosques as well. Within this
framework, it holds hajj organization, funeral services, religious
education in mosques and supplementary schools, interreligious

 For more information about this group see: Tayfun Atay, “The Significance of the Other in Islam:
Reflections on the Discourse of a Naqshabandi Circle of Turkish Origin in London”. The Muslim World. Vol:
LXXXIX. Nos: 3-4; ibid, Batıda Bir Nakşi Cemaati, İletişim Yay. 1996.

dialogue activities, and opens crafts cources, carries out some activities
related to the women of the community.
Those religious organizations try to open schools, supplementary and
independent, youth clubs and supply cultural demands alongside
establishing places of worship. Meanwhile the most notable problem
among Turkish religious organizations is lack of unity, solidarity and co-
operation. That’s why mobilization of them into a unitary movement for
the common cause of the community mostly has been difficult to
achieve. Therefore, to me, Turkish community urgently needs an
umbrella organization which can promote unification, achieve
cooperation in the community, give the voice to issues of common
concern, remove disadvantages and discriminations faced by Turkish
The issue of education
The education is one of the most important issues of the Turkish
Muslims either here in Britain or in other European countries. The recent
studies carried out in London secondary schools show that the overall
performance of children of the Turkish Muslims in schools is below the
national average. It shows overwhelmingly that young Turkish-speaking
students are performing academically worse than their parents.
We see that while very few children are the members of the well
educated family, the parents of majority are laborers, asylum seekers,
and they mostly lack proficiency both in Turkish and English language.
The educational and generational gaps between parents and children
create a number of problems. Parents are unable to understand their
children’s problems arising from the British education system.
Apart from this, the parents urgently need the cheap labor force in their
family business and the most appropriate source for it is the children in
school age. That’s why some parents seem not to send their children to
the further and higher education after compulsory one.
The religious organizations have recently begun to make projects
towards the promotion of awareness in this regard. Within this
framework, many of the religious organizations provide a weekend
meeting place and opportunities for individuals to learn.
Religious supplementary schools.
In this regard, religious supplementary schools play major role to meet
the needs of the community. These supplementary schools are usually
managed and run by mosque charities and different religious
organizations. They take place in a variety of venues including mosques,
special halls, community centers and schools. Activities of religious
supplementary schools can include helping children with their national

curriculum subjects, particularly mathematics, English and science,
learning about the history and culture of the community, teaching
children their mother-tongue language and other languages of a cultural
or religious significance, like Arabic, giving children Islamic education.
Why are the supplementary schools being perceived so important for the
religious education of the children of community? It seems that the
families do not perceive religious education in the normal schools utilized well
as an opportunity for progressing understanding of Islam. According to them,
the portion of Islamic education in the national curriculum for the
religious education is not adequate. The migrant families mostly do not
have enough qualification to fill the void. This void is filled by these
schools. That’s why supplementary schools gains great importance. The
British government should support these schools by reducing their
The issue of identity
Turkish Muslims lives in Britain feel alienated both here and back at
home as they feel that they belong to neither. They are somewhere in
between worlds. The feelings of being between two worlds seem to have
significant negative effects on first generations. As for the second
generation find themselves caught between the conflicting expectations
of their parents and those of the British culture. In this context, the
families are constantly complaining about identity problems. It seems
that identity crisis of the second and third generation have
multidimensional aspects and it related mostly parents’ cultural
backgrounds, educational levels, economic status, and openness to a
new culture all contribute. This is a typical problem being observed in all
immigrant communities. This is a real challenge we have to face.
However, from different researches and from information obtained
through our religious officials serving Britain, we conclude that religion is
a very important part of the identity of significant number Turkish young
Muslims and has played an influential role in how they define
themselves.3 We observe that the youngsters who regard religious
identity more importance are mostly connected to the Mosques and
away from problems of drug use and alcohol. The proportion of crime
commitment among this group is relatively smaller than those who do
not attach religious identity so much importance. Therefore the mosque
administrations must know that they have a responsibility to prepare
the mosque environment more attractive to the youngsters. The
conditions and facilities of mosques should adjust to the new
generations’ expectations.

 Talip Küçükcan, Politics of Ethnicity, Identity and Religion: Turkish-Muslims in Britain, Avebury: Ashgate,
December, 1999, p.201.

The issue of training imams
At that point I would like to touch a little bit upon the issue of training
imams and debates about whether imams should be home grown or
brought from abroad. This issue has become very urgent topic across
the Europe after the terrorist attacks and some terror related incidents
in Europe.
We are full aware of the fact that the second and third generation
Muslim Turkish immigrants are facing some problems as they try to
reconcile their religious identity with the British culture they grew up in.
To assist this generation, the imams must do more than reading the
Koran and leading the congregation in the mosque. To carry out their
responsibilities, the imams should know how to deal with the social and
cultural problems of the congregation in different age and knowledge
level. In order to guide the Muslims in their lives the imams must
understand and speak the language and culture the generation he really
would like to reach. This naturally requires high qualifications. The
European authorities do not seem to be convinced on that the present
commuting imams are not fit for this position. According to them, due to
lack of adequate knowledge of European culture and language they are
as primary obstacles to integration of the large Muslim population.
The other major reason lying down behind these imam training related
discussions is that European states are genuinely searching for a way to
monitor Islam within their borders with the hope of preventing
extremism and curbing further alienation. In addition, to some degree,
the imams brought in from Muslim countries to serve began to be
treated as the source of extremism.
These assessments, of course, may reflect some reality to a certain
extent. But where is the solution? At the outset, that the idea of training
imams in Europe with the hope that they will contribute to the
integration of young migrants to defend themselves against
radicalization seems to be very genuine and rational solution. But, to
me, this is not totally efficient working way out. Although there are
some obstacles in training imams in Europe, Diyanet has already
established an academic department in Frankfurt affiliated to the
Protestant Faculty of Theology of Goethe Institute with the aim of giving
Islamic theological education to meet the religious needs of the growing
Muslim population in Germany. That initiative continues today and we
have made considerable progress. But for the time being we need to
continue to train imams in Turkey and meet the needs in the mosques
across Europe. It is clear that adequate training programs and properly
educated English, German, French or Dutch speaking imams are still
years away, let alone the acceptance of these imams by the Muslim

community and broader society. If the European parliaments, including
the British parliament, push legislation to prohibit or restrict bringing
imams, there will be a big void in the religious services of community. In
that case the mosques will be more open to the negative effects of the
extreme groups. We are expecting more realistic alternatives for the
issue of imams. Facilitating dialogue between Muslim organizations,
politicians and society as a whole is a good start, but more can be done.
As known, the British Muslims have suffered from an increase in racist
abuse and attack since 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks. Many surveys
indicate that United Kingdom is witnessing a rise in Islamophobia, that
is, fear or intolerance of Muslims because of their religion. A recent
survey conducted by a Turkish research group among the Turkish
community also shows that majority of Turkish Muslims had experienced
discrimination since September 11 and 7/7 terror incidents. This issue
should be dealt urgently and more attentively by the British policy-
Some important recommendations were made by the researchers are:
Youth clubs, community centers, community organizations should more
funded, and a strategy should be introduced to protect those who have
faith in their belief and who have Muslim names and are sincere towards
their community and want peace for all.
As far as we establish, excluding one or two exceptional cases, the
members of the Turkish community overwhelmingly do not appear to
have a link to the global terrorist activities associated with terrorist
groups exploiting Islam. This should be taken as testament to the
active role that the Turkish religious organizations, irrespective of
governmental or non-governmental, have played a very significant role
in controlling the religious activities and promoting non-radical
interpretation of Islam. You know we Turks have a slightly different
interpretation of Islam that is more compatible with modernity,
tolerance, diversity, and democracy. Our understanding makes religion a
little bit more of a personal moral issue than a political system. I think
the Turkish community as well as their hosting country are benefiting
from this understanding. For this reason we invite all responsible people
of the British society who have been striving to combat with extremism
to divert their attention more closely to this structure.
Closing remarks.

  This research has been done jointly by a research group on behalf of Aziziye Mosque in 2006 and submitted
to the Hackney Council.

Without help of the religious leaders of the communities it is too difficult
achieve the goal to make the world more secure and more peaceful.
Religious leaders should take their responsibilities and should always try
to preach the members of their community to show critical loyalty to the
society they live in. We all know that with its religious and cultural
diversity, and democratic tradition, Britain is amongst the most
appropriate abode for Muslims to live in peacefully. It is therefore all
Muslims must contribute to preserve this structure. If we want British
society to remain as a multicultural society and preserves its pluralistic
feature, we should know that it requires engagement and commitments
of every individual and every organization. All Muslim groups should
condemn all kinds of terrorist activities with the strongest energy on any
occasion and kick out the preachers of hatred from their communities;
instead, they should embrace well trained intellectual imams who preach
the people with sound knowledge, free from superstitions, false ideas,
misuses of religion and abuses in the name of religion.
I also would like to make a call to Turks. You need to get out from your
ghettos and speak out more. You need to explain who you are, what you
believe in through media and other modern communication facilities.
You also must express strong objections to what you have seen as
distorting the right image of Muslims by certain extreme Muslim group
in the name of their religion. Do not underestimate yourself and your
experience. You have developed many unique values that the other
Muslim groups can learn. You have enough experience to show that
Islam is compatible with the universal values.


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