British Muslims Launch Party


BRITAIN'S 1.5 million Muslims now have their own political party which its leaders plan to use as a vehicle for sending Muslim members of Parliament to Westminster and for influencing non-Muslim MPs. The Islamic Party of Britain (IPB) was launched Sept. 13 at a press conference in a huge modernistic mosque on the fringe of Regent's Park in London.

Britain's first nationwide Muslim political movement arrived on the scene with a constitution, a manifesto, and a dozen policy documents covering such matters as foreign affairs, defense, religion, education, and law and order.

The party's president, Daud Musa Pidcock, a British convert to Islam, acknowledged in an opening address that the controversy over Salman Rushdie's novel, ``The Satanic Verses,'' helped launch the new movement. But Muslims in many parts of Britain see the IPB as a response to a deepening need: to give Britons who practice the Islamic faith a political voice to combat what they see as racial and religious prejudice.

The IPB has a membership of 9,000 and is aiming at a membership of a quarter of a million within five years. Most of Britain's Muslims immigrated from Islamic countries such as Pakistan in the post-World War II years. Initially, the IPB hopes to get its ideas accepted. Later it will consider fielding candidates.

Most British Muslims now support the Labour Party, but since the Salman Rushdie affair, there has been a growing feeling within the Islamic community that Labour is not prepared to accept its views on key questions. The Labour Party has refused, for example, to support calls for the banning of ``The Satanic Verses''; so has the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Pidcock, in a presidential address, insisted that Rushdie's novel was blasphemous.

The new party wants a change in Britain's law to enable non-Christians to bring cases of blasphemy before the courts. The British government has refused to accept the case for such a change. About the Rushdie affair, Pidcock said: ``Here we have an agent of the occult establishment, well paid and praised for his contribution to this last crusade. One can rest assured if he had been a German war criminal, or a Jewish atomic expert telling the truth about the nuclear capabilities of Israel, he would have been treated quite differently.''

The party plans to target local council seats in a number of cities. It will also focus much of its attention on a parliamentary seat in the city of Birmingham currently held by a Labour MP who intends to retire before the next general election in about two years time.

They have a strong candidate to support: Mohammed Ajeeb, a former mayor of the nearby city of Bradford. Birmingham and Bradford are both major centers of Muslim population. The other large Muslim center is the East End of London. Mr. Ajeeb is a member of the Labour Party and will seek the Birmingham seat as a candidate for that party. The IPB plans to mobilize support for him on condition that he adopt some of their policies.

Some of the policies challenge existing British social and cultural assumptions. For example, Sahib Mustaqim Bleher, the IPB's education spokesman, says Muslim schools in Britain should be sponsored by the state. The Thatcher government has resisted the idea of paying for education that falls outside the mainstream of British society.

Mr. Bleher, a convert to Islam and West German by birth, says: ``No national curriculum should be allowed to develop into a straitjacket with no place for variations. The state has no right to impose certain religious or ideological beliefs on children against their parents' wishes.''

The theme was taken up by the IPB's spokesman on youth, Abdurrahim Green. He rejected Britain's secular society as ``spiritually empty.''

``Muslim youth have the duty to practise and pass on the message of Islam, which is not limited to mosques but affects all parts of life,'' he said.

The party will, for example, campaign for an interest-free banking system. The IPB's policy on banking says: ``The current, interest-based economy bedevils mankind with injustice and suffering, inflation, unemployment, greed, and waste.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, a member of Bradford's community relations council, says that many British Muslims believe that they are victims of a lack of understanding and of racial prejudice.

``It is vital that these feelings get into the right channels, otherwise there will be major problems ahead,'' he says. Mr. Ahmed believes there is a place for the IPB, but that Muslims would do better to stay within the political mainstream rather than try to create a wholly independent political movement of their own.

IPB leaders planned to follow up the launch of the party with a meeting in Bradford of about 200 Muslim delegates who would draw up a list of demands to be presented to the main political parties.

``If the other parties give us what we are seeking, we shall deliver the Muslim vote,'' said one IPB official said:

The note of militancy being struck by the IPB is a source of worry to Labour Party leaders who have counted five marginal parliamentary seats in Birmingham and Bradford in which the Muslim vote might tip the balance at the next general election.

A potential source of discord within the IPB is the high proportion of white British converts to Islam occupying prominent positions in the party. Six of the 12 speakers at the launch were converts.

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