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Awards balance media's distorted view of Britain's Muslims
By Susannah Tarbush
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 13 - 04 - 2009

Events in Britain over the past week have highlighted once again, the difficulties facing British Muslims as a result of the terror threat to Britain. The arrest of 12 men – 11 of them Pakistanis who are overwhelmingly on student visas – and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's statement on a “very big” terror plot, have revived suspicions about the UK's Muslim community.
Some tabloid newspapers these days only have to place the word ‘Muslim' in a headline for the reader to know the story will be sensational and mostly negative. The media tend to give prominence to the threatening statements of extremist loudmouths, while largely ignoring the realities and diversity of the bulk of Britain's approximately two million Muslims.
Two recent awards ceremonies have helped put British Muslims in a positive perspective. They were antidotes to the clichés peddled in some sections of the press, and by certain politicians, of British Muslims failing to integrate and of contributing little to society.
The Muslim News Awards ceremony, held in London and attended by some 800 guests, provided evidence-galore of the productive role Britain's Muslims are playing across the board in cultural, scientific and community life.
At the same time, a separate contest to find the most powerful Muslim woman in Britain was won by the feisty Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action. The contest was organized by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in association with the Times newspaper and Emel Muslim lifestyle magazine. The organizers published Britain's first-ever annual Muslim Women Power List, naming a shortlist of 13 people. The judges announced their choice of Baroness Warsi at a dinner in Manchester in the North of England.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Muslim News, which launched the annual Muslim News Awards for Excellence nine years ago. In his speech at the awards ceremony, the monthly newspaper's editor Ahmed J. Versi warned against the criminalization of a whole community because of terror attacks “carried out by a minute number of people”. He indicated that such criminalization risks marginalizing and increasing the alienation of young Muslims, and there is a danger that violent extremists will use this “to lure them in”.
Versi's message was addressed to an audience that included Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, Communities Minister Sadiq Khan, and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
The Guest of Honor, outgoing head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, said: “The dazzling array of nominees gives a humbling but heart-warming picture of so many remarkable initiatives, some of which show tremendous skill in fields as varied as music and medicine, and others that prove how hard so many people are working to build hope in communities around Britain and further afield.”
Nominations for the awards were submitted by readers of The Muslim News. A panel of seven judges drew up the shortlists and chose the final winners. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor presented the Alhambra Award for Excellence in the Arts to the Baghdad-born master of the oud Ahmed Mukhtar, who since 1990 has performed, toured and taught throughout the Middle East and Europe. He has composed music for theatre, film and TV, and four CDs of his performances have been released.
The graffiti artist Mohammed Ali was shortlisted for the Alhambra Award and won the Iman wa Amal Judges' Special Award. His “aerosol Arabic” style fuses classical Islamic calligraphy and urban street graffiti.
The Allama Iqbal Award for Creativity in Islamic Thought, sponsored by the Foreign Office, was presented by Sadiq Khan to Professor Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. Abdel Haleem's latest work, “The Qur'an: A New Translation” published by Penguin, has become a bestseller.
The Sankore University Award for Excellence in Education, sponsored by the charity Muslim Hands, went to Zafar Shah Iqbal. Iqbal helped found the Southwark Muslim Women's Association, focusing on education as a means of empowering Muslim women. Professor Mohamed El-Gomati of University of York won the Fazlur Rahman Khan Award for Excellence in Engineering, Science or Technology. Some of the awards are designed to encourage the young. Fifteen-year-old freestyle karate and kickboxing expert Imran Sidat won the Imams Hasan and Husayn Children's Award for Excellence.
The Malcolm X Young Person's Award for Excellence, went to Faizaan Ahmed. As an 18-year-old A-level student, Ahmed was moved by the murder of his 19-year-old sister in November 2007 to found The Halimah Trust (THT). The trust aims to raise £108,000 by the end of the year to build a secondary school for orphan girls in Pakistan.
In the field of entrepreneurship, shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve awarded the Ummul Mu'minin Khadijah Award for Excellence in Enterprise to the Muslim Enterprise Development Service (MEDS).
The awards place much emphasis on community work. Hazel Blears presented the Uthman Dan Fodio Award for Excellence in Community Development, sponsored by her department, to two joint winners: Black and Asian Service in Alcohol and Narcotics (BASIAN), and Shereen Williams, Director of the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith handed the Home Office-sponsored Al Biruni Award for Excellence in Community Relations to Ikram Malik, a founding member of Building Bridges Pendle and the Lancashire Forum of Faiths.
Faezeh Hashemi, President of the Islamic Federation of Women Sport, had travelled from Iran to present the Faezeh Hashemi Award for Excellence in Sport to the Muslim Women's Sport Foundation.
The Ibn Battuta Award for fair, accurate and balanced reporting on an issue involving Muslims went jointly to 29-year-old Mehdi Hasan, the youngest commissioning editor at Channel 4 TV, and British journalist and famous convert to Islam: Yvonne Ridley.
Not every recipient of a prize was a Muslim. Reverend Gilleasbuig MacMillan, Minister of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, won the Annemarie Schimmel Award for Championing a Muslim Cause in recognition of his determined initiatives over many years to welcome Muslims to his cathedral.
The Muslim News Awards revealed the vital part that Muslims are playing in many fields of activity across the UK. The near-simultaneous choice of Baroness Warsi as the most powerful Muslim woman in Britain illustrates the increasing Muslim presence at high political level.


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