Muslims who can lead in multicultural societies

by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed
15 November 2011
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London/Doha - Multiculturalism has come under increasing attack in the last few years in Europe, as societies struggle to make sense of how to bring together communities of diverse backgrounds. German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism a ”failure” and her sentiments were echoed by British, Italian and French leaders. Their comments came following rising far-right sentiment against the growing Muslim populations in these countries.

Theos, a public theology think tank based in the UK, released a report this October, “Multiculturalism: A Christian Retrieval”, which calls on political leaders to support multiculturalism, asserting that it is the only way to deal with today’s diverse societies. Borrowing the definition from Tariq Modood, one of the leading authorities on ethnic minorities in Britain, the report refers to multiculturalism as “the political accommodation of minorities formed by immigration to western countries.” The Theos report argues from a Christian perspective to “not lose sight of its [multiculturalism’s] indispensable contribution to realising a just society.” The very fact that they are addressing the issue of multiculturalism is important for the debate because it highlights that it’s not just Muslims, but other civil society actors as well, who deem it a positive and much needed contribution to society.

The report also says that multicultural justice is a concept that offers governments a method to deal with the challenges of establishing “fair and respectful public relationships among the minorities.”

Establishing justice is also a priority for all religions, as well as for modern society. If multicultural societies hold the key to realising a more just society, then the only wise option is to harness their vitality.

Interestingly, the report highlights that a just multicultural democracy best emerges when moral bonds are nurtured within wider civic society rather than by government alone. This means that civil society needs to take up the important work of protecting its minorities and establishing their place at a leadership level to achieve the kind of justice the report refers to.

One initiative that draws its inspiration from Muslims – in order to address exactly these challenges of multicultural societies – is the Mosaic International Summit, which began on 15 November in Qatar.

Global society is in the midst of a ”youth bulge”, which is especially pronounced in many Muslim-majority countries. In fact, 780 million Muslims under the age of 25 comprise 11 per cent of the entire world population. As we’ve already witnessed in the Arab Spring, the future significance of these youth is undeniable.

Muslims are inherently connected through the concept of the ummah, the global multicultural Muslim nation. Future leaders will need to deal with the diversity of its population of 1.6 billion, as well as with the diversity of the entire global community. Furthermore, most Muslim countries have large minority populations, or are themselves significant minorities increasingly taking up leadership positions.

The summit, open to delegates from all backgrounds – not only Muslims – brings together 80 individuals, aged 25 to 35, from 17 countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Algeria to Indonesia and Iraq. It is the third such summit organised by Mosaic, a charitable initiative based in the UK under the auspices of HRH Prince of Wales. Mosaic’s mission is to create opportunities for young people of all backgrounds growing up in deprived communities.

Delegates at the summit are taking part in a structured, ten-day programme of skills-based workshops and project work aimed at familiarising them with leadership theories while also equipping them with practical leadership skills.

Following the summit, Mosaic will support its delegates for an additional year and ask them to report back every three months on how they have applied their new insights and skills. Delegates from last year’s summit developed projects like a workplace volunteer programme, fundraising events for local families in need, and even created a social entrepreneurship module for students pursuing advanced degrees in business.

As a result of this summit, Mosaic’s delegates are able to experience new countries and cultures, and meet potential leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds. In turn, part of the training entails ensuring delegates are exposed to a mix of new perspectives and environments, which is one of the reasons why Qatar was chosen for the summit’s location. In light of this year’s events surrounding the Arab Spring, the Middle East continues to offer inspiration to young leaders.

As it turns out, building a community out of multiculturalism is not a paradox. Rather, leaders trained to lead multicultural societies can create stronger, more cohesive and more just communities.

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* Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 15 November 2011, www.commongroundnews.org
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