Minority Ethnic and Religious Communities: Cultural and Economic Contribution — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:23 pm on 24th May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 1:23 pm, 24th May 2012

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for introducing this debate with great verve. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, I approached the debate from the direction of British Muslims. It is not always recognised that this community is far from monolithic-on the contrary, ethnic, cultural and even theological divisions abound. That is why it is not easy for all Muslims to speak with one voice, and why official and unofficial agencies sometimes find it difficult to approach Islamic communities.

I declare a non-financial interest as a founder-trustee of the English charity Forward Thinking. Since 2004, it has worked in a facilitating role to increase understanding and confidence between the very diverse local Muslim communities and wider society in the UK, including the media and established institutions. We seek to assist local community development without the fear that individuals and families will lose their faith identity. We therefore work in partnership with many culturally and religiously diverse Muslim groups in addressing local needs and community concerns.

The aim is to retain a strong faith identity while the partners live as full British citizens. To achieve this, we provide capacity-building support to a number of Muslim charitable or non-profit organisations, both local and national. Thanks to the trust established and our unique access, we have been able to arrange exchange visits between senior government officials and local community organisers. Our programmes are delivered mainly by British Muslims, including regular meetings for journalists and broadcasters.

More work of this kind is needed wherever there are local Muslim populations, some long-standing but others who have arrived more recently. I am confident that it will pay huge dividends in mutual understanding, crime reduction, development of employability and careers, and civic cohesion in general. Forward Thinking is a sensitive exercise in bridge-building. It welcomes dialogue about its work in England and its wider concerns, mainly located in the Middle East.