THE UK is replete with civil society organisations that undertake valuable work representing minority groups, such as the Community Security Trust, Stonewall, Stand Up to Racism and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants to name but a few. Such organisations are recognised for the work they do and are seen as part of the fabric of British society.

However, there is one part of this sector that this seen very differently by the UK Government and that is Muslim civil society organisations, especially those that oppose the Government on key policy areas.

Last month, the Communities Secretary Michael Gove (below) unveiled a controversial new Government definition of “extremism”.

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The new definition proposed is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on hatred, intolerance or violence or undermining or overturning the rights or freedoms of others, or of undermining democracy itself”.

He also named three Muslim organisations, including MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) as “Islamist”, defining it as “a totalitarian ideology that seeks to divide, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law, and seeks the overthrow of liberal democratic principles”.

Although he fell short of naming us “extremist” the implication was clear – groups like ours were not welcome in UK civil society and pose a threat to our very democracy.

His allegations are of course total nonsense and a desperate attempt to deflect from his Government’s deep electoral unpopularity, to portray the rising tide of pro-Palestinian support as extremist, and to prevent further haemorrhaging of political support to the Reform Party.

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What is an “Islamist”, and why isn’t there an equivalent term for other religions such as “Christianityist” or “Judaismist”?

The reason is that this controversial word has been politicised and gained popularity in the “war on terror” and the subsequent securitisation of Muslims.

It is used politically as a pejorative label that seeks to equate all Muslims who have a political voice with terrorism. The Cambridge English Dictionary simply defines Islamism as “the belief that Islam should influence political systems”.

For hundreds of years, Christianity has influenced the UK political system – and once glance at the composition of the House of Lords is a testament to this. Islamic values such as social justice, redistribution of wealth through taxation, and belief in racial equality are some of the values enshrined in our tax system, the welfare state and race equality legislation.

On the latter point, the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) stated in his last sermon that “an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”

Turning now to what MEND stands for the accusation by Gove that we are seeking to somehow overthrow liberal democracy is utterly ridiculous. We give below some examples of our work and the reader will be able to judge for themselves that what we really stand is far removed from Gove’s caricature of us.

One of the key projects MEND undertakes is called Get Out And Vote, where we encourage Muslims to register to vote and then “get out and vote” in local elections, mayoral elections, General Elections and previously European elections.

It is nonsensical to suggest an organisation that encourages voting in this way is undermining democracy – indeed it is the very opposite. Indeed, it is ironic that those who accuse Muslims of being isolationist and not socially integrating also complain of entryism by supposed “Islamists”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

As part of its effort to increase the political literacy of British Muslims and the wider public, MEND runs a number of free and open politics masterclass sessions across the country, which, among other things, aims to inform people about the history of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, how laws are made and how they should engage with their political representatives in councils and Parliament.

Again it would be strange for an organisation to teach such things as a means of “overthrowing” liberal democracy. We should be celebrating empowering and educating people in this way.

Every November, MEND is one of the founders of, and key participants in, Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM). This aims to raise awareness about Islamophobia and showcase the positive contributions of Muslims in British society.

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Their ambassador in 2023 was Moeen Ali (above), former England cricket captain, and more than 300 events were held by a wide range of diverse organisations including the British Medical Association, Foot Anstey solicitors, Kidscape, Rethink Mental Illness, the Word Wildlife Fund, the Quakers and many more. IAM brings people together to celebrate the many positive contributions of Muslims to British society and develop a shared understanding of Islamophobia and how to tackle it.

Finally, MEND set up the Islamophobia Response Unit in 2017. This was in response to annual data produced by the Home Office that has consistently shown that 40-50% of all religious hate crime in the UK is targeted toward Muslims. In 2022-23 the figure was 44% far outnumbering any other religious group.

Since 2017, the IRU has helped over 1000 individual victims of hate crime and discrimination. The IRU provides a valuable free service to the community and helps to take the pressure off an already overburdened justice system.

It can thus be seen that our work seeks to support, educate, empower and build valuable partnerships to strengthen our community. Far from being a hateful, intolerant and divisive organisation, we are a force for good in British society. It is a shame that Gove and his colleagues cannot see past their politically motivated hatred of us and recognise us for what we actually are.

Linsay Taylor is the head of community development and engagement at MEND – Muslim Engagement and Development