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Talking to Muslims in the West

Book Review by Manal Abdel Aziz in Egyptian Mail, Tuesday 31 March 2009 


"Islam is the natural religion of mankind. It has existed since the beginning of time. Islam has the answer to the basic needs of mankind. It roots our whole lives in Allah." With this strong belief, the British writer Idris Tawfiq meant to pen a series of books projecting the genuine image of Islam under the main headline: Ask about Islam.


In one of these books devoted to giving insight into the conditions of Muslims in the West, Tawfiq argues that if people are ever given the chance to hear the real message of Islam, they will see that it has something to offer all mankind. Living for most of his life in Britain and Italy as a teacher of religion and a Catholic priest in the Vatican, Tawfiq could be an honest eyewitness to conditions of Muslims in Europe.


In his book Talking to Muslims in the West, Tawfiq refers to the poor condition s of Muslims in some Western countries, such as France, where they feel at a loss, a matter reflected in the 2005 street riots by some Muslim youths.


Though he blames the Muslims in some European countries for distancing themselves from their new homes, the author keeps on urging the Western governments to solve the problems of these communities. He reminds them that the Grand Mosque of Paris was built by the government and opened in 1926 by the French President to express thanks to the many Muslims in France’s colonies who had fought and given their lives for France during the First World War.


He points out that during the Second World War, "Muslims at the \Grand Mosque of Paris managed to prevent the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps by providing false documents or by giving them shelter from their oppressors, showing that islam is a religion of mercy and compassion and that Muslims respect those of other religions and help those in need."


In reviewing experiences of Muslims in Ireland, Tawfiq, who converted to Islam shortly after the September 11th terror attacks, argues that unlike the presence of Muslim minorities in other European countries, the arrival of Muslims in Ireland was not connected with citizens from former colonies.


"The first Muslims came for higher education, notably to study Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Many of those graduates stayed on and took Irish citizenship, becoming valued professionals within the Irish community. So the foundation of a Muslim presence in Ireland was based on usefulness to the State. So they were widely accepted and respected by the Irish."


However, as Tawfiq reveals, this condition has changed since the early 1990’s with the growing number of Muslim asylum seekers and refugees from Bosnia, Somalia and Kosovo in addition to Nigeria, Kenya, Algeria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt. "With this rise in the number of Muslims in Ireland, as well as the set-back in religious practice in the country along with the growing Islamophobia in the whole West, seeds of troubles have begun to grow there." Accordingly, Tawfiq advises Irish Muslims to get integrated into Irish society without allowing this to rob them of what is meant to be Muslim. "The cost of becoming fully Irish should not mean losing their Islamic faith. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he should lose his soul?" he wonders.


Tawfiq also cautions the Irish Muslims and all other Muslim communities in the West against the strength of the secular groups in Europe and those who show fierce enmity to religions in general and Islam in particular. He chooses to conclude his rich book by giving a great example of Muslim communities in the West who managed to get integrated into their new society and at the same time are a good example of good Muslims and so gain public respect.


He points out that Muslims in Toronto, Canada, are at the heart of society, not isolated from it. They are organizing some major activities with the knowledge and the blessing of the Canadian authorities, such as the Annual Winter Dinner that takes place on Christmas Day.


"Here we have the first lesson. Whilst the whole of Canada was celebrating Christmas, the Muslims of Toronto, not to be left out, were having their own celebration. What a great way of adapting and being part of their Canadian home…. The experience of being in Toronto was very moving. It is a privilege to see Muslims in different cities and different continents living out their Islam in the midst of their society. Muslims don’t want to change the societies in which they live. They just want to make them better. Muslims are not a threat to the West, but a part of it. The Muslims of Toronto – comfortable in their society, and their society, for its part, comfortable with them – are an inspiration and even a model for others to follow."


Since converting to Islam, Tawfiq has kept on roaming different parts of the world lecturing about Islam. His series Ask About Islam is a means for presenting Islam with its right image to the whole world to expose the negative stereotypes being touted by biased media. "Therefore, if islam is on every tongue, because of what people see on their television screens and in their press, we are being offered on a plate the chance to speak about it. In this sense, Islam in the West has a fantastic future. As Muslims we shouldn’t ever allow ourselves to throw that chance away."


All of Idris Tawfiq's books can be obtained from:

IPCI: Islamic Vision, 434 Coventry Road,  Small Heath, Birmingham,  B10 OUG  United Kingdom.

Tel: 0121 773 0137

Fax: 0121 766 8577       


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