Northern Ireland to help ease Sikh-Muslim tensions in Britain

March 30th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 30 (IANS) Sikh and Muslim leaders in Britain are to be taken to Northern Ireland - a province that is just emerging from decades of sectarian violence - to help ease religious tensions said to be rooted in events surrounding India’s independence. Faith Matters, a charity run by Fiyaz Mughal, a Liberal Democrat councillor in east London, has been given 30,000 pounds by the Department of Communities and Local Government in order to address simmering Sikh-Muslim tensions, according to media reports.

“No work has really been done between Sikhs and Muslims. The tensions have a religious and national base. The gripes and frictions are not on a large scale, but gangs continue to be (formed) along ethnic lines,” said Mughal.

“Faith plays a role in the tensions, along with drugs, turf (wars), young people not having opportunities, talk of forced conversion and (resentment) about resources and cash given to the Muslim community. We want to debunk some of these myths,” Mughal told a community newspaper in London.

About 30 Sikh and Muslim community leaders from Derby, Manchester, Nottingham, and the London areas of Slough and Hayes will travel to Corrymeela, a conflict resolution centre in Northern Ireland, in October.

They will be selected by project coordinators who will also research local issues and produce a handbook on resolving the conflict, the Eastern Eye newspaper reported.

The Corrymeela Community, based in Ballycastle on the north coast of Northern Ireland, describes itself as a Christian peace-building centre that aims to provide “a place where young people and others from a divided society can meet and get to know each other, as a first step to healing divisions and as a stepping stone towards reconciliation”.

The community was founded in 1965 by Ray Davey, a Presbyterian pastor and former World War II prisoner of war, who was captured in North Africa by German troops and taken to Dresden where he witnessed the Allied bombing of Germany.

The centre says it was one of the most important peace organisations during the decades of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland - a strife that was both political and religious.

What it can do for Muslims and Sikhs remains to be seen. According to the last census taken in 2001, Islam - with more than 1.58 million followers - is the second largest religion in Britain after Christianity, whereas Sikhs numbered just over 336,000.

A minority of Muslims and Sikhs are said to have clashed during the religious violence that accompanied the birth of India in 1947.

Although such tensions are rare in modern-day India, there have been sporadic media reports about British Muslim men forcing Sikh girls to convert to Islam and Sikh gangs intimidating Muslim teens.

The west London suburb of Slough became a flashpoint for tensions in 1996-97, with violence flaring up between Sikh and Muslim gangs. Following national media attention, a peace group called Aik Saath was set up.

According to the group’s website, it continues to work on conflict resolution and trains up to 1,000 young Asians every year.

However, in 2004, a 16-year-old Muslim boy was wounded at a Baisakhi mela by a Sikh wielding a ceremonial sword in the town of Walsall in the west Midlands region.

Two Sikh students in a Walsall college were attacked in what was believed to have been an act of reprisal. There were media reports of attempted aggressive religious conversions in February and March 2007.

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