British Muslims for Secular Democracy
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) is a non-profit organisation founded in 2006 by Nasreen Rehman and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. The organisation draws together Muslim democrats from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds and seeks to challenge the current perceptions of British Muslims. BMSD supports secularism and welcomes equally Muslims and non-Muslims.
The central aims of BMSD relate to social inclusion, co-existence and harmony. It intends to raise awareness of secular democracy and promote a shared vision of citizenship, which includes a separation of faith and the state so that faith cannot exert an undue influence on policies. It also seeks to encourage religious understanding and celebrate Muslim cultures, values and traditions within British society. These aims are to be achieved by facilitating theological discourses to inform Muslims and the wider public about the Islamic faith, raising awareness of religious influence on domestic and foreign policies, opposing Islamophobia, radicalism and intolerance, and ensuring that politicians encourage and practice transparency.
In January 2010, BMSD’s Shaaz Mahboob offered support for the Government’s banning of Anjem Choudary's Islam4UK group under terrorism legislation. According to the Guardian, the ban was unlikely to be effective because ‘Islam4UK itself emerged when two other offshoots of the original al-Muhajiroun organisation were banned – and Choudary has more or less said this is what he’ll do again’. Despite this, both the Quilliam Foundation and BMSD were in favour of the ban, with Mahboob of BMSD reportedly stating:
- The ban is a welcome sign that the Government is finally taking notice of individuals found abusing the right to free speech. Perhaps its next action will be against far-right organisations – if it holds back, it will raise serious questions about the selective application of powerful tools such as proscription.
In response to his statement, the advocacy group Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) expressed concern about BMSD’s desire to extend the ban to other organisations, contending that ‘its narrow focus contravene[s] its assumed democratic credentials.’ MEND further suggested, ‘Given that QF and BMSD are both in receipt of government funding under the Prevent programme, their concurring with the ban on Islam4UK is perhaps not entirely unexpected’. In the same article it was highlighted that BMSD appeared in the Research Information and Communication Unit’s (RICU) weekly news summary in the same week as Mahboob’s statement.
Profiling Muslim passengers
On 2 January 2010 the Daily Telegraph stated that Mahboob was in favour of moves to introduce passenger profiling of Muslims in UK airports. Mahboob reportedly stated:
- We have seen that certain types of people who fit a certain profile – young men of a particular ethnic background – have been engaged in terror activities, and targeting this sort of passenger would give people a greater sense of security… Profiling has to be backed by this type of statistical and intelligence-based evidence. There would be no point in stopping Muslim grandmothers.
MEND responded to Mahboob's comments by noting that such a move constitutes a highly visible form of stigmatisation.
Stance on the burka
In April 2010 Taj Hargey (a BMSD director at the time) wrote an article for the Daily Mail in which he defended the right to wear the Christian cross whilst simultaneously denouncing the burka. Hargey commented that ‘banning a crucifix makes a mockery of our treasured right to religious freedom’, but that ‘the burka is entirely inappropriate in Britain’ and leads to ‘a threatening anonymity, reinforcing the differences between different cultures.’
BMSD co-founder Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was also critical of the burka in an article she wrote for the Independent in January 2010:
- You people who support the 'freedom' to wear the burka, do you think anorexics and drug addicts have the right to choose what they do? This covering makes women invisible, invalidates their participatory rights and confirms them as evil temptresses. Does it stop men from raping them? Does it mean they have more respect in the home and enclaves? Like hell it does. I feel the same fury when I see Orthodox Jewish women in wigs, with their many children, living tightly proscribed lives.
In the same article Alibhai-Brown elucidated that BMSD are against a ban of burkas, but do support ‘restrictions in key public spaces.’ This was reaffirmed in an article by BMSD Director Tehmina Kazi on 27 May 2016, which outlined that 'BMSD has only called for restrictions of the face-veil in certain settings, where security or child protection considerations are invoked.'
However, since resigning from BMSD, former director Taj Hargey has called for a nationwide campaign to impose a ban on all face masks in public spaces within Britain. Hargey, acting as Imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation and the Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, suggested in July 2014 that an increasing tendency for young British Muslim women to wear the burka is ‘one of the most sinister developments of our times.' He further contended that ‘Everyone in Britain, including Muslims, should oppose the insidious spread of this vile piece of clothing, which imprisons women, threatens social harmony, fuels distrust, has grave health implications and is a potent security risk.’
Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill
BMSD’s Tehmina Kazi advised Baroness Cox on her Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill in January 2012, which sought to make it an offence for anyone to claim or imply that Sharia courts or councils have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law in Britain. In discussing British Muslim women, Kazi was quoted as saying, “They don’t have any legal power and are completely informal so very hard to regulate and they rule on things such as divorce in Muslim communities. We want to educate women so they know what their rights are.” Kazi reportedly supported the Bill, which was opposed by some parts of the Muslim community, due to a belief that it would encourage greater equality for Muslim women unaware of alternatives to Sharia law. Baroness Cox confirmed that Kazi was "prepared to speak out in public and support my Bill” in a talk at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in Florida in November 2011. Kazi also contributed to a booklet seeking to provide evidence in support of Cox’s Bill. Additional contributors included Inspire and Sharia Watch founder and unsuccessful UKIP candidate Anne Marie Waters.
A spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations - which also backed the bill - highlighted the importance of protecting those most vulnerable in society and confirmed that many Muslim couples choose to have the Nikah religious ceremony without the civil proceedings. However, the spokesman also noted that, "There are certain protections which people are afforded with a civil marriage, but we should not be forcing people into doing this."
Muslim patriotism in Britain
On 16 July 2009 Shaaz Mahboob criticised leading Muslim organisations for apparently failing to publicly mourn the eight British soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the same month. In the article for Pickled Politics, Mahboob recognised that many British Muslims objected to the small group of Islamic extremists in Luton who hurled abuses towards the returning soldiers from Iraq, but attributed this to ‘fearing a backlash from the rest of the British public, not for their love and respect for the British soldiers.’ In response to Mahboob’s comments, MEND stated:
- The accusation that Muslims responded to the Luton protestors for reasons of fearing a backlash by the British public is not only false, it is malicious.
MEND further noted that although Mahboob claimed ‘the Muslim silence is deafening’ when it comes to brutal regimes such as the one in Darfur, members of the Muslim Council of Britain have participated in both the Day for Darfur and special prayers for Darfur. MEND continued to suggest that BMSD seek to portray the Muslim Council of Britain as speaking for only a vocal minority so that it can claim to speak for the silent majority.
Nasreen Rehman, co-founder and chair | Mona Sheaves, vice chair | Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, co-founder and trustee | Dr Shaaz Mahboob, trustee | Andy Gregg, trustee | Dr Ghayassuddin Siddiqui, trustee. | Taj Hargey, former director (resigned on 6 November 2012).
In 2013 BMSD received two grants, both over a period of three years: £30,000 per annum from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and £15,000 from the City Bridge Trust. It received a further £10,000 from the JRCT for restructuring.
On 28 July 2015 the Big Lottery Fund made the decision to award a £10,000 grant to the BMSD. This grant was for career taster sessions, health workshops, and networking sessions for isolated women from Muslim backgrounds to help them take part in community life.
BMSD accepts donations from the public.
In May 2016 BMSD co-hosted a symposium alongside the University of East London and Middlesex University, entitled 'Democracy, integration and freedom in the age of Prevent: A conversation'. The event attended by academics, journalists, teachers and policymakers and other 'stakeholders' was conducted under Chatham House rules; a recommendation document to inform future thinking in this area is planned. 
BMSD (2010) Advice for Schools.
BMSD (2010) Think Global, Act Local.
- Address: 28 Museum Street, London, WC1A 1LH
- Phone: 020 7242 8691
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: http://bmsd.org.uk/
- BMSD: About Us, accessed 20 April, 2016
- BMSD: Objectives, accessed 20 April, 2016
- Government faces widespread criticism for ‘futile’ ban on Islam4UK but gains support of QF and BMSD ‘’MEND’’ 15 January 2010, accessed 28 May 2016
- Media-savvy designer Islamists must not distract us from the real danger The ‘’Guardian’’ 13 January 2010, accessed 28 May 2016
- Muslim MP security profiling at airports is price we have to pay The Daily Telegraph 2 January 2010, accessed 29 May 2016
- Khalid Mahmood MP and BMSD voice support for profiling Muslim passengers ‘’MEND’’ 4 January 2010, accessed 29 May 2016
- What Britain What has Britain come to when it takes a Muslim like me to defend Christianity? The ‘’Daily Mail’’, 8 April 2010, accessed 28 May 2016
- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The Cloak of Darkness is no Exercise of Civil Liberties The ‘’Independent’’ 25 January 2010, accessed 30 May 2016
- Don't Ban the Burqa, Challenge the Modesty Doctrines Instead BMSD, 27 May 2016, accessed 11 July 2016
- Why I, as a Muslim, am launching a campaign to ban the burka in Britain The Daily Mail, 17 July 2014, accessed 30 May 2016
- Taj Hargey launches UK campaign to ban burka MEND, 21 July 2014, accessed 30 May 2016
- Harrow Campaigner and the Battle for Equality ‘’Get West London’’, 12 January 2012, accessed 13 May 2016
- Baroness Caroline Cox at Restoration Weekend Frontpage Mag, 20 December 2011, accessed 30 May 2016
- Equal and Free? Evidence in support of Baroness Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill The Baroness Cox, May 2012, accessed 30 May 2016
- [ https://web.archive.org/web/20120622175725/http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/5178 A question of allegiance for British Muslims] ‘’Pickled Politics’’, Shaaz Mahboob 16 July 2009, accessed 25 May 2016
- Shaaz Mahboob says British Muslims lack compassion for UK soldiers, MEND 17 July 2009, accessed 25 May 2016
- BMSD: Trustees, accessed 20 April, 2016
- British Muslims for Secular Democracy: People, accessed 31 May 2016
- BMSD: Staff, accessed 20 April, 2016
- BMSD Annual Report 2013-2014, accessed 20 April 2016
- FOI Request: 'Funding Muslim Organisations in the UK', accessed 20 April 2016
- Govt faces widespread criticism for 'futile' ban on Islam4UK but gains support of QF and BMSD, accessed 20 April 2016
- Edmund Standing, The British Labour Government's ruinous approach to combating Islamic extremism, Butterflies and Wheels, Mar 11th, 2010, accessed 20 April 2016.
- BMSD Report and Financial Statements Year Ended 21 March 2015, accessed 27 May 2016
- Big Lottery Fund BMSD, accessed 20 April 2016
- BMSD: Donate, accessed 20 April 2016
- BMSD to co-host symposium, BMSD website, accessed 31 May 2016
- BMSD Advice for Schools, accessed 20 April 2016
- BMSD Think Global, Act Local, accessed 20 April 2016