6th June 2000
British Muslims are urging Parliament not to waste a vital, once in a decade opportunity and vote to include a question on religious affiliation in Census 2001. “It would be the single most important step taken by the Government to recognise not only the needs of the faith communities but also clear recognition of religion as a living force in our society,” says Muslim Council of Britain in a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to intervene at the eleventh hour to secure the Government’s declared policy.
The MCB believes the question is essential for fair and proper provision of public services in areas such as education, health, housing and employment. It is vital to proper allocation of resources and monitoring discrimination. “Another ten years means a whole generation of British born Muslims will have been invisible, unaccounted for and inequitably provided for. Its saddening, desperately frustrating,” says the MCB.
Similar serious concern and disappointment is being expressed by 2001 Religious Affiliation Group (of which MCB is a member) representing all other faith communities, who have been in the fore front in campaigning for the inclusion of the religion question for more than five years.
They question the wisdom of introducing the amendment by a Private Members Bill. This has proved a near fatal strategy, notwithstanding the efforts of Jonathan Sayeed MP (Con Mid Bedfordshire) who is presenting the Bill. The Second Reading was deferred from March 7 to May 19. On that date a few Conservative MPs, defending the general principle that legislation should not pass without debate, again forced a postponement to June 9.
No further postponement is possible. The technical and administrative preparations for Census 2001 mean June 9 is make or break, if the question is to be printed on the census forms. Failure on June 9 means Muslims and members of other faith communities must wait for another 10 years to become visible as a community of faith within British society.
British Muslims identify themselves on the basis of faith not ethnicity. Muslims born and bred in Britain have ancestral roots in many parts of the world, with different cultures and speak many languages. What unites them is their faith, they are a faith community of unity with diversity.
Last year Prime Minister, Tony Blair MP said, “one way of ensuring that the Muslim voice is heard is our decision to include a question on religion in the 2001 census. This will give us the information we need to take fully into account the needs of Muslim communities.” Now Muslims, along with other faith communities, must question the credibility of Ministerial declarations of intent.
In its letter to the Prime Minister the MCB strongly and passionately urges the Government, even at the eleventh hour, to make some Parliamentary time available to ensure the Bill passes into legislation. “Otherwise, when the snapshot of the nation, Census 2001, is taken we, the British Muslim community, will be blur on the fringes of the photo, and that simply is not good enough,” says the MCB.
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