I rather enjoyed David Cameron's interview in the Church Times last week. I happen to agree with him; Britain is indeed a Christian country, and much of our charitable tradition is derived from that history. That continues today in the huge support from faith groups of all denominations in financial and volunteer support for charities, and in the continuing orientation of many great charities. Our big national children’s charities – the Children’s Society, Action for Children and Barnado’s for example – are all Christian in origin. Church leaders often lead the charge on issues of national importance like poverty. There were brilliant examples over Easter from Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby.
However this is not to say that there is an excuse for prejudice against other faiths; quite on the contrary. Islam is now the second largest religion in the UK, and like any other faith it deserves respect and understanding. The Jewish religion has likewise played a key role in community life for centuries, though often against much discrimination. Both faiths have a strong charitable tradition, deriving from the Koran's and from the Hebrew Bible’s injunctions on giving.
The recent media portrayal of what is happening in Birmingham schools, or the way the Sunday Times wrote up the comments by William Shawcross on Islamic charities (with an article by their security correspondent), illustrates the dangers of losing sight of the major religions’ traditions of peace and charity. There are some who are only too happy to elide adherence to Islam as just a step away from terrorism, as some in UKIP have very recently done.
In fact, the William Shawcross interview was a good one. I agree with him that the law needs to change re. trusteeships, and he is right to say we can't afford more cuts to the Charity Commission. It was a shame the Sunday Times chose to highlight the ‘threat’ from Islamic front charities as though that is the major threat facing our sector. The fact that a Charity Commission member is also heading up the Gove enquiry into Birmingham Islamic schools does not help.
The last thing the Commission needs is to acquire a reputation for Islam-bashing – it does not do so. Although it cannot help how the media tackle these issues, it will have to be careful to ensure that this image does not stick.
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