Cohesive Communities – Bridging Divides between Muslim and Sikh Communities

Faith Matters explored local issues of tensions amongst young male Sikhs and Muslims which threatened to create local and national hotspots of tension.

The project culminated in the Cohesive Communities report which can be used by communities as a resource to develop cohesion and to look at divergent dialogues between Sikh and Muslim communities.

The following text is the introduction from the Cohesive Communities report which can be downloaded through the link:

A Growing Divide and the Need to Acknowledge Triggers that are Dividing Both Sikhs and Muslims

About six months ago, Faith Matters put together the framework of a project to try to address the growing gulf between Sikhs and Muslims in certain localised areas of England. We knew that there had been historical flashpoints and tensions and we were aware of a deep rooted set of dynamics that were corroding relationships. Our own learning journey through this process has been steep and with it a need to understand the key triggers that are dividing both Sikhs and Muslims and the anger that is brewing within a younger male Sikh section of the community. Core to trying to bridge divides is the need for issues raised by the Sikh community to be acknowledged and vice versa, though this seems more so from the Sikhs to Muslims. We also acknowledge that within Corrymeela, that there were different personal aims that individuals wanted to achieve and some of these were different to the aims of this project. Whilst we could not attempt to meet all of these within this project, we believe that because this was the first project of its kind in the UK between Sikhs and Muslims, a lot of issues came out in the process. Some of these opinions were polarized; some were based on a sense of collectivism whilst others were more receptive, thoughtful and inclusive. This report therefore lists some of the findings that came out from facilitated group and person to person interactions. We have also corresponded with participants and have informed them that comments that were seen as inflammatory and which could lead to further barriers to interaction in the future, would be left out. As the name suggests, the Cohesive Communities project was a chance for key issues to be aired and a start to the interaction process between both faiths. It was not meant as a basis to provide legitimisation for either community to use the report or findings against the other and we firmly adhere to this principal.

Today, we can honestly say that the dynamics are becoming polarised as each community starts to mentally map the corresponding faith group as the ‘other.’ The primers and triggers that facilitate  space for this divergent thinking include on Sikh side, the view that resources are going to Muslims be it funding or others and that there are programmes of alleged forced conversations of women. Furthermore, some Sikhs feel that Muslim leaders do not speak out when there are attacks on Sikhs who are considered to be Muslims and there are those voices which suggest that Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are targeted by Muslims. Conversely, Muslims are starting to voice concerns that a handful of Sikhs are starting to work with the BNP and this is made more relevant when the language used against them sounds like statements from British National Party literature. There are also those within Muslim communities who have no idea of some of the issues outlined and who blindly think that there is a commonality based on race, a minority faith and links to the sub-continent.  There are others who believe that pictorial depictions of Muslims killing Sikh believers within Sikh Gurdwaras do nothing for cohesion and feeds radicalism within the Sikh community from a young age. Then there are those culprits of the night, the shape shifters who feed the fears about Islam and Muslims and who talk about a Muslim take over and the struggle to push back unbelievers. Their texts on Kaffirism and non-believers further exacerbate fears and their names are Al-Muhajiroun and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. On the Sikh side, there are also those small numbers of groups who take a radical polarised view of Muslims and to other faiths and these have come out of a gang culture that was based on the perceived control of local areas. In this concoction, it is not hard to see that both communities are on divergent tracks and that potential problems are being stored up. Indeed, the questions that participants’ from both communities put to each other at the end of this report, show inter-community fissures and why we felt that facilitation was much needed in this project. These questions came out from a flip chart session where each member was told to list their views and thoughts and which led to some wide ranging and deeply troubling thoughts being listed. The questions put to each faith by the corresponding faith group have not been changed, though they thankfully took a more constructive and less inflammatory approach.

In light of the above, we are of the opinion that more programmes are needed to get Sikhs and Muslims to deal with these and ongoing issues. Whilst the approach taken by Corrymeela was based on their experience of conflict resolution (i.e.) looking at commonalities before moving onto areas of contention, this was something that some Sikh participants queried. Their perceptions were that they had come to try to raise issues of contention and get them resolved. We believe that the approach of Corrymeela was justified since conflict resolution always looks at issues of agreement or similarity before moving onto contentious issues. However, this pilot will be adapted in the future to look at the key issues and relevant methods of overcoming the barriers which has been mentioned by a few participants. We acknowledge this and if a model is to be developed which can be replicated throughout the UK, then it needs to include actual tangible methods of overcoming the areas causing conflict. However, this project has achieved three fundamental and key objectives that will need to be built upon. Firstly, it has flagged up the internalised thought patterns of what may be circulating within each faith community. It has also flagged up and summarised in a set of 10 questions, the contentious dialogues through which each of the two faith communities are taking towards  each other and finally and more importantly, this work has provided us with the basis on which to make some key proposals that are listed here. It is our firm opinion that these will make a substantial difference through national work programmes and public messages that show that the issues affecting both faiths are being taken seriously.

Whilst the issues are currently localised to a few regions across the UK, it is also clear that the use of the Internet and chat rooms are pushing localised issues within the wider national domain. If this continues and the no action is taken through further investment in the proposals made within this report, then it is our opinion that localised tensions may well ‘link up’ and create national tensions that will deeply affect community cohesion and interfaith relations between Sikhs and Muslims in the future. We are also mindful that if this takes place, there will be those groups like the British National Party, as well as other anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh groups who will attempt to manipulate the tensions. This is a real and credible threat given the past history of the British National Party and its recent campaigning against Muslim communities, for example during the local elections of the 5th of May 2006.

Deep rooted fears need to be respected through sensitive language and acknowledgments. It has been a very tough and difficult process to date though this is part and parcel of dealing with two communities who have complex sets of interactions. We are determined that such issues listed above are acknowledged and then actioned so that further corrosions around community relations do not take place in the future. This is the basic respect that can be given to both communities. It is also why we will be calling for statutory sources and those with resources to set up national Muslim and Sikh commissioners who can work within local areas and act as a bridge between statutory authorities and communities from both faiths. We will also be calling for a national Muslim and Sikh media group which will work together when there are issues of tension or incidents involving Muslims and Sikhs. We will also be pressing for Government sources to get local authorities to set aside local community chests for Muslim and Sikh led community organisations to apply for funding for joint partnership working projects, where there are large populations of Sikhs and Muslims in relevant cities. Finally, we sincerely believe that with the lobbying work that we are undertaking, that an independent report will be commissioned through an academic institution around suggestions of forced conversions that have been raised by Sikhs. Changing religion and converting is the basic right of any one of us if we chose. Forcing vulnerable people to do so is not on and is condemned by all faiths. With that in mind, it is time to find out and deal with this issue once and for all and we are proud to have worked with Sikhs and Muslims over the last 6 months. Easy it has not been, but we have valued every minute of it and hope that we can have the pleasure to work with both communities in the future.


Fiyaz Mughal
Director – Faith Matters