Breaking new ground, British Muslim event to hear from Ahmadi, LGBT and ex- Muslims
By Barfi Culture Team
19th February 2018

An annual conference to debate issues on British Islam will break new ground by hosting talks with gay, Ahmadi and ex- Muslims.

The British Islam Conference will take place later this week, on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th February. It aims to host an "open, inclusive and forward-looking arena for debate, discussion and sharing of ideas," according to its organisers.

Unusually for a conference of this size the keynote speakers are also both women: the Iranian-born writer Ziba Mir-Hosseini, who has written several books on Islam and gender, and academic Mona Siddiqui, who chaired the recent government review on Sharia Councils.

The two day event will feature over 50 speakers. Organisers say it is not an academic event but about "using all avenues possible, including art and culture, to enhance Muslim voices."

It is also the first time such an event will feature ex-Muslims. Imtiaz Shams, who is chair of the group Faith to Faithless, will give a talk titled "A Muslim's Guide to Ex Muslims".

A spokesperson for the event told Barfi Culture: "Ex-Muslims have just as much a right as anyone else to contribute to the debate on British Islam. As people that may have grown up in Muslim households and have decided that they no longer practice / believe in the religion Islam, their critical insights are probably more important to listen to than 'just the usual suspects'."

The event will also feature debates on more traditional topics such as tackling Islamophobia, immigration, religious identity and secularism, inter-faith dialogue and relationships.

It will also feature Farooq Aftab from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association to debate and explain the beliefs of Ahmadi Muslims. Jasvir Singh of City Sikhs will debate Sikh-Muslim relations, and Shanon Shah of New Horizons will tackle anti-Islamophobia and anti-LGBT activism.

Have they had any criticism for including these speakers?

"If we consider the difficult conversations that are needed around human rights, gender inequality, freedom of religion etc... Islam itself urges us to be honest an open about the difficulties we face. In fact, the Prophet himself was a reformer, part of the reason he faced such difficulties," the spokesperson said in response.

The event hasn't been without controversy. One speaker who was invited to talk on relationships pulled out a few weeks ago, citing "almost no representation from mainstream Muslim organisations". Representatives from the Muslim Council of Britain are conspicuously absent from the lineup. But the same was the case last year.

This is the third year New Horizons will be hosting this event. Chaired by Dilwar Hussain, it describes itself as "a forward looking organisation that engages in critical discussions around Muslim identity, tradition and reform".

What do they hope will come out it?

The spokesperson added: "Our purpose is to gradually build a space where people can feel comfortable and accepted in shaping their own debate on British Islam. This sort of space is so important in the context of the discussions we are having today."

"Naturally we hope that ripples will spread from such spaces to influence the broader conversation about Muslim life in Britain."

More details on the event are on Facebook and on this website.

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