Catherine Heseltine is someone you would have seen on the mainstream media like BBC or Sky News representing Islam and the Muslims. Catherine is the CEO of Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) and she had a good old chat with The Revivals’ Iram Ramzan.Despite standing on her feet for half a day, Catherine Heseltine’s mission in talking to every single Muslim about the importance of getting active in politics and media did not diminish.
And nor did her trademark smile.
Catherine has had many projects to occupy her time with, recently having just finished the ‘Boycott Israeli Dates’ campaign during Ramadan. She is now running a ‘Stop Islamophobia’ campaign to focus on the lobbying for MPs to take the issue more seriously, and for the police forces to monitor Islamophobic hate crime.
She certainly has a lot of work on her hands.
While there are some Muslims out there who think it is ‘pointless’ to vote, believing it to be a ‘waste of time’ to become involved in politics in the ‘Islamophobic’ atmosphere, Catherine said that not voting leaves the platform free for the BNP.
“No one was born hating Muslims,” she said.
If anyone has any doubts, she said people should take the example of the pro-Israel lobby.
“They don’t spend millions of pounds on political and media lobbying in support of Israel because it’s a waste of time. Politics is power. Muslims, when they get involved, CAN make a difference. At the last election, we mobilised Muslim voters to kick out three pro Israel anti Muslim MPS.”
The MPS, she said, only won by a narrow majority, showing that every vote can count.
“As a community we have not got involved intelligently and that is why we have been ignored.”
Has MPAC been successful?
“Absolutely!” she beamed.
Despite raising awareness of the problems facing Muslims, she acknowledged that there is still work to be done.
With the English Defence League still demonstrating and an elderly Muslim man being killed outside his mosque in South London, she believes the situation is far from resolved.
“So if we think that it’s only the Muslims in Palestine and Afghanistan who are going to suffer if we’re not active, no, it’s going to come to our own doorsteps. Now is the time to wake up.”
This is why she believes the media is a great platform for voicing opinions.
However, not all Muslims had such a positive view of the GPU event. Protestors outside, both men and women (on separate sides of the street of course) were holding placards condemning the event as ‘un-Islamic’.
“I’d say they really need to get over themselves!” She said.
“Nobody’s forcing them to come to the GPU. Seriously, do these people know better than the scholars who are here talking? Are they qualified to tell the rest of the Muslims how we should practice our religion?”
This led into a very important discussion about sectarianism, which is something that some Muslims believe is further dividing the ummah.
What is the cause of this?
She put this mainly down to the mindset of the older generation who lived in colonial countries.
There is not one ideology of Islam, she said, but many different interpretations; not all Muslims will agree with the fiqh of prayer, for example, but they will all agree that they should defend the Prophet Muhammad when he is attacked.
“If they [the protestors] put that amount of energy into defending Islam, we would be a lot better than this sectarian inciting amongst Muslims.
“At the end of the day, the racist groups such as the EDL are not going to ask ‘are you Sufi or Brelewi, Salafi or Shi’a?’. They’re saying, ‘You’re Muslims-we hate you and you’re going to suffer violence and abuse because of that’.”
She ended on the note of uniting under the banner of Islam, and as British citizens, they have a powerful voice- if they use it.
Small actions, she believes, can make big changes. For example, she said complaining to the BBC when seeing ‘unfair coverage’, instead of shouting at the TV, is one way of doing something.
“Never give up; never be defeated, because the meaning of sabar is patience and perseverance so that is our approach as Muslims, Insha’Allah.”
To get more info on MPAC log on to www.mpacuk.org
*Iram Ramzan spoke to Catherine Heseltine at the GPU 2010 event at the Excel Centre.