Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More money than sense

An important difference between the American Muslim community and the British Muslim community is its class profile: the American Muslim community has a much larger middle class sector. Another important difference is that the American Muslim community has allowed for the emergence of an indigenous leadership, something which has yet to happen in Britain and something which I will return to at a later date. I wish to focus here on the current economic conditions of the British Muslim community and specifically here in Bradford. Though there are areas in Bradford which suffer under some of the worst poverty conditions in the country, it is nevertheless also true that there is developing a middle class sector within the Bradford Muslim community and more generally that there is a lot more wealth around than there used to be. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the money flow to ‘back home’ has slowed down. Whereas before many were building huge mansions in Pakistan, now people have decided to invest their wealth here. Secondly, many of the sons and daughters of the first generation have entered the professions and this has also led to increased wealth within sectors of the community. Thirdly, the house prices have risen markedly, so whereas somebody who may have owned three houses before for 25K each, now they may be looking at houses worth much more. Fourthly, the regeneration money that has been sent into deprived areas has begun to find its way to those in need and this has helped increase wealth. Combining these factors, one begins to see a picture emerge in which some sections of the community have witnessed increased wealth.

I should state that I have a conflict of interest here, I help manage an arts and crafts shop in Bradford. The Germans make a distinction between Kulturwissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften. The latter are the natural sciences and the former are the cultural sciences. I am somebody who has spent most of my adult life interested in the cultural sciences. Immigrants, by the sheer fact of their being migrants, tend to be interested in those subjects that further the intention of migration: worldly gain – or put it more simply, how to make more money. That is why the immigrant mentality finds the Kulturwissenschaften irrelevant, unless of course, there is money in it. But the study of history, or the history of ideas, or literature, or languages, or urban sociology, or the philosophy of science; or the study of calligraphy and illumination; or even studying to become a religious scholar – all of these are regarded as largely irrelevant as career options. This is not the case amongst the second generation though and we are slowly witnessing the emergence of a cultural sector within the Muslim community. This returns me to my main point, that though there has been a marked increase in wealth in sections of the Muslim community, this has not been accompanied by an increase in sense. As such, the Muslim economy focuses around perishing matters as opposed to those areas that could support the development of our nascent community. We are a new community facing new challenges and we have many needs, some urgent. We need Imams on decent salaries so that we can attract the best candidates and keep them. We need researchers and intellectuals who are able to deal with the issues that we presently face. We need to get a grip on the changing nature and dynamics of the community. We need to develop an arts sector that though not necessary nevertheless adds hugely to quality of life. Some of these could be funded by public bodies but many of them can not, and the Muslim community needs to take a hold of its own future by channelling the vast amounts of wealth that are within its reach towards the kind of areas in life that require some kind of support. Normally, this is called philanthropy and we need a lot more of it. Economies are based upon values.