Accommodating Islam’s special demands on Britain will be one of the greatest governmental challenges of the 21st century, claims the president of the UK's National Secular Society - writes Trevor Grundy.
In an interview with ENInews, Terry Sanderson warned that if the British government continues to "bury its head in the sand" and pretend that Islamic fundamentalists are not running some faith schools there could be "two societies" and "two cultures" in Britain.
"Naturally, I see secularism as a major factor in permitting us all to live together without any religion being able to take temporal power and then preceding to persecute the others - which is the usual path in theocracies."
Sanderson said that previous British governments had a desire for a multi-cultural society.
"What’s happening now is that there is a strong mood within the Muslim community not to be part of the whole but to be separate. It is as though they want to create Pakistan in Britain and keep it separate and I think that once you do that, multiculturalism falls apart because you don't have a multi-cultural society, you have cultures living on the same island but completely separated."
Anjum Anwar, the first Muslim woman appointed by an Anglican cathedral to foster dialogue in Blackburn, told ENInews, "There is no doubt that the media has played a pivotal role in demonising Islam and the Muslims, but Muslims have also contributed to misunderstandings about their faith.
"I strongly believe that many Muslims fall short of living the high standards that Islam demands. One cannot respect the Qu'ran and other religious symbols if respect of religion does not exist in a society."
Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue, west of London, called for a better understanding of Islam and other religions in Britain.
"Britain today is a multi-faith society, which is great, but we don't want it to become a multi-fractious society. So let's say 'yes' to faith but 'no' to discrimination in faith schools - 'yes' to values and 'no' to segregation."
Sanderson commented a month after the publication in France of a government-backed report into the impact Muslim students and their parents are making on the state school system.
The High Council for Integration in Paris reported growing problems with pupils of immigrant backgrounds who object to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, demand halal meals and reject French culture and its values. The French report said: "It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures. We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle."
Sanderson called on the British Government to establish an independent investigation into how religion is taught in State schools.
"If you look at some of these faith schools you will see that some really suspect people have got their hands on them. Boys and girls are being separated in classes and in gymnasiums and OFSTED [the government's education watchdog] lets this pass without doing a thing. We are eroding the State with academies and faith schools, where schools are being given free rein to do anything they like," he said.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches. It suspends operations in December 2010, but hopes to be restructured in early 2011]