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Muslim extremists are "losing their balance. The teaching of Islam is about moderation - the middle road," warned Mohammed Afzal Khan, the first Asian-born Muslim Lord Mayor of Manchester, during an appearance last night before the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem.
Emphasizing that point, he quoted from an Islamic philosopher, who wrote: "The zealots will enter hell."
Khan also criticized Europe's attitude to its Muslim communities, however, saying: "The Islamic contribution to Western intellectual tradition has been conveniently forgotten."
He estimated that today there are some 15 million Muslims in Europe, with 7 percent of the French population Muslim. Britain has some 1.8 million Muslims, from many ethnic origins, with 77% from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Muslims from 47 different nationalities have settled in Britain, Khan said, the largest from Libya.
Despite their numbers, Muslims still had a long way to go to be part of the British mainstream, he said. Although they had full citizenship rights and half of them were actually born in England, there were only some two dozen Muslim city councilors, four members of Parliament and a half dozen Muslims in the House of Lords.
A founding member in 2004 of Manchester's Muslim-Jewish Forum, Khan, born in Pakistan has spent much of his political career putting out fires on racial issues and encouraging inter-communal understanding and respect.
Although there are only half a million people in the city of Manchester, and two million people in Greater Manchester, they speak 152 languages, said Khan. "There is a real need for integration among communities who can be true to their own values and work together," he said.
Khan said that his personal desire was to support social inclusion and development by recognizing and giving equal worth to the many religious faiths and diversity within the city.
"I'm not interested in assimilation. Why should I let go of something I have? As a Muslim living in Britain, I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose. Assimilation is a one-way street. I'm interested in a two-way street. Integration allows for everyone to become enriched through picking and choosing," Khan said.,
Invited by the council and on his first visit to the Holy Land, Khan, 46, barely made mention of tensions between Muslims and Jews, and then only in response to a question from the floor. The issue between Asians and Jews is Palestine, he said.
"They feel that Palestine is not getting its just due," he argued. "But they understand that the Jewish people are the People of the Book, and perhaps closer to us than anyone else. That's why we have the Muslim-Jewish Forum, to see how close we are, and how much we could strengthen one another by having a better relationship."
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