Voices of Modern Islam


A collection of interviews with over 100 British Muslims to provide insight into what it means to be a Muslim in today’s culture, and to inform any misguided opinions about Islam. Explores the Holy Texts, the essence of the religion, the different types of Islam and addresses controversial topics such as extremism and Islamophobia.

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An extract from Voices of Modern Islam - What it Means to be Muslim Today

Zebi’s Story:

My parents weren’t born in Britain. They came from Pakistan and moved here when they were teenagers. I don’t speak their language properly, and when I visit Pakistan, I am instantly spotted as being different to the natives. Although people see me as a Muslim, they put me into a different category - like that of a tourist. I don’t have a problem with this because, after all, I am British. I was born here and this is where I have become rooted through school, friends and now university. I have adapted to being Muslim in a non-Muslim country.

Islam asks for Muslims to obey the law of the land wherever they live but surely this must include respecting the culture of this country too? I have lots of female friends and do not see the harm of giving any of them a lift in my car, provided they are able to put up with my singing! I love to have the stereo on in the car and sing. I go to pubs with friends where we watch football or rugby matches. They drink alcohol and I drink Pepsi, and there is never any pressure on me to do otherwise. My friends respect me for who I am. I also go to nightclubs with friends because I love music – not to chat up girls and have sex. Dining out with non-Muslim friends isn’t a problem either. They can eat anything they like as far as I am concerned. They know what I can and can’t eat. That doesn’t stop friendly camaraderie occurring amongst the group – for example if I’m out in town with friends one of them might ask who wants a bacon roll and nod at everybody before reaching me and saying, “Oh, sorry, Zebi. You’re not allowed one!”.

Restrictions according to one’s religion don’t have to be viewed negatively. You can adapt your lifestyle to that of your country without becoming assimilated and going against the values of your religion. You must trust yourself, and as a young person, you must ask your parents to trust you, too, and never betray them. It is perfectly possible to be a fully integrated Muslim in Britain without shunning non-Muslims and fearing their lifestyle.

It is perfectly possible to respect others who, in turn, will respect that Muslims don’t drink alcohol or eat pork, pray five times daily and do Ramadan every year. Life needs to be about welcoming people into your life not trying to keep them out. I really feel they will be far more of this in the next few generations of Muslims in Britain. There will be less emphasis on the culture and traditions of our grandparents and ancestors and more on what is important in our lives in the here and now.

2 reviews for Voices of Modern Islam

  1. Iffat Mirza

    As the title of the book indicates, Henry’s work is a compilation of a varied sample of Muslim voices, concerning a wide range of issues and experiences concerning Islam and Muslims in the 21st century, particularly in light of a post-9/11 society and in context of horrific ISIS terror attacks over the past decade. The title asks, ‘what it means to be Muslim today?’ and indicates to a new way in which Islam has been perceived by non-Muslims, particularly in the West and more specifically in the United Kingdom. The task that the book seeks to confront is by no means a small or menial one, and it certainly shows self-awareness of the arduous task it approaches. Nonetheless, it is a very valiant effort and one that treats the subject without trivializations or sensationalism, and given the wide scope of Henry’s interviewees, is indeed about as comprehensive as an answer to a difficult, yet vital, question, that needed to be asked for a long time.

    Henry’s research, relying heavily on the lived experiences of Muslims is one to be greatly appreciated and highly commended. In drawing heavily from lived experiences from Muslims, and allowing the ‘interview’ to be spaces where Muslims can relate stories from early Islam he allows readers to consider the vast teachings of Islam which are rarely discussed in mainstream discussions of Islam. With some more obscure Hadith and verses of the Holy Qur’an being related, not in Henry’s own commentary (though, he aptly does so at times, which I will discuss later), but in the spaces where the Muslim voices are foregrounded, we see the coherence of Islamic teachings and the lives of ordinary Muslims, something which has been gravely discredited in the wake of the increasingly negative light shined on Islam and which allows all Muslims to continuously be painted with the same tarred brush.

    Between interviews, Henry helpfully provides commentary and discussion on a range of Islamic teachings and their relation to the Western world today. These commentaries include historical context, explanations of theological beliefs, explanations of Islamic jurisprudence and the legal system, as well as humble personal experiences and considerations of Islam in regards to Henry’s own Catholic views. Beginning with the life of the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace), and early Islam, he explores the more contentious issues such as the status of women in Islam, Shariah Law, sexuality, extremism, and rising Islamophobia. Thus, the book serves as a useful introduction to Islam, especially for those who have preconceived notions of the fabricated and negative face of Islam that has been all too readily shown over the last few decades.

    Henry’s own research and willingness to look towards the Holy Qur’an and Hadith stands out as being particularly perceptive and open to understanding. In doing so, he seamlessly and insightfully weaves his own lived experience into the book. Placing archival research in context of his own experience is particularly refreshing as it allows the text to read as a meaningful dialogue between Henry, a non-Muslim, and his Muslim interviewees. It is also a meaningful conversation between Islamic teaching as taught by the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) and revealed by God, as believed by Muslims, and the controversies of the modern day, thus convincing us of the relevance of Islam as something beyond a product-of-the-Cold-War phenomenon, but a religion with teachings regarding everyday life as well as larger-than-life concepts.

    The work is important because it considers all views of the debate. Neither it is an apology for Islam, nor is it an attack on Islam. It is not an apology on Western culture, nor is it an attack on it. It sensitively considers debates such as the UK Grooming Scandal and is unafraid to question such issues in context of the debate of political correctness, an increasingly urgent debate. As mentioned earlier, the interviews open up a space for real Muslims to speak the truth of their religion and this is pertinent in relevance to cases such as the grooming scandal for it allows us to consider the mentality of the perpetrators and situate it in a context, however unjustifiable it may be, but more importantly, it provides a space for Imams particularly, as well as other members of the Muslim community, to denounce such horrific acts, something that is consistently being demanded from Muslims, by non-Muslims.

    Voices of Modern Islam most aptly turns its own title on its head and evocatively discusses the idea that the any adjective preceding ‘Islam’ that suggests that it is ‘with the times’ can indeed by nullified as archival Islamic teachings from the 7th Century AD are directly applicable to the way Muslims live their lives today, and the way they see so-called Islamist extremism, and indeed the bridges that can be built between Islam and the West in the 21st century.

  2. Ayesha Naseem Producer of Drive Time Show, Voice of Islam Radio, UK

    Voices of Modern Islam fulfils the meaning of its title by introducing the reader to Islam and its core beliefs. Through his work, Henry takes on the challenge of answering the question that is sub-headed on the front cover, ‘What it means to be Muslim today.’ The book seeks to answer this question by offering several Muslim interviewees, from around the UK, an opportunity to inform the readers about mainstream Islamic teachings and values. Considering the rise of misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims in the West following the terror attacks in the past decades, this book is a gateway for those who have an interest in learning about Islam and the views of the Muslims. Henry’s comprehensive research and the wide scale of interviews taken of people who represent several branches of Islam allows the reader to seek answers even about the Islamic beliefs that many people don’t always see get discussed.

    The book begins with a coverage of simple queries regarding Islam and what is meant by ‘Being Muslim.’ Moving forward, there is a detailed chapter dedicated to the Holy Prophet of Islam (Peace and blessings be on him) where several parts of his life including early years, life before and after prophethood, and the revelation of the Holy Quran are discussed. Henry also explores the more controversial topics including the role and status of women in Islam, marriage, sexuality and the importance and relevance of the Sharia Law with detailed research; further insight has been added by interviewees elaborating on these subjects in accordance with Islamic beliefs.

    The book delves deep into details of the Islamic history enlightening readers about events and incidents of the past, it uncovers the reasons why the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be on him) was given the permission to fight wars. Henry’s research is developed with focus a considerable focus on the living experiences of Muslims themselves. This is commendable but the technique he employs to introduce Islam to his readers through the voices of those who understand and believe in the religion is very refreshing and deserves appreciation. In between interviews, Henry provides useful and concise commentary, either to explain the reasoning behind a religious teaching or to provide necessary context of a historical event.

    The book provides a decent understanding about Islam and for any non-Muslim reader who is not familiar with its teachings, this book serves as a good read. Henry introduces the reader to every important subject that any non-Muslim would like to inform themselves about Islam. It clarifies misconceptions, recognises the diverse voices among Muslim groups and sects and provides them all with a platform to represent their different views. The book allows a sense of transparency to Islam and Muslims; it doesn’t limit itself to only one school of thought but provides a helpful summary of different views that are found within the main branch of Islam. Although focused more on the Muslims living in the United Kingdom, Voices of Modern Islam presents Islam and its teachings with a neutral representation. In recognising different views of sects and experiences of Muslims themselves, it allows readers with no background understanding, to see a broad and collective coverage of Islam.

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As a writer, I try to incorporate both sides of humanity into my writing, having learned that life is far from grim and that there is enough kindness, compassion, love and humour to overcome life’s obstacles, regardless of how much misery, abuse, or injustice exists.
Written by Declan Henry


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