Can you be politically active and religious?

I recently spoke to a journalist who was berating a Sikh UKIP supporter because he believed the party’s policies went against Sikh values. This got me thinking – is it possible to support a political party if you’re religious?

Many, if not most, politicians will lend themselves to a particular faith, but how religious they are is down to personal perspective. When they follow a party, I wonder if their faith plays a part in who they decide to support…

We often hear the government say we’re a Christian country (especially after growing allegations of radicalisation). The British constitution was developed at a time when faith meant a lot and the men who ran the land claimed to be God fearing. So whether we realise it or not, religion has – directly or indirectly – influenced modern day policy.

But can you be both politically active and religious?

I am born into a Sikh family, I went to a Catholic school, and have grown up with Church of England, Hindu and Muslim friends. So I have had some exposure to a multitude of faiths. I don’t consider myself ‘religious’ per se, but I do believe in God and the fundamental principles of Sikhism, which include equality – a phenomenon advocated 500 years before the anti-discriminatory act we now have in the UK – voluntary service (charity) and making an honest living (working). I suppose the latter could make me more inclined to support the Tories who advocate working and discourage benefits culture. But I don’t agree with everything the Conservatives stand for.

Likewise I don’t agree with all Labour or Liberal Democrat policies – UKIP doesn’t even come into the equation for me – but I do support elements of each party, such as boosting entrepreneurship, supporting first time buyers, getting rid of tuition fees.

I work in news and there is a buzz in the office as we run up to the elections. I asked colleagues whether they thought it was possible to practice a faith and be politically active. The majority responded ‘yes’; because you would support a party that, generally – and this is the crucial part – generally reflects your views, not necessarily wholly (pun not intended!)

And speaking generally, regardless of whether you follow a faith or not, maybe you are swayed to one party more than another because you agree with the majority of what they advocate.

And that’s a probable likeness of the electorate – they agree with a mixture of policies from all the political parties but one party may, overall, best reflect how that person believes the country should be run. I guess that’s where you would think a coalition would help bridge the gap but when one party has an overriding majority, a coalition seems to mean very little.

The 2015 elections will be exciting – to say the least – because for the first time, in a long time, a coalition is almost determined. To me, that proves none of the major parties reflect what the electorate wants. Or maybe their policies on certain issues – like security and immigration – are loosely the same but fluffed with rhetoric.

So where does that put people who feel policies are a mockery of their faith? Or maybe they don’t realise it and simply vote for what they think is best for the country.

I suppose the only firm conclusion I can make is that it isn’t fair to judge a person’s religious integrity by their political persuasion, because I doubt anyone could be fully in support of a single party’s policies. Moreover, no party fully reflects a single religion. Thus, people will support the party that is closest to their personal views, be they religious or otherwise.

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The farce that was Trojan Horse

This week MPs criticised an investigation in which five Birmingham schools were being accused of Islamic extremism. The Education Committee has concluded the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal was baseless…not surprising when the ONLY evidence was an anonymous letter mentioning one school.

This one letter led to five major inquiries. That is all it took to stir national panic. The letter could’ve been from a disgruntled ex-employee, supremacist or even someone with mental health issues.

It has caused a huge expense to the taxpayer for officers to investigate five schools in the city where staff must’ve felt ridiculed and their livelihoods at risk, students academia affected, their parents unnecessarily panicked…all over one anonymous letter!

I’d be livid if I were a GCSE student whose education would’ve been setback, or even the parent of a student who would be stressing over the alleged damage caused to my child by so-called extremist school agendas.

In one case, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, had downgraded a school within a month of calling it ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Failing’ – why did alarm bells not ring as to how Ofsted could get their ratings so very wrong.

For those schools and parents affected, their confidence in the Department of Education (which was run by Michael Gove at the time…) and Ofsted have been stigmatised. Sentiment in Birmingham is that there was a witch-hunt against schools that are in largely Muslim populated areas. Schools that, by Ofsted’s own admission, were performing so well were tarnished due to groundless allegations.

Terrorism, radicalisation, extremism – these words have been hitting the headlines virtually every day since 9/11. Terrorist profiling has been an inevitable consequence. Terrorists are often branded as young, bearded, Muslim men dressed in traditional attire, or young women wearing a headscarf. The other day I was watching the BBC News at 6 in which the top story was about a Muslim teacher – pictured clean-shaved – who had been radicalised – then pictured with a beard. It is such profiling that is causing fear and prejudice in society.

I wrote about this recently when I questioned whether terror was skin deep. Trojan Horse is another such example of fear perpetuated largely on face value at schools where there are an overwhelming majority of Muslim pupils.

Such inquiries and profiling are further marginalising a large community in Britain – the Muslim community. People who are going about their daily lives are feeling under the microscope constantly, their every move monitored and anything they do or say being taken out of context.

I have such endless conversations with my friends – Muslim and non-Muslim – and sadly the only conclusion I can come to is that we will be continuing such conversations for a long time yet.

Making a difference: donating blood

For some time I have been contemplating on donating blood. Three years ago my father was attacked and left with a potentially fatal wound. He lost a lot of blood, crucially because he is diabetic. It was thanks to a blood donor that he is with us today.

For my 30th birthday I have set myself a challenge – 30 new experiences at 30 – a couple of which I have already achieved. A lightbulb moment last night made me decide my third and so I booked an appointment to donate blood.

It was such a straightforward procedure that I felt compelled to blog about it, hopefully inspiring others to follow suit.

One in four of us will need blood in our lifetime – that’s one person in the average family. So in less than a lunch hour, you could be saving somebody’s life.

I was advised to eat regularly before the appointment, get a good nights kip and avoid alcohol. First off you’re asked lots of routine questions and a nurse tests you for anaemia. If you test positive you can’t donate because it would be harmful to you.

A pinprick in my finger and blood was ejected into a solution. If it sank we were good to go. But in my case, it just stayed floating at the top. At this point I was heartbroken because I thought I would be unsuccessful in my quest. But the nurse reassured me that there could be an issue with the solution so she took an additional test.

Hey presto! Not only was I not anaemic; but my iron count was better than the average man! (Get in!)

In all this time I was encouraged to drink plenty of water/squash. And off I went to the seating area, next in line to lye on the reclining chair for almost a pint of blood to be sucked out of me.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the range of donors – from gender, age and ethnicity – people from all walks of blood donationlife were there to donate blood. And they all looked like regulars!

After a few minutes I was called up. I was advised that it shouldn’t take more than a quarter of an hour depending on the individual. And also, you should move your legs and thrust your pelvis throughout for the blood to continue circulating – you can imagine I was having a whale of a time thrusting!

I won’t cotton wool it – the needle is huge. I mean it’s very thick and it does hurt when they inject you – especially when the circulation was going low so the nurse was jerking the needle around. More discomfort than pain actually.

While this is going on I’m lying back, watching TV while kicking my legs around and thrusting my pelvis – what a scene (thankfully I wasn’t with a friend who would undoubtedly have taken embarrassing pictures!)

Ten minutes in and we’re done. I’m 470ml of blood lighter, with a light head. I’m directed to the refreshments area where they provide hot and cold drinks, crisps, biscuits, chocolates, cereal bars and fruit. I was advised to avoid hot drinks as it was my first time, and to avoid any strain on the arm from which blood was taken.

I sat there for another 5-10 minutes and was on my way – a very productive lunch hour that made me feel humble and grateful that hopefully I would’ve helped someone in need.

If you’re inspired, you could book an appointment online or just drop in to your nearest blood donation centre.

It really is the simplest noble act I have ever done.