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In the 1950s and 60s, Muslims in Britain were largely identified in ethnic rather than religious terms – as Pakistanis, Arabs, Yemenis and Somalis. They experienced systematic marginalisation and rejection in employment, housing and education primarily on grounds of their ethnic heritage, Ansari explains.

This led to “skinhead ‘P***-bashing’ but also violent attacks on mosques. In the changing context of the following decades, the focus of racism shifted and it is arguable that the foundations of today’s Islamophobia were being laid in those decades”.

Navid Akhtar (far left) as a child [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]Navid Akhtar, 54, the founder of Alchemiya, a Muslim content streaming service and a contributor to the archive, recalls his own experiences with racism growing up in 1970s’ Britain.

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“To be called a P*** or to be even to be spat on, things like that, you just took it in your stride after a while, you found ways around.

“I can literally remember people spitting on my mother and as well as feeling the emotions of just confusion and anger there was always relief because at the same time hearing that there were people who, because they knew women had oil in their hair, they were literally throwing matches onto their heads.”

Akhtar’s account offers a glimpse into intergenerational conversations that took place as each generation sought to make its own way and formed alternative identities to those who came before.

“My parents were Pakistani [from Kashmir], that was their main identity, they brought that here [to the UK],” says Akhtar, who was born in Paddington where he spent the first few years of his life.

“I often found myself saying to my father you can’t grow Pakistani mangoes in Northern Europe, which is what you’re trying to do.”

Busses, beer and boiled eggs

Others recall less harrowing experiences.

Ghulam Haider, 87, arrived on a scholarship in 1957 to pursue his MSc in engineering at Imperial College in London. He returned to Gujranwala in Pakistan’s Punjab province after graduation and worked for Pakistan Petroleum before returning to the UK in 1962 to continue his career in civil engineering, building roads and bridges.

He remembers staying at a hotel in London’s Russell Square when he first arrived, and receiving an alternative education from his English mentor at the time. “He showed me how to ride a bus … He also took me to a pub and said ‘you don’t have to order beer … you can order orange juice’.”

Ghulam Haider (left) with Jack Wade, the man who showed him around London and introduced him to life in the UK [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]On learning that Haider did not eat bacon, he advised him to “stick to boiled eggs”.

“And that’s what I did,” Haider recalls. “For a long time, everywhere I used to just order boiled eggs.”

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Haider has lived a comfortable life in the UK, but his was far from the experience of many.

Fatimah Amer, a historical researcher focusing on social and minority histories in the UK, says her father, who had graduated top of his class at Cairo University and worked in different government departments, moved to London from Egypt in 1970 “in the hope of pursuing his studies”.

But “soon the burden of rent and bills took its toll” so he started looking for a job.

“At a time when prejudice and discrimination was still rife his qualifications and experience meant nothing in the UK and he resorted to searching for employment amidst the small Egyptian community,” Amer explains.

Mohamed Amer came to Britain to study for his Masters [Photo courtesy of Everyday Muslim Heritage]He found work in the catering industry, initially in the first-class restaurant carriage on British Rail – where he met Amer’s mother – and later in five-star hotels on London’s Park Lane.

“In the midst of trying to build a life here in England my father says he never stopped dreaming of one day going back into education, the reason he came to England in the first place,” she says.

“In 1993, he received the master’s degree he had come to England for, 23 years after he first arrived.”


Schools of Islamic theology are various Islamic schools and branches in different schools of thought regarding aqidah (creed). According to Muhammad Abu Zahra, Qadariyah, Jahmis, Murji’ah, Muʿtazila, Batiniyya, Ash’ari, Maturidi, Athari are the ancient schools of Islamic theology.

The Meeting of the Theologians by Abd Allah Musawwir, mid-16th century.

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Divinity schools in Islam

Main articles: Aqidah and Islamic schools and branches

According to the Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān (2006), “The Qurʾān displays a wide range of theological topics related to the religious thought of late antiquity and through its prophet Muḥammad presents a coherent vision of the creator, the cosmos and man. The main issues of Muslim theological dispute prove to be hidden under the wording of the qurʾānic message, which is closely tied to Muḥammad’s biography”.[1]


Aqidah is an Islamic term meaning “creed” or “belief”. Any religious belief system, or creed, can be considered an example of aqidah. However this term has taken a significant technical usage in Muslim history and theology, denoting those matters over which Muslims hold conviction. The term is usually translated as “theology”. Such traditions are divisions orthogonal to sectarian divisions of Islam, and a Mu’tazili may for example, belong to Jafari, Zaidi or even Hanafi school of jurisprudence. One of the earliest systematic theological school to develop, in the mid 8th-century, was Mu’tazila. It emphasized reason and rational thought, positing that the injunctions of God are accessible to rational thought and inquiry and that the Qur’an, albeit the word of God, was created rather than uncreated, which would develop into one of the most contentious questions in Islamic theology.


In the 10th century, the Ash’ari school developed as a response to Mu’tazila. Ash’ari still taught the use of reason in understanding the Qur’an, but denied the possibility to deduce moral truths by reasoning. This was opposed by the school of Maturidi, which taught that certain moral truths may be found by the use of reason without the aid of revelation.


Another point of contention was the relative position of iman (“faith”) vs. taqwa (“piety”). Such schools of theology are summarized under Ilm al-Kalam, or “science of discourse”, as opposed to mystical schools who deny that any theological truth may be discovered by means of discourse or reason.

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Sunni schools of theology

Part of a series on

Sunni Islam

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Five Pillars

Rightly-Guided Caliphs

Sunni schools of law

Sunni schools of theology

Ahl al-Hadith (Atharis)Ahl al-Ra’y (Ash’aris and Maturidis)

In terms of Ihsan


Ahl al-Wijdan wa al-Kashf (Sufis)

Contemporary movements

Holy sites


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Main article: Sunni Islam

Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of Islam and are known as Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘h or simply as Ahl as-Sunnah. The word Sunni comes from the word sunnah, which means the teachings and actions or examples of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Therefore, the term “Sunni” refers to those who follow or maintain the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad.


The Sunnis believe that Muhammad did not appoint a successor to lead the Muslim ummah (community) before his death, and after an initial period of confusion, a group of his most prominent companions gathered and elected Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s close friend and a father-in-law, as the first caliph of Islam. Sunni Muslims regard the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, `Umar ibn al-Khattāb, Uthman Ibn Affan and Ali ibn Abu Talib) as “al-Khulafā’ur-Rāshidūn” or “The Rightly Guided Caliphs.” After the Rashidun, the position turned into a hereditary right and the caliph’s role was limited to being a political symbol of Muslim strength and unity.

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Main article: Traditionalist Theology (Islam)

Atharism (Arabic: أثري‎; textualism) is a movement of Islamic scholars who reject rationalistic Islamic theology (kalam) in favor of strict textualism in interpreting the Quran.[2] The name is derived from the Arabic word athar, literally meaning “remnant” and also referring to a “narrative”.[3] Their disciples are called the Athariyya, or Atharis.


For followers of the Athari movement, the “clear” meaning of the Qur’an, and especially the prophetic traditions, has sole authority in matters of belief, and to engage in rational disputation (kalam), even if one arrives at the truth, is absolutely forbidden.[4] Atharis engage in an amodal reading of the Qur’an, as opposed to one engaged in Ta’wil (metaphorical interpretation). They do not attempt to conceptualize the meanings of the Qur’an rationally, and believe that the “real” meaning should be consigned to God alone (tafwid).[5] In essence, the meaning has been accepted without asking “how” or “Bi-la kaifa”.

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On the other hand, the famous Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Jawzi states, in Kitab Akhbar as-Sifat, that Ahmad ibn Hanbal would have been opposed to anthropomorphic interpretations of Qur’anic texts such as those of al-Qadi Abu Ya’la, Ibn Hamid and Ibn az-Zaghuni.[6] Based on Abu’l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi’s criticism of Athari-Hanbalis, Muhammad Abu Zahra, a Professor of Islamic law at Cairo University deduced that Salafi aqidah is located somewhere between ta’tili and anthropopathy (Absolute Ẓāhirīsm in understanding the tashbih in Qur’an)[7][8] in Islam. Absolute Ẓāhirīsm and total rejection of ta’wil are amongst the fundamental characteristics of this “new” Islamic school of theology.


Ilm al-Kalām

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