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Muslims On the Beat

Muslims On the Beat

Issue 1 Sept / Oct 2003

emel throws a spotlight on the world of employment by looking through the eyes of the people in the job. In this issue, Angelique Franke invites members of the police force to talk about their job.

I began at New Scotland Yard, asking founding members of the Association of Muslim Police (AMP), Mohammad Mahroof and Richard Varley, about the profile of Muslims in the Police Force. Mahroof and Varley are both Muslim officers in the Met Police but the contrasts between the two are notable. I was introduced to Varley first, sitting at the back of a 9th floor office with large panoramic windows. Just as we started to gather some chairs to seat ourselves Mahroof joined us, greeting us with the traditional Islamic greeting "Assalamu alaikum". He enquired as to why we were gathering chairs and suggested that if we are to discuss Muslim affairs then he knew just the place to do it. The sight of Mahroof is easy to be taken aback by. The last thing one expects at New Scotland Yard is an image of a tall man dressed in white robes, sporting a long beard and wearing a handsome Turban that would look more in tune somewhere in the Sahara than in SW1.


There was a pleasant irony in the atmosphere but I was even less prepared when Mahroof led us from the organised chaos of the busy office in Scotland Yard to the calm privacy of a welcoming prayer room decorated in apple green and soft colourful carpets. Varley started to move some of the prayer mats in the room and was about to scramble some chairs from other offices when Mahroof, with his quiet confidence, suggested we remove our shoes. So we did, and made ourselves comfortable on the thick oriental tyle rugs in this oasis surrounded by the commotion in other offices.

Mahroof gave us a brief history of the room and told us how he had struggled to meet his prayer needs throughout his career. "Having a prayer room would have been unthinkable five years ago, but now so much as changed," Varley responded. A revert to Islam, he fulfilled a life-long ambition when he joined the Met in 1982, starting out as a police constable in Southall. A family man with two sons aged 12 and 15 he remembers how the long hours of shift work as a constable often left him tired. Yet, "those were the best years of my life. I was learning, so time slowed down. I look back fondly on my time as a PC on the streets, it was very rewarding." Varley worked in Kilburn for three and a half years and was in charge of a team of fourteen, "I had a great team, I feel we made a significant improvement against crime." It was in 1992 when his unit responded to a bomb blast in Hampstead Underground station. Two of his colleagues were unaccounted for, presumed dead in the incident, yet despite not knowing their fate, he took control of the situation and allowed his police training to take over. "We cleared the scene quickly, we did a good job and were careful to remain professional." Only once the area had been made safe was he able to confirm that his fellow police officers were unhurt.

Both Mahroof and Varley feel that life in the police for Muslims has changed dramatically in the last few years. The force is attempting to shake off the 'canteen culture' image that was widely perceived to exclude officers such as them. A few years ago Muslims would have found it difficult during Ramadan, especially if they were posted to an operation where lunch hours were set. This would often mean officers would be relieved for lunch at times when they could not break their fasts and they would be unable to eat for many hours. Thanks to the intervention of the AMP, circumstances like this are taken into consideration and officers are now able to eat at sunset.

Halal food has also been made available and the AMP has worked hard to aid cultural and religious training. Mahroof emphasises that being a Muslim should not be seen as a burden. If an individual is committed and wishes to practice Islam they can easily do so. Varley emphasises, "You can lead a very practical life in the Metropolitan Police. You can choose to do shifts, which is very different from the nine to five job. It is flexible and you have various days off. In a nine to five job you have to watch others eat during Ramadan but for us that is not the case."

Mahroof explained how in 2001 his personal efforts were rewarded when the head covering was introduced as a uniform option for Muslim women in the force, an initiative he personally led. Varley also welcomed its introduction: "I feel it has sent the right message out, that working in the force is a career option for Muslim women." He wants women to have confidence in wearing the headscarf and feels that it is a much-misunderstood aspect of Islam. "Turkey tried to send out negative views on the scarf and in France it was banned in schools. What some in the West fail to recognise is that most women wear the scarf of their own free will." Mahroof told a story of one of his female colleagues who went out in her lunch-break to buy a headscarf because she had decided to wear it to work. This policy is one that they hope will catch on in police forces throughout the world. Mahroof has since found himself getting calls and enquiries from the other side of the world such as Australia, Singapore and Canada who are looking to introduce the scarf.

 More and more Muslims are now considering a career in the police force. With the aid of the AMP and some of its recruitment and retention efforts, there are now anunprecedented number of Muslim trainees at the Met police training college, Peel Centre. According to Varley, "The aim is to represent our community but there is still a long way to go." Mahroof states that, "there are several hundred Muslim police officers and several hundred more employed as civil staff. Exact figures are not known as no one is obliged to state their faith," but he would like to see many more Muslims in the Metropolitan Police.

When asked how attitudes towards Muslims have changed, both within the police force and the rest of the community, Varley reflects, "Post September 11, attitudes have not been all negative. Feedback from communities and mosques showed people were pleased with attitudes and that officers have been sensitive." On the recent war on Iraq, and the paranoia about Muslim terrorists, "We are working hard. We receive information about terrorist threats and we respond appropriately. The service can deal with extremists. It aims to be fair." Mahroof comments, "We are there to deal with crime and help victims of  crime. Recently many Muslims have been victims of Islamophobic crime and they should know they can rely on the police. Islamophobia is closely monitored and we will continue to assist our colleagues to produce solutions. Instances of hate must be reported. We need to have a better picture of what is going on." Varley feels in some Muslim countries the police and the army are the same entity so some people are not used to separating the two. Since the war on Iraq, he wants Muslims to know that the police are there to help them. "They can report any crime with confidence."

The AMP often attends Freshers' Fairs to encourage students to join the force. Varley believes, "the diversity of people is very important. The job has become more welcoming for all religions." The police are keen to emphasise the attractive career benefits. According to him, "It pays well, you have job security, and you can retire when you are in your fifties." Mahroof is also keen to encourage more Muslims to join the force, "Muslims should take the initiative to join. They have a social responsibility and by nature they should participate to benefit society. They need to ensure their rights and needs are met." He also believes Muslims should take active steps to make sure their needs and expectations are not disregarded, "a police officers is a public figure and is a role model for many and that is why it is important for more Muslims to join. There are many Muslim communities who are united in their faith and we must work together for the common good. They come from different countries - there are about 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, who speak many different languages but the faith unites them. Muslim voices need to be heard, united."

After the interview, we put on our shoes and left the calm serenity of an oasis somewhere on the 9th floor, back into the long narrow corridors and the hustle and bustle of busy New Scotland Yard. It is reassuring to know that somewhere in the heart of the Met's HQ, working towards reducing Islamophobia, is a tanned figure with a full beard, dressed in long white robes and a turban. Since the interview, Mahroof has been successful in getting the imama, the Muslim Turban, introduced for Muslims who wear one. Muslim men who wear imamas are now able to wear it in uniform (on patrol) in lieu of the current headgear. Although Mahroof has been wearing the imama for a number of years, he was the first officer to do so in uniform. Since other officers have also shown interest.

Inspector Raham Khan has worked for the West Yorkshire Police for 28 years. He is chairman of the West Yorkshire Black Police Association. They look after 200 people belonging to an ethnic minority.

Khan was the first officer to introduce the prayer room to West Yorkshire 10 years ago. However only this year have eating facilities for those observing Ramadan changed to accommodate them.

Khan is a qualified electrician but was encouraged by a neighbour to join the police and has never looked back. He is a father of three and encouraged his only son, now 19, to also join. He recently completed his training and is now a probation constable, doing on the job training. Khan’s parents are proud to have both their son and grandson in the force.

As a positive action co-ordinator, Khan strives to provide better facilities for the ethnic minority, including Muslims. He wants to broaden prospects and provide better facilities. “I try to make my supervisors aware that culture and religions need to be looked at and their needs catered for.”

Khan works to encourage minorities into the police force by holding presentations and seminars, inviting potential candidates to learn more about the police force and what skills and abilities are needed. “I encourage, help and guide them through the recruitment training.”

He feels the police force is a professional service of well-trained individuals that cater for all communities and deal with their concerns. However, Khan feels more Muslims are needed within the police force. At present there are only four female Muslim police officers in West Yorkshire.

 “I would be pleased to achieve my goal of bringing more minorities into the police force, I would be even more pleased if more Muslims would join”.



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