20 March 2024

Preferential treatment has no place in multi-faith Britain


A ‘Hadith of the Day‘ message displayed at London King’s Cross train station has sparked a debate on freedom of religious expression in the public sphere and the pluralistic model of British democracy.

The display showed yesterday’s times for Fajr (a prayer performed by Muslims at the crack of dawn, which marks the commencement of the day’s fast during Ramadan) and Maghrib (the call to prayer which marks the end of the day’s fast during the holy month, with the fast-breaking meal being iftar). It was also accompanied with the Hadith: ‘Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: ‘All the sons of Adam are sinners but the best of sinners are those who repent often’ (the source being Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2499).

Images of the displayed message (on a train timetable board) went viral online – especially among right-leaning elements of British political X (formerly Twitter). Some have argued that such religious messages at train stations shouldn’t be depicted in a ‘secular society’ with ‘Christian underpinnings’ and that we should follow in the footsteps of the French Republic.

Firstly, that is an inaccurate description of Britain. As I previously wrote for CapX, we have become a more secular society – but also a more religiously diverse one. We have an established Church and in King Charles III, we have a head of state who embraces religion and has described Britain as ‘a community of communities’ and the ‘defender of all faiths’. We are not France, and to be blunt, its militant secularism has set an especially poor example when it comes to social cohesion in the context of western European diversity and the integration of Muslim citizens.

With that being said, it is completely understandable why, for example, gay and lesbian people (with sexual orientation enshrined as a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act) would take issue with the public exhibition of a Hadith referring to sinners. But on that basis, perhaps it is completely understandable that a socially conservative Muslim may raise an eyebrow over why he or she must take a train home emblazoned with rainbow colours during Pride month?

The reality is that the health of freedom of expression in the public sphere rests on a certain degree of mutual understanding and tolerance. It also means that in the age of ‘diversity, equality, and inclusion’ policies, preferential treatment cannot be afforded to a specific racial, sexual or religious group. If Network Rail is happy to display a ‘Hadith of the Day’ message during Ramadan, then it should also show robust Christian messages over the course of Easter. And this pro-faith spirit should apply for religious holidays, occasions, and celebrations such as Diwali, Guru Nanak Gurpurab, Passover, and Magha Puja. This would demonstrate a genuine commitment to religious pluralism in modern Britain – one that we should welcome with open arms.

More broadly, there should be a proud re-connection with the country’s Christian heritage and traditions. As a result of cultural self-flagellation and a misplaced fear of offending traditional non-Christian minorities, there has been an undermining of Christian freedom of expression – to the point that some have supported the replacement of ‘Merry Christmas’ with the cringeworthy greeting ‘Happy Holidays’ – a phenomenon imported from across the pond. The more ridiculous elements of racial identity politics have even sought to link Christianity with so-called ‘whiteness’ and racial supremacy – ignoring the existence of non-white Christians in the UK, ranging from Nigerian Protestants in Lambeth to Goan Roman Catholics in Swindon.

Britain ought to take pride in its rich history of religious accommodation – and it must ensure that this is extended to all faiths with no preferences shown. And as a socially conservative Muslim, I would welcome a reinvigoration of traditional Christian teachings in a society characterised by high levels of family fragility, a fundamental loss of community spirit, and frayed intergenerational bonds.

For all the confected outrage, the ‘Hadith of the Day’ message displayed at King’s Cross station has at least provided the spark for renewed conversations on the role of faith in modern Britain and our dedication to religious pluralism.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is an expert in the social integration of British ethnic and religious minorities.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.