Qari Asim: EU poll must start engaging with young voters of all faiths
AS a lawyer, I have noticed considerable uncertainty in the financial and legal sectors in recent weeks concerning the EU referendum. Investors are holding back from concluding business deals due to the uncertainty.
As I see it, the Remain and Leave campaigns offer two very different visions for the future: one where the UK has access to a single market and shared decision-making in a reformed EU, and one where the nation has greater control over its own laws.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the EU, this vote is of significance for everyone, particularly for younger people, who have the most at stake. It is their futures that are on the ballot paper.
Although more than a million people have registered to vote since the referendum campaign began, up to four million potential voters aged 18 to 24 are still not on the electoral register.
Given that half of the Muslim population is under the age of 25, mosques around the country are supporting the #TurnUp campaign and urging young Muslims to register to vote.
Before the last general election, 186,000 missed the register to vote deadline. The deadline for registration is June 7 and anyone can do so via gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Far right groups and some Eastern European leaders may rage and rant against Islam and the “Muslim invasion”, but Europe has never been – and will never be – a land for one nation only.
As with the UK, Europe will continue to be a multi-belief and multi-ethnic community united by shared values and we British Muslims must play a necessary role in this historic vote to decide the future direction of our country and Europe. I am working with many mosques and Muslim organisations urging British Muslims to fully participate in the EU referendum.
Some mosques and Muslim organisations, like other groups, are providing StrongerIn or Brexit campaigns to promote their messages; others are inviting both sides of the campaign to articulate how joining or leaving the EU will affect British Muslims.
I strongly believe in the right to vote because in my view abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting. Abstaining from selecting an option would potentially leave room for the least preferred option to win.
There’s no doubt the repercussions of this historic vote will be felt for many years so let the result be down to choice, and not the by-product of apathy.
In addition to young people, another group of people less likely to register and vote is ethnic minorities, leaving a considerable political participation gap. A recent Runnymede Trust report reveals that most members of black and minority ethnic (BME) communities are ambivalent about the benefits of the EU. They are less likely to participate in free movement activities, and some consider Europe in predominately ethnic or racial terms, and therefore do not feel inspired to use their vote.
The national conversation on immigration is also a potential factor alienating some from ethnic minorities to participate in a more comprehensive debate.
The Scottish independence referendum showed that people are not necessarily apathetic, they just need something they feel is worth turning out to vote for. The 2014 vote north of the border demonstrated that people respond to politics and/or policies when they say something emotional about the world they live in – their sense of belonging, rootedness, control.
Political leaders on both sides of the campaign need to consider ways to motivate and mobilise people to vote rather than deter them with alarmist scare stories, or even hyperbolic claims.
For many young people, including Muslims, the right to travel, work or study elsewhere in Europe, as well as a strong economy and security of this country, are important issues that could be directly affected by the result.
In the coming weeks, the EU referendum campaign should focus more on addressing the specific concerns of all sections of society so that voters can make an informed decision as to what is best for their families and income streams as well their neighbourhoods and the country at large.
This European referendum is a once-in-a-generation chance to shape our future. Let’s be at the heart of this referendum debate and shape the future of our country together.
Qari Asim is an imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds.