Kirsty Weakley reflects on the highs and lows form last night’s Muslim Charity Awards.
Yesterday evening I was a guest at the Muslim Charities Forum’s inaugural Humanitarian Awards – an event that was supposed to be about showcasing some of the brilliant work by the sector’s voluntary sector, but was unfortunately overshadowed by the political situation and disgusting behaviour from members of the public.
On a positive note, the event showed the whole charity sector at its best, with sector luminaries Sir Stephen Bubb, Sir Stuart Etherington, Vicky Browning and others demonstrating a clear solidarity with Muslim charities and celebrating their achievements.
But there was a noticeable, and significant, absence.
No government minister attended. A spokesman told me that a number had been invited and politely declined.
MCF trustee, Othman Moqbel, spoke out passionately about the damage the snub could do at the end of the ceremony.
He said: “We have heard tonight about the successes and achievements of Muslim charities in the UK doing a great job and would have thought that a minister, even a junior minister would be here tonight,” he said.
His fear, and not one that I think is unfounded, is that ministers have been listening to their right wing colleagues and a hostile media who have been writing ‘fake news’ about the sector.
While we all know that it can be a challenge getting a minister to agree to attend an event, could it be that they didn’t want to risk being seen at the event, for fear of what the papers might print?
Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development, didn’t even get a mention. While Labour's shadow secretary, Kate Osamor was there and prouldy presented an award.
Sector under siege
What was clear last night, both from the speeches and from speaking to other guests is that things are getting harder for the Muslim charity sector, and it doesn’t feel the government is listening or that the regulator is as supportive as it could be.
Whether rightly or wrongly the sector still feels as though it is under siege. This needs to be addressed, and quickly, before any serious harm is done.
I experienced just a small taster of what I imagine those working in the sector day in day out do last night when I was trolled on Twitter by two people who objected to the awards taking place.
After tweeting that I was looking forward to the awards, one account tweeted to say they hoped it was “some kind of sick” joke. Another suggested that the charities financial accounts would not stand up to scrutiny.
My initial instinct was to hit back and set them straight, but decided it is better not to feed the trolls (and beside I was too busy enjoying the musical interlude and delicious dinner at the event) but have reported them both to Twitter and hope they will soon be blocked.
As many sector representatives did last night, senior figures in government need to stand by the sector and send a clear signal that the sector is valued and appreciated for the contribution it makes to British society. And that people who try to undermine that will not be tolerated.