Britain moves to regulate mosques

By Prasun Sonwalkar, IANS

London : In the first government-sponsored attempt to put in place a system of regulating Britain’s over 1,300 mosques to prevent radicalisation, a new body of four major Muslim groups formed after the July 7 London bombings has drafted proposals on core standards and constitutions for the mosques.

Support TwoCircles

The new proposals have been drawn up by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body (MINAB), set up by the Al-Khoei Foundation, the British Muslim Forum, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain. MINAB was formed after the July 7, 2005 bombings.

The draft constitution for the regulatory body proposes increasing the skills and competencies of imams, developing mosques as centres of community cohesion, citizenship and dialogue and strengthening accountability and governance.

It also proposes improving access of women and young people to mosques. The new body, according to its constitution, would also provide advice on the suitability of imams and scholars coming from abroad.

Urging mosques to cooperate, Hazel Blears, communities secretary, said: “Strong mosques positioned at the centre of the community and effectively governed will be better able to withstand attempts to hijack them by certain groups supporting violent extremist interpretations of Islam. The changes are important because they are coming from within the community itself.”

It is proposed that a governing council would be established to represent the different strands of Islam in Britain. Mosques that agree to follow the new standards would receive practical advice, guidance and support from MINAB.

Meanwhile, new research by think-tank Policy Exchange has found that hate literature calling for jihad, beheading of apostates and stoning of adulterers is freely available in several important mosques in Britain.

The research, published Monday in a report titled ‘The Hijacking of British Islam’, is based on visits to nearly 100 places of “important Islamic religious institutions”, including leading mosques, in various parts of Britain.

The report has been criticised by Muslim groups who fear that it will further contribute to the spectre of Islamophobia evident in Britain after the Sep 11 terror attack and July 7 London bombings.

The Policy Exchange report said: “Extremist literature enjoys a potency through its availability in prestigious sites of Islamic religious instruction across the UK. This makes it a major impediment to efforts by Muslims to integrate into mainstream British society.

“On the one hand, the results (of the research) were reassuring: in only a minority of institutions – approximately 25 percent – was radical material found. What is more worrying is that these are among the best-funded and most dynamic institutions in Muslim Britain – some of which are held up as mainstream bodies.

“Many of the institutions featured here have been endowed with official recognition. This has come in the form of official visits from politicians and even members of the Royal Family; provision of funding; ‘partnership’ associations; or some other seal of approval.

“Much of the material is (thus) infused with a strident sectarianism, in which many Muslims – particularly the very large number of Sufis in this country and around the world – are placed beyond the pale.

“More widely, Muslims are urged to separate themselves from people and things that are not considered Islamic; a separation that is to be mental, emotional, and at times, even physical.

“Western society, in particular, is held to be sinful, corrosive and corrupting for Muslims. Western values – particularly concerning the position and rights of women and in the realm of sexuality generally – are rejected as inimical to Islam.”

Criticising the report, Iqbal Sacranie, a former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Great Britain said: “The majority of Muslims will totally dismiss this because it is written by the Policy Exchange, who have an agenda to denigrate the mainstream of Islam in this country.

“If there is any material which falls foul of the law, then the law should take its course. We cannot accept messages of hate – there is zero tolerance on that. But it is irresponsible to target religious texts and take them out of context. These texts can be found not just in mosques but in ordinary bookshops – the report overlooks that.”

The research found that “most of the extremist literature is published and distributed by agencies linked to the Saudi Arabian government”. It recommended that “there needs now to be a proper audit of the costs and benefits of the Saudi-UK relationship”.

The report recommended that the hate literature be immediately removed, and that Islamic religious institutions should be subject to greater regulation aimed at establishing a ‘gold standard’ for genuinely moderate Islam.

The report recommended: “Islamic organisations to which the ‘offending’ institutions are currently linked – notably groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – must categorically repudiate the extremist, separatist and often sectarian material uncovered in this report and exert pressure for change.

“Women in Muslim and other minority communities must have their human rights upheld; consideration should be given to what steps can be taken to ensure this. British Muslim women cannot be consigned to a position of inequality. Nor should the British government fail to act against the oppression of a segment of its population – whether this is ‘justified’ on religious grounds or otherwise”.