‘Missing Muslims’ report looks to British-born imams

Sunday 16/07/2017
Standing up to division. (From L-R) Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Imam Qari Asim, 7/7 survivor Gill Hicks and the Reverend Bertrand Olivier during an event to promote religious unity in central London. (AFP)

London - To promote the integra­tion of British Muslims, mosque imams should ideally be British-born, fluent in English, knowl­edgeable of British culture and more forceful in condemning reli­gious hatred, an independent re­port said.

The report — “The Missing Mus­lims: Unlocking British Muslim Po­tential for the Benefit of All” — was published by the Citizens Commis­sion on Islam, Participation and Public Life, led by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve after an 18-month study.

“It is of great importance that British-born imams, who have a good understanding of British cul­ture and who fluently speak Eng­lish, are encouraged and appointed in preference to overseas alterna­tives,” the report advised.

It explicitly called on British mosques to “invest” in British-born imams, who should be “equipped with pastoral skills so they are able to deal with the challenges facing British Muslims.” The report said mosque management committees should “better understand, and re­spond to, modern British life.”

The report recommended Brit­ish universities forge ties with Is­lamic seminaries to put forward an accreditation plan for imams so preachers receive an educational qualification alongside religious qualifications.

After four terrorist attacks in Britain so far in 2017 — three radi­cal Islamist attacks and one Islamo­phobic hate crime — and increased fears about radicalisation, the call for mosque imams who understand and empathise with the struggle young British Muslims face re­garding identity and radicalisation makes sense.

“It is hard to disagree with the recommendations that mosques must invest in British-born imams, pay them a decent living wage and equip them with pastoral skills so they are able to deal with the chal­lenges facing British Muslims,” said Qari Muhammad Asim, senior imam at Leeds’s Makkah Mosque.

“Many of my colleague imams have opted to become a chaplain in a hospital or prison due to lack of an appropriate salary package of­fered by a mosque,” he said.

It is very important that sermons in mosques be conducted in Eng­lish, Asim wrote on Imams Online. “The English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler for young people to understand the rich traditions of their faith, count and be proud of their British Mus­lim identity,” he said.

Many foreign-born mosque imams, perhaps with limited Eng­lish language skills, faced difficul­ties connecting with young wor­shippers, the report said.

“Second- and third-generation Muslims benefit less from a non-native speaker who may not ap­preciate the subtlety of the English language and sometimes cultural sensitivities,” it said.

“Islamic seminaries provide Is­lamic studies but not with the additional services to meet the expectations of the community,” acknowledged one trainee imam in the East Midlands quoted in the report. He said he had sought lead­ership and counselling courses to better connect with worshippers.

Other recommendations in the report included an independent review of the government’s con­troversial anti-terrorism Prevent programme, advice for media re­porting on issues relating to Islam and adoption of a legal definition of anti-Muslim prejudice.

While “Missing Muslims” recom­mendations were cautiously wel­comed by prominent Muslims and Islamic groups, questions remain.

“It is very much a top-down ap­proach, rather than a genuine bot­toms-up one,” said Jahangir Mo­hammed, director of the Centre for Muslim Affairs.

“While the report touches on many issues that are relevant, it is a shame the way discussions have been framed avoids the much tougher questions that I hear be­ing raised in the Muslim commu­nity on a regular basis, that are the true barriers for Muslims achieving their potential in society,” he add­ed, writing for online Muslim site Islam21c.

Grieve, the government’s top lawyer from 2010-14, said the re­port was part of continued efforts to support integration.

“The shocking terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park demon­strate the terrible impact extrem­ism has on innocent citizens,” Grieve said.

“The response to those attacks with communities coming together in unity and defiance demonstrates why the recommendations in this report should be actioned as a mat­ter of priority, so the UK can build on the positive work already hap­pening.”