‘Missing Muslims’ report looks to British-born imams
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.”