The Quilliam Foundation, an Islamic think tank, has found that 97 per cent of imams in Britain’s mosques are from overseas, although the majority of Muslims in Britain were born in the UK.
The study also found that forty-four per cent of mosques do not hold their sermons at the main Friday prayers in English.
Nearly half of Britain’s mosques do not have facilities for women, “depriving half the community of access to public spaces,” the study said.
It added: “Foreign imams, poorly paid and with limited proficiency in English, are ill-equipped to navigate Britain’s complex, liberal and multi-faith society.
“They have neither the freedom, being at the mercy of mosque management committees dominated by first generation elders, nor the capacity to promote a British Islam informed by British values.
“By failing to reach out to young British Muslims, radical Islamists have the upper-hand. Britain’s young Muslims, without a voice in mosques, are looking elsewhere for religious guidance and will continue to be drawn in by young, articulate extremists who offer an alternative narrative, cause and social space.”
Quilliam’s director, Maajid Nawaz said: “These findings are deeply disturbing. Our first line of defence against terrorism is the ability, commitment, and confidence of mosques and Muslim communities to root out extremism. Currently, we are failing.
“With foreign imams who are physically in Britain, but psychologically in Pakistan or Bangladesh, mosques lack the requisite resilience to challenge Islamist extremists. We cannot continue to ignore the malaise in our mosques.”
The report’s author, Anya Hart Dyke, a senior research fellow at Quilliam, said mosques needed to include women and young people in running mosques, make use of government support from funds aimed at preventing violent extremism, and take advantage of training opportunities as well as sharing their space with community organisations and schools, and opening their doors to non-Muslims.
A report out today laments the high numbers of foreign-trained leaders of UK mosques. But is making imams more like vicars the solution?
The Quilliam Foundation is an interesting body because it hopes to achieve a more Muslim Britain as much as any of the Islamist parties it criticises; but it means to get there by fair means rather than foul. The headline that comes out of its latest report (pdf) is that almost all the imams in British mosques are foreign.
The figure they actually cite, of 97%, is not entirely to be trusted. It is based on the responses of 254 of Britain’s estimated 1200 mosques; the foundation tried to reach over 1000 of them with a list of five questions, but only 512 answered at all and of these 254 answered the one about the imam’s brithplace; and only 152 told them where the imam had been trained. The picture of British mosques as secretive and hard for outsiders to reach is reinforced by others’ experience: the Charity Commission estimates that it takes on average 12 attempts to reach one.
Compare and contrast Christian churches, where this sort of information is pretty freely available.
[T]he picture that this report paints is one of small, sectarian and chauvinist groupuscules, reproducing in this country the fissiparous and distrustful community loyalties of the subcontinent. They are not in the least interested in reaching out to the community around them. In fact they have limited interest in reaching English speakers at all: nearly half don’t deliver the lecture before Friday prayers in English.
The Quilliam report wants British Muslims to learn from the practices of the Church of England and the Baptists. The thinktank is, I suspect, turning into the Tablet of Islam; admirable, civilised, but not very influential. It is all very well to want a professionalised clergy, equipped with gadgets like “An ‘excellence in mosques’ capacity-building CD toolkit as part of its Leadership Development programme” but there doesn’t seem much demand for such developed leaders (with or without distinguishing Capital Letters) outside of the thinktank.
As a child, I was unsure if I belonged to Britain, India – or both, or neither. In the day I went to a multifaith, multi-ethnic state school in the East End of London. At school I was taught to question, think and see all religions equally. In the evenings, I attended Koran schools at a mosque on Brick Lane where I was forced to learn to read Arabic, but not to understand meanings of words. I was not allowed to question, but simply to bob to and fro and learn Arabic prayers without understanding. All our teachers were elderly Asian immigrant men, and we were not allowed to mix with girls. At school, our teachers were mostly English women and we were encouraged to mix with everybody.
Most British Muslims are under 25. When, like me, they have questions about identity, belonging, values, and religion, their local mosque leadership is futile. Britain’s mosques are run by men who are physically in Britain, but psychologically in Pakistan. They retain their village rituals and sectarianism, and prevent the growth of an indigenous British Islam. And for as long as young Muslims are confused about whether they belong in Britain or elsewhere, we risk handing them over to preying extremists in our midst.
By importing cheap imams from poor, intellectually deprived and theologically conservative places mosques put young Britons in the hands of men who do not have the linguistic or cultural backgrounds to deal with modern Britain. Little wonder, then, that many young Muslims turn to radical university Islamic societies, extremist websites, and Hamas-supporting groups in Britain for “religious guidance”.
As this generation of imams and elders eventually move aside, who will take their place? Of the 27 or so Muslim seminaries or dar ul uloom in Britain, 25 come from the austere, Deobandi tradition – the preferred school of the Taleban. So while British soldiers risk their lives in Afghanistan, in British Muslim seminaries we allow the teaching of intolerance, unequal treatment of women, religious rigidity, the banning of music and theatre, and an end to free mixing of the sexes.
Two years ago the Government established a Mosques and Imam National Advisory Board and included Hamas supporters to win over radicals. What has it achieved? Large numbers of British mosques are not properly registered with the Charity Commission, imams work with children without Criminal Record Bureau checks, and mosque buildings flout health and safety regulations. Would other schools or churches get away with this?