The first attempt by British Muslims to set out the core standards and constitutions for Britain’s 1,350-plus mosques and Islamic centres has been drawn up by a new body representing four leading groups.
The move was welcomed by Hazel Blears, the communities secretary. Ministers have often complained that there is a lack of oversight of mosques, and hope the proposals for standardised rules on governance and leadership could help to drive out extremism.
It comes as new research found fundamentalist literature encouraging hatred of Christians, gays and Jews in many British mosques. Researchers for the thinktank Policy Exchange found extremist literature in a quarter of the 100 mosques and Islamic institutions they visited.
Some of the publications called on British Muslims to segregrate themselves from non-Muslims and condoned the beheading of lapsed Muslims. There were passages which supported the stoning of adulterers and violent jihad, according to the report, The Hijacking of British Islam.
The new proposals to set out core standards for mosques have been drawn up by the year-old 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.
The draft constitution for the regulatory body, released yesterday after months of internal consultation, 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.
Mosques that sign up to the core standards framework would receive practical advice, guidance and support from Minab, a body first recommended by an official government inquiry in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London .
The government has spoken of the need to improve the language and teaching skills of imams, but has been reluctant to intervene directly for fear of being seen to interfere in an independent faith body.
A governing council would be established to represent the different strands of Islam in Britain, including guaranteed seats for Shias. There have been claims that the ultra-conservative Deobandi sect, which gave birth to the Taliban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques.
The government has also been frustrated that a number of imams in Britain were born in Pakistan, speak limited English and preach in Urdu, making it difficult for the government to know what is going on in some mosques.
Ms Blears, due to make a speech this week on the future of the government’s community cohesion initiatives, praised the commitment by the organisations who make up Minab to put in place a stronger system of self-regulation to improve governance, strengthen financial management and develop mosques as centres of community cohesion and citizenship. The Minab board will provide practical advice, guidance and support to Muslim communities.
Ms Blears urged mosques to cooperate with the initiative, saying: “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.”