British imams failing young Muslims
From The Times
Justin Gest and Andrew Norfolk
January 7, 2008
Attempts to reform British mosques and win back a lost generation of young Muslims are being undermined by the poor quality of home-trained imams, a leading Islamic scholar says.
Musharraf Hussain, a government adviser on mosques, said that most of the countrys Islamic seminaries were producing unemployable graduates who were incapable of challenging the sense of alienation that led some Muslims towards violent extremism.
His concerns were voiced as it emerged that a rift is opening between the Government and four Muslim organisations over moves to introduce national guidelines for Britains 1,350 mosques. The initiative aims to make mosques more accessible to women and young people. It also seeks to combat extremism by promoting civic responsibility and inter-faith dialogue.
Those close to the Minab (Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body) project claim that it is being threatened because Whitehall interference is undermining its credibility. One source said that government officials, frustrated by delays in establishing a voluntary code for mosques, recently threatened to impose statutory regulations. They were, he said, rebuffed in the strongest terms.
The scale of the task faced by those seeking to reform mosque activities is highlighted by Dr Hussains withering assessment of the training received by would-be imams in many of Britains 26 Islamic seminaries.
The Government and many Muslim organisations are keen to develop more home-grown imams to reduce mosques traditional reliance on scholars from overseas.
But Dr Hussain, the founder and director of the Karimia Institute, a multipurpose community centre in Nottingham that features a mosque, a sport centre, a nursery, classrooms and a radio station, said that too many seminary students studied a narrow syllabus and inhabited a cocooned world that left them ill-equipped to connect with the 21st-century concerns of young British Muslims.
Hundreds of graduates emerge each year, he says, without sufficient communication skills, without leadership skills and without a good understanding of British culture. The people coming out of British seminaries are detached because they cant fit in. And the young people who desperately need their guidance, knowledge, and moral values will be deprived in the long run because they wont feel comfortable approaching such imams.
Dr Hussains concerns were echoed by other leading Islamic scholars who addressed Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, at a recent meeting of Muslim academics and theologians.
A recent survey of 300 mosques found that 84 per cent of the imams were born in South Asia. A mere 8 per cent were British-born and only 30 per cent of the sermons at Friday prayers were delivered in English.
Moves to employ more British imams are being encouraged, in part, by new immigration rules under which foreign religious leaders seeking to enter Britain must prove their theological qualifications and pass tests on their English proficiency and knowledge of British society.
The verdict of Khurshid Drabu, an immigration judge and the Ministry of Defences adviser on Islamic affairs, is that most British seminary graduates are not very good at all.
Dilowar Khan, director of the East London Mosque and a Minab consultant, acknowledged that foreign imams dont have the capacity to talk to youths because of a language and a cultural gap. However, he said, an intelligent and ambitious young British Muslim was unlikely to view seminary training as the gateway to a fulfilling and lucrative career, when compared with medicine or the law.
Young people dont want to become imams because there is no career prospect. Imams are low-paid and economically dependent. Most mosques cant afford to pay imams well, so they are reliant on donations from their congregations, he said.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said that discussions with Muslim leaders had highlighted the need for an independent review of imam training. Its structure is expected to be announced after discussions with influential Muslim scholars representing Britains leading Islamic schools of thought.
Politicians have criticised a bishop for saying that Islamic extremists have created no go areas for nonMuslims (Richard Ford writes).
Muslim groups demanded that the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, provide evidence to support his claim.
In an article in The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Nazir-Ali said that multiculturalism had turned some communities into no go areas. Those of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live or work there because of hostility to them, he wrote.
Lessons behind closed doors matter to us all
Muslim women to curb terror