By Anya Hart Dyke
My report on British mosques should not be read for alarming statistics, but for practical suggestions on empowering women and young people
I have been delighted by the level of discussion generated by Quilliam Foundation's report Mosques Made in Britain across broadcast, online and "new" media and believe it complements the findings of the Charity Commission's mosques survey, also published this week. Mosques and mosque-based cultural centres can and do deliver a range of services and activities for their congregants. But there remain fundamental concerns about the quality of the religious service provided by mosques to worshippers.
Quilliam is not calling for what Andrew Brown describes as a "more Muslim Britain as much as any of the Islamist parties," but for mosques to espouse an Islam that encourages Muslims to be more British: the antithesis of the Islamist agenda which pushes a Muslim supremacist "us" (Muslims) versus "them" (non-believers) ideology.
It was no mean feat to get through to as many mosques as we did (more than 500), and to get such sensitive information on imams. The findings reinforce the experiences of many Muslims in Britain and here now is the nationwide empirical evidence to support long held assumptions, serving to strengthen the case for much needed change.
Mosques are not the only spaces in this country within which young Muslims are socialised and receive their religious education. And nor should they be. But mosques are an invaluable counterbalance to other spaces, where young Muslims learn about their faith, coloured by generational differences within the family, Christian-led religious instruction in school, fired-up radicals on university campuses, unenlightened peers, and unregulated social networking sites. Yet young (especially female) Muslims have limited access to mosques in a very real sense: 44% of Britain's mosques do not hold the Friday lecture in the English language and 46% do not have prayer facilities for women!
An additional problem is with the mosque's leadership. Imams are not necessarily uninterested in reaching out to young people but rather they may be unable owing to limited proficiency in English and a limited grasp of what life is like for young Muslims growing up in Britain. It's not that foreign imams are anti-British but rather that they may not be sufficiently pro-British that is the problem. There is a need for a religious leadership in mosques which understands and believes in the complex ways British society operates and which is able to redirect young Muslims towards the myriad ways in which citizens can both function and effect change in a multi-stakeholder British democracy.
The future of the British imam is a more pastoral one. Imams can learn from the experiences of Muslim university chaplains, but also other faiths. There are aspects of how other faith communities organise themselves and appoint, pay and train their religious leadership (if you like, the temporal aspects), which would be beneficial to the much more recently established Muslim community. Much would be gained from some of the better educated, younger, more attuned imams in this country organizing to meet with representatives from the Church of England, the Baptists and the United Synagogue's Rabbinical Council to see where lessons can be shared.
Readers should review the report's recommendations on improving religious leadership and empowering youth and women in mosque life, and not just get bogged down in the alarming statistics, for ways forward. The report's findings emboldened Hazel Blears in a speech on 25 February to renew calls for existing faith leaders in Britain to improve their pastoral and linguistic skills.
The recommendations, as well as the best practices profiled in the report, reflect a range of experiences from across the Muslim communities. I received an email earlier in the week from a Muslim youth group representative saying: "I got a lot of useful ideas from it [the report], which can help the organisation I work with and our local mosque, hopefully". These recommendations and initiatives should be built upon, tested, revised and debated. Let's keep the momentum going.