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The mosque as beacon

The mosque as beacon

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times, UK
Date: December 27, 2001

Courage, vigilance and quick thinking averted a catastrophe aboard the American Airlines fight to Miami. But the discovery that the man accused of trying to blow up the plane came from Bromley is further alarming evidence that terrorists based in Britain still pose a deadly global threat. Almost as disturbing is the revelation that the would-be suicide bomber was a petty criminal who converted to Islam while in prison and who was recruited by extremists targeting converts and gulling young worshippers at Brixton mosque.

The implications are as distasteful as they are unacceptable, to Muslims are non-muslims alike. They suggest that Islam is increasingly attracting the drifters, petty criminals and underdogs; that these people are being courted by politically motivated extremists; and that mosques are being used as recruiting grounds beyond  the arm of the law. How should mosques protect themselves from such unwanted associations? How can the majority of moderate, loyal Muslims expose the extremists in their midst, thwart their intentions and reassert the central message of  Islam that is being drowned by those who preach hatred, jihad and martyrdom?

The first place to start is the mosque itself. Muslim scholars readily admit that all too often the imams, the men placed in charge of individual mosques, are not up to the job. Many speak poor English, have little contact with the non-Muslim community around them and are ill-suited to deal with issues facing Muslims, especially young Muslims, in a western, urban environment. Many are recruited directly from Koranic schools in Pakistan. Taking advantage of immigration regulations that allow clergy  accelerated entry into Britain, they arrive in industrial cities with a poor grasp of the language, no concept of Western society and narrowly sectarian view that stops them from reaching out to other Muslims and other faiths. Pastoral care in such circumstances is impossible.

Command of the language is vital if a preacher is to instill ideal and inculcate morality. But not only must the imams be able to speak the English used on housing estates in Bradford and Oldham; they must also be well qualified in Arabic, the language of Koran. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of its adherent's native Arabic to insists on a militant interpretation of passages in the Koran that non-Arabic speakers cannot authoritatively refute.

There must also be much stricter regulation of the financial and administrative affairs of mosques. Too often the accounts are not transparent ; those sent to the Charity Commission are often wholly fictitious. A recent survey found that some 37 British mosques are in trouble, mainly because of feuds caused by a faction gaining control of the council, ousting the imam and installing one with family connections or form the same clan. The Charity commission is understandably wary of prying into ethnic and community affairs, but it should be far more robust in insisting on transparency, especially of imam's incomes. A lapse into waywardness often begins with financial sloppiness.

Thirdly, Muslim leaders should not hesitate to inspect and close some of the 300 "schools" for young people that are really indoctrination centers, where Taleban style influence is strong. Respected figures such as Zaki Badawi have long been calling for these changes; indeed the Muslim college, of which he is principal, was set up specifically to raise the educational level of imams. It should be supported, by state grants if necessary, and certainly by the wider Muslim community. A mosque should be a beacon, not a gateway to extremism.
 


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