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How Britain's mosques foster extremism

How Britain's mosques foster extremism

Author: Ed Husain
Publication: The Times
Date: February 24, 2009
URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5792445.ece

Sectarian, conservative leadership is driving confused young Muslims into the arms of radicals

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.

I developed two personalities, two worlds, two allegiances: one at "English school" and another at the mosque. I was torn, confused and full of questions. But what now? Two decades on, surely Britain's Muslims are in a better place.

Today, there are between 1,200 and 1,600 mosques in Britain - no definite figure exists. Yesterday, the Charity Commission sought to gloss over the malaise in them by publishing figures on attendance, but not inquiring into difficult areas. At Quilliam, Britain's first counter-

extremism think-tank, we commissioned a poll of more than 1,000 mosques in 2008, during Ramadan when mosques are busiest. Despite employing Urdu and Bengali-speaking researchers, we could poll only just over 500. Most British mosques don't maintain a reception or service to answer questions, and not every one we did reach was willing to answer.

Quilliam's report, Mosques Made in Britain, reveals the true extent of the mess. We found that 97 per cent of imams, or leaders, were from overseas and 92 per cent were educated abroad, mostly in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Almost all mosques are controlled by first-generation immigrant men, leaving most British Muslims - women and young people - out of the management structure.

This is not new. Quilliam has merely found evidence of a problem that has been known among Muslims for more than two decades.

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".

Mosques Made in Britain also found that nearly half of mosques do not make provisions for women. And those that do provide disgraceful, unhygienic quarters for them to pray and ensure that women maintain no real presence at mosques. With very few exceptions, most mosque management committees are dominated by older men who have successfully kept out women.

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.

At these seminaries, medieval textbooks are still taught without any reference to context. Graduates of these highly conservative madrassas have taken up nearly 100 posts as chaplains in our prisons. Soon, they will move into mosques as English-speaking imams, without any understanding of British values of liberty, tolerance and pluralism.

How long will we tolerate this underworld in Britain?

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?

More than three years after the July 7 bombings, where are the citizenship classes in mosques? Or the English-language teaching for foreign imams? With such problems on our doorstep, as a community we are still focused on British policy in Palestine and Iraq at the expense of our children's education, gender apartheid at mosques, and inadequacies in language, safety and leadership. Labour politicians are only too keen to campaign for the Muslim vote in mosques in Blackburn, Manchester and Bradford while turning a blind eye to the failure that surrounds their constituents. For how much longer?

- Ed Husain is co-director of Quilliam, and author of The Islamist

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