Hopefully the first of many steps, which should deal with more substantive matters of Islamic teaching, rather than appearances. “Britain takes step toward regulating mosques and imams,” by Jane Perlez for the International Herald Tribune:
LONDON: The British government on Thursday took a first step toward regulating Muslim religious leaders and mosques, declaring that imams working in government prisons and hospitals would be required to meet certain criteria, including a good grasp of English.
In addition, the minister of local government and communities, Ruth Kelly, said the government planned to offer financial benefits to mosques that registered as charities and showed themselves willing to take an anti-radical stand.
How do they aim to enforce that?
Speaking at a mosque known as the Muslim Cultural Heritage Center, in Ladbroke Grove, a relatively affluent area of west London, Kelly appeared to take the matter of regulation of Muslim religions affairs into government hands, despite sensitivities in Britain about official interference in religion.
Kelly is leading the Blair government’s efforts to win over disaffected Muslims, as Britain struggles to counter radical jihadist ideologies that have taken hold among some Muslim youth.
More than 1.6 million Muslims live in Britain. Since the deadly July 2005 attacks on the London transit system by four suicide bombers of Pakistani origin, the government has tried to supplement its stepped-up security expenditures with softer approaches.
Government-appointed committees with Muslim members were charged with creating programs, but have had limited success.
A national advisory board, led by a Muslim member of the House of Lords, Nazir Ahmed, was asked last year to come up with guidelines for the operation of mosques and the education of their leaders, but has yet to do so.
“There are too few homegrown imams,” Kelly said, “and some key institutions – like mosques – need strengthening.”
Kelly said she was determined to “isolate and push out a tiny minority who spread hatred and intolerance.” The government would do this, she said, by emphasizing the need for Muslim immigrants to be British as well as Muslim.
As an example of government support for moderate Muslims, Kelly said the Bradford Council of Mosques in West Yorkshire was distributing material on the meaning of British citizenship to madrasas, where children are given after-school religious
“At the heart of this teaching is a message about being proud to be British, proud to be Muslim, about how to live out the values of justice, peace and respect both as a person of faith and as a citizen,” she said.
On the question of setting criteria for Muslim religious leaders who work in government institutions, Kelly said her department would start giving them “leadership and communication skills,” meaning English language training, according to a department spokesman.
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 and the prisons.
In order for Muslim preachers to be employed in government hospitals, colleges and prisons, they would have to meet this “framework of standards,” she said.
A number of moderate mosques and imams signed an open letter organized by the government in support of Kelly’s program. But the Muslim Council of Britain, the best known of several national Muslim groups, declined to sign an open letter organized by Kelly that called for the importance of rebutting the extremist arguments.
“To say to us you’re not playing your role can be very demoralizing,” said Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the council’s interfaith relations committee.