Extremists unwelcome


    November 29, 2007: The year-old Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) releases the draft of a national guideline for mosques. The guidelines are said to be the most radical attempt so far by UK Muslim leaders to tackle extremism and introduce an effective system of self-regulation

    In itself, five months is not too long a period of time in the life of a nation or a community. But certain events or incidents can sometimes accelerate the pace of development causing nations and communities into making quantum leaps. The failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow on June 29 this year, less than two years after the July 7, 2005 serial bombings in London, appears to have provided an impetus for one such turning point. The aborted attacks triggered a major policy shift in UK’s conservative but influential Muslim Council of Britain as is evident from the following reports in prominent UK newspapers:

    July 3, 2007: The Guardian, London:

    Condemning terrorism not enough

    Britain’s most influential Muslim umbrella group today signalled a major shift in policy as it urged its communities to play a key and potentially decisive role in the fight against terrorism.

    Declaring that "condemnation is not enough", leaders of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has 400 affiliate organisations, voiced its most robust message yet and appealed to all Muslims to work hand in hand with the police.

    Muhammad Abdul Bari, the MCB secretary general, said the current crisis meant that issues of conflict between the government, the police and Muslim communities – who have clashed in the past over anti-terrorist incidents and foreign policy – needed to be put to one side.

    "When the house is on fire, the concern must be not to blame each other but to put the fire out. Our country is under threat-level critical. Those who seek to deliberately kill or maim innocent people are the enemies of us all. There is no cause whatsoever that could possibly justify such barbarity." He said the police and security services "deserve the fullest support and cooperation from each and every sector of our society, including all Muslims. It is our Islamic duty not only to utterly and totally condemn such evil actions but to provide all the necessary support to prevent such atrocities from taking place."

    Inayat Bunglawala, the MCB’s assistant general secretary, said anyone with information should not feel conflicted. "There must be no hesitation in coming forward," he said. "Clearly we face a threat from extremists who happen to be Muslim."

    The MCB has called a meeting in London on Saturday (July 7), of key imams and activists from all over the country, to discuss what Muslim communities can do to confront the threat and to discuss whether more should have been done in the past.

    One official privately described the events and the political reaction to them as a "line in the sand moment". The unfolding events, though horrific, may well strengthen the hand of moderate Muslim opinion. One source said: "There is little room for manoeuvre for those who have previously been in denial or have clung to conspiracy theories. People have been able to see for themselves what happened. That could be important."

    November 28, 2007: The Times, London:

    Code of practice for mosques

    Muslim leaders are to carry out spot checks and will introduce programmes to fight extremism in the first set of national guidelines for mosques.

    The draft guidelines, to be published tomorrow, represent the most radical attempt so far by leaders of the country’s two million Muslims to tackle extremism and introduce an effective system of self-regulation.

    The hope is that the new measures will help to prevent young people from being drawn to extremism through extremist teaching in and around unregulated mosques.

    Among other proposals, they take a strong line against forced marriages and domestic violence, which are condemned as "un-Islamic", and recommend that women should have access to religious training and positions of leadership in mosques.

    The guidelines, in the form of a ten-point code of practice, will be sent out to consultation at Britain’s 1,500-plus mosques before being issued in their final form next March.

    The Times has seen a copy of the draft "core standards", drawn up by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), an alliance of four of Britain’s top Muslim organisations set up in June last year to provide a "positive influence" for British Muslims.

    The standards have emerged from the working groups set up by the government in an attempt to tackle Islamic extremism after the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

    But there has been no input from the government into their content. Muslim leaders have deliberately distanced themselves from ministers as part of their determination to make their community self-regulating.

    Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, one of the organisations behind the core standards, told The Times that Muslim leaders wanted to avoid British mosques going down the same road as countries such as Turkey and Egypt, where many imams are employed by the state and preach little more than government policy in their sermons.

    Under the new guidelines, mosques will agree to random visits by trained teams to check that standards are being met. They will have to commit themselves to "open, democratic, accountable management" and introduce policies on equality, child protection and racial and religious harassment. Mosques will have to agree to give women access to religious and scholarly training.

    Mosques will also pledge to have programmes that "promote civic responsibility of Muslims in wider society" and that "actively combat all forms of violent extremism within the society at large". They must also agree to provide Islamic awareness training for local communities and to publicise forced marriages and domestic violence as "un-Islamic".

    Besides the Muslim Council of Britain, the other organisations backing the new standards for the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board are the Al-Khoei Foundation, the British Muslim Forum and the Muslim Association of Britain.

    Manazir Ahsan, director-general of the Islamic Foundation in Leicester and chairman of the board’s steering committee, said that over the next three months representatives from the four organisations involved would visit every mosque in Britain and talk to the imams, community leaders and management