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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
What makes an effective Imam?

How much politics should go into sermons, how should politics be handled in mosques, and how can mosques relate better to young people?

If you wish to add your view to the debate please use the form on the right of the page. The Panorama team will try to publish as many as possible but they may not be able to publish every comment.

Masud Ahmed Khan

Masud Ahmed Khan, traditional Muslim webmaster, Home Counties

The problem we are facing is that Mosque committees (those who run the mosques) and Imams are out of touch with younger Muslims. The committees are made up of the older generations who are, mentally, still living in some backwater village in the sub-continent and as such they will employ imams from a similar background.

The imam will then have a very poor command of the English language and this then becomes a barrier between them and the younger generation who do not understand the sermons or religious instruction presented to them in a language other than English.

The imams' application of religion will be in the context of the sub-continent and he will not have the social context to apply this to the west. Not understanding the social-dynamics of the society he lives in will further alienate the youth from him.

Imams by and large do not offer any pastoral care to their communities and often times are not very well qualified to offer guidance outside of the ritualist aspects of the faith.

Salma Yaqoob

Salma Yaqoob, Political activist, Birmingham

Already there is a pressure to not talk about politics in mosques, but self-censorship will compound not help the situation. If political discussion is denied legitimacy in mosques, alienation will increase, not decrease.

Furthermore extreme views will gain credibility as they will be able to more easily fill the vacuum that is being created. Young people will be less able to distinguish between appropriate and extreme responses to legitimate political concerns if there is no open discussion of these.

If the mosques make themselves relevant to the political, social and cultural needs of the community they will make themselves more relevant to young people in the process.

Irfan Chishti

Irfan Chishti, Imam and RE teacher, Greater Manchester

Muslim scholars need to think harder about effective communication. We believe that the Quran is a "clarification for everything..." - but the missing link is that teachers of the Quran must be able to handle the issues that affect Muslims in this country.

At Al-Azhar university I was taught that that a good preacher should be someone who has knowledge on all matters. It goes without saying that the language - both in style and form must be appropriate to the audience: PowerPoint Khutbas - a step in the right direction?

Politics in sermons is another big issue. Islam says politics is about people's daily affairs - so inherently the Khutbah must address national and international issues. But we must not do so in a partisan or inciting manner. Being politically active does not mean taking things into your own hands.

Dilwar Hussein

Dilwar Hussein, Researcher, Islamic Foundation, Leicester

An effective Imam or leader should understand Islam and be able to relate it to their congregation's context. This requires a deep understanding of the people being addressed as well the society; something of its culture, history, values and norms.

Sermons should be a religious reflection on issues of the day. Currently most mosques actually avoid discussions around political issues, which can be problematic in itself as this means that some young people do not find their concerns adequately addressed by mosques.

This, and the generational and cultural gap, has led to a serious disengagement of many young people from mosques. But things are changing slowly.

Asim Siddiqui

Asim Siddiqui, Chair, The City Circle, London

The purpose of a religious leader is to develop a sense of right and wrong in an individual's armoury of tools to engage in his/her environment.

Many Imams in this country are neither equipped with knowledge nor the art of communication to engage with young people who yearn for guidance on how to deal with challenges they see around them, both at home and abroad.

Hasan As-Sumaalee, Salafi Muslim teacher, Cardiff

The Friday sermon is a not a place for airing political viewpoints, the Messenger Muhammad used to use this opportunity to educate, teach, nurture and admonish, not to agitate or rabble-rouse.

If these mosques would preach the correct understanding of the religion as understood by the Companions of the Prophet, in the English language so it reaches out to alienated second and third generation Muslim youth, then many of the problems and misconceptions that the Muslim community is clouded in would be dispelled.


Salma Yaqoob, Listen to your own elders and betters. There is no place for politics in religion. Keep separate the works of God and Man. Otherwise, you court disaster.
James Cheetham, Eastbourne, UK

It is nobody else's business what the Muslim priests say to the Muslims in the Muslim mosque, than it is our (Muslim) right to edit what Christian priests say to the Christians in the Christian church. the arrogance of this debate is something else.
Ali, London

Politics has always been part of religion. Only an idiot would think otherwise. And only a fool would try to prevent it. What is wrong with politics all of a sudden?
P Burne, Newcastle

I beg to differ with Ali, London. If Muslim priests or other influential Muslim leaders are giving the impression it's OK to be a suicide bomber, then it is everybody's business - especially the police. The same would apply to Christians or even Jedi Knights.

The only activity that goes on in a mosque is praying. Some say that's how it should be. There are no enjoyable themes set out in them for youths. Having english-speaking imams has made too little a difference. No one dares to challenge the programmed views they are told to have or brought up with. A lot of the sermons that I have heard do not have any mention of how to integrate. They do not address crime, racism and prejudice, issues that are a must. I think they should deal with the politics of their community rather than the country, unless qualified to do so.
Mohammed, Birmingham, UK

Imams should not talk about politics. Period. Whoever lives in this country should work within the politics of this country. I say to the imams: If you like politics then join a political party and make an effective. Otherwise leave stay out of the kitchen.
Z Hussain, Rochdale, UK

If the mosque doesn't talk politics in the mosque and the imams don't get more politically active, it leave room open for outside forces, which in the long run, will prove to be much more dangerous. All that is required is for more open and fairly represented debates.
Ahmed, Bedford

Islam is a complete way of life and Islam looks after the affairs of all people. Islam is in nature and is political,so any work the Imam is going to do is political. Muslims can look after themselves and don't need anyone to tell them how to live.
Adam, London

Why can't Imams teach manners and ethics of dealing with the host country before they teach other important political issues. I am sure The Koran has a lot for Mulsims to learn on this subject.
Agha Ata, Houston, USA

Ali, you can check up on what the sermons say in Christian Churches if you so wish. They have no political agenda. If you preach politics in the Mosque you go over the line. If you don't like it here just get out. You are not wanted in this country.
David, Crawley, West Sussex

I disagree with Masud Ahmed Khan. I, am a Minister of Religion who is in touch with the youth. We cater for both languages; Urdu and English. We are required to meet the needs of both generations. We do.
Mullah Hafeezud Din, Birmingham, UK

Islam is inherently political in that it has set rules that govern both the individual and society in general. You cannot ask Muslims to be secular as it goes against the very core of Islam. We submit ourselves to our Creator in all aspects of life. If Allah (God) has deemed something good or bad for us, whether it be dietary, monetary, politically, we must follow His commands acknowledging that He is most wise, all-knowing. It is hard for some British non-Muslims to understand this due to the secular nature of this society. I think that is one main causes of friction between the two groups.

It would be naive of Muslims to think that our points of view do not seem threatening to the government and the public, as they are quite alien in these times. The situation is not made any easier when different Muslim groups themselves do not agree on what exactly Allah wants us to do. As we say "Allahu alim", meaning "Allah knows best".
Anonymous, London

Politics has no choice but to be part of sermons. The greatest concern right now on most Muslims' minds is politics, the war in Iraq, Palestine, the stresses of seeing and hearing about Muslims being killed and tortured. Imams have to address these concerns, otherwise the angry Muslim will seek their own methods, or other forces for a solution.

I can understand why Europeans abhor religion to be involved in politics. When churches ruled the land, Europe regressed to the Dark Ages and people shiver at what used to go on. For a Muslim, however, when Islam was the political force, we had our enlightenment age. Even the Jews enjoyed their golden age under the rule of Islam. We see religion as the centre of all aspects of life, and we see the failings of countries in the Middle East as a direct consequence of their abandoning Islaam as the guide. Countries are run as a family business by the ruling despot, looking after their own interests first. Over there, religion is controlled by the politcians.
Ibrahim, London, England, UK

Well according to Islam the job of an Imam is too guide the Muslim Ummah in religious matters and not in politics - it was something done by the caliphs - so who are we to change it?
Zunaira, Pakistan

David, Crawley, you are talking rubbish! I am part of an organisation namely, 'People of Faith' and I was invited to a Christian seminar where politics was the core of the evening.
Mullah Hafeezud Din, Birmingham, UK

An effective Imam is the one:
1) That is in touch with the realities of the day and knows what going on in Great Britain in all the aspects of life from politics, to economics, to culture to sport and youth concerns.
2) That can communicate effectively, clearly without hesitation or deviations in English since we are British Muslims.
3) That is in touch with other local priests from other faiths for dialogues, seminars and talks in order to build understanding and mutual respect between Muslims and Non-Muslims.
4) That is appointed by a body that trains them to become a qualified British Imam like any other profession with its own high standards and disciplinary actions.
5) That is aware about the importance of Friday Sermant and to use it for the good of the local community before anything else.
Abdenour, Coventry

Since the teaching of Islam is all about how to live your life, Imams of the Mosques should make people think about two important things; first of all thier duties towards Allah (God) and secondly thier duty towards mankind. We can learn more about politics by watching TV, but will not be able to get the clearer message of Allah regarding how to live a balanced and ethical life other than from the Mosque. We all should need to bring change and transition, first of all within ourselves (physically, morally, ethically, spiritually, and intellectually) before taking anything else on board such as world's politics.
Dr Malik, Manchester

I think there is no room for us to separate politics from Islam. The Holy Quran is full of political discourses, so how can we delineate political issues in the mosques?
K Azad, Dhaka, Bangladesh

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