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Page last updated at 16:12 GMT, Friday, 15 July 2005 17:12 UK

Muslim leader assesses Leeds mood

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News website community affairs reporter, in Leeds

Friday is the Muslim day of reflection. For senior members of the Muslim Council of Britain, it would also be a day of listening as they sped around Leeds.

The organisation's leader Sir Iqbal Sacranie was here to see for himself the aftermath of the week's events. His assessment will be going to Downing Street next week when he will personally tell the prime minister what is going on in Leeds.

But would he be able to find out what had gone on? More to the point, is he in a position to know what the younger generations think?

 Sir Iqbal Sacranie (r) arriving in Leeds
We have to share the responsibility for dealing with this so that the scourge of evil is eradicated
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Muslim Council of Britain

In Beeston, the scene of much of the police's investigation into bombers Shehzad Tanweer, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Hasib Hussein, Sir Iqbal was due to meet community representatives, including young people.

Nobody is sure how many young people he met today; nobody saw any going in to the first meeting in Shadwell (eight miles from the scene of the investigation) and no journalists were allowed into the main meeting in Beeston to see who was there.

However, half a dozen young men, all in their late teens, were hanging around the Hamara Community Centre when Sir Iqbal arrived.

Sick of the attention, and resolutely refusing to be filmed or photographed, they conceded they would like to speak to Sir Iqbal if they got the chance - but wouldn't go near the cameras.

The delegation swept into a private meeting, swept out again and the lads were left saying they were a little bit peeved.

"Well that's just typical isn't it," said one of the young men. "It's all talk and no action. We've got to live here with all this pain and he's off again. He hasn't even said 'Hi'."

Message to government

For his part, Sir Iqbal said he had picked up some important messages to take back to the prime minister.

Firstly, communities were agreed that more had to be done to get young people into mosques to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Home near Grand Mosque under covers
One of the houses raided by police remained under covers

The only way to do this, he said, was for the government to support the communities in recruiting British-born, British-educated English-speaking imams.

His point was that if those leading the prayers cannot connect with the young, then the young drift away.

And it is at this point that Muslim leaders believe the disaffected are at risk of falling into the hands of extremists.

But what about leaders like himself? Weren't they out of touch?

"We have got some positive feedback and some negative feedback," he said. "It's our duty to take all of this on board."

An hour later and Sir Iqbal had the genuine opportunity to speak to a wide audience.

The packed congregation at Leeds Grand Mosque sat just 100 yards away from one of the properties raided by the police and now covered by tarpaulin.

In the congregation was a diverse range of faces: young and old, Asian and Middle Eastern.

Cameras kept out of prayers
Media waited outside the mosque where Sir Iqbal spoke

Sir Iqbal told the audience he stood with them in their hour of anguish - and that Muslims should not take the blame for what had happened.

"But we have to share the responsibility for dealing with this so that the scourge of evil is eradicated," he said.

"We must maintain calm and work with the police to ensure that nobody provokes anyone to do anything wrong."

But illustrating his exact point about a generational gap in the mosques, the Friday sermon was first read in Arabic by respected Imam Sheikh Abdullah al-Juda - and then translated into English by community leader Dr Hassan al-Katib.

The sermon, however, had a very strong message for the youngest generation of British-born Muslims - those most in the spotlight this week.

All people want to do is integrate and lead good lives in accordance with their faith - none of us want to hang around on street corners
Naz Chaudhry

"One of the duties upon them is to be good citizens," said Sheikh al-Juda in his sermon. "Let them look for benefits [in the life of their society]. Their mission in life is to be a guide to others. They should be the best example of our community."

Outside the mosque, many of the congregation said the sermon had hit the spot - but still left uncomfortable questions unanswered.

Naz Chaudhry, 23, said he had heard wise words - but there was still a generational gap - including in how many younger Muslims were reacting to the bombings.

"The elders do understand but there is also a big divide between the younger generations and the older generations.

"All people want to do is integrate and lead good lives in accordance with their faith - none of us want to hang around on street corners."


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