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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Prison service imams suspended
Martin Narey
Martin Narey: Certain comments unacceptable
Muslim leaders have launched an inquiry after two prison service imams were suspended over "inappropriate" comments about the 11 September attacks.

Prison Service boss Martin Narey said a "reasonably tolerant" attitude to all views had to be adopted, but prison imams - religious leaders - had been told certain comments were "unacceptable".

They are not supposed to discuss politics

Dr Zaki Badawi
Dr Zaki Badawi, chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council UK and also chairman of the Muslim Prisoners' Commission, said if they were found to have made overtly political statements they would be dismissed.

One of the imams - or religious leaders - worked at Feltham Young Offenders' Institution, where alleged "shoe bomber" Richard Reid was an inmate - although not at the same time.

Abdul Rahman Qureshi was suspended from duty a few weeks ago. The imam at Aylesbury Young Offenders' Institution, Buckinghamshire, was also suspended in October.

Ruin of World Trade Centre
The comments were allegedly made after the 11 September attacks
The imam of Belmarsh Prison in south London was suspended in September, days after the terrorist attacks on the US, but reinstated after allegations against him were not proven.

Ahmed Bilal was suspended for giving inmates at Aylesbury Young Offenders' Institution in Buckinghamshire transcripts of a controversial radio interview shortly after the New York attacks.

There are more than 4,000 Muslim prisoners in Britain, with 130 imams employed to serve the country's 138 jails.

"I have huge confidence in my Muslim adviser, who meets every Imam we appoint, and we put them all through security checks," Mr Narey told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'Language problems'

Mr Badawi said the imams' alleged comments could have been "misreported".

"The difficulty is that many Muslims speak in different languages and communication problems can be crucial. We will be investigating what sort of statements they made," he said.

"But they are not supposed to discuss politics. They are there to help the spiritual needs of the inmates, and to talk about politics out of context is something we don't approve of at all."

Dr Badawi added: "These people are not really stupid enough to go and make statements that would be in any way unacceptable to us as a community.

"If proved to have broken the terms of their employment, we will certainly dismiss them."

The Muslim Prisoners' Commission selects and vets imams before passing the candidates on to the Prison Service, who carry out their own vetting procedure.

Dr Badawi said: "Inmates rely on the imam and that's why we make sure that, when we select imams, we select someone with the responsibility to do pastoral work and prepare prisoners for the outside world."

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