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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Muslims 'want sermons in English'
Friday prayers at East London mosque
Many believe multiculturalism improves UK society
A majority of British Muslims say clerics should preach in the English language, a BBC survey suggests.

The Mori poll for the BBC found 65% of Muslims backed such a move, compared with 39% of the national population.

More than half of UK Muslims were born in the country and younger generations, backed by progressive leaders, have long advocated more English in mosques.

Many believe English-speaking imams helps break down cultural divides between Islam and mainstream society.


The findings emerged from a survey of 204 Muslims on multiculturalism.


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Commenting on the poll, imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, chair of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, said it was important for "integration and communication" that imams in the UK spoke English.

The Koran commanded imams to speak in the "language of the nation" and those that did not were "not actually performing their duties" as community leaders, he added.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "nobody knows" how many imams could not speak English, but added: "My feeling is that only 10% are well versed in English and 90% probably speak in their own mother tongue - Turkish, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic and so on."

'Home-grown imams'

He said the "majority of people" in mosques did not understand the imams because "56% of our young people are born British and the only country they know of is England, the United Kingdom".

He said British Muslims needed "home-grown imams" who "can be the real leaders of the community not just simply preachers".

There are enormous numbers who go to mosque and colleges at the same time; they don't have a problem integrating while sticking to their religious principles
Imam Saeed Ahmed

Increasing numbers of imams are British-born and educated in the country. Many pursue their higher education in both British universities and the Islamic seats of learning in the Middle East.

Muslim leaders also supported a Home Office move to impose language tests on all religious ministers coming to the UK, saying they regarded it as key to imams being able to do their job.

Sadia Hussein of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, an organisation that has campaigned for reform of mosques - particularly over access for women - welcomed the poll results.

"The poll further reinforces the need for 'Mosque reform', acknowledged by many Muslims who are requesting Imams to deliver educational programmes and sermons in English with a wider knowledge of British society and politics," she said.

"Mosques [should] open their doors to improve relations and celebrate British multiculturalism."

The poll also found 79% of Muslims thought Christians should be allowed to set up their own faith schools, compared to 67% of the general population. A similar percentage of Muslims thought Muslims should be allowed to set up faith schools, compared to 57% of the general population.

The BBC survey, which was carried out to test attitudes towards multiculturalism in the wake of the 7 July bombings, also suggests the majority of British people think multiculturalism makes the country a better place.

But 32% think it "threatens the British way of life" and 54% think "parts of the country don't feel like Britain any more because of immigration".

International sport

The survey questioned 1,004 people in the UK. A booster survey of 204 British Muslims was conducted for comparison.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims surveyed - 89% - said they feel proud when British teams do well in international sports competitions, a similar figure to the national population.

Source: BBC/MORI

And the survey suggests broad agreement between the two groups on immigrants being made to learn English and accept the authority of British institutions.

But the survey suggests a more confused attitude to the concept of multiculturalism.

Some 62% of the national population believe "multiculturalism makes Britain a better place to live", according to the poll.

At the same time, 58% thought "people who come to live in Britain should adopt the values of and traditions of British culture".

Among Muslims, 87% thought multiculturalism improved British society, but only 28% thought people coming from abroad should adopt British culture and values.

Both Muslims and the broader population disagreed strongly with the suggestion that the policy of multiculturalism had failed and should be abandoned.

Only 2% of the national population described themselves as "very racially prejudiced", but a third said they thought Islam was "incompatible with the values of British democracy".

Poll results were based on a nationally representative sample of 1,004 GB adults aged 16 and over, with the data weighted to reflect the population profile.

In addition, 204 interviews were conducted among Muslims - 112 with people who had agreed to be re-contacted from previous surveys and 92 using random digit dialling - with the data weighted to reflect the Muslim population profile.

All interviews were conducted on 8 and 9 August 2005.

How multicultural is Britain?
09 Aug 05 |  Have Your Say

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