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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
'Young feel alienated by mosques'
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Friday prayers
Many young Muslims 'feel alienated from their mosque'

The majority of Muslims would back imams preaching in English in mosques, a BBC poll has found.

Members of the Muslim community say they are not surprised - in fact they have been calling for such a move for years, but they need government help.

One of them is imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony and secretary of the Mosques and Community Affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain.

He wants an independent body appointed by the government which will be able to accredit imams and assess whether they have a sufficient grasp of the English language and an understanding of British culture.

It would be made up of Muslims who were aware of aspects of British life - such as the law, he suggests, but would also understand Muslim 'thought'.

'Society failing'

"[Fanaticism] is all our problem. We have two mothers and fathers. One is our biological parents but also our society is our other parents," he said.

"In society we are failing. We must work together."

Such a commission would overhaul the training of imams in the UK, giving six months training to imams when they arrive in the country and refresher courses every year.

It would help integration, all the more necessary after the 7 July bomb attacks, he continued.

"We have to broaden our view and that will only happen when there is a commission," he said. "The Muslim community cannot do it on its own, it needs help from the government."

"You have to give them [the commission] the power to be the government's eyes and ears."

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid
Mosques are not preaching hate, they teach tolerance and respect for life
Dr Abduljalil Sajid

He added: "It's important mosques should become British-orientated institutions. Our loyalties should be that we are British number one, not number two."

Mosques also needed to attract a younger generation who were increasingly feeling alienated.

According to Dr Sajid, 90% of imams come from abroad and 90% cannot give sermons in English.

But 60% of Muslim youngsters were born in the UK, with English as their first language - so all too often cannot understand sermons and so stop going to the mosque.

Just like his own children, admits Dr Sajid.

'Better training'

One way to combat fanaticism was to bring young people back into the fold and "bring the community together".

"Mosques are not preaching hate, they teach tolerance and respect for life," he said. "I have never met an imam in my life who is spreading hate.

"But we have to educate imams to take proper responsibility in the community."

If imams do not have a good grasp of British society then they won't be able to reach out to young Muslims
Sadia Hussain, Muslim Public Affairs Committee

Training for imams in the UK was negligible, he claimed and teaching needed to be brought more up-to-date, dealing with modern issues such as cloning.

He said few British Muslims were currently becoming imams, leaving a shortfall in the UK's 3,000-plus mosques.

'Closed doors'

Sadia Hussain, of campaign group Muslim Public Affairs Committee, says mosques must reform if they are not to continue to alienate young people.

There needs to be a two-pronged approach with the help of the Muslim community and the government
Sadia Hussain

She said: "If imams do not have a good grasp of British society then they won't be able to reach out to young Muslims," she said.

She said their "closed-door" policy to non-Muslims was detrimental to integration and their managing committees which ran mosques were not representative of the wider community.

"We need to have young people on these committees and women but by and large they are made up of self-elected leaders."

She said mosques needed to acknowledge the feelings of Muslims who felt alienated by the government's foreign policy in areas such as Iraq and Palestine.

Regent's Park mosque
Mosques 'need to be more representative'

"Some Muslims become disillusioned because they don't feel they can make a difference and they don't know any other way of getting their message across other than violence."

She said young people's views were not necessarily represented by the older generation, and this was pushing them into becoming radicalised.

"We have to look at how to channel this anger into appropriate means so young Muslims don't turn to criminal acts," she said.

But the government also had a role to play.

"There needs to be a two-pronged approach with the help of the Muslim community and the government," she said.

One way would be to set up university courses to train imams. Another would be to help fund imams - currently poorly paid - to attract British-born Muslims.

"It can't just be the responsibility of the Muslim community," she said.

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