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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Watchdog for UK mosques launches
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs reporter

Mosques: At least 1,600 in the UK
A potentially influential body aimed at tackling extremism is being launched a year after the London bombings.

The mosques standards body was a key proposal from a government-backed extremism taskforce.

In a unique move, leaders of four major British Muslim groups have agreed the body is essential to modernise and open up religious institutions.

The body's launch document speaks about the failings of some mosques, including the exclusion of women and youth.

The proposal for a Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body (Minab) was one of more than 100 recommendations to emerge from a Home Office-organised taskforce on extremism in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings.

But the plan has been mired in controversy with many mosques resistant to the idea of a watchdog, believing that they would be ultimately controlled by the government.

But the four groups backing its creation said that it was a major step forward in modernising a key institution.

Community leadership

Many younger Muslims, particularly women, have long complained mosques are run by small cliques of men from distinct clans or families, rather than by the wider community.

I think we are winning the moral high ground - the people who do not want the name of their faith tarnished are really getting their house in order and organising themselves as never has happened before
Dr Daoud Abdullah
In an unprecedented move for a major policy publication from Muslim organisations, that complaint is accepted in the document setting out Minab's aims.

Crucially, it accepts many imams are not up to the job of giving guidance to alienated young people. It sets a priority of developing the careers of British-born or educated preachers who can relate to young Muslims in English and understand western culture.

The founders of Minab say it will also champion more access for women and ask mosque elders to bring on board highly-educated Muslims in professional positions, such as lawyers and teachers, to help run the institutions.

Khurshid Ahmed, of the British Muslim Forum, one of the key national bodies behind the reforms, said they would now start work on ensuring that Minab would be a properly constituted, professional organisation.

While Muslims did not believe mosques were the source of extremism, said Mr Ahmed, communities had an unprecedented opportunity to achieve much-needed change.

"There are problems of governance within mosques and we need to build their capacity and make sure they are properly resourced.

"We need to be very realistic and honest with ourselves. The vast majority of our imams lack the capacity to intellectually engage with our young people. We need to help them build that capacity."

Yusuf Al-Khoei of the Al-Khoei Foundation, which represents Shia Muslims in the UK, said the launch of Minab was a major step forward for British Muslims, not least because the different strands of the faith had united.

"Four organisations have come together for the first time and reached a consensus. It's a very positive move because the voice of moderation is coming up loud and clear. We are trying to decouple Islam from images and allegations of violence.

"We need more involvement of the youth, of our women - and more involvement in our neighbourhoods.

"We need our mosques to be more than places of worship, they need to be proper community centres.

"For too long there has really been no structure. I have seen people claim to be imams in mosques who could not even read or write."


SEE ALSO
Extremism taskforce plan revealed
22 Sep 05 |  UK Politics

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