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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 01:15 GMT
Mosques body to target extremism
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

A mosque dome
There are more than 1,500 mosques in the UK
British Muslim leaders are to tell mosques to reform and modernise in a government-backed attempt to prevent extremism.

Four major Muslim organisations say they want mosques to sign up to a community watchdog with powers to launch spot checks on standards.

The body has been two years in the making amid difficult negotiations.

The draft guidelines published on Thursday are the most significant step yet by Muslims to regulate UK mosques.

Following the July 2005 suicide bombings in London, ministers asked Muslims to come up with ways to preventing extremism. One key recommendation was the creation of an independent community-led body to modernise more than 1,500 mosques.

Critics say many mosques fail to adequately serve local communities. Ministers believe mosques could be important in marginalising extremists recruiting young Muslims.

Two years on, the proposed Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (Minab) says it has come up with minimum standards for Islamic institutions.

Key standards

The standards include counter-extremism programmes, community relations schemes, support and proper conditions for imams and greater condemnation of "un-Islamic" activity.

PROPOSED MOSQUE STANDARDS
Democratic and accountable
Transparent finances
Open to women and youth
Counter-extremism programmes
Inter-faith schemes
Work against forced marriage

Mosques will also be asked to let more women and young Muslims have a say, while Minab wants spot check powers to make unannounced visits to check standards.

Yousif Al-Khoei, one of the plan's joint architects, said there was unprecedented determination to make the body work.

"It's going to be quite a challenging task that we are embarking upon because this is something that has not been done before," said Mr Al-Khoei, a leading Shia Muslim.

"We are four different groups from different backgrounds and we believe we have managed over two years of hard negotiation to come up with something that will work."

Strong mosques will be better able to withstand attempts to hijack them
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears

The government is a key supporter of the body and has been pressuring Muslim leaders to get it up and running.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said it was government's job to support mosques rather than tell them what to do - but she urged them to "grasp the opportunity".

"The constitution and the standards being published today are a positive sign," said Ms Blears.

"It shows that Muslim communities want to make the changes that will build community cohesion and ensure that mosques are playing a role at the heart of communities.

"Strong mosques positioned at the centre of community, and effectively governed, will be better able to withstand attempts to hijack them by certain groups supporting violent extremist interpretations of Islam."

Mr Al-Khoei said he wanted to underline that the body was entirely independent, including a decision not to take core funding from either the British or foreign governments.

"Many people in the community will be suspicious and may fear the government wants to take over mosques. If we all work together then no government will have the will or the power to do so."

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

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