Page last updated at 06:58 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 07:58 UK

Muslim youths to advise ministers

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs reporter

Muslims praying
Young British Muslims will be advising government ministers

A group of young British Muslims are being named as advisers to ministers as part of a drive against extremism.

The move comes as part of fresh plans to prevent radicalisation and address community concerns.

The 22 Muslims aged 16-25 will hold regular meetings with key ministers and civil servants.

Muslims called for a voice for youngsters in an official plan after the 2005 London suicide bombings which killed 52 people.

The advisory group comes as the government is rethinking how to prevent violent extremism, a key element of counter-terrorism strategy.

Officials have acknowledged more work needs to be done to reach out into Muslim communities.

The youth advisers are similar to another initiative which has seen Muslim women directly advise ministers.

In contrast, the largest Muslim umbrella body in the UK remains on the sidelines amid continuing rows with government.

Ensuring young Muslims have access to constructive, democratic channels for dealing with concerns and frustrations is crucial to our efforts to build strong, resilient communities

Hazel Blears, Communities Secretary

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and Schools Secretary Ed Balls are unveiling 22 youth advisers who officials say have been drawn from a wide range of ethnic and social backgrounds.

They will be asked to give direct views to ministers on key issues including extremism, discrimination, citizenship and how they see Islam fitting into British society.

In turn, officials hope they will take the dialogue with government back into communities. The 22 have been partly chosen because of their track-records of community action and volunteering.

Varied backgrounds

One of the advisers, 18-year-old medical student Aziza Al Yassin, said: "I hope to highlight the forgotten achievements of the Muslim community in Britain, as well as the areas where improvement is needed, not only with regards to tackling violence and extremism, but also in helping develop our mosques, education and interaction with the wider community.

"Being a part of the link which is helping to address the lack of communication between Muslims and the government, I can appreciate my role in identifying the issues which affect the British Muslim community most, and how these can best be dealt with."

More than 150 young people applied for positions on the group, with the final number chosen after a weekend of workshops and debates.

The advisers include students, undergraduates and a trainee lawyer.

Ministers are understood to be prepared to have frank conversations with the advisors over foreign policy and other issues playing a role in terrorism recruitment.

But it is unclear if the final group includes anyone who holds political views which would be unpalatable for government.

'Vital role'

Critics of the strategy on preventing extremism believe officials have wasted time since 2005 talking to people with no influence over those most likely to be radicalised.

Ms Blears said: "There are over 800,000 Muslims under the age of 25 living in the UK but we don't hear enough from them.

"Ensuring young Muslims have access to constructive, democratic channels for dealing with concerns and frustrations is crucial to our efforts to build strong, resilient communities.

"Young Muslims have a vital role to play in challenging prejudice and preconceptions both within their community and in wider society and I want to hear directly from these young people on a wide range of issues."


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