Britain’s Muslims have now proposed a code of practice for the 1,500 mosques that goes a long way in addressing these concerns and laying down agreed standards that all observant Muslims have a right to expect from a well-run mosque.
The draft constitution drawn up by a new advisory board, sponsored by four of Britain’s Muslim umbrella organisations, is a document as refreshing as it is courageous. It implicitly acknowledges some of the failings that have allowed extremists to gain a foothold – poorly educated imams, a lack of financial transparency, little pastoral training and barriers to the participation of women – and lays down a ten-point code of “core standards” to tackle these. This includes stricter vetting of imams from abroad, leadership training for those in Britain, better language skills, greater accountability by the governing boards of mosques and better incorporation into management structures of national legislation on health and safety, child protection and outlawing discrimination in employment and services.
On issues that have caused the greatest controversy, the document is outspoken. There should be “no impediment”, it says, to the participation of young people and women in the running of mosques. All mosques should have programmes to “promote civic responsibility” of Muslims in wider society, as well as programmes to “combat all forms of violent extremism”. They should run regular events “to promote the importance of living in peace with others in a culturally diverse society”, and should ensure that interfaith activities take place with local communities. Mosques are obliged to make clear that “forced marriages are understood, and publicised, as unIslamic.” And this stigma, which carries greater weight among many Muslims than simply being illegal, applies also to marital violence and harassment.
There are important elements to these proposals to ensure their translation into practice. The first is that the code is voluntary. If mosques agree to subscribe, they will be subject to random inspection. If they do not, they will be swiftly identified as places where extremist doctrines or sloppy practices hold sway.
Well great, but then what. Old Man Hook’s joint was pretty clearly a place where extremist doctrines and sloppy practices held sway and it still fired up Richard Reid and Zacharias Moussaoui.
Secondly, the democratic structure of governance is designed to prevent any ethnic or ideological group getting exclusive control. And, most importantly, this plan is for self-regulation. Although influenced by government-sponsored consultation, it is independent of the Government – and must remain so, if it is to have credibility. It may take time to improve things. It will not eliminate the influence of fanatics (or do anything to mitigate the baleful effect of antics by zealots elsewhere, such as those seeking punishment for a teacher in Sudan). But it will go a long way to winning the hearts and minds of younger British Muslims for a practice of religion that is tolerant, fair and in keeping with the values and laws of this country.
Personally I think it’ll just give the usual suspects something else to be aggrieved about, delegitimize, and turn into something that the well-meaning white people (if you’ll excuse the reductivism) will happily agree to never pay the slightest bit of attention to since it upsets A Great and Peaceful Religion so much.