Letter to Members of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body (MINAB)
Asalasmu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu
Re: Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body
The launch of MINAB on 29th November 2007 places upon its founders an enormous test. They have declared MINAB an independent advisory body whose aim is to seek to improve the mosques in this country. It has not declared itself to be a self-appointed or undisputed governing body for mosques, and some of the founding organisations have made great efforts to distance it from any government agenda.
However, set against what may seem to some generally reasonable aims are the harsh realities of today’s political climate. Government ministers past and present have virtually claimed the strategy as their own, suggesting that this strategy is an essential part of their ‘war on terror’ and ‘hearts and minds’ policy – born as it was out of an idea that came from the government’s own working group in 2005. It is striking that statements of politicians about MINAB have suggested this and have been reinforced by the media coverage of the launch. Former Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly even spoke about establishing a British form of Islam when she launched a very prescriptive agenda for mosques, Imams and madrassahs in April 2007.
It is a feature of many politicians, media commentators and policy advisors that they consistently conflate security matters with matters of the beliefs and values of Muslims. Similarly, they have mixed security policy with policies claimed to be for improving community relations. These misguided and misleading strategies are at best irrelevant to security and counterproductive to good community relations. They have seamlessly linked the threat of violence in the UK, which none of us stand for, to widely held and core Islamic beliefs and legitimate political concerns, now labelled as extremist ideas. They then link policies for better community relations to the control and suppression of these beliefs and concerns. Shariah, Khilafah, the honour of the Prophet (saw) and his family, aspects of Islam that differ with western liberal values, concerns about western foreign policy in the Muslim world – all of these are regularly labelled as problem ideas.
Any initiative which is sincerely based upon firm Islamic criteria that works towards improved governance in our mosques, better access for youth and women, or improvements in madrassah curricula and teaching styles would be valuable. Good governance in mosques, transparency in decision making, accountability of mosque committees, wider consultation, and engagement in community dawah so people can see the beauty of this deen, and how it can better the general community, are all noble Islamic aims if aimed towards achieving the pleasure of Allah (swt).
However, any initiative subverted by another agenda, used to perpetuate a false myth that mosques breed violence, or preach hatred would be harmful for our community. It would further the McCarthyist atmosphere that has developed. Would the hijacking of the agenda to preach a ‘reformist’ message to somehow distort Islamic ideas to suit a liberal agenda earn the pleasure of Allah (swt)? It is not fanciful to think that politicians could hijack even well intentioned actions.
Machiavellian politicians of all parties would seek to run rings around us if they see any exploitable opportunity, using mosques as pawns in their own misguided policies. Haven’t we seen matters hijacked before – a message for Muslims to be vigilant spun as a call for Muslims to spy on each other; a message that Muslims want to end an attack on Afghanistan spun as an endorsement of the attack?
Some of the government’s proposed interventionist policies are similar to the control of mosques and Imams by regimes in the Muslim world. However, establishing a ministry of ‘Awqaf’ would not be a very British thing; even an ‘Arch-mufti’ of Canterbury is some way off. Though, there is a track record in the Indian subcontinent of trying to control religion, different methods of state control exist today. Universal registration of mosques allow policing by the charities commission; threats of mosque closure would follow non compliance to standards set by a government regulatory body; financial incentives would promote dependency upon government, as the one who pays the piper calls the tune. All of these are methods that have been used in many other areas of life but can lead to every bit as much control without appearing as draconian as what happens in the Muslim world.
Britain’s history not only shows how religion was controlled in the colonies but how it was made subservient to the state here: sometimes through constitutional means (the break from Rome and the formation of a state-established church), sometimes through oppression and sometimes through manipulation of religious texts. Were this to happen to Islam and Muslims in Britain it would rightly be seen by the Muslim community as a betrayal of what is right. The Muslim community, who feel pressure from the anti-terror laws and relentless anti-Islamic propaganda in the media, would be let down by any who allowed this.
Our view is that our mosques, run in an inclusive and transparent manner could empower our community acting as the hub for community life. Silencing a voice for Muslims in our mosques would inevitably lead to frustration. Allowing discussion and debate becomes a channel and a vent for people’s feelings. They could be opened for non-Muslims to come and ask and learn about Islam. It is my hope and prayer that this is what will be achieved.
My sincere advice to you brothers and sisters engaged in this venture is to be prepared for almost unbearable pressure upon you to divert from your independent advisory role, towards becoming a body that becomes financially dependent, and that seeks to directly or indirectly promote the state regulation of mosques. Such pressure will come from people within your organisation as well as people outside it. Pressure will come from the media scrutinising MINAB to see if it is successful in secularising the mosques in Britain. We ask Allah (swt) to keep you on the straight path and to keep you away from pitfalls in your way.
"O believers! If you help (in the cause of) Allah, He will help you, and make your foothold firm" – [Surah Muhammad Ayat 7]
Wasalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatahu
Chairman UK Executive Committee
19th Dhul Qada 1428
29th November 2007