With the recent terrorist atrocities in London, it is time for the Muslims communities of Britain to ask themselves serious and searching questions. How is it that a group of young Muslim men from Indo-Pak backgrounds, from relatively good families can end up causing death, injury and destruction to so many in their own country? Why have these men taken on the ideology of hate and why have they been whipped up into a state where they can kill and consider it a moral duty?I am certain that the current state of our traditional mosques has a major part to play in the alienation, disenfranchisement and disenchantment of the young. The traditional mosques of this country have by and large been structures of very little activity. You pray and then you go home. As children you get sent to the mosque to “learn” the Qur’an without its meaning, as a child you are learning how to read the script of a foreign language without knowing or being told what the meaning is of what you are learning. By and large, you have an Imam who you have nothing in common with not even language for usually they are imported from India or Pakistan. The imam therefore is culturally very different to you and he does not understand the social context of the society that you are living in. Often the imam is not trained properly, whilst he can go through the motions of all the rituals and has memorised a few verses and prayers, he offers very little by the way of pastoral care. This is also compounded by the fact that I alluded to before, social context. Most imams do not engage the wider community, they don’t read anything outside religious material or sub-continent newspapers, they are generally ill informed and very unsophisticated in their thinking and approach to world events. Their lack of contact with the wider community stems from the fact that most have embarrisingly an embarrasingly poor standard of English and grasp of the nuances of British culture. But, as bad or as lacklustre as they are, the Imams are not really to blame. The blame lies squarely at the way our mosques are run.
You see, mosque committees the length and breadth of the country do not exist to serve the community, they exist to represent the various ethnic, racial and sectarian groups that make up the community. They are there for grown men (and in some cases elderly)to play petty-politics and to create themselves a “position” and “name” in the community. Like many people, I have sat on various committees such as school governors’ committees, business meetings and other such groups, what strikes me is that even when someone has an “agenda” or an issue, it does not become all consuming and usually they are appeased by the ensuing discussion. Then a period of compromise occurs and a resolution passed and people move on. But in mosque committee meetings not only is it difficult to get those elected to attend the meeting in the first place, it is difficult to get them to agree when discussions are started. Some people are obstinate and will oppose everything without considering the benefit or otherwise to the community, some people will side with others in the hope that when they raise their issue they will gain their support. What it boils down to in the end is stagnation of our communities due to the backwardness of our mosque committees. Mosque committees should be the driving force behind initiatives for youth work, for offering proper religious studies, providing for women’s activities and education, they should be involved in improving the health of our communities, liasing with local authorites and other faith organisations and much much more. When there is life and vibrancy in the way mosques are run, then this permeates into the community. Each community should be identifying young people who are academic achievers and to encourage them to study Islam properly from qualified scholars and to then bring that back to the community.
Our youth eventually get to the stage where they either want to know more about their religion, and in some detail, or they want to party like there is no tomorrow. Both routes offer self-destruction, one quite clearly, the other, unless the seeker is guided and nurtured, will become radicalised and open to the poison that the likes of Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza pour into the searching young ears and the pliable young minds of many of the youth today.
In short our mosques do not offer our communities, let alone our youth, anything except looks of distaste and a ticking off when they demand something more than the five daily prayers from the mosque. If this trend continues we will be storing up a host of problems in the future not least the kind of problem that reared its diabolical head on July 7th.