Wednesday, 25 February 2009

How Britain's mosques foster extremism

As a child, I was unsure if I belonged to Britain, India - or both, or neither. In the day I went to a multifaith, multi-ethnic state school in the East End of London. At school I was taught to question, think and see all religions equally. In the evenings, I attended Koran schools at a mosque on Brick Lane where I was forced to learn to read Arabic, but not to understand meanings of words. I was not allowed to question, but simply to bob to and fro and learn Arabic prayers without understanding. All our teachers were elderly Asian immigrant men, and we were not allowed to mix with girls. At school, our teachers were mostly English women and we were encouraged to mix with everybody.

I developed two personalities, two worlds, two allegiances: one at “English school” and another at the mosque. I was torn, confused and full of questions. But what now? Two decades on, surely Britain's Muslims are in a better place.

Today, there are between 1,200 and 1,600 mosques in Britain - no definite figure exists. Yesterday, the Charity Commission sought to gloss over the malaise in them by publishing figures on attendance, but not inquiring into difficult areas. At Quilliam, Britain's first counter-

extremism think-tank, we commissioned a poll of more than 1,000 mosques in 2008, during Ramadan when mosques are busiest. Despite employing Urdu and Bengali-speaking researchers, we could poll only just over 500. Most British mosques don't maintain a reception or service to answer questions, and not every one we did reach was willing to answer.

Quilliam's report, Mosques Made in Britain, reveals the true extent of the mess. We found that 97 per cent of imams, or leaders, were from overseas and 92 per cent were educated abroad, mostly in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Almost all mosques are controlled by first-generation immigrant men, leaving most British Muslims - women and young people - out of the management structure. Read more
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