Britain’s Mosques – Back to the Future

SHAFAQNA – An energetic new generation of young Muslims is leading the Muslim Council of Britain and this week they launched their “Our Mosques Our Future” initiative. The one-day conference was held at Friends House in London with over 400 mosque leaders and activists across the UK coming together to explore the evolving role of mosques in 21st century Britain under the theme #MoreThanaPrayerSpace.

There are over three thousand Mosques across the United Kingdom primarily dedicated to ritual prayer and worship, funeral services or Quran teaching classes. Many Muslims argue that this limited range of service delivery does not even reflect the model of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and nor does it fulfill the needs of the emerging generation of 21st century British born Muslims, many of whom face a huge psychological, political, cultural and spiritual crisis of identity.
Haroon Khan, the MCB Secretary General, welcomed guests and speakers including Imam Abid Salik of York Mosque, Maryam Hassam of Hyderi Islamic Centre and Ishtiaq Ahmed of Bradford Council for Mosques, shared their inspiring stories of how their local mosques have excelled in fields such as outreach work, supplementary school provision and social care delivery. Difficult questions on the challenges faced by mosques in Britain were also tackled at the conference including Islamophobia, governance good practice and access for women, as well as other workshops on creating safe spaces for young people, disability inclusion and dealing with the media.
Tighter UK Charity Commission monitoring , British government Prevention of extremism legislation, unimaginative service delivery, empty white elephant buildings, Mosque committee mafia’s and archaic madrasa curriculums are just some of the problems associated with some British based Mosques which nakes this initiative a potentially very timely one indeed.
‘Better Mosques: a Community Consultation’ is the MCB’s formal nationwide exercise, launched on by the organization, to determine how mosques in Britain could have a structured and national approach to achieving better Mosques. The MCB is essentially still inviting more views from zmosques and their local communities across Britain on how best to achieve this improvement in 2018 and beyond. A spokesman for the organization said “further to initial feedback received from mosques via regional consultation sessions held by the Muslim Council of Britain in early 2017,  it is clear that there is a strong desire to have a structured and national approach to achieving better mosques.”
The MCB says it will not necessarily be the delivery body for these ideas, rather they propose to work with key partners and stakeholders to ensure the results of the consultation translate into practical and tangible action afterwards. MCB will commit to facilitating the consultation exercise and producing a summary report by June 2018.This survey is, they say, open to Mosque trustees / committee members, students, professionals, young activists, academics Regional Council of Mosques, national umbrella organisations, Imams & Chaplains, Mosque service users/worshippers, neighbour and anyone else with an interest in the future of Mosques in Britain.
As part of this consultation, five ideas have already been proposed for national services that could offer several benefits to mosques in Britain – Mosques and Women: MCB says this group will seek to represent the views of women with regard to access within mosques. Next is the Mosques and Youth: This group will be responsible for helping mosques to make their mosques safe spaces that are welcoming young people and the next generation. The  Mosques and Health group will be aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing health inequalities by working with specialist organisations and mosques to achieve this. In addition there is the Mosques and Education team – this group will work with supplementary schools and madrassahs to ensure that the educational issues are addressed and given the attention they deserve and finally there will be a Mosques and New Muslims  group which will aim to equip mosques with the tools to make them more welcoming to New Muslims who may otherwise suffer from social isolation.
The purpose of these working groups is to bring stakeholders together and devise a plan of action in order to help mosques address the UK in those sectors. MCB will also be organising at least five Regional Mosque Forum events in major cities across the UK, where the public will be able to meet with the consultation team in person to discuss the proposals, give their feedback, as well as discuss other general issues facing mosques in their region and they say dates for the Regional Mosque Forum events will also be announced shortly.
A cautionary note for Mosque reformists was mooted by an IMCD delegate  who said “ In these times of systemic institutional Islamophobia change should not be brought about in fear of or in compliance with the religio-political engineering fetishes of neoliberal-inspired establishment policy makers; nor should it be done as a reactionary short term fix, but rather it should be done to facilitate the emergence of Mosques with a more long term holistic, ethical service ethos producing wisdom-oriented  Muslims capable of living and projecting ‘intelligent Islam’ for a 21st century which will need it more than ever before.
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