SHAFAQNA – Britain’s most senior Muslim clerics are to set up their first national council to issue progressive religious rulings that “embed Islam in a 21st-century British context”.
Qari Asim, one of Britain’s most prominent imams, said the central religious authority would promote an interpretation of Islam that was in line with British values.
Asim, the chief imam of Makkah mosque in Leeds, said the British Muslim community was crying out for an authoritative and credible voice that could speak out on issues as diverse as terrorism, obesity, organ donation and Islamophobia.
“People are proud and confident of their religious identity as well as their national identity, but at times they’re not getting enough theological or doctrinal guidance on some of their daily issues,” he said.
The national body, to consist of senior imams who will consult experts on issues, would be the first central religious authority for British Muslims. It would deliver religious rulings on topics that attract diverse views across the Muslim community, with the aim of providing clarity to young British Muslims, Asim said.
“This is about providing clarity on some of the sociopolitical issues, whether it be forced marriages, [female genital mutilation], honour killing,” he said. “These practices are not sanctioned by the faith Islam but they are cultural practices that have penetrated the Muslim community of particular backgrounds.
“The attempt is to embed Islam in a 21st-century British context. It’s about contextualising Islam in Britain.”
Asim, 39, was recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2012 for working to build bridges between communities in Leeds since the 7 July 2005 terror attack. He is an adviser to a commons inquiry into sharia councils and has campaigned against forced marriages and domestic violence. The imam is seen as a leading progressive figure in the British Muslim community.
Unlike the Church of England, there is no hierarchical structure to Islam in Britain, with most mosques operating independently. Asim said the new body would make rulings in a similar way to national religious bodies in many Sunni Muslim countries, although here it would be independent of government.
“It would lose credibility if it was state-backed or state-influenced,” Asim said. “The intention isn’t to have a mouthpiece for the government: it’s about providing a credible, authoritative voice for Muslims.”
He said the body would “supplement and complement” existing bodies, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents hundreds of mosques across the country but does not rule on religious doctrine.
“We want to protect our young people from the extremist narrative [of those] who are brainwashing and recruiting them, but at the same time we want them to feel comfortable and confident in their national heritage and uphold the values of democracy, rule of law, justice and compassion.”
Asim, who described Thursday’s terror attack in Spain as depraved, said there would be diverse views on issues including abortion, organ donation or climate change, but that organisation would seek to come to a formal position by a unanimous or majority vote and after hearing expert opinion on those topics.
“There are going to inevitably be diverse views on different issues, but the point is that we have a dialogue and debate about them and reach some form of consensus, whether it be unanimous or a majority, where there is clarity for young British Muslims,” he said.