UK: Mosques told to obey new code of conduct

Leaders of Muslim groups draw up rules to fight extremists and allow women's rights.
British mosques will be expected to modernise and do far more to outlaw extremist Islamic teaching under new rules drawn up by Muslim leaders.
For the first time, a code of standards will allow mosques and their imams to be supervised and regulated. At present, there is no set of rules governing the running of Britain's 1,500 mosques.

Among the core standards set out in the draft, and seen by The Observer, is the stipulation that members must offer programmes that 'actively combat all forms of violent extremism within the society at large'. All mosques will have to carry out regular checks on their staff, and offer mainstream religious teaching.

But the code, drawn up by members of the four main Muslim organisations, will also offer Muslim women much greater protection. Imams will be expected to make it clear to their followers that forced marriages are completely 'unIslamic', as are violence or harassment in domestic disputes.

The move comes against the backdrop of growing concerns about extremist ideology being propagated within mosques. Last week, it was revealed that pamphlets advocating the suppression of women's rights, hatred for non-Muslims and the execution of lapsed Muslims had been found at some large centres.

The new standards, set out by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Minab, will be introduced next year. The Muslim groups have opted for a form of self-regulation rather than government-imposed rules. Mosques which join will face random checks by trained teams to ensure that standards are met - but those which don't sign up will come under pressure to explain their stance.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, who last week announced she would make £25m available to train imams to spot signs of dangerous fundamentalism, said she also wants to see how policy can be shaped to encourage a bigger role for women. 'We need a new generation of women leaders, and that is quite a cultural challenge,' she said.

Blears is dismissive of critics who say the veil or hijab is holding women back. 'I think we talk too much about what women wear, not enough about what they do. We need to listen to people from all walks of life and find a way of giving them a stronger voice.'

By: Jo Revill

4 November 2007