By Imam Abdullah Hasan
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, politicians, journalists and community leaders have been criticising Imams in Britain for not doing enough to counter the apparent increasing number of Muslims, especially the youth, from being swayed by ‘radical Islam’. Although I understand, to a certain extent, why people may suggest this, I think the overwhelming majority, if not all Muslims in Britain, will concur that Imams are in fact not to be held responsible for the actions of some ignorant vigilantes.
Studies have demonstrated to us that it was and is our government’s careless foreign policies which were the prime instigators of these (undoubtedly illegal and wrong) responses. Therefore to castigate the Muslims or the Imams for this is neither justifiable nor valid. Nevertheless, I do think that particularly Imams and people in positions of leadership and responsibility must reflect and consider where we could have helped, directly or indirectly, in preventing these horrific attacks, such that in future we help prevent the youth from channelling their frustrations in the wrong way.
With Islamophobia on the rise, social ills, crime, disaffected youths, rise of the far right, the foreseeable change in the political demographics in Britain, combined with a deep misunderstanding of Islam by both Muslims and non-Muslims; I believe that British Imams in the coming years need to play a more proactive role in British society. In order to be in a positive situation to tackle some if not all these challenges, the coming decade must see British Imams take into consideration and adopt some of the following points:
British Imams should not be constrained by ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ Islam.
‘Those are a people who have passed away. For them is what they earned, and for you is what you earned, and you shall not be questioned about what they have been doing’’. (2:133.141)
An Arabic proverb states ‘whoever holds history in his heart has added the lives of others to his own.’ This, however, does not mean that people blindly imitate the past in every detail. Every age has its own challenges and opportunities which require dynamism and innovative methods in order to remove the problems people may encounter.
Unfortunately, what tends to often surface when discussing Imams is that most are born and trained abroad (although this is changing). The consequence is that people begin to articulate a cultural Islam which is far from the contextual and relevant teachings of the scriptures – physically they may be in Britain but psychologically they are somewhere that is alien to the needs of society.
I have had the great fortune to study in the Middle East as well as graduate from an Islamic seminary here in the U.K. We were always encouraged to integrate and contextualise our traditional learning with the culture and society in which we live; I pray this attitude will become more widespread among the scholars and institutions of learning.
This will, naturally, require time and investment in resources. However, for the government to import more Imams from abroad and simultaneously demand them to tackle extremism seems to be contradictory and only enhances the cultural gap existent between the people and some of the Imams. Our government needs to abandon this approach and support existing mainstream Imams in Britain to ensure the integration of their traditional learning with the British context. This process can only take effect if the Imams move away from blindly imitating historical or cultural traditions.
British Imams need to engage and work with other communities
“Help each other in righteousness and piety, and do not help each other in sin and aggression. Fear Allah. Surely, Allah is severe at punishment’’. (5:2)
Although there are many Imams working and participating in activities with other communities , I hope the coming decade will see more collaborative work between Imams and other faith and community leaders, which is done to effect genuine change and achieve community cohesion in the ambiance of friendship and good will rather than with the sole intention of political expediency. I hope the insular image people have of Imams will be dispelled by an increase in proactive engagement and a welcoming approach to other communities by Imams.
British Imams need to communicate using the same frame of reference as the target audience.
The simplest means of exemplifying this point is by reference to the Prophetic example. As with previous prophets, Imams must convey their message in the language and terms understood by the followers.
British Imams must focus on contemporary issues.
Different Prophets had different focuses based upon that which was relevant to their particular audience. Prophet Nuh (peace be upon him) focussed on the issue of caste and class differences, Prophet Hud (peace be upon him) on imperialism, and Prophet Lut (peace be upon him) on permissiveness. In the next ten years British Imams need to hone their message to be relevant to addressing the ills degrading society today, such as pornography, nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, drugs, etc.
The aforementioned points are not a definitive list, but only a brief overview of the task of Imams in Britain. It is hoped that, over the coming decade, by considering and adopting these points, students of knowledge and trainee Imams may equip and develop themselves with the skills necessary to convey the Islamic message in a contextual and relevant manner to the Muslims and the wider community in Britain. As a result, by 2020, we may hope to have a community of Imams that the Muslim society, and indeed British society as a whole, can depend upon as guides that lead Britain towards moral and spiritual progression.
Imam Abdullah Hasan graduated with an Imam Diploma and BA in Islamic Studies from the European College for Islamic Studies (Wales). He holds a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University (Jordan) and studied with numerous renowned scholars of Jordan. He was a teacher and Director of Student Affairs at the European Academy for Islamic Studies (London, UK). He is a founding director of Spring Foundation (SF), a scholarship charity, a member of the European Assembly of Imams and Spiritual Guides and the Imam of UKIM Mosque in Euston Square. Abdullah Hasan is also pursuing a postgraduate programme in Counselling Psychology, focusing on youth counselling. He keeps a regular blog at www.abdullahhasan.net
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