Britain might try to regulate mosques

April 06, 2007|By New York Times News Service

LONDON -- The British official in charge of reaching out to disaffected Muslims indicated in a speech yesterday that the government intended to take some steps to regulate and try to influence the affairs of Muslim religious institutions and mosques.

The official, Ruth Kelly, the minister of local government and communities, said imams working in government hospitals and prisons would be required to meet certain criteria, including a good grasp of English.

Speaking at the Muslim Cultural Center, a mosque in a relatively affluent area of London, she also said the government planned to offer financial benefits to mosques that registered as charities and showed willingness to take a stand against extremism.

Kelly said she was determined to "isolate and push out a tiny minority who spread hatred and intolerance." The government would do this, she said, by emphasizing the need for Muslim immigrants to be British as well as Muslim.

A number of imams in Britain who were born in Pakistan speak limited English and preach in Urdu, a situation that security experts say inhibits the ability of the government to know what is going on inside some mosques and the prisons. Increasingly, the government has said it is concerned that radical Muslim preachers are influencing Muslim inmates and encouraging prison networks devoted to extremist ideologies.

Britain continues to struggle with how to counter radical jihadist ideologies that have taken hold among some Muslim young people here, particularly those of Pakistani descent.

More than 1.6 million Muslims live in Britain; most of them have strong ties to South Asia. Since the deadly attack on the London transit system in July 2005 by four suicide bombers, three of whom were of Pakistani descent, the government has tried to supplement its security expenditures with softer approaches.

Government-appointed committees with Muslim members, including a task force called Preventing Extremism Together, were supposed to come up with programs but have had limited success.

A national advisory board led by a Muslim member of the House of Lords, Nazir Ahmed, was asked last year to come up with guidelines for the operation of mosques and the education of their leaders, but it has yet to do so.

"There are too few homegrown imams, and some key institutions - like mosques - need strengthening," Kelly said yesterday.

As an example of government efforts to spread a message of moderation, she cited a program in West Yorkshire that distributes material on the meaning of British citizenship to madrassas where primary-school students take after-school religious instruction.

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