Blair Promises to Improve Teaching of Islamic Studies

By Stephen Bates and James Meikle — PM says politicians should listen to moderate voices — Report calls for more UK-trained Muslim clerics Tony Blair yesterday pledged to spend _1m improving the teaching of Islamic studies at universities, as Downing Street said more imams should be trained in Britain to reduce reliance on foreign-trained clerics. In a speech to a conference of moderate Muslims in London, the prime minister accepted that British politicians should listen more carefully to the views of “the calm voice of moderation and reason” within the community. He insisted that his government’s foreign interventions had not been based on religion. Mr Blair said: “The voices of extremism are no more representative of Islam than the use in times gone by of torture to force conversion to Christianity represented the teachings of Christ.” Among those invited by the Cambridge inter-faith programme were the grand muftis of Egypt and Bosnia, but not representatives of more extreme or politicised lobbying groups. The guest list was criticised by the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, and also by the Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who told the BBC: “The conference is fronted by Cambridge University but organised by Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the communities department, who have deliberately chosen to exclude those Muslims who disagree with Government policy … It’s a colonial style of governing.”

£5M To Steer Young Muslims From Extremism

Michael Settle A PACKAGE of measures to steer young Muslims away from extremism and to get them to integrate better into mainstream British society was put forward by community leaders yesterday in response to the July 7 London bombings. Seven working groups set up by Charles Clarke, the home secretary, in the wake of the terrorist attacks recommended: A national advisory council of imams and mosques to teach English to imams, encourage more UK-born Muslims to become Islamic clerics so as to reduce the reliance on foreign-based ones and to advise mosques on how to prevent them being used by extremists; A national forum against extremism and Islamaphobia to provide a regular discussion point for Muslims to talk about issues as they affect their local communities, with access to government to “share outcomes and understandings”; and A nationwide road show of influential, populist religious scholars to explain the true meaning of Islam and condemn extremism. The home secretary praised the “constructive” work of the groups and said he broadly supported their proposals, announcing the government would spent _5m over the next 18 months to pursue them. “The initial take we have on the recommendations is overwhelmingly positive,” stressed Mr Clarke. Lord Ahmed, convener of the mosques and imams group, said of the proposed national advisory council: “For the first time we’ve had a debate in the Muslim community and in the mosques with the imams. They know we can’t continue to deliver sermons in Arabic and you can’t exclude youths and women from mosque committees.” The Labour peer added: “We can’t have illiterate people on mosque committees or people with criminal records on mosque committees, or anywhere near the mosques.” Lord Ahmed said that of the estimated 2000 imams in Britain, about 1700 were educated and trained abroad. Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney general, described the ideas as “sensible . . . and well-intended”. But he added: “While helping create better community relations and understanding between Muslims and the wider community, one feature of these proposals is that public money should be spent on schemes promoting Islam. “We are concerned that this could cause resentment in other faith groups and be wholly counter-productive if it is distinct from other multi-faith initiatives.”