Cleric ‘not preaching’ to inmates

The lawyer for a Muslim preacher fighting extradition from the UK has denied her client has been preaching hate to fellow inmates. Abu Qatada, who once preached at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, is being held at a specialist unit at Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire. A prison union has said he could be radicalising other inmates via prayers. Qatada’s lawyer Gareth Peirce said that Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, did not preach to other inmates. Steve Gough, vice-chairman of the Prison Officers Association, has warned that Qatada could be using prayer meetings for indoctrinating the next generation of terrorists, as guards were unable to decipher what he was saying.

No evidence imams radicalize British Muslims, says research

There is no evidence that imams preaching at mosques are doing anything to radicalise young British Muslims, according to a research conducted by the University of Chester. The findings published on Friday contradict the British government’s controversial claim of blaming mosques as part of its strategy to defeat the threat of terrorism. But the research for BBC, surveying 300 mosques carried out by Chester University in north-west England, suggested some of the imams lack the language and skills to help tackle the threat from extremism. “Imams face competition from groups who wait outside mosques to hand out leaflets and are prepared to talk to young people in English about issues such as discrimination and UK foreign policy in the Middle East,” it said. The findings included that only 6 per cent of imams who preach at mosques speak English as a first language and almost 45 per cent had been in the UK for less than five years. The majority speak Urdu as a first language, with 50 per cent of imams from Pakistan, 20 per cent from Bangladesh and 15 per cent from India. Only 24 of the 300 imams surveyed were born and educated in the UK, which the report said did not reflect the percentage of British- born South Asian Muslims who represent more than half of Britain’s two million community. It also found that at Friday prayers, although 52 per cent of imams gave sermons in Urdu, the use of English was becoming more prevalent and suggested more investigation is required to assess the frequency and quality. The report’s author Professor Ron Geaves said the aim was to look at the ability of imams to adapt to modern Britain and that the study revealed “a deeply conservative body of individuals” qualified in the traditional Islamic curriculum. “Although there are social religious and political reasons that drive a need to transform the imamate to a 21st century British context there is as yet little sign of the mosque imams or their employers being ready to professionalise,” Geaves said. Before stepping down from power last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled plans to provide significant funding to train imams in Britain and change the teaching of Islam at UK universities. “We need to do to encourage the right intellectual and academic debate,” Blair said at the opening of a two-day international conference on Islam in London on June 4. It came after Attorney General Lord Goldsmith announced that specialist prosecutors were beginning to work with police officers to improve how they target extremist preachers. The government also separately announced the creation Faith and Social Cohesion Unit at the Charity Commission, aimed to strengthen governance in mosques to make them less susceptible to takeover by minority groups.

A Cleric’s Journey Leads to a Suburban Frontier

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. – Sheik Reda Shata pushed into Costco behind an empty cart. He wore a black leather jacket over his long, rustling robe, a pocket Koran tucked inside. The imam, a 38-year-old Egyptian, seemed not to notice the stares from other shoppers. He was hunting for a bargain, and soon found it in the beverage aisle, where a 32-can pack of Coca-Cola sold for $8.29. For Mr. Shata, this was a satisfying Islamic experience. The Prophet said, _Whoever is frugal will never suffer financially,’ said the imam, who shops weekly at the local store and admits to praying for its owners. He smiled. These are the people who will go to heaven. Seven months have passed since Mr. Shata moved to this New Jersey suburb to lead a mosque of prosperous, settled immigrants. It is a world away from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he toiled for almost four years, serving hundreds of struggling Muslims for whom America was still new. His transition is a familiar one for foreign-born imams in the United States, who often start out in city mosques before moving to more serene settings. For Mr. Shata, Middletown promised comfort after years of hardship. He left behind a tiny apartment for a house with green shutters set amid maple trees and sweeping lawns. He got a raise. He learned to drive. But the suburbs have brought challenges that Mr. Shata never imagined. His congregation in Brooklyn may have been on the margins of American society, but it was deeply rooted in Islam. Muslims in Middletown were generally more assimilated but less connected to their mosque. To be a successful suburban imam, he found, meant persuading doctors and lawyers not to rush from prayers to beat traffic. It meant connecting with teenagers who drove new cars, and who peppered their Arabic with like and yeah. It meant helping his daughter cope with mockery at school, in a predominantly white town that lost dozens of people on Sept. 11. Mr. Shata knew from his years in Brooklyn that the job demanded more than preaching and leading prayers, the things for which he was trained in Egypt. In America, he helped to arrange marriages. He mediated between the F.B.I. and his people. He set up a makeshift Islamic court to resolve disputes among hot dog vendors. Last summer, as he prepared to join a new community where the median income is roughly $86,000, he reminded himself that Islam has no quarrel with wealth – as long as the wealthy are pious. Still, he was stunned when a man at the mosque bought his daughter a new car, only for her to request a different model. Islam says to a Muslim you can own the world if you want, but don’t get attached to it, said Mr. Shata, speaking Arabic through a translator. Put the world in your hands, not your heart. […]

Spiegel interview with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäube: “We have no relationship to our diverse Muslim Society”

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Sch_uble discusses the pope’s criticism of Islam, the prospect of imams preaching in German, and the risk of terrorism in Germany now that the military is so busy overseas. Germany’s first-ever “Islamic conference” between Muslims and the government takes place next Wednesday in Berlin.

Establish Body To Train Imams: UK Muslim Leaders

British Muslim leaders called on the government to establish a national body to oversee mosques and imams as part of efforts to combat extremism following the July bombings in London. Working groups advising the government said that the proposed National Advisory Council of Imams and Mosques could recommend ways for mosques to prevent extremism, train Imams and encourage British-born Muslims to become clerics. Lord Ahmed, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords who headed one of the groups on Thursday, said that 1,700 of the estimated 2,000 Imams in Britain were educated and trained abroad. “As British Muslims we need to be prepared to modernise the way we operate, encouraging integration and helping our children to feel proud to be British,” he said. “I and my colleagues believe that the establishment of this Advisory Council is an important step towards this goal.” European governments seeking to counter the spread of extremism within some mosques are concerned that sermons are often not conducted in the country’s predominant language and that many clerics come from abroad rather than from local Muslim communities. The Dutch government earlier this year revoked the residency permits of three Imams whom it accused of preaching hate. In France, where a third of the 1,200 Imams do not speak French, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy recently called for better oversight of mosques in order to root out radicals.

Plan For New British-Muslim Identity Islamic School Offers Antidote To ‘Modern’ Extremism

LONDON: Two hundred students, giggling and gathering on the playground, are the best antidote to Islamic extremism, although they may not realise it yet. Students at Britain’s first state-funded Islamic school are pint-sized but carry the huge responsibility of forging a new identity for Muslims, one which is neither secular nor extremist, but “organic, dynamic and chaotic”, according to their headmaster. “We’re creating a British-Muslim identity and ethic, and we’re not in the business of preserving any particular culture,” Abdullah Trevathan said, describing the motley group of 23 nationalities, mostly of mixed descent, that make up the Islamiya Primary School. The youths are famous across Britain, and not just because their north London school was founded by the folksinger Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, in 1983. A decade after winning state funding-a right long accorded to Protestant and Catholic schools-they now attend one of the top primary schools in the country, learning the required state curriculum, plus religion and Arabic. At seven, pupils begin attending services at the mosque. Headscarves are optional for the youngest, and become part of the uniform at nine years of age. Cartesian analysis, questioning and debate are encouraged, replacing madrassa-style rote learning of the Quran. At its founding, during the era of Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, there were “fears about us having Molotov cocktail classes”, Trevathan told AFP in a recent interview. Such blatant Islamophobia has been largely silenced in the wake of Islamiya’s successes and in some ways the school has become iconic of the diversity touted by Britain’s Labour-led government. But the chief English schools inspector touched off fresh debate in January, worrying publicly that Islamic schools could pose a “challenge to our coherence as a nation”. Five of some 100 Muslim schools in England are now state funded, with the rest independent, and are joined by more than 50 Jewish schools and about 100 Evangelical Christian schools-in addition to existing Catholic and Protestant structures. Far from teaching radicalism and separatism, Islamiya has become a model of diversity, preaching tolerance not only to students but their families and the larger community, assembled from a jumble of Sunni and Shiite Muslim, Arab, Asian and European, privileged and poor backgrounds. “Islam is not served by centralization, it is served by diversity,” Trevathan said. The school’s adherence to traditional classical Islam, or the “scholastic approach responding to the problems of modern-day Britain”, contrasts with the “modernist” stand he said was embodied by both secularists and fundamentalists seeking to impose their uniform, universal view.

Cabinet To Act Against ‘Extremist Mosques’

AMSTERDAM – The Dutch government has committed itself to a plan of action against the 10 to 25 mosques in the Netherlands where “extremist sermons” are delivered, Interior Minister Johan Remkes has said. Remkes told Parliament that if the criminal law can’t be used against these mosques, the government will consider withdrawing subsidies and residence permits for the Muslim clerics preaching at the mosques. He made his remarks during a parliamentary debate about terrorism on Wednesday.