12 Essential recommendations for UK-based mosques

There was a recent conference held by the Muslim Council of Britain last January called “Our Mosques, Our Future“. The conference was based around the idea of “#morethanaprayerspace” – looking at the role of Britain’s 1,500 mosques today compared to how they were in Prophet Muhammad’s time and examining if they are fulfilling their multi-faceted roles and meeting the needs of their communities.

I unfortunately did not attend the conference but have myself become increasingly fed-up by certain obstacles/patterns of behaviour. At the same time, I have also been inspired by the great examples set in other places of worship such as churches and synagogues. Based on personal and non-personal experiences, I therefore present 12 essential recommendations for UK-based mosques – in no particular order.

1. Childcare facilities 

A mosque should be a community space. At the same time it should allow space for quiet prayer and reflection. Especially during busy periods such as Friday Jummah prayers and Ramadan, something as basic as a crèche would avoid clearly distressed children having to be in the prayer hall and disturbing other sisters.

Childcare services would also ensure that women have easier access to mosques. The choice should be mother’s to either to stay at home and build prayer around child caring duties at home or if they so wish to be able to pray at the mosque without yet another obstacle in their way.

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2. Interfaith programmes 

Interfaith programmes are a must for any mosque, in particular in multifaith societies such as Britain. It’s crucial that Muslim communities learn and reach out to other faith (and non-faith) communities. This is especially important in relation to the Jewish community.

Such programmes should however not simply utilise members of boards/management committees – they should be open for members of the local congregation/community to participate and learn for real maximum effect.

3. Women co-leadership

The sad truth is that some mosques do not even have prayer spaces for ladies. I’ve seen some wudhu (ablution) “facilities” that were so dirty I could not wash. This is abhorrent. Islam is for everyone – men and women. This is just the basic level.

Moving onwards and upwards, women must crucially be more greatly included. They must form part of leadership committees, educational programmes and local initiatives. They must be given a platform to share their voices – and with real roles not simply a token platforms and gestures.

For the sake of equality and to ensure that women’s needs are met, women must be included. The lack of women’s leadership and instead great number of all-male committees is a sad reflection of our community and not representative of Islam.

4. Marriage counselling 

Marriage counselling both before, during and even after a marital split to ensure cooperation and mutual respect is essential. Marriage is a big commitment and cultural barriers, communication issues, family tensions and a number of other potential “problems” can create significant tensions and misunderstandings in a marriage. To ensure that couples know what to expect and what is expected of them, pre-marital counselling must be openly available – and be highly recommended to couples prior to their marriage.

Counselling is an excellent form of therapy for couples experiencing problems but is often expensive, comes with stigma or feelings of failure/shame and may lack religious expertise. Mosques must ensure that they can provide a good quality professional service with staff sensitive to religious needs/understandings. This could be through a referral network and in many cases these services may offer a more professional/adequate service.

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5. Women’s support services 

Girls and women at risk of FGM, domestic abuse or any other issues must feel that they have somewhere to turn to seek confidential advice and support. Women experiencing any forms of emotional, sexual, physical, physiological, financial, spiritual or physical abuse will feel frightened, confused and alone. An additional range of cultural, linguistic and social barriers or simply a lack of knowledge of services out there which can help, means that a dedicated support team for women who (are able to) attend the mosque will ensure that these vulnerable women and girls have a greater support network.

Through either dedicated staff or a strong referral network, safeguarding mechanisms, counselling, protection and reporting, legal support and guidance can be offered and protect women at risk or subjected to these unjust and brutal forms of violence.

6. Social justice initiatives

A mosque should not simply be a place of prayer – we may all know that. It should serve as a community centre which helps both its own and other communities, as part of a wider society. That’s why food banks, charity (sadaqah) funds and a whole range of social initiatives are a must.

Help and support should reach those of all faiths and none, regardless of sexuality, gender, age, nationality or ethnic background.

7. Khutbahs in English 

I think it’s rather sad that in my entire experience of attending khutbas in the UK, I have only ever understood the sermons in one mosque/community centre. The khutba should serve to teach Muslims about important issues. However, I see two problems here:

  1. Most are not in English (instead in only Arabic or another language)
  2. They generally are repetitive in nature and do not address a wide enough range of (current) issues

We need to engage people to take action against injustice, to utilise the wisdom of the Holy Qur’an and to do good as Allah wills. This is not simply through “religious ibadah” (worship) but through taking action against injustice, giving in charity and building bridges amongst other communities. Khutbas should therefore be accessible to everyone in terms of language and content, regardless of age and ethnic/linguistic background. The use of interpreting headsets/subtitles is one way to address the linguistic challenges. I also urge leaders to reflect upon their sermons and further reach out to the younger population.

8. Adequate facilities for the disabled

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It has been pointed out to me by the Open My Mosque initiative something which I sadly failed to notice for myself – and this speaks volumes: the lack of facilities for and measure to promote inclusion for Muslims with physical disabilities.

We must ensure that sign language interpreters are available as well as hearing loops, ramps for wheelchair users and adequate disabled toilets and parking. Consultation with communities, families and service providers should ensure that peoples voices are being heard and their needs are being met in the best, most professional, sensitive and inclusive way possible.

9. Youth clubs

It is critical that younger members of the community (especially teenagers) have creative and social outlets, such as craft clubs and sporting initiatives to offer space, productive and inclusive spaces to make friends, spend free time and learn new skills or simply get some exercise!

Having a stable community network with respected role models, people to turn to in times of trouble and meet like-minded young people is important. Mosques must offer this community element, not simply a prayer space for religious purposes.

10. Social clubs

As with youth clubs, social activities to bind the community together are essential. This is particularly important if we consider new arrivals to the UK/refugee communities, converts, stay-at-home or single mothers and other groups to whom we should be offering a strong social community network. The mosque should offer a home, a safe space of understanding to come together and enjoy being Muslim! The greater the cultural diversity the better!

11. Intrafaith inclusion

I’ve talked about interfaith work and bringing different cultural communities within the Muslim community together but here’s one essential critical need which is simply a “no-go” for some people. However, it cannot be escaped. Prejudice, discrimination and intolerance must be broken down and dismantled. We must unite as a community. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ahmadi Muslims must work together.

If you cannot work together as a religious community within Islam (and yes Ahmadis are Muslim and who are you to question!), then how can you reach out and build stronger bonds with other religious communities (e.g. churches, synagogues and gurdwaras) and the wider community? It’s hypocrisy. Plain and simple. Harsh words but this needs to be said. No one is saying you have to have exactly the same beliefs and practices, but you should be welcoming to others, share dialogue, shared events and never turn people away. Simple.

12. Good referral network of NGOs and service providers 

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No one can expect each and every mosque to have an infinite amount of financial and professional resources. That is why it’s crucial to build good referral networks with local and national charities, governmental and non-governmental organisations and services providers.

Some of the organisations/local government departments with which mosques need to build, strengthen or maintain links include:

  • ESOL services: Refugee, asylum seeking and migrant communities may need linguistic (and cultural) support. Local refugee organisations and colleges often offer (free) English classes, whilst the Refugee Council can offer advice and support
  • Hate-crime reporting bodies: Islamophobia (as with anti-Semitism) is on the rise and Muslim women in particular are experiencing the brunt of this. Mosque committees need to know what constitutes hate crime, how to report it and how to support their community members by building links with organisations such as Tell MAMA and the police
  • Mental health services providers: We need to end the stigma and reach out to people in need of support – but with professional qualified counsellors and therapists from organisations such as Mind and local community providers
  • Financial advisors: Free debt support services provided by charities such as the Citizens Advice Bureau can offer critical practical advice to families in crisis, greatly impacting upon their physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Immigration advice: Visa worries, asylum claims and anything immigration related can be very confusing, worrying and at time incredibly complicated. Local charities specialising in immigration advice and support can be a lifeline for community members – including people who are undocumented
  • Crisis housing: Homelessness is becoming an increasing problem across the UK and can affect anyone who has fallen on hard/uncertain times. By having the right networks with local councils and organisations such as Shelter, mosques can help an individual/family off the street or falling into homelessness
  • Local foodbanks: For smaller mosques who may not have the resources, local foodbanks will be able to assist members of their congregation and/or offer critical advice/signposting

Now, I’m not saying that all mosques lack these facilities, approaches and services, nor am I saying that all mosques – no matter how small – must have an endless supply of resources – financial or otherwise. However, all mosques must be inclusive, approachable and welcoming for everyone and offer as much help as possible. I do however believe that these recommendations can offer a good conclusive set of guidelines for British mosques.

Through direct service provision and better networking with service providers, facilities can be made available. And when it comes to gender, age, cultural and religious inclusivity and welcoming those with extra access needs, there must be no excuses. Islam is for everyone and mosques must represent that. Mosques – as many are already calling for – must also work as a community centre not an “in and out” prayer space.

Salam

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10 Top Human Rights Anthems for Social Activists

I was at the Three Faiths Forum Interfaith Summit the other week and to end the evening we were introduced to range of music from different groups and faith traditions. The last ensemble – The Big Choir – belted out a lovely classic. I knew the song as soon as they announced the name but it wasn’t till I heard it sung that I realised I’d totally failed to take into account the lyrics. It had been years since I’d heard the song and now they were so much more inspiring. This then got me thinking…

There are some great songs out there for the socially minded! Music really has the power to inspire people to create change, to maintain hope in hard times, to build bridges and to remind us of what’s really important and the real struggles that many people sadly face. So, after a great refreshing reminder with this song, I put together my 10 Top Human Rights Anthems list. So, what was the song you may ask? Well you’ll find out when you reach number one on the list!

So here’s my countdown of my chosen top ten human rights anthems. Let me know what you think!

10. The Lighthouse Family – (I Wish I Knew It Would Feel To Be) Free / One
9. Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
8. The Scorpions – Winds of Change
7. U2 and Mary J Blige – One
6. John Farnham – You’re The Voice
5. U2 – Love and Peace or Else
4. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
3. Sting – Fragile
2. Simon and Garfunkel – He Was My Brother

Due to copyright – here’s a cover (alas sadly not the same!):

1. Labi Siffre – Something Inside So Strong


If you’re anything like me, you’ll have these on repeat over and over! Since I “re-found” my number one, I’ve been listening to it pretty much every day!

So, what are your top human rights anthems? Drop us a comment and let us know!

Salam! ♡

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So, you think human rights aren’t part of Islam? Well, here’s an expert opinion…

There’s a lot of talk surrounding the “incompatibility” of human rights discourse and Islamic teachings, from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Obviously, I don’t believe that is true and that’s what this blog is about – spreading the message and raising awareness! I wanted to get an expert opinion, to really delve into the issue to show people out there what Islam really is all about and I’m delighted to have spoken with expert in Islamic theology and Human Rights Arnold Yasin Mol. Arnold is an academic at Leiden University (Netherlands) and lecturer in Islamic Studies at Fahm Institute. As such, he was able to provide a full insight on how Islam relates to human rights discourse past and present. Here’s what he had to say- you might just be surprised!

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VoS: What does “being a Muslim” mean?

A: In Islamic theology, this first of all is defined by the verbal declaration of the Shahada, the testimony of one’s acceptance of monotheism and Muhammad’s messengerhood. Everybody who has professed this, or is being brought up by parents who profess this, is technically considered a Muslim. […] There are beliefs upheld by certain [people] in the past and present which negate the Shahada in such a clear way that, at least from a Sunni theology point of view, they lay outside the fold of Islam. But the majority of schools and sects from the Sunni, Shia, and Ibadhi schools of thoughts are considered Muslim. Even though these schools can consider the other as mistaken or misguided in several issues, and therefore ‘not rightfully guided’, they do not reject their status as Muslims. This intrapluralism accepted in classical Islam is largely misunderstood by many Muslims today, so thankfully there are projects as the Amman message. Apart from this issue of label and identity, there is of course in each school an ideal concept of how a Muslim must believe and act. […] I generally summarise being Muslim as it is stated in Qur’an verse 3:18 which links monotheism to ethical activism. Being a witness of God’s oneness has ethical consequences, one is obliged to stand up for justice and goodness as these are all attributes of God Himself. 

VoS: What does Islam teach (or not teach) in terms of human rights?

A: Classical Islam divided beliefs, rituals, and social acts between falling under the rights of God (Huquq Allah) and human rights (Huquq al-Nass/Adamiyya). As Muslims, we try to fulfill the rights of God (belief and rituals, and public good) and of Man (personal human rights) as the Qur’an was revealed, according to classical theology, to pursue the welfare (maslaha) of mankind. As God is needless of His rights, He doesn’t need our beliefs or rituals, it means the fulfillment of His rights is a private matter between a person and God, between the Creator and His servant. But as humans do need rights to exist, the twelfth century theologian al-Razi says, these must always take precedent.

These concepts of Huquq were already formed in the 8th century, centuries before European thought developed their own concepts of rights. These Huquq were understood to be universal, whatever one’s creed, age, or mental state, and were central in classical Islam in their construction of law and ethics, but also theology. The question why God allowed polytheism and heresy on earth was explained through His radical monotheism, He doesn’t need creation for Himself to exist, so whatever creation believes does not serve Him. Fulfilling God’s rights in relation to belief and ritual is a matter of rational understanding and love for God, but any lapses in His rights He allows because of His mercy for, and independence of, creation. Humans on the other hand need their rights to be protected for them to exist fully, and so the main function of any society is to protect and sustain these rights. In classical Islam there developed a long list of human rights, but they all revolved around three fundamental rights: the right of inviolability (haqq al-ismah), meaning every life is sacred, the right of freedom (haqq al-Hurriyya), meaning the right to not be a slave, and the right of property (haqq al-Malakiyya). So, Islam acknowledges the concept of human rights, and the absolute centrality and precedence of human rights in both the political and religious sphere. Modern human rights declarations are the result of centuries of global theological and philosophical thought, and are not simply a Western project.

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VoS: Certain Islamic preachers state that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for example is a “kafir document” and non-Islamic. What would you say to such statements?

A: Modern human rights declarations are the result of centuries of global theological and philosophical thought, and are not simply a Western project. The UNDHR of 1948 was set up by an international team of theologians, philosophers and jurists. Earlier pre-WWII international treaties had been signed by the Ottoman caliph, and contemporary post-WWII treaties have been developed and signed by almost all Muslim countries. The language of these treaties apply Western judicial terminology and structure, but their contents are mainly universal and developed by international councils. So to view these treaties as simply non-Islamic or as secular products is false. Also the idea that modern human rights is in conflict with the “Sharia” is also false, as what Sharia is is determined by the science of Fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence]. And Fiqh was historically always in development, and always took human welfare and rights as its central concern.

The problem with the discussions on Islam and human rights is mainly that the latter is viewed as an alien concept, and the former as fixed and non-dynamic. The 19th century colonisation of the Muslim world, and the development of these colonies into nation states, has created a both a suspicion of Western discourse and a detachment with the humanism of classical Islam. Also 19th-20th century western Orientalism, whereby Islam was viewed as inferior and barbaric, has turned into Islamophobia whereby modern human rights are used to criticise Islam and Muslim societies. All of these historical trajectories has distorted the discourse of Islam and human rights. Classical Islam constructed its own human rights discourse from the start, and used it as both criteria and objective in Fiqh, meaning their understanding of what Sharia is was always related to the protection of human rights. Interpretations that caused human harm (mafsada) and derailed human welfare (maslaha) were not considered truly Islamic.

The Sharia is not simply “what a certain texts says”, but has a hierarchical structure whereby the upholding of human rights were seen as part of the highest objectives of the Sharia itself, and all other interpretations are subject to these higher objectives to sustain a coherence. Interpreting the Sharia in relation to human rights is what classical Islam has always done. And these rights were based on the Qur’an and Sunna [example of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh], but were also seen as universal both in scope and acceptance among other religions and cultures. Modern human rights are an international project, they are a result of human reason (aql) and nature (fitra) pursuing human welfare, and are therefore legit criteria for interpreting the Sharia.

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VoS: I personally believe that parents, mosques and communities need to engage more with human rights issues and especially encourage their children to defend human rights from a pluralistic perspective. Do you agree? Do you think that Muslim youth need to engage more with the issue of human rights beyond political debate or is this a simple over-generalisation?

A: Yes, human rights was, and is, the main concern of the Sharia – human welfare is why the Qur’an was revealed. This central concept must return in the main Muslim mindset. How these rights are defined and constructed is an international and ongoing project, and it is vital that Muslims remain part of this project as Muslims, and not simply as representatives of Muslim majority nation states. Muslims are now important minorities in several western countries, and the centrality of human rights in both their identity as citizens and as Muslims is vital in their emancipation as minorities (i.e. fighting discrimination and Islamophobia) and as the representatives of Islam (i.e. Islam’s mission is to pursue human welfare).

VoS: So how can young Muslims learn more about and engage more in defending human rights?

A: The history of human rights discourse in classical Islam (the Huquq) must become more accessible through both publications and its return into general Muslim discourse (Friday Khutbahs [sermons], lectures etc.), and the history of modern human rights. In this way, they can see the resemblance between the two, and how these are a logical extension of the other. Islamic theology was a theology of rational ethical monotheism, it was a humanistic theology, but today this humanism has been lost. It must be rediscovered both through a return to studying classical Islamic sources, and a rethinking of how that classical humanistic mentality would redefine Islam today.

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So remember folks: what Muslims do doesn’t always represent what Islam is!

Salam ♥

Credits and acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Arnold Yasin Mol for all his time in taking part in this interview and to wish him and his colleagues all the very best in their work in shaa Allah.

Images:

Matthew Perkinscrystalina (featured image) (CC)

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