"Please change our masjid's 'Theme'" (or management, or both) 
From time to time I receive feedback from people anxious to make as clear as possible to me that they are authoritative representatives of the management committee of a masjid. They vary in tone from the conciliatory to the outraged, and they want me to change the Theme that I have attributed to their masjid, to one which is as bland and uninformative as possible, e.g. "All welcome" or "Sunni", or "Mixed". There is actually nothing I would rather do than be able to re-label any masjid "Inclusive" or some similar adhective - actually that is the very objective of this website.

But I am not doing this work in order to deceive or mislead people. Some feedback accuses me of causing fitna by stating that a particular masjid is "Deobandi", or "Salafi", or "Sufi-Bareilvi" etc. Let me make very clear, if you are responsible for running a masjid, and that masjid is not a private club with invited guests only, but is a service for the Muslim community and the public beyond, then it is absolutely my responsibility to use the information available to me to let people know as accurately as I can, what theme, flavour, atmosphere, practice, tradition, or whatever, your masjid propagates, whether or not they intend to visit it. Yet instead, you, responsible officer of your masjid's committee, are asking me to collude with you to hide that information from the public, to deceive and mislead, even when those facts are widely known in your local community. You probably believe that the fact that I have published that knowledge will somehow discourage people from attending your masjid. You may believe that the information embarasses your masjid. In either case, it is not for me to hide these things, it is very much for you to change them!

As I repeat over and again on the MuslimsInBritain.org website,

* almost all UK masjids are organised with closed, unaccountable managements and only a small number of people permitted to provide any kind of religious content, and that strictly in line with the masjid's theme.

* It is this that causes fitna (trouble, enmity).

* The fitna is profoundly exacerbated by imams of such masjids who use their privileged position to teach their congregations to be sceptical and hostile towards other practices, sometimes with outright takfir against them.

* Masjids sustain coteries of people who co-operate to preserve the status quo and ensure that no alternative practice gains a hearing in the masjid.

* Because of this intellectual lock-down, anyone who is unhappy with the way the masjid is run is driven to work outside the masjid's circle, even if he prays in that same masjid five times a day.

* The most frequently dissatisfied users of the masjid are converts such as myself, though we may be few in number.

* The second most frequently dissatisfied, are Muslim youth.

* Around any masjid with unaccountable management and inflexible, exclusive religious practice (i.e. every masjid in the UK) you will find discontented groups, mainly young, often including a convert, unhappy with the status quo.

* The groups range across the whole spectrum of different ideas of what it means to practice Islam.

* Most will be groups with very valuable contributions to make, if only you didn't keep blocking them out.

* But in numbers of cases will be some who are very interested in militant extremism.

* You, masjid management, imams, can't tell one from another - you see them all as hostile ...
... because they all challenge you and your absolute control of the masjid.

* That's why you shut them out and why you get the shock of your life when one of those groups drags your masjid into the headlines and you have to tell the press the unbelievable fact that you knew nothing about them.

* If you made space for alternative viewpoints in your masjid, you'd quickly see who were the decent Muslims trying to do something better than you.

* And the only ones who would be hiding their activities from you would be the ones you really need to worry about.

* It is you, masjid management committees, imam in your pocket, who create the conditions in which your own children and their convert friends get mixed up in bitter, hostile ideas that quickly turn to atrocious acts of violence against your own neighbours. At first they are driven out by your hostility to any new ideas they try to bring to your community. Then they learn to carry on out of your sight, just like all the other dissenting groups. Then when one of them is so far gone that he or she thinks the only act that will make its mark, shake you out of your complacency, 'wake up the Muslims', it will be too late to save the reputation of your masjid.

It is an easily demonstrated fact that most 'terrorism' cases in the UK involve one or two Muslim converts usually with a few born-Muslim 2nd/3rd generation, and that they do their business right under the noses of the masjid regulars without anyone in the privileged circle having the slightest clue what they are up to. The pages of this blog and the 'Political' pages of the MuslimsInBritain.org website explain how it happens.

So ... the penalty paid by locked down masjid management, ethnic/tribal exclusiveness and narrow religious 'themes' is a community that is destroying itself and the community around it. Occasionally, tragically, the consequences of masjid intransigence are literally a matter of life and death.

So, masjid manager, until you yourselves do away with your exclusive themes, learn that it is you who have to change your ways. You can no longer afford to block any request for masjid events other than those your best buddy the imam approves of. Imam, know that your smug, clever speeches that warn your congregation how this or that activity or ritual of this or that other sect brings its participants to the brink of hellfire, is insulting, offensive, and ignorant. The people you are insulting are sitting right in front of you in your Friday Jumu'ah. You are the source of fitna.
Muqtadi, know that while you make yourself comfortable among your coterie, in cahoots with your committee, backbiting against some individual that tries to introduce some people to some aspect of Islam that you reject, that it is you that is the source of fitna.

The fitna you all create, trustee, committee, imam, influential muqtadi, is the very thing that makes everyone in the community know that your masjid is the unassailable Bareilvi masjid, Deobandi masjid, Salafi masjid, ... You create the 'themes' I diligently record and publish. (Don't even get me started on the tribal, racial exclusive masjids!) You want me to hide, disguise, deny your efforts? No, I will not conspire with you.

If you genuinely want to promote the idea that your masjid is not rigidly themed, there is a huge amount you can do, and I will try to help. But be warned, I will be very sceptical of platitudes about how everyone is welcome in your masjid. (Imagine what kind of awful place it would be if that wasn't true!) Catholic churches, the British Humanist Association, even the EDL, can all make that claim, and with more justification than some masjids!

I will want to see demonstrable proof, in publicly accessible forms, of activities that occur regularly and frequently in your masjid, that clearly break down the barriers between any and all of the Muslim factions and ethnicities that live in your area. Such a list might include mix of the following:

Ta’alim from Maulana Zakariya’s (RA) Tablighi Nisab
Gusht in the manner of Tabligh Jama’at
Ghousia Kathm, Urs shareef, Gyarwee shareef or similar activities
Ta’alim from Kanz-ul Emaan of Ala Hazrat Ahmad Raza Khan (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Nasruddin Al Albani
Jaloos and Maatm or Zanjeer zani commemorations in respect of Imam Hussain (RAA)
Urs Syedna Abdullah Fakhruddin RA in the fashion of Dawoodi Bohras
Muraqabah qalb dhikr of the Naqshbandis
Tafsir from Tefhim ul Qur'an of Abdul 'Ala Maudoodi(RA)

It might include the employment voluntary or paid, of imams in rotation, from each of the major madrassahs, especially those that carry the burden of notorious disdain for each other.

Yes that is quite a challenging list - including items that I myself would struggle with, but that is the point - you claim that your masjid is the community's masjid, that it is open to everyone, that you don't define yourselves by some narrow criterion that excludes all but a single instance from a list such as the above. So either be true to your claims and open up, or accept that you are sectarian as I have described you, with all the dangers I have highlighted.

I will want to see clear evidence that your imams and alims and amirs and committee members are actively propagating mutual respect towards other sects' beliefs and teachings, with open and honest discussion of the points you disagree with, without disrespectful and insulting insinuations about the quality of someone else's iman. Salafi, you know you can't see into the heart of another Muslim so how can you claim to judge the imaan of a Sufi. Sufi, you cannot claim that a Salafi who loves the Sunnah so much that he practices every hadeeth he finds, is not a greater ashiq than you.

When did you ever see one imam sharing a lecture with an imam from a rival sect? Never? Well now is the time to start!

You will need to construct clear codes of conduct, published, and very likely adorning the walls of your masjid: No more "No one is permitted to make any announcements etc except ..." Instead I want to see, "No one is permitted to use insulting or derogatory language about another Muslim's beliefs or practice. No one is permitted to deny any group or speaker the right to disseminate their material by speech, leaflet or formal event in this masjid. Any question of the Islamic basis of another's beliefs or practice must be conducted with the utmost regard for respect and tolerance of diversity, and must be based on mutually agreed definitions of what the differences actually are." (I would welcome suggestions for the kinds of rules that could be formulated to promote the required degree of mutual respect.)

All these examples of activities that transcend your dogmatically maintained, sectarian themes have to be real, with a proven and published track record, not just aspirations. Every masjid has aspirations of capturing the hearts of the Muslim neighbourhood, of course it does. That is why so many are named 'Central Mosque', 'Markazi Masjid', 'Jamiya Masjid' etc. even when they exist as an end of terrace house in the seediest corner of a backwater estate. The struggle against sectarianism will not be won by aspirations, only by you giving up your mimbar to share it with people you currently despise.

Now lets come on the the accountability bit. You want MuslimsInBritain.org to state that your management committee is not exclusively Pakistani? (or Bangladeshi, or Gujerati ...? ) Which country does your imam come from? Born in Britain? trained in Britain? Probably not. From the same country as you yourselves? Thought so! Why should that be, if not to maintain the ethnic self-serving exclusiveness of your masjid? How were you appointed to the committee? By election? Election by whom? Did you publish the date of your meeting? How did you decide who could vote? What does one have to do to become a member? What language do you conduct your affairs in?

Very occasionally I am pleased to note the diversity of a masjid's management committee, though inevitably disappointed that there appears to be not a single convert/revert among them, even less, any one from an indigenous origin. It is a matter of continued incredulity to me that, after 60 years of a substantial Muslim presence in Britain, and continual claims of many thousands of people within this country embracing Islam, practically every one of our one and a half thousand masjids is without even a single indigenous British committee member. One would have supposed that if Muslims were serious about their commitment to life in this country that all but the most parochial backwater would have most of the key posts and many of the imam-ates filled by just such people. The Muslim community's failure to even recognise this as a problem speaks volumes for the perception the non-Muslim community has of Muslims in Britain. It is uniform across the UK, with the exception of the peculiar Masjid al-Falah in Norwich and arguably also Brixton Masjid. However, if you are truly intent on achieving constructive diversity, I suggest that you set a firm aim to add an indigenous Muslim convert to your committee as being one of your public aims of the highest priority. Then we can talk seriously about integration in which everyone is welcome in your masjid.

So, if you want MuslimsInBritain.org's directory to record your theme as something like "Sunni" or "No specific theme" and your management to be recorded as "Diverse" then you know what to do. For my part I will be thrilled to make these changes to my database and publish them. Meanwhile the sectarian rot continues unchecked, because you, masjid committee, are too selfish to see the damage you have done.


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