Friday, 14 October 2011

Report - The Mosques in Communities Project

A report entitled “The Mosques in Communities Project” has just been published by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) and Faith Matters. It contains a wealth of useful guidance and examples of best practice. The report is based on the results of 15 face-to-face interviews and a further 37 postal surveys of Mosques around the country.

MINAB believe this report to be “the start of a process of outlining good practice and we therefore hope to build on this work.” They also recognise that “many mosques around the country are engaged in excellent community work in a number of areas and we would ideally have liked to have listed the depth and variety of the work that they undertake”

The first part of the report provides recommendations based on the research conducted. Whilst pretty much everything was of value and can only help to improve the performance of mosques, a few of the recommendations are particularly worth mentioning.

Transparency and Communication.
Transparency is clearly an issue of some importance, as without transparency there cannot really be trust. To ensure transparency of the Mosque administration the report recommends that “there should be quarterly meetings where the congregation has a chance to meet the Executive Committee so that they can engage, question, challenge, assess and advise the Executive Committee on its general performance”.
Regarding communication, the report recommends that “Members of the mosque committee and service users may want to consider developing an effective communications system for open dialogue, suggestions and for concerns to be shared.”

It is well known that fact that many mosques do not conduct their sermons in English can result in many, especially younger people, being unable to understand what is being said. To address this, as well as to ensure that Imams can communicate with the wider society, the report recommends that “Imams from overseas (and who have recently come to the UK), be provided with support so that they are able to speak English equivalent to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Level 7. “

The report points out that sectarianism “builds invisible walls around communities” and suggests that these can be brought down if “Imams from other Schools of Thought have been invited to speak in the mosque”. The problems of sectarianism also mentioned in another BFTF post here. BFTF also worries that, sadly, a barrier to this happening is peoples ego’s (as discussed here)

Engagement with the wider society
The report notes a number of mosques who are working hard in this area and distils the advice down to a recommendation that mosques “may want to consider social action days for helping the homeless, recycling community campaigns, ‘helping your neighbour’ and supporting local clean up campaigns.”

Examples of best practice include the Noor Ul Islam mosque (London) who participate in an annual ‘Big Spring Clean’ event which involves the local community getting together to clean up and paint local streets.

Another beacon mosque is Husseinieh mosque (Bristol) which has been able to use the local Safer Neighbourhood officer to “develop programmes for local residents to visit the mosque. This is incredibly helpful in drawing away some of the stigma that may be attached in going to a place of worship that is different to the religion and beliefs of some of the residents“. With commendable foresight, the mosque has also “ inviting the local Neighbourhood Watch group to use the mosque and its facilities. This has allowed the mosque to win over the trust and respect of socially active local residents. It has also enabled the mosque to engage with active neighbourhood opinion formers.”

It was a wish to engage with the wider society more effectively that provoked mosques in Bristol into forming the ‘Council of Bristol Mosques,’ 2007.

Meanwhile, during Ramadhan the Wessex Jamaat Mosque (Portsmouth) has been operating a “‘bring a friend day’ where children all bring one non-Muslim friend to the Mosque to break the fast.”

Engagement with the wider society also means dealing with conflicts. The report notes that parking issues, especially on Fridays, can be a real source of friction and states that “It was suggested that parking has the greatest impact on perceptions and opinions and it is usually a key theme, which can possibly even win or lose elections at a municipal level”. The report goes on to recommend that “mosques need parking advice and information that they can provide to worshippers so that local impacts are minimised.”

Wessex Jamaat Mosque had suffered two examples of negative campaigning and had managed to resolve both of them.

In the first case (involving a campaign by the BNP against the proposed building of the new Mosque) the outreach work that the mosque had been performing resulted in the local community supporting the mosque and its building plans.

The second case involved a local Councillor (who also served on the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE)) who left a meeting when the Imam of the Mosque led a prayer in the Council Chamber, returning only after he finished . The Council held an emergency meeting and agreed to suspecd the councillor. However, Wessex Jamaat Mosque responded “with a letter asking others to forgive him as they had. This remarkable response by the Mosque prevented a further escalation of community tensions and showed the real value of tolerance and forgiveness.”

There is a lot more worth reading in he report, but BFTF hopes that this post has covered some of the main themes. You may wish to ask your own mosque whether they could implement some of the initiative that the report describes.

Firstly, BFTF sent an email to all the local mosques (such as BFTF had email addresses for).

Secondly, BFTF sent emails to Faith Matters and to MINAB thanking them for the report and asking what advice they had for ordinary members of the Muslim community who had tried to get (even very simple) initiatives underway in their local mosques but found the mosque reluctant to take the (very simple) practical steps that were required (even when the mosque says it thinks the initiative is a good idea)

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