2.1 Accountability and extremism
www.MuslimsInBritain.org believes that lack of accountability and transparency in the control and running of UK mosques/masjids, is a major contributor to the alienation of many young Muslims and converts to Islam from the mainstream of Islam. While this is a general problem that undermines efforts to achieve better integration between Muslims and their institutions and wider society, of far more immediate concern is that lack of accountability in the running of masjids, contributes directly to extremism, as it undermines the authority of any counter-extremism message that most masjids claim to communicate. Alienated young Muslims justifying taking up militant positions use the common complaint, "They (imams, management, community leaders) don't speak for us, they didn't speak out about persecution of Muslims before, so why should we listen when they speak out against extremism now."
Lack of accountability and transparency also contributes to extremism indirectly, by enabling a particular ethnic or sectarian faction to maintain exclusive control over what kind of Islamic belief and practice is propagated in the masjid, even though they usually do so for well-intentioned reasons - they believe that keeping everything within a single sect or single ethnic dvision is the easiest and safest way to stop people deviating into extremism. Actually it has the opposite effect: Anyone and everyone in the local community whose beliefs or practices differ from that one version, is treated as an interfering problem capable of undermining the stability of the masjid, to be ostracised and briefed against. This way of treating any dissenter, common across nearly all masjids, allows militant extremists to camouflage themselves among the large number of respectable and positive dissenters. It thus also legitimises secretive discourse among any of those alienated by the masjid's management, so that no one can tell the difference between worthy and well-intentioned dissent and those intent on something militant.
2.2 Accountability, Masjid Stability and Exclusiveness
Most masjid management committees believe they need to keep their meetings and decisions private because they have to safeguard the integrity of the doctrines the masjid was set up to maintain. This is because masjid committees, almost always 'laity', lack the theological grounding to defend their beliefs intellectually. That is not an unreasonable supposition, as they will be happy to admit to being 'lay' members of the community, not trained 'alims,'ulema, religious scholars. They fear any openness will give way to abusive and confrontational situations that undermine the stability of the masjid. At worst, they fear that opening up access to running of the masjid could itself allow the masjid to be taken over by extremists. (In practice, the handful of instances of militant extremists taking control of a masjid occurred, in the case of Finbury Park because the original management and their congregation had drifted away from the area and the management had disagreed with, and sacked, two mainstream imams in succession - Abu Hamza al Misri's offer to step in, voluntarily, was naively accepted by them. In other cases the masjid itself was tiny and set up by and for a body of extremists without wider Muslim community involvement.)
Many masjids claim to be the Muslim community centre for their neighbourhood. But if they truly are the Muslim community hub that they claim, they have a clear obligation to dispense with factional and ethnic allegiances. Alternatively, many other masjids are set up explicitly to maintain a particular ethos or ethnic tradition. But it is no longer justifiable, if it ever was, for any masjid to continue to claim to preserve the traditions of a particular sect or ethnic community now that we have several generations of Muslims in the neighbourhood, with diverse opinions, beliefs, ethnic origins and languages.
Accordingly, it is imperative that masjids cease to be organised in obscure and exclusive ways, and that full and public accountability is instituted for the running of the masjid.
2.3 Objectives to Achieve Accountability
Most masjids start off as attempts by a small group of friends and neighbours to organise a place where they can perform regular salaah, or where their children can go after school to learn recitation of the Qur'an. Invariably that initial group expected the masjid to continue to represent the interpretations of Islamic practice that they were themselves adhered to. As the masjid becomes better established, inevitably it draws in people with more varied views, and as successive generations become involved, their views often shift away from those of the founders. But it is very rare for a masjid's ethos to evolve smoothly under these conflicting pressures, and many masjids try to hold on to the intentions of their founders through increasingly 'traditional' or obscure and unaccountable means of control.
Instead, masjids must ensure that the controlling entity is publicly constituted, with a clearly defined membership and accountable officers. Its activities and proceedings need to be open and recorded, and communicated to anyone with an interest. The masjid is a central community resource so the community must have a full say in its affairs. The masjid will continue over generations, so there must be an effective way to pass on responsibility to later generations. There must be no room for corruption or exploitation, and there must be a means by which disputes and complaints can be resolved fairly and transparently. Nothing must remain that leaves cause for suspicion that particular sects or individuals are favoured or that anyone is able to exploit the masjid or misappropriate its resources or money. The masjid's impact is very much in the public domain so records of its affairs must be open to all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
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