'Membership' means the ability to vote for the masjid's management, executive and trustees, i.e. members are those who are eligible to join the voting franchise.
3.3.1 Membership restrictions
Islam is not restricted by gender, disability, race, ethnicity, language or economic circumstance, and neither should membership of a masjid's organising body be thus constrained. Some constraints on membership are essential to maintain the stability of the masjid's organisation. However stability must not be confused with exclusivity, and the fact that most UK masjids are run through exclusive memberships or without a published membership franchise at all, makes them places which prevent keen newcomers from becoming involved and absorbed. While open access to formal membership of a masjid is hardly an antidote to extremism, nevertheless its opposite, unresponsive and exclusive membership, contributes to newcomers' frequently expressed sense of alienation. Adding this to the sense of self-serving, racial and cultural exclusiveness found among the worshippers in many masjids, most newcomers drift away, and their experience justifies the extremists' claims that the Muslim mainstream is out of touch. Indeed most UK domestic extremist activity among Muslims includes many who have experienced this sense of exclusion before they become involved in dangerous activity. This is especially true among zealous converts to Islam. So membership must not be restricted by any of these criteria.
Instead, there are practical steps that masjids can take to achieve stability with open membership, and these involve the creation of an electoral college (see 3.4.8 Electoral Colleges below).
3.3.2 Financial barriers to entry
Membership fees must be modest, whether they are annual levies or initial joining fees. While fundraising is an important part of every masjid's activities, it should not be achieved through membership subscriptions. Following the dispersal around London boroughs of significant numbers of recently arrived Somalis and Eritreans in the 1990s, certain South London masjids took steps to restrict the supposed detrimental impact of this on their masjids. In these masjids, to vote for the committee members, one had to be a subscribing member. Recognising the general poverty of the new, Somalian arrivals, the masjid committees raised the annual subscription at a stroke, from £25 to £125, and introduced an initial joining fee of £250. Clearly this iniquitous change was intended to exclude people who would be keen to influence these prominent South London masjids and preserve the predominance of their Pakistani and Gujerati managements. The possibility of measures to promote inclusivity or a managed absorption, were never considered.
3.3.3 Sectarian and 'Faith'-based membership restrictions
Most people would expect to see a membership criterion associated with being a member of the Muslim faith. However this is not such a useful criterion as one might suppose. Firstly, and rather obviously, it is not subject to any kind of documentary 'provability'.
Secondly, elaborate conditional statements of faith are often used as membership restricting criteria for many of the stauncher adherents of the main sectarian groups (all Sunni) that maintain control in most UK masjids, i.e. the Bareilvi, Deobandi and Salafi factions. This issue is at the heart of what MuslimsInBritain.org sets out to tackle:- it is these groups, especially the two former, who are the most complacent about tackling extremism, being quickest to blame other, usually unnamed, entities for radicalisation, yet whose sectarian exclusiveness and mutual hostility create the very environment where extremists can cultivate the disillusioned and draw them to their own cause. Therefore, any explicit membership criterion or implicit condition that aims to restrict membership on sectarian grounds, must be rejected wholeheartedly. (This still leaves more general sectarian problems, such as adherents of disfavoured sects being denied the use of the masjid's facilities for anything other than salaah behind the ruling sect's imam.)
Thirdly, faith-based criteria are often used with intent to exclude specific groups, most commonly in relation to the Qadiani/Ahmadiyya sect, yet as noted, such criteria cannot be 'proven' in any meaningful or even indisputable way. Such membership conditions actually play into the hands of Ahmadiyya claims of discrimination against them by Muslims. (Note that in reality the only place in the UK where Muslims are physically excluded on account of their religion, is the Ahmadiyya HQ in Morden, Surrey, where a posse of gatekeepers wait at the entrance on Friday gatherings, counting their members in, and preventing any group of Muslims from using their facility - not that any ever have, but the supposed threat attenuates their sense of being a persecuted sect . Far better to take people's faith allegiances and membership intentions at their word; doing so will demonstrate clearly that it is the Ahmadiyya who are a peculiarly exclusive sect, until such time as they change their ways and practice the inclusivity they preach so earnestly.
Finally, extending the membership of the masjid to interested (non-Muslim) neighbours of the masjid, could be used as a means of building stronger links with the community. Much of the contention that frequestly occurs between masjids and their neighbourhoods, arises from the sense that the Muslim community is somehow alien to the locality, itself a consequence of the often poor level of communication between the masjid's users and the rest of the local community. Extending some form of membership to the (predominantly non-Muslim) neighbourhood would be a novel and adventurous way of engaging more closely, of establishing that the neighbours are a stakeholder in the community's resources, and perhaps even as the basis of da'wah. This may be one aspect where restrictions on membership may reasonably apply, obviously so if there are matters of strong contention. Restrictions might include, including only a small number of addresses immediately adjacent to the masjid, or a limit to the number of such members, or a limit to the extent of constitutional rights, but the stronger the restrictions, the less the value in such an initiative. One approach might be to define a committee post reserved for the neighbourhood representative, and allow neighbours to vote for that person.
3.3.4 Geographical boundaries to the franchise
More difficult is to determine limitations on membership based on geography or level of involvement. The people who use the masjid in the early morning, evening and weekends, i.e. the people who live in the neighbourhood, are very likely to be altogether different from those who use it during working hours, and especially therefore, for the main weekly event, Friday Jumu'ah salaah. This is especially true in the larger conurbations with both centrally located masjids and suburban ones. This difference is clearly demonstrated for example , where most of the masjids in Central London have first-generation, Bangladeshi imams with barely a word of useable English, addressing Friday congregations made up of overflowing crowds of the most cosmopolitan and articulate of sophisticated, second or third generation, UK Muslims. Clearly there are very different interests between the latter and their inner-city dwelling hosts, the latter anxious not to lose their fragile grip on their local community centre cum mosque.
3.3.5 Institutionalising electoral franchises
In the 1980s, there were several, widely reported, incidents of blunt stand-offs between rival parties aiming for control of particular masjids. For example, in Southend, a small group of Bareilvi-oriented local Pakistani men had establshed a masjid in a derelict church. An equally small number of other Muslims in the area preferred the Islamic Movement ideas of Abul'Ala Maudoodi. For a few years they co-existed, partitioning the building so as to avoid each other completely. Eventually a resolution was achieved involving the Electoral Reform Society and a period in which membership was canvassed, running up to an election for control of the masjid. The far better organised Maudoodi-ist faction garnered more support, though not from Maudoodi enthusiasts, and it took over twenty years before a Bareilvi-oriented masjid was re-established in Southend. One reason for the prevalence of secretiveness is for capacity-strapped masjids to avoid these sorts of debilitating conflicts.
So while the formalisation of membership and franchise is worthy, the control that winning factions impose, will probably reinforce absolute rule. Without all the additional elements described in this section, the masjid will fail to meet the need for a faction-free, mutually respecting, plural institution.
3.3.6 'Private' membership
Some masjids were founded explicitly as centres for the propagation of the ideas of a particular group, and as such, consider themselves 'private' and not subject to any obligations towards the wider community outside their own clique. In healthier circumstances, such a presumption may be reasonable; after all, many clubs and societies, religious, social or otherwise, all exist with perfectly natural restictions on admission, and membership prerequisites for getting involved. Most Christian churches and other faiths are completely transparent about which particular denomination they adhere to, and this is completely acceptable. The difference for Muslims is on several levels and highlights the corrosive power of covert sectarianism that exists in the UK's Muslim communities. Firstly, there are not supposed to be divisions among the Muslim Ummah. The hadeeth well-known among Muslims that describes seventy three sects, firqas among Muslims, seventy two of which would be in the hellfire (except for "the people of my Way and my Followers", ahl as-Sunnah wa'al Jama'at), makes any suggestion of division a taboo subject. Not only extremists, but most 'mainstream' sects, play around the concept to imply to their followers that there cannot be any negotiation or compromise with other sects. Even our own MuslimsInBritain.org website is discreet enough about the issue to describe the differences (that are blatantly obvious), coyly, as 'themes' rather than denominations or sects, to avoid raising the presumption that only one of them is the ahl an-Najaat or successful sect.
Secondly, most schemes for establishing a masjid, dwell heavily on its use as a community centre, and draw on donations from across the local Muslim community. It is only the jealously controlling founding committee that determine that once up and running, it will be run in a manner that suits only one firqa, or one ethnicity, or indeed, one gender. Very few Muslim religious organisations are internally self-supporting; almost all rely for most of their funding from contributions by the local Muslim community. It follows that the community will have been let down if the institution is permitted to retain exclusiveness in its management and control.
Thirdly, in a similar manner, it is commonplace for the organisers to draw as much benefit as they can from concessions accorded to community and religious bodies, such as claiming a prerogative over the re-use of redundant church and community halls, planning permission requests that dwell upon community benefit, favourable terms of leasing from the local authority, charitable status achieved stressing community aims, etc. In the case of an entity that in reality exists to promote the interests of an exclusive sect or the singular views of its founders, such concessions will have been misappropriated.
For these reasons, although many masjids may believe they can justify a claim of being privately run, in truth, this is rarely the case. Where the claim is made, in order to head off pressures for the masjid to honour its community and neighbourhood responsibilities, it should either be robustly challenged, or the controlling entity should be divested of any concessions that are predicated on it being a 'community' organisation, such as preferential treatment by the local authority, charitable status except for its limited scope, or any position of influence as a representative body in the community.
Even if a particular masjid's claim to exclusive 'private' status is appropriate, that in no way exonerates it from many collective responsibilities, especially those where the masjid has an impact on community cohesion or on countering extremism. At the very least, in line with its 'private' status, there should be a private individual, typically the property owner or lease-holder, publicly named with public contact information, who will take personal responsibility for anything that happens on the premises or by association with the controlling organisation. That is the very least, and in reality, such organisations should recognise and fulfil just as much of their public responsibilities as the supposedly 'open' cmmunity organisations; they cannot shrug off collective responsibility for the Muslim communiies' numerous and catastrophic failings.
|1. Membership must be open to anyone, regardless of gender, disability, race, ethnicity, language or economic circumstance.
|2. Membership fees must be modest, whether they are annual levies or initial joining fees.
|3. Membership must not be qualified by a sectarian condition.
|4. Any geographical restriction on membership must take into account people who work locally but live elsewhere.
|5. Independent bodies that oversee membership and elections must not reinforce a dominant faction.
|6. 'Private' organisations must not be permitted to claim community status or community support.