Report on low English skills among Imams in Britain raises concerns

Posted on July 20, 2007


Max de Lotbiniere
The Guardian Weekly, July 20, 2007, p 44.

Research reveals that only 6% of Muslim religious leaders in Britain speak English, raising concerns that preachers in mosques are not able to communicate effectively with young British-born Muslims.

The survey of 300 mosques in Britain was carried out by Chester University for the BBC. It also reveals that only 8% of imams preaching in mosques were born in the UK.

While the research indicates that the use of English is becoming more prevalent at Friday sermons, mosques often remained under the control of first-generation migrants.

Concern about the radicalisation of young Muslims by extremist preachers has been rising since British-born and -raised Muslims carried out bomb attacks in London in July 2005. This latest research does not contain evidence that imams are radicalising young people, but the research has renewed calls for English language training.

Lord Ahmed, who became Britain’s first Muslim peer in 1998, told the BBC that a national advisory and training body was needed to train imams already in the country and impose bans on those who cannot speak English or understand the culture.

“They need to pass exams, they need to do more,” he said. “In fact, I would go as far as to say that if they don’t learn English within a certain period then they shouldn’t be allowed to deliver sermons.”

The general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari, told the BBC that imams should be able to “talk and engage” people of all age groups. “If they can play their role properly and communicate with young people they can get the message across to wider society in a very good way,” he said.

The survey indicated that 50% of imams are from Pakistan, 20% from Bangladesh and 15% from India. Some 66% of imams speak Urdu as a first language with 52% giving sermons in the language. [more]

Please click here to read a related article in the Sunday Telegraph (UK).