Monday, 13 February 2017

Fifth Forum of Imams In Britain

Fifth Forum of Imams in Britain

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Fifth Annual Forum of Imams in Britain was organised by the Islamic Cultural Centre, London in collaboration with the Dawah Office of Britain, held on Saturday 28th of January 2017, in the Conference Hall of the Centre. The conference was attended by more than 100 Imams and religious scholars of the United Kingdom.

The Forum is an annual event in which Imams from Mosques and Islamic organisations across Britain attended at workshops raising awareness of current affairs, challenges, updates of British regulations on Charities and ways to promote better practise of work and efforts of Imams and religious affairs in Britain.

The conference consisted of three parts and each part has sessions including opening and conclusion sessions. The first session was on Islamophobia in the UK. The second session was on Prominent Social Concerns facing Muslim Minorities in Britain and the third session was on Legal Issues Facing Religious Centres in the UK. In the Second Part, there was Presentation of Academic Papers from Imams in Britain. Then there was session on closing ceremony and recommendation.

Speeches in every session were delivered by specialists in the field of law, government policies, Social Services and Islamophobia. There was also presentation of academic papers by Imams in the final session.

The Opening Ceremony
Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan
The conference was opened with the recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an. While welcoming Imams and religious scholars to the Forum, Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, thanked all the Imams and religious scholars for their participation in the Forum and highlighted the importance to support the Muslim communities. Dr. Al-Dubayan also pondered over the importance for Imams to regularly meet to discuss the current issues facing the Muslim community in Britain and ways in which we can overcome challenges and promote better practise in areas and fields in which we work in.

Dr Al Dubayan also mentioned how strong leadership and good governance over our organisations will help foster for a correct image and modelling of Islam in the media and help create better understanding with all community stakeholders. Dr. Al Dubayan also highlighted that this Forum will give way to introducing how governmental changes with the way in which charities operate will affect Islamic organisations and how we can raise standards in which our charities operate.

Mr Abdulaziz Al-Harbi, Director of the Dawah Office in Britain, welcomed the august audience of Heads of Islamic Organisations and Mosques and echoed the key points stressed by Dr Al Dubayan. He also paid tribute to bring together Imams in Britain to reflect on how standards can be raised and Mosques can be seen more as community centres to support the Muslim society as a whole. Mr Al-Harbi also paid tribute to His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf Al Saud, Ambassador of the Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques in the United Kingdom for his invaluable provision, support and blessings for the success of the Forum.

First Session on Islamophobia in the UK
There was a presentation on Islamophobia in the UK in the first session. This was presented by Mr Sufiyan Ismail, Chief Executive Officer of the Muslim Engagement and Development Organisation (MEND). Mr. Ismail discussed pressing issues facing the Muslim Community which include Islamophobia. Sufiyan aimed to engage the Imams productively with the media and politics. He explained to the Imams and Heads of Muslim organisations of how Islam has recently been expressed in the media and the rise of the phenomenon Islamophobia in Britain.

CEO Ismail also gave an introduction of the history of Islamophobia in the world including Britain and presented statistics which has shown that over the year given recent troubles across the world hate crime; intolerance and abuse against Muslims have increased.

It was established that a vital ingredient in responding against Islamophobia is the presentation of Islam in a correct manner across the media. This can be achieved by organising workshops in the near future dedicated to Imams and religious affairs workers to training them in how they can represent their religion, Mosques and community in a correct manner across the media to portray the right message across.

Tributes were paid towards Muslim role models in Britain which include Olympic Gold Medallist Mohammed Farah, British Bake Off Winner Nadia Hussain and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who are all beacons of tolerance peace and provide good representation of Islam in Britain.

Second Session on Prominent Social Concerns
Facing Muslim Minorities in Britain
Mr. Ahmed Abd-Elghany, a social services advisor of Westminster Council and representative for English Teacher Working Abroad (ETWA), focused his talk on highlighting and pressing on social concerns and challenges facing the Muslim community particularly in households with lone parents, issues such as domestic violence, cyber crime.

Mr. Abd-Elghany mentioned how the year 2016 saw over 7,700 single mother Muslim families in Britain and how this figure has risen over the years and is expected to rise. Furthermore, divorce rates in the Muslim community also echoes this trends and children suffer dearly and if are not properly supported can lead to higher youth crime rates. It was also highlighted that if Imams were trained in social services aspects they would be better prepared, qualified to support families when giving religious advice as families tend to seek advice from Imams on all sorts of questions which is why Imams need to be recognised and be able to adapt to changes in the society to better support the community.

Mr. Abd-Elghany stressed on the duties of Imams and need to increase awareness and expertise in issues such as mental health, youth engagement, adoption and safeguarding children and the importance of Imams in understanding and acknowledge of these problems facing the Muslim community and supporting them accordingly.

Legal Issues Facing Religious Centres in the UK
In the same session, Ms. Aina Khan, Consultant Solicitor and Advisor to the UK Board of Sharia Council in the United Kingdom informed Imams and those representing Sharia Councils the importance of practising good ethics in their Councils with Marriages and Divorce. Ms Khan informed Imams that although an Islamic Marriage is fundamental ritual in Islam conducted by all Muslim under the legal system of Britain Islamic marriages are not legally binding and do not equate to a Civil Marriage.

A Civil marriage will protect the rights of both partners in the marriage and will also look after the children and is internationally recognised as well. Ms Khan endorsed the use of both a civil marriage and an Islamic marriage in a parallel system where both issues such as the mahir and Islamic ritual can be compiled by whilst also allowing the rights of the Wife and Husband being protected as well.

Ms Aina Khan encouraged Imams and Islamic Centres to promote the use of Civil marriages when conducting Nikahs as a form of good practise. Ms Khan looked at legal issues facing Imams and responsibility of Imams to promote people to register their marriages legally; this will protect the rights of women and also children.

Ms Khan encouraged all Centre to promote good practise as Sharia Councils are currently under investigation under the Counter-Terrorism Act and hearing have been undergone through the Home Office Individual review and the Houses of Parliament Select Committee.

Dr. Al Dubayan in his capacity as Chairman of the UK Board of Sharia Councils encouraged all Sharia Councils to join the Boards of Promoting Good Practise amongst Sharia Councils operating in Britain.

In this session, Mr Ayaz Zuberi of The Islamic Cultural Centre also looked at how we can build relationships with the community to promote the good efforts of Centres they represent.

Third Session: Presentation of Academic
 Papers from Imams in Britain
The Third Session incorporated presentation of Academic Papers from Imams across Britain with a Q & A (Question and Answer) session with the audience. The following papers were presented:
v     “An example of a successful experience in Dawa work” by Sheikh Rashad Al-Azami, Director Al Ehsan Mosque – Bath
v     “Phenomenon of Islamophobia in Britain” by Sheikh Mark Abdulwahid Stephenson, Principal of Medina College – London
v     “The Face of Extremism and ideological deviation” by Sheikh Hafiz Hamudol Rahman, Imam of Makki Masjid – Manchester
The Papers encompassed a wide range of different fields of research pertinent to the work of Imams in Britain and challenges facing them.

Closing Session
Dr. Ahmad Al Dubayan concluded the conference by first expressing appreciation to the Trustees of the Centre which includes Muslim Ambassadors of Missions in the United Kingdom for their supportive role in the Centre and the Muslim community at large. Dr Al Dubayan also paid tribute to the keynote speakers for their informative talks, the Imams for their participation, the UK Dawah Office in Britain for partnering in the event and his colleagues for organising the Forum. He looked forward to welcoming everyone to future events of the Centre. Dr Al Dubayan thanked all participants in the meeting for contributing to recommendations and the Director General welcomed their recommendations which are as follows:

During the course of the Forum recommendations were presented to the Director General- Dr Al Dubayan and the followings have been approved and will take place in the Centre: 
v     Undergo Training for Imams in the area of Islamophobia and how to engage with the Media to promote correct image of Islam.
v     Introduce another workshop Training for Imams and Islamic organisations in the field of studying social changes, particularly with Youth.
v     Invite the Charity Commission to promote good governance and better working with Muslim Communities in the United Kingdom.
v     Invite Members of the UK Board of Sharia Councils to promote good practise amongst marriages and divorce procedures and to standardise them.
v     Welcome a one-day workshop to train Imams on legal issues and how their Centre should comply with governmental regulations and make them more aware of current laws that concern Charities and Islamic organisations in the UK. 

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