British Muslim leaders introduce guidelines to fight extremism

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LONDON: Leaders of Britain's two million Muslims unveiled a new set of guidelines Thursday that aim to root out extremism, promote a culture of "civic responsibility" and foster women's rights in the country's mosques, Islamic centers and Muslim schools.

The guidelines, circulated in draft form to Muslim groups throughout the country, represent a sweeping new effort by moderate Muslim leaders to combat alienation among disaffected Muslim youth and to foster a new atmosphere of openness and tolerance, particularly in the country's 1,500 mosques.

The 10-point "code of conduct" will now go to public discussion among Muslim groups, with the aim of producing a final version by March. The proposals would commit all Muslim organizations accepting it to "actively combat all forms of violent extremism" within the community and to "promote civic responsibility of Muslims in wider society."

The guidelines came nearly two and a half years after the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people, and a failed plot to repeat the attacks on the London transit system two weeks later. Six of those involved in the second, failed wave of attacks have now been sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

The assailants in the two attacks were British and foreign-born Muslims with close links to neighborhood mosques, and the shock that their actions provoked led to an intensive debate within the Muslim community. The former prime minister, Tony Blair, led calls for British Muslim leaders to exclude "preachers of hate" from mosques, and for the Muslim community to unite around a new code of moderation.

In the face of vociferous opposition from Muslim radicals and a more widespread concern among Muslims that community leaders might concede too much to government pressure, four of the country's most influential Muslim groups joined forces by forming a new body, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, that drew up the new charter.

The specifics of the charter would commit mosques to stricter vetting of all imams and other religious leaders, including a check for criminal records. In addition, it would require mosques, and other Muslim religious institutions, to commit to "open, democratic, accountable management," including making public the details of the raising and spending of funds.

It would also bind mosques to adopt written policies on equality of opportunity, racial and religious harassment, and child protection. Perhaps most controversially, from the standpoint of conservative Muslims, it would also commit them to establish "women's committees" to encourage the wider participation of women in the life of mosques.

In particular, mosques and other Muslim institutions would be expected to "ensure that forced marriages are understood and publicized as un-Islamic," to condemn "violence in matrimonial or domestic matters," and to "mediate in matrimonial conflict resolution." Mosques would also be expected to have "uniform procedures" for carrying out marriages, and standard documents for certifying them.

The new charter would provide for random spot checks of mosques and other Muslim institutions to verify whether they were conforming to the charter, and commit them to participate in "interfaith activities" with other religious groups.

The Muslim organizations would be required to cooperate with other agencies, including the police and non-Muslim community groups, to bring about what the proposals referred to as a "reconciliation in fractured relationships" between Muslins and non-Muslims.

The 23-page charter won rapid approval from outside the Muslim community.

An editorial in Thursday's editions of The Times of London said charter "implicitly acknowledges some of the failings that have allowed extremists to gain a foothold - poorly-educated imams, a lack of financial transparency, little pastoral training and barriers to the participation of women."
 
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