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Muslim leaders consult other faiths for advice on stamping out abuse

By Stefanie Marsh
The Times
January 08, 2005

MUSLIM leaders are so worried about incidents of physical and sexual abuse within mosques and madrassas, Islamic schools, that they are turning to experts within the Catholic and Jewish faiths for advice.

In an unprecedented meeting today, imams from mosques around the country will meet police representatives as well as Catholic and Jewish child protection officers to hammer out the first set of national guidelines intended for British mosques and Islamic schools. The controversial recommendations, to be distributed to Britain's one thousand mosques later this year, will advocate the setting up of a tracking system for religious teachers who come to Britain from abroad and attempt to force mosque councils into greater accountability for any accusations of physical or sexual abuse made under their roof.

At present, mosques and Islamic schools are not subject to any rules about whom they employ or how to deal with allegations of wrongdoing.

"Although they live in this country, some Muslim elders think as if they are still in their village in the sub-continent," said Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament who organised today's event.

"They don't realise that to protect the integrity of Muslim institutions you need greater openness. Abuse, sexual and physical, takes place, of course, and we have seen a number of cases, but instead of tackling the problem they try and cover it up, sometimes by pressurising and marginalizing the victim.

"We want to highlight what is happening in the community and learn from the experiences of the Jewish and Catholic community and arrive at best practice guidelines."

Among the speakers today are representatives from Norwood, a Jewish children's organisation, and child protection officers from the Roman Catholic Church.

Many moderate Muslims support greater openness but, as with the debate about forced marriages, there are fears that airing publicly previously forbidden subjects will bring the religion into disrepute. Traditions such as bunchayat in Pakistan, where elders form an unofficial court to deal with crimes within the community, is often still the preferred method of dealing with complaints. As a result, British Muslims can find themselves powerless when faced with a Koranic teacher who flouts the law.

Once such example occurred in a Bradford mosque. Imam Hafiz Amjad was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for having attempted to molest a young girl, but mosque members refused to act. The mosque committee also refused to condemn Amjad's crime in a letter written by them after Amjad was convicted on one count of indecent assault and an act of gross indecency.

Prominent Muslims such as Mufti Barkatullah, Chief Imam of Finchley mosque and organisations such as the Muslim Women's Helpline, want guidelines established if only to avoid the allegations that have plagued the Catholic Church.




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