In their efforts to find ways to integrate Muslims in Western societies, governments increasingly insist on the need for ministers of Muslim congregations in the West to be familiar with local culture and fluent in local languages. Such expectations also match those of young Muslims in the diaspora. In the United Kingdom, a Labour peer, Lord Ahmed (who became UK’s first Muslim peer in 1998) said that foreign imams who do not speak English after being given a certain period of time to learn it should be banned from giving sermons in local mosques, according to BBC News (July 6).
Recent research conducted among 300 mosques by Chester University, which BBC News commissioned, found that only 6 percent of imams in the UK speak English as their first language. In contrast, a number of radical groups address young British-born Muslims and their needs in English. 45 percent of imams have been in the UK for less than five years, and only 23 percent for more than ten years. More than half of them preach in Urdu. Professor Ron Geaves, who wrote the report, says that imams are well-qualified by traditional standards, which usually means quite conservative training.
In much of the Muslim diaspora, clerics continue to be largely recruited from their places of origin. This is what disturbs a growing number of young Muslims in Australia. Kurander Seyit, publisher of an Islamic newspaper in Sydney, describes the practice of importing imams as outdated, reports Phil Mercer in VOA News (July 26). This leads to culture clashes. The need is felt not only for fluency in English, but also for an understanding of the local society and its way of life. With a few exceptions, imams seem to be considered as a calming influence on young Muslims in Australia: hence the need to “be able to talk about what young kids want to talk about”, Seyit adds. — By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)