Posted on January 10, 2012

Generation of Young Muslims Ending Up in Jail ‘Because Of Out-Dated Imams Who Fail to Engage with Them’

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Daily Mail (London), January 10, 2012

Out-dated teaching in mosques is behind a dramatic rise in the number of young Muslims going to prison, a top cleric has said.

Ahtsham Ali, an adviser to the Prison Service, said that mosques in the UK fail to engage with the young men that come through their door because they use imams from overseas who are unable to preach in English.

He said that more needs to be done to understand problems in society like family breakdown, arranged marriages and drugs.

He also said there was a difficulty with the absence of good male role models and too much emphasis on religious rituals.

Mr Ali said: ‘It is a tragedy. I have seen youngsters, the next generation, just totally switch off from it. This is dangerous. it allows others to take advantage to take up the vacuum.’

Over the past year the Muslim prison population has reached 10,600, according to the Times, and accounts for 12.6 per cent of all prisoners — a huge over representation considering that just three per cent of the UK is Muslim.

The rise over the past 20 years has been phenomenal with a jump from 1,957 inmates in 1991.

Mr Ali says he works with some of the best imams in Britain with 55 full-time, 59 part-time and 96 running sessions in prisons.

He said that they are able to get through to the under-30s, the group that is most likely to commit crime, because they approach them differently.

‘Make religion fun,’ he said. ‘Have a pool table in the basement of the mosque, that kind of thing.’

Mr Ali added that the emphasis needs to move away from the length of someone’s beard and religious rituals.

‘Prison imams will play five-a-side football, will go around and chat,’ he said. ‘Ask how was the film last night. That kind of relevant bonding is good.’

He added: ‘I have had prisoners say to me “Tell me why do I have to go to prison to get a good imam?” That is a sad state of affairs we have.’

Mosques in the UK operate independently, according to Mr Ali, and many import imams from abroad.

The lack of an ability to speak English is also compounded by a problem with imams not being able to relate to young Muslims, many of whom have been brought up in the UK and have a different outlook on the world.

Inayat Bunglawala, chairman of Muslims for UK, said that one of the problems is that imams are poorly paid so there is a problem with recruitment.