• 13 Oct - 19 Oct, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

The issue of the involvement of women in the affairs of the local community is one at the very heart of British society and the British value system. When it comes to the Muslim community, since so much of community life, especially among the more traditional Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri communities, revolves around the mosque, Muslim women have often claimed that they should be given their due role in the mosque and Islamic cultural centres that dot the land.

Their claims for a fuller role arose mainly with their exclusion in many places from the janaza prayers of close and much loved relatives like husbands, brothers or fathers, because many of the mosques in those days in which funeral prayers were held did not have facilities for ladies or the facilities available were very small. They found it difficult to accept their exclusion from what is an integral part of the grieving process and of the process of coming to terms with a grave loss. That complaint found a very sympathetic echo among mainstream British people and sections of the mainstream media.

The current position, much better than the one that existed forty or fifty years ago, still leaves a great deal to be desired with few mosques in the UK having women on their trustee or management boards and even such boards as do have women, like charity trust boards, have men outnumbering women two to one.

A couple of months ago, in August this year, Scottish Muslim women had launched a campaign for equal prayer space in mosques and inclusion in decision making bodies. Known as Mosques for All, their campaign regretted the fact that ‘many mosques fail to provide basic access for Muslim women... and many mosques have limited or no women present at mosque trustee or managerial level, either intentionally preventing women from taking up these roles or not sufficiently providing a welcoming atmosphere where women feel comfortable to get involved. The place and role of women in mosques is in real crisis in the UK and elsewhere, and this status quo must change.’

Another campaign by the name of Open My Mosque, is calling for a commitment from mosques to equality, and the Muslim Women’s Council, based in the Pakistani dominated town of Bradford, is raising funds for a mosque led and governed by women, “based on the principles of openness, inclusivity, social justice and sanctuary”.

Under this pressure, the leading British Muslim organisation, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), has launched a scheme to train women for leadership positions in mosques and community bodies. In the first such course to be run, twenty women will take up an intensive six-month MCB programme which should enable them to take up leadership positions. As part of their training the women will visit mosques known for observing ‘best practices’ and also be trained on handling the media and public speaking. The plan is that after attending such a course, the women may be able to take up positions on boards of trustees and other bodies running mosques and community programmes.

Gender equality is not the only reason why this move has received the unqualified backing of the local media and the tacit support of local officialdom as well. The hope is that with women taking a greater role in the running of mosques, those few mosques which take a harder line on Islamic issues may, over a period of time, take a softer approach and that this would help in countering extremism which has its roots here in the UK.

Boris Johnson versus Theresa May While British Muslims are making valuable progress in sorting out their problems, that is much more than can be said of the Tory Party. Their annual party conference finished only a few days ago and it witnessed a bruising match between the Prime Minister Theresa May and the man who many say is in line to be her successor, Boris Johnson. Johnson came out with all guns blazing against Mrs May’s Chequers Plan for Brexit, demanding that it be dumped, championing instead a Canada Style trade deal, none of which was particularly relevant since the EU has virtually dismissed both options. The Prime Minister, nevertheless, was forceful in her claim that Chequers was the only plan on the table but the EU refusal to endorse the plan because it picks the good bits of the single market and rejects the not-so-good bits, refuses to sink in. But what was remarkable was the huge emphasis on optics in what is essentially is matter of immense importance to the UK. Perhaps guided by PR jockeys, the PM made an entrance for her key note speech dancing her way to the podium. On the basis of that performance, it is unlikely that she would get a call-up from the famous rock band ABBA any time soon and one can only hope that EU officials take a more charitable view of the Brexit mess that envelops this green and hitherto pleasant land. •