Too many Muslim clerics in Europe do not understand the lives of the young Muslims they preach to.by Jytte Klausen / May 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Few people paid much attention to the mosques that began to spring up across Europe, usually in the dingy parts of town, in the 1970s and 1980s. But now, after 9/11 and the Madrid bombs, those mosques and the imams who preach in them are under a cloud of suspicion. Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorists, attended the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, had links with the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, as did the militant Islamic cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza, who preached there until he was evicted early last year. And at the end of March, eight young British Muslims from the suburbs of southeast England were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a bomb plot, five of whom have now been charged. They have been linked to Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammed, leader of the radical al-Muhajiroun group, which claims about 800 adherents in Britain.
In the last few months I have met leaders of Muslim organisations, imams, Muslim parliamentarians and councillors in four countries – Britain, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Many of them expressed fears about “rogue imams” preaching holy war. There are a few rogues. But the real issue – as described by countless Muslim parents – is that Muslims in Europe desperately need imams and scholars who speak the languages and are familiar with the customs and practices of the countries in which they live.
“What good is a Saudi Arabian imam to me?” asked Yasin Ahmed, whom I met in the Stockholm mosque. Yasin, who is originally from Eritrea, said, “I am a Swedish Muslim. The Saudi Arabian imam does not understand my life and who I have become.” To my surprise, most of the imams I spoke to also voiced concerns about the problems caused by unqualified imams. Europe needs an Islamic clergy to match the demands of a socially mobile and increasingly educated community.
There are about 250 mosques in Sweden, 150 in Denmark, 400 in the Netherlands and probably 1,500 in Britain. Only a few of these have been built for the purpose. In most cases they are prayer rooms in rented halls. I have attended the Friday sermon in a newly built mosque in the Netherlands, where prayers were conducted with men and women mixing. I have also waded through hundreds of female bodies lying down facing a brick wall indicating the direction…