A recent article published in The Times entitled ‘Imams join forces in pursuit of a more progressive Islam’, makes mention of the creation of a national council of Imams that is being conceived to promote ‘progressive interpretations of Islam’. The article alludes to Imams Online as being central to the conversation and a driving force behind the creation of this council. We think it is important to clarify some of the language used and address some potential areas of concern around this notion.
From the outset, we would like to make it clear that conceptually and in our work to date, we have always advocated for greater collaboration between Islamic thought leaders to discuss, debate and find contextually specific answers to contemporary issues. Having listened to the voices of young Muslims, who have identified the need for competent religious leadership to be at the forefront in providing relevant Islamic guidance around pertinent social issues, there is no doubt about the critical demand for a unified Islamic leadership body to provide this.
However, given this is the case, it is important to note that we do not advocate that a council of this type is the responsibility of any one individual or organisation, nor has Imams Online claimed to be an umbrella body for Muslim communities. Our work has always focussed on empowering the voices of Islamic leadership and feel that if such a national council was created, it would complement the work already being done by established Muslim organisations.
In our consultations and work with different sections of the British Muslim community, we have come across examples of excellence in leadership within different institutions and umbrella bodies and would be committed to pooling together the resources and expertise of these different examples of leadership to form a cohesive, united body of Islamic thought leaders that celebrates and accurately represents the diversity of British Muslims and acknowledges the existence of multiple accepted schools of thought.
As we know, language is a powerful tool and the connotations of certain words and phrases can sometimes arouse suspicion and change perceptions. Imams Online does not advocate for dismissing or changing divinely inspired scripture. Rather, it is important that contemporary Imams and Scholars contextualise traditional Islamic thought for Muslims living as minorities in Europe and the US.
Fundamentally, the existence of such a council would mean a more accessible avenue to engage with the Muslim community and categorically distance the religion of Islam from being conflated with notions of extremism and cultural practices that skew people’s perception of the faith. There is a rich history within the Islamic tradition and throughout its history of religious intellectuals coming together to discuss and debate pertinent social issues and offer religious solutions to them.
There is no denying the need for a revival of this tradition moving forward that helps clarify matters for a growing young Muslim population struggling with different identities and desiring to be comfortable as both British and Muslim.
Imams Online looks forward to working in collaboration with senior Islamic leadership and established Islamic organisations to help bring this idea to fruition.