Theo Hobson

A modest proposal

A modest proposal
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The Quilliam foundation has found that 97% of imams working in Britain are foreign-born, and that nearly half of mosques do not make provisions for women. A huge proportion of mosques are led by rabble-rousers, obsessed by Middle Eastern politics rather than the actual day-to-day needs of their community. In short, Muslim religious culture is failing to integrate, to become more British.

How can Muslims be encouraged to integrate? The Quilliam foundation suggests that tighter regulation is needed, and more care to fund community projects run by moderates rather than extremists. Hazel Blears argues that the government should be energetically engaged in the debate about what constitutes extremism (I think that’s what she’s saying).

So should we try to encourage integration and restrict separatism, or it is wiser to let things be, lest meddling makes Muslims nervous and slows down integration?

A tricky dilemma. But I have a modest proposal. Remember that we have an established church? With a bit of legislative tweaking, this could be a major resource for integration. Why not simply decree that every parish church is mosque-adaptable? And that it employs an imam as well as a priest?

Yes, funding such a change would be an issue, but what better use of state resources than finding work for unemployed Muslim men and women? Yes, women too: the scheme would make female (and non-practicing homosexual) imams a reality. And think of all the building work that could be given to recession-hit building companies.

If we have an established church, we have to put it to use. This has been its function in the past: to be flexible enough to keep all major forms of British religion in the mainstream. It has accommodated Catholics with its beautiful high-church tradition, and puritans with its enthusiastic evangelical tradition, and lefties with its social-gospel tradition, and of course agnostics with its whole general approach – so why not Muslims too?

Of course it would not be uncontroversial: many purists would complain that the Church of England is meant to be exclusively Christian. But, in fact, most such people have already left, either for Rome or the Protestant sects. Those who remain are just as interested in social issues as religion.

As so often, Prince Charles is ahead of the game here, with his desire to be the defender of all the faiths. The evidence suggests that the Archbishop of Canterbury is also sympathetic.