Google Maps version 3 is currently transitioning to Google Maps version 3 and Google have now withdrawn version 2. Meanwhile there will be slight degradation of service compared with what you are used to. The map zoom is slower and the refresh of the view after zooming is also slower - it may take a few seconds longer for Google Maps to show you the masjid landmarks after you have panned or zoomed the map view.

Also whereas before, the Streetview picture homed in on the landmark, giving you a clear view of the Streetview of the masjid, this feature has changed and will be re-coded and meanwhile has been switched off. Instead however, you can now use the Google Yellow Man in the mini-map and drop him on the landmark to get the same result, but you have to do it yourself.

Please be patient while these elements are fixed, which they will be as soon as time allows. Please also note that unlike several sites that have copied the website, we do not depend on the website and its features to promote our own business or generate advertising revenue. This assures you of our complete independence but has the consequence that the Google Maps version 3 transition will be completed as our voluntary time allows it to be.

Update, January 2015
Code and content now updated to accommodate Google Maps version 3, and a vastly improved, full function "nearest mosques on my mobile" service as well - have a look at!

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK 
A ground-breaking, harrowing and challenging report into FGM was published yesterday at the House of Commons by the Royal Colleges of Midwifery, Nursing and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Unite union and Equality Now, Female genital mutilation/cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change(pdf). It speaks for itself and I have nothing of value to add to it.

What I do take issue with, is the continued association of FGM with Islam and Muslims. FGM is categorically not a religious ritual for any religion, certainly not Islam. It is not prevalent in the Muslim world, it is prevalent in tropical Africa. Yet even the Guardian chooses to include a reference to Islam in its article, "FGM is carried out in Africa and the Middle East by Muslims and non-Muslims. It predates Islam and is not called for in the Qur'an although it mostly occurs in countries that became Islamic."

Correct, it is not called for in the Qur'an, the Qur'an has many things to say about those who are abusive to what Allah has created. No it does not occur "mostly in countries that became Islamic" whatever that is supposed to mean. You can see for yourself which countries, in the same newspaper's extract of statistics. Reading as a logician, the pathetic phrase "carried out ... by Muslims and non-Muslims" makes the reference to Muslims entirely, gratuitously, spurious ..... to trivialise, it includes the entire regional population of wombats, even those that are Jehovah's Witnesses.

The only explicit Islamic contribution, in 14 centuries, to FGM, is a hadith from the Messenger of Allah (S) advising an old lady of Madinah, that if she really must cut, cut little, and although it is in the collection of Abu Dawood, some Islamic references state it as 'daeef', weak in authenticity. (The most remarkable aspect of that is simply to emphasise just how wide-ranging and detailed is the scope of the historical record of the early years of Islam.)

But this blog is not simply another gripe about knee-jerk Islamophobia, I want to make clear that this kind of sloppy journalism is dangerous, putting people at risk. By dwelling on the tenuous link between Islam and FGM, journalists and scaremongerers draw attention away from the very large proportion of non-Muslim girls in the UK who are in jeopardy. The Guardian is read by numerous professionals and health practitioners among others, typically with an IQ in double figures at least, yet leads them to suppose that the primary criterion for assessing if a girl is at risk is whether or not her mother is wearing a headscarf. Gratuitous Islamophobia in the linking of FGM to Muslims and not to prevalent cultures, undermines the careful work of this report and thereby puts girls at risk of being overlooked.

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"Please change our masjid's 'Theme'" (or management, or both) 
From time to time I receive feedback from people anxious to make as clear as possible to me that they are authoritative representatives of the management committee of a masjid. They vary in tone from the conciliatory to the outraged, and they want me to change the Theme that I have attributed to their masjid, to one which is as bland and uninformative as possible, e.g. "All welcome" or "Sunni", or "Mixed". There is actually nothing I would rather do than be able to re-label any masjid "Inclusive" or some similar adhective - actually that is the very objective of this website.

But I am not doing this work in order to deceive or mislead people. Some feedback accuses me of causing fitna by stating that a particular masjid is "Deobandi", or "Salafi", or "Sufi-Bareilvi" etc. Let me make very clear, if you are responsible for running a masjid, and that masjid is not a private club with invited guests only, but is a service for the Muslim community and the public beyond, then it is absolutely my responsibility to use the information available to me to let people know as accurately as I can, what theme, flavour, atmosphere, practice, tradition, or whatever, your masjid propagates, whether or not they intend to visit it. Yet instead, you, responsible officer of your masjid's committee, are asking me to collude with you to hide that information from the public, to deceive and mislead, even when those facts are widely known in your local community. You probably believe that the fact that I have published that knowledge will somehow discourage people from attending your masjid. You may believe that the information embarasses your masjid. In either case, it is not for me to hide these things, it is very much for you to change them!

As I repeat over and again on the website,

* almost all UK masjids are organised with closed, unaccountable managements and only a small number of people permitted to provide any kind of religious content, and that strictly in line with the masjid's theme.

* It is this that causes fitna (trouble, enmity).

* The fitna is profoundly exacerbated by imams of such masjids who use their privileged position to teach their congregations to be sceptical and hostile towards other practices, sometimes with outright takfir against them.

* Masjids sustain coteries of people who co-operate to preserve the status quo and ensure that no alternative practice gains a hearing in the masjid.

* Because of this intellectual lock-down, anyone who is unhappy with the way the masjid is run is driven to work outside the masjid's circle, even if he prays in that same masjid five times a day.

* The most frequently dissatisfied users of the masjid are converts such as myself, though we may be few in number.

* The second most frequently dissatisfied, are Muslim youth.

* Around any masjid with unaccountable management and inflexible, exclusive religious practice (i.e. every masjid in the UK) you will find discontented groups, mainly young, often including a convert, unhappy with the status quo.

* The groups range across the whole spectrum of different ideas of what it means to practice Islam.

* Most will be groups with very valuable contributions to make, if only you didn't keep blocking them out.

* But in numbers of cases will be some who are very interested in militant extremism.

* You, masjid management, imams, can't tell one from another - you see them all as hostile ...
... because they all challenge you and your absolute control of the masjid.

* That's why you shut them out and why you get the shock of your life when one of those groups drags your masjid into the headlines and you have to tell the press the unbelievable fact that you knew nothing about them.

* If you made space for alternative viewpoints in your masjid, you'd quickly see who were the decent Muslims trying to do something better than you.

* And the only ones who would be hiding their activities from you would be the ones you really need to worry about.

* It is you, masjid management committees, imam in your pocket, who create the conditions in which your own children and their convert friends get mixed up in bitter, hostile ideas that quickly turn to atrocious acts of violence against your own neighbours. At first they are driven out by your hostility to any new ideas they try to bring to your community. Then they learn to carry on out of your sight, just like all the other dissenting groups. Then when one of them is so far gone that he or she thinks the only act that will make its mark, shake you out of your complacency, 'wake up the Muslims', it will be too late to save the reputation of your masjid.

It is an easily demonstrated fact that most 'terrorism' cases in the UK involve one or two Muslim converts usually with a few born-Muslim 2nd/3rd generation, and that they do their business right under the noses of the masjid regulars without anyone in the privileged circle having the slightest clue what they are up to. The pages of this blog and the 'Political' pages of the website explain how it happens.

So ... the penalty paid by locked down masjid management, ethnic/tribal exclusiveness and narrow religious 'themes' is a community that is destroying itself and the community around it. Occasionally, tragically, the consequences of masjid intransigence are literally a matter of life and death.

So, masjid manager, until you yourselves do away with your exclusive themes, learn that it is you who have to change your ways. You can no longer afford to block any request for masjid events other than those your best buddy the imam approves of. Imam, know that your smug, clever speeches that warn your congregation how this or that activity or ritual of this or that other sect brings its participants to the brink of hellfire, is insulting, offensive, and ignorant. The people you are insulting are sitting right in front of you in your Friday Jumu'ah. You are the source of fitna.
Muqtadi, know that while you make yourself comfortable among your coterie, in cahoots with your committee, backbiting against some individual that tries to introduce some people to some aspect of Islam that you reject, that it is you that is the source of fitna.

The fitna you all create, trustee, committee, imam, influential muqtadi, is the very thing that makes everyone in the community know that your masjid is the unassailable Bareilvi masjid, Deobandi masjid, Salafi masjid, ... You create the 'themes' I diligently record and publish. (Don't even get me started on the tribal, racial exclusive masjids!) You want me to hide, disguise, deny your efforts? No, I will not conspire with you.

If you genuinely want to promote the idea that your masjid is not rigidly themed, there is a huge amount you can do, and I will try to help. But be warned, I will be very sceptical of platitudes about how everyone is welcome in your masjid. (Imagine what kind of awful place it would be if that wasn't true!) Catholic churches, the British Humanist Association, even the EDL, can all make that claim, and with more justification than some masjids!

I will want to see demonstrable proof, in publicly accessible forms, of activities that occur regularly and frequently in your masjid, that clearly break down the barriers between any and all of the Muslim factions and ethnicities that live in your area. Such a list might include mix of the following:

Ta’alim from Maulana Zakariya’s (RA) Tablighi Nisab
Gusht in the manner of Tabligh Jama’at
Ghousia Kathm, Urs shareef, Gyarwee shareef or similar activities
Ta’alim from Kanz-ul Emaan of Ala Hazrat Ahmad Raza Khan (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Nasruddin Al Albani
Jaloos and Maatm or Zanjeer zani commemorations in respect of Imam Hussain (RAA)
Urs Syedna Abdullah Fakhruddin RA in the fashion of Dawoodi Bohras
Muraqabah qalb dhikr of the Naqshbandis
Tafsir from Tefhim ul Qur'an of Abdul 'Ala Maudoodi(RA)

It might include the employment voluntary or paid, of imams in rotation, from each of the major madrassahs, especially those that carry the burden of notorious disdain for each other.

Yes that is quite a challenging list - including items that I myself would struggle with, but that is the point - you claim that your masjid is the community's masjid, that it is open to everyone, that you don't define yourselves by some narrow criterion that excludes all but a single instance from a list such as the above. So either be true to your claims and open up, or accept that you are sectarian as I have described you, with all the dangers I have highlighted.

I will want to see clear evidence that your imams and alims and amirs and committee members are actively propagating mutual respect towards other sects' beliefs and teachings, with open and honest discussion of the points you disagree with, without disrespectful and insulting insinuations about the quality of someone else's iman. Salafi, you know you can't see into the heart of another Muslim so how can you claim to judge the imaan of a Sufi. Sufi, you cannot claim that a Salafi who loves the Sunnah so much that he practices every hadeeth he finds, is not a greater ashiq than you.

When did you ever see one imam sharing a lecture with an imam from a rival sect? Never? Well now is the time to start!

You will need to construct clear codes of conduct, published, and very likely adorning the walls of your masjid: No more "No one is permitted to make any announcements etc except ..." Instead I want to see, "No one is permitted to use insulting or derogatory language about another Muslim's beliefs or practice. No one is permitted to deny any group or speaker the right to disseminate their material by speech, leaflet or formal event in this masjid. Any question of the Islamic basis of another's beliefs or practice must be conducted with the utmost regard for respect and tolerance of diversity, and must be based on mutually agreed definitions of what the differences actually are." (I would welcome suggestions for the kinds of rules that could be formulated to promote the required degree of mutual respect.)

All these examples of activities that transcend your dogmatically maintained, sectarian themes have to be real, with a proven and published track record, not just aspirations. Every masjid has aspirations of capturing the hearts of the Muslim neighbourhood, of course it does. That is why so many are named 'Central Mosque', 'Markazi Masjid', 'Jamiya Masjid' etc. even when they exist as an end of terrace house in the seediest corner of a backwater estate. The struggle against sectarianism will not be won by aspirations, only by you giving up your mimbar to share it with people you currently despise.

Now lets come on the the accountability bit. You want to state that your management committee is not exclusively Pakistani? (or Bangladeshi, or Gujerati ...? ) Which country does your imam come from? Born in Britain? trained in Britain? Probably not. From the same country as you yourselves? Thought so! Why should that be, if not to maintain the ethnic self-serving exclusiveness of your masjid? How were you appointed to the committee? By election? Election by whom? Did you publish the date of your meeting? How did you decide who could vote? What does one have to do to become a member? What language do you conduct your affairs in?

Very occasionally I am pleased to note the diversity of a masjid's management committee, though inevitably disappointed that there appears to be not a single convert/revert among them, even less, any one from an indigenous origin. It is a matter of continued incredulity to me that, after 60 years of a substantial Muslim presence in Britain, and continual claims of many thousands of people within this country embracing Islam, practically every one of our one and a half thousand masjids is without even a single indigenous British committee member. One would have supposed that if Muslims were serious about their commitment to life in this country that all but the most parochial backwater would have most of the key posts and many of the imam-ates filled by just such people. The Muslim community's failure to even recognise this as a problem speaks volumes for the perception the non-Muslim community has of Muslims in Britain. It is uniform across the UK, with the exception of the peculiar Masjid al-Falah in Norwich and arguably also Brixton Masjid. However, if you are truly intent on achieving constructive diversity, I suggest that you set a firm aim to add an indigenous Muslim convert to your committee as being one of your public aims of the highest priority. Then we can talk seriously about integration in which everyone is welcome in your masjid.

So, if you want's directory to record your theme as something like "Sunni" or "No specific theme" and your management to be recorded as "Diverse" then you know what to do. For my part I will be thrilled to make these changes to my database and publish them. Meanwhile the sectarian rot continues unchecked, because you, masjid committee, are too selfish to see the damage you have done.


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Inclusive and Accessible Masjids 
I went to the London City Circle last night, for the first time in a couple of years, to their "Making Mosques Inclusive" discussion. I was somewhat disappointed insofar as the panel of liberal and inclusive presenters really didn't address the hard questions, who to include, who to exclude, who to make the decisions and how. For the liberal-minded cosmopolitan youth, inclusiveness is about women, disabled, con/reverts, and access to management and control of community resources, which means most of the time, the local masjid, all worthy stuff, but what about militants and supposed militants, what about when one sect exploits elective processes to try and take over, what about sex and gender challenges, what about those who won't pray behind a rival faction's imam, those who assert takfir and the people they target? These are the real, hard issues that cause masjid committees to lock down their management and lock out meetings of those they consider disruptive. Tolerance and inclusiveness are two-sided, each side has to be willing to compromise, and each side has to learn to speak respectfully of the other. One hundred and fifty years of bitter sectarianism in the Indian sub continent alone is not going to wither away after a meeting such as this.

Take militancy. Once upon a time, not only Muslims, but non-Muslims too, were able to have open debate that included people with militant and extreme views on all manner of subjects. We have lost that ability and regressed as a civil society because of it. No self-respecting leftie student ever gained any credibility by claiming that the world's problems could be solved through multi-party, representative, parliamentary democracy. Jack Straw was once the chair of Leeds University Socialist Society. Many entities have gained unjustified notoriety through media scaremongering. Hizb-ut-Tahrir may not be everyone's cup of tea but its UK branches are not only innocuous, but actually very valuable: what better way to address youth apathy at the political process than to provoke heated (interminable) discussions about the political structures required to run the world? And they are Allah's gift to the secret police ... any plain-clothes plod with a bit of gumption will find them standing conspicuously on picket duty on the street outside of the masjid, keen to buttonhole anyone stepping out, with an unstoppable spiel of all the woes of the Muslim world and how to end them. Once the HT minion realises he's just invited the old Bill to the next branch meeting, he'll be dead sure to demonstrate his commitment to civil engagement for a good many years to come - actually I am not being cynical here, if the authorities can just stop themselves from their macho counter-terrorist rhetoric and recognise that talking about political action is actually a normal, healthy thing to do, that there is no "conveyor belt" through organisations such as HT, then a sensible, informed discussion on the street is very likely to have a benign effect on those engaged. At the very least, the fact of the young man's exposure to the Law in political mode will make him wary of mixing in any darker conspiracy. Meanwhile back at the masjid, the only strong but very poor reason why inclusiveness doesn't include HT is because Maulana-sahab doesn't understand a word of what they are talking about, and not one single committee member has a single counter-argument to debate with them. Salafis have regularly been branded as 'fundamentalists', extremists etc in the media, and there are plenty of examples of their doctrinal enemies exploiting this to block them out. Yet not only are Salafis generally by far the most effectively engaged with wider society, they provide the most attractive offering for the majority of reverts/converts as well as being the most effective at undermining militant argument.

What about gender politics in the masjid? This is a vexed issue. Very few masjids are purpose-built, though 74% overall provide facilities for women. (You can get my full and latest statistical report on UK Masjids here (PDF) or on the sidebar.) However these vary hugely. Aberdeen's masjid closes its facilities to women for Jumu'ah specifically to make enough space for men. (Women are quite welcome at other times.) A grandly finished warehouse conversion in Batley has an elaborate space for men and an equally elaborate one for women alongside ... the women's hall is kept locked except for special events! Thank you to Halima Karwa for bring our attention to Side Entrance, very informative!

Ultra-liberal entities such as the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, that Halima Karwa presented on, often get a very easy ride in the media, such that one might get the impression that they are in the vanguard of community change. But imams, masjid committees and Mr Khan comoonty lidders (Adil Ray has a lot to answer for!) are utterly oblivious of their existence and will probably remain so outside of cosmopolitan London. The MiB directory lists just two masjids that I have themed "Modernist", and my concern is that all these have done is created yet another sect albeit unnamed (though I have needed to name their 'theme') that is as exclusive as the rest. Indeed I took the trouble to note Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, MECO's administrator, with her claim, ". . . avowedly forward-looking Muslim group, we are not only interdenominational but also multicultural and non-sectarian." sadly undermined by one circulated email from her with the words "toxic Wahhabi-Salafi-Deobandi ideology, which flagrantly defies authentic Islamic precepts". As I said, MECO is just as sectarian as all the rest.

The hardest issue of all, for any movement towards inclusive masjids, is to overcome the deep-rooted takfir rhetoric of the mainstream traditional, and indeed upcoming, sects that are the themes of almost all the UK masjids, and are themselves reflections of sectarian manifestations worldwide. Bareilvis and many other Sufi-oriented organisations and their advocates at the very least will slander Deobandis with the phrase, ghustaq-e-rasul, insulters of the Messenger (S), but when push comes to shove, are perfectly happy to call them munafiqeen, traitors to Islam, and I have heard the argument that they are 'deniers of the Qur'an'. All because Deobandis and Tablighi Jama'at are exceptionally cautious regarding Sufi practices (their roots and ongoing inspiration are of course Sufi though). While I am greatly simplifying 100 years of bilious rhetoric, it is necessary to make clear that for their part Deobandis and TJ have no qualms about describing Bareilvis and most other Sufi practitioners (except themselves) as qabar pujaris grave and saint worshippers, i.e. polytheists, kaffir. Salafis for their part regard both of these rival deep traditions as mushrikeen, idolaters, in common with anyone they can label soofee (to be pronounced with a sneer). I once witnessed two simultaneous maghrieb jama'ats in Streatham Masjid, one behind the other, because the Deobandis would not pray behind an Islamic Movement (Maudoodi) imam. And various commentators have advised readers of various web-boards not to use the MiB directory variously because I list "Qadianis and Shi'a", or because I list non-Sunni (read non-Bareilvi) masjids. Regarding Qadianis, I make very clear the several reasons why they are included in the map (but not the search nor the satnav or smartphone downloads). Furthermore, especially in this context, while very few of the people reading this will ever have had any dialogue with an Ahmadi, for those of us that have, it is extraordinarily important that those dialogues are conducted in an informed and restrained manner - the current generation of Ahmadi youth is vulnerable to external influences (you and me) to a degree never before seen. The steaming frothy diatribe of the dedicated Qadiani hunters is something that needs to be shut down immediately. Not only that, but if you really want to bring your masjids out of ethnic obscurity, you will have to learn to share public events with Qadianis, at least for those of you who live in the same areas - see my map for details - and when you do, you will need to learn to express your differences in ways that don't make you sound like janglee villagers! You will need to be able to disagree with Ahmadiyya in terms that you both agree are matters of fact.

Shappir Alim presented on the circumstances of Palmers Green Mosque, MCEC, in North London. This is a masjid that I have followed with intrigue over its history, trying to fathom its direction as I kept the directory up to date. I learnt that on one level MCEC is wide in its inclusiveness - it makes its rooms available to various groups, "including Shi'as" and the wider community. What was disappointing for me was that it doesn't actually tackle the hard stuff; when it comes to the sectarianism which fragments the UK Muslim population, it has a simple and far from novel solution: "groups" are not permitted in the masjid. We were given to understand that e.g. there would be no Tablighi ghusht or ta'alim, no Bareilvi salaat-o-salaam after Jumu'ah, etc.

For all their good intentions, this is not inclusiveness, at least not in a form that will address the expectations of the vast majority of masjids in the UK. Indeed, there are a modest number of other masjids that enforce a vanilla flavour of Islam on their congregations - the litmus test comes when you have to pick one imam; I have yet to meet an imam who can guide his congregation through that situation without either telling them nothing at all or giving away hs own prejudices and thus driving away a significant part of the congregation.

These are tough topics, and it is all too easy for me to carp on the sidelines. That was never my intention, instead I would like to remind readers that the MiB site does include some detailed suggestions about a path towards countering sectarianism and making the masjid an inclusive place, suggestions which explicitly address the hard issues. Here is where they are.

Let me now move onto Accessibility. How many masjids have any of the following? Step-free access to the masjid? Step-free access to the masjid for women? The very idea is barely conceivable for those who are familiar with the designated women's areas for the 74% of masjids that claim to have facilities for women. How about this? Wheelchair-accessible toilets? Wudhu spaces? For women? How about visual and aural impairment aids such as clear signage, clear public address, sign-language translators (even competent English translators would be a nice-to-have!). I made a resolution that I would start to include this information in the directory and in the statistics. In one sense that will be very easy, zero plus zero equals zero. Just as I have collected the masjid data over thirty years, so I will need a lot of time before the accessibility data becomes anywhere ear complete. Please help with this - use the contact form for each masjid (you can find it at the foot of each masjid's entry page) and copy back to me the answers to the following:

First hand or based on the masjid's claims?
Women's facilities for regular salaah, Yes or No
Women's facilities for Jumu'ah, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to masjid for men, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to masjid for women, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to toilets for men, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to toilets for women, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to wudhu for men, Yes or No
Step-free wheelchair access to wudhu for women, Yes or No
Clear signage, notices and written material in men's area, Yes or No
Clear signage, notices and written material in women's area, Yes or No
Clear public address in men's area, Yes or No
Clear public address in women's area, Yes or No
Use of assistive technology, translators or sign language: Items

If you can't find the individual masjid in the MiB directory, note that the MiB Google Maps search will take a wide range of geographical and name search criteria, else use this general contact form instead.


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The beard 
Last week two Muslim boys were put in isolation at a Catholic school and ordered that they must return to school "clean" shaven. Coincidentally this weekend I made a trip to the Imperial War Museum with my daughter and we spent a lot of time in the Holocaust gallery there. There were many things in that gallery which would and should leave one shaking, not least how the Nazis' first systematic use of production-line killing was the extermination of disabled and mentally impaired people, especially children. One of the less distressing exhibits was footage of a Nazi SA gang forcibly shaving Jews' beards and payots (locks of hair) in the early 1930s. Inconsequential compared with what followed, yet very telling, how a minority was singled out for public humiliation in an environment where a more powerful group sought to impose its own definition of acceptability in its efforts to draw popular favour. I do not believe for a moment that the Head Teacher, Xavier Bowers, is part of a neo-Nazi vanguard of course. But I do believe that he would not have imposed this humiliation on his pupils if this was not a time when populist journalism could muster widespread anti-Muslim prejudice just as the proto-Nazis used anti-Jewish prejudice to gain advantage in the 20s and 30s.

Mr Bowers has the temerity to define Islam himself: 'Xavier Bowers told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: "We have not taken this decision lightly. I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders. There is nothing specifically written in the Qur'an about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain."' Muslims have standards too, and included among them is the religious code that one lives one's life in accordance with the Sunnah. The repeated command of the Qur'an is, "Obey Allah and obey the Messenger of Allah!" (Qur'an 24:54 and many other verses), and the Messenger of Allah (S) stated plainly, "Whoever obeys me certainly obeys Allah." (Bukhari, Muslim, al-Nasa'i, Ahmad, and Ibn Majah). Many elements of the Sunnah, the way of life of the Messenger of Allah (S), are transient things, applying sometimes, abrogated at others. But one Sunnah was practised by him, 24 hours a day, every day of his life, and continues, for all we know, for every moment in his kabr, his grave, in Madinah. That one Sunnah is the beard. It is an explicit command: "Lengthen your beard and clip your moustache." (Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Hambal) How was it practised? The answer, as with all of the Sunnah, lies in what is recorded of him and of his companions (R). Not one single male companion kept his beard shorter than a full fist's length anywhere around his face. (For the moustache, his advice was to trim it short, never longer than a grain of rice; trim it right down to stubble as one of the fitras every Friday before Jumu'ah salaah.)

The "choice the boys are making" is to practice their faith. It is not for Xavier Bowers to state what is and what is not within the Muslim faith. As for the Muslim elders supposedly consulted, yes there are no doubt many of sufficient age to have been numbered among those who arrived as total strangers in the 1950s and 1960s, who had no masjids to attend, who left behind halaal food and their families in order to make some money out of Britain's invitation. Many of them are still there as trustees of masjids that are so set in the ways of the village that young men and women despair at finding meaningful Islamic practice from the lectures of the imams these elders employ. Their inertia, and the opportunities it creates for others to humiliate young Muslim men, are a very large part of what drives young Muslims to seek alternative sources to define their religion.

It is also an element of what motivates Muslim parents to find alternative sources of education, and hence Muslim faith schools. My own experience as a parent, of Muslim faith schools, is such that there is not one I would recommend, for a variety of reasons, which go beyond the scope of this blog article. One reason however is that they echo the same sectarian prejudices as UK masjids and their competing sects, indeed they are usually founded and run by the same vocal advocates of particular sectarian viewpoints. And are run with the same cynical contempt for diverse Muslim perspectives: you will find more adherence to a diverse multi-faith curriculum in a typical Muslim school's RE lesson than in many non-Muslim schools; but you will most likely hear just one Muslim sect's perspective in the same lesson, with alternative practices condemned unequivocally. Worse yet, by extension, you will find apalling racism directed at racial minorities within the class and among the pupils - this is my own children's first hand experience.

A Muslim free school accused of imposing strict Islamic practices, such as segregated classrooms, has closed following an inspection by Ofsted. The BBC reported that unnamed former staff members of Al-Madinah, which opened as a free school in September last year, had alleged that girls were forced to sit at the back of the classroom, and that female staff members, including non-Muslims, had been forced to wear the hijab. However the article states, "Last week, the interim principal told the BBC that he had not received any complaints from colleagues regarding the dress code and that pupils were not being segregated, with girls and boys being treated equally." Whatever the case, the strict Islamic ethical code does not require any segregation between children pre-puberty. Post-puberty the notion of separation in a co-ed class is not at all what Muslim parents would send their children to an Islamic school for - the classroom is not modelled on a jama'at in a masjid. Separate schools, yes, in common with many secular and faith-based schools, but the entire rationale for that falls apart in a segregated classroom.

Non-Muslims being forced to wear hijab? Can I invent the term "Islamical Correctness" to define nonsensical reduction of ethics to absurdity? If someone is not a Muslim, he or she is not required to adhere to any Islamic dress or food or behaviour custom whatsoever. If you don't want to see a non-Muslim lady's hair, then either don't look or stay indoors out of harm's way. Even in the masjid itself, even at the time of salaah, there is no Shari'a basis for requiring visitors to cover their heads. They aren't going to walk around in front of you during the salaah - there simply won't be space to do so unless you've arranged your salaah without a sutrah, and even then, so what? What about when you make your salaah out in the open in public (where it is meant to be seen). Are you going to interrupt your salaah when a non-Muslim woman walks past and is glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, bare ankled or worse? Please stop the nonsense of imposing Islamic habits on non-Muslims, it achieves nothing. And, Mr Xavier Bowers, please stop imposing your ritual humilation and your contempt for their religious practice, on Muslim pupils - you are not helping your religion or theirs, nor your school or their education.

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