Leverhulme Project: 2003-4
This pilot research project sought to answer the question: "what kind of human, material, and financial resources would be necessary for a successful national study of students training to be Muslim religious professionals in British Muslim theological seminaries, and could such a study be undertaken at the present time?".
Aims of Project
The Training and Development of Muslim Religious Professionals in Britain
The Muslim population of Britain is estimated to be around 2 million, with approximately 60 per cent under 25 years of age. The community is extremely diverse in terms of language, ethnicity, and membership of different sectarian and philosophical schools of thought. Many of the religious professionals or Imams who meet the ritual and pastoral needs of Britain’s Muslim community have their origins in the countries from which British Muslims have migrated, typically (but not exclusively) the Indian sub-continent. However, the practice of ‘importing’ Imams from abroad has been criticised from both within and outside the Muslim community. Imams from overseas often lack the linguistic, cultural and social skills necessary to communicate with young British-born Muslims, while at the same time, they take up employment opportunities that might be offered to an increasing number of British-trained Imams. In December 2001 the Home Secretary changed immigration rules with the intention of making it easier for British-trained Imams to work in the UK, whilst also ‘protecting’ British mosques from the supposed influences of radical Islamist clerics from abroad.
This pilot research project sought to answer the question: "what kind of human, material, and financial resources would be necessary for a successful national study of students training to be Muslim religious professionals in British Muslim theological seminaries, and could such a study be undertaken at the present time?". In order to answer this question, this pilot project aimed to establish:
- 'Where are the centres of British Muslim theological education?'
- 'Who decides to become a Muslim religious professional in Britain and why?' There has so far been very little research on the ‘career trajectory’ of British-trained Imams, beginning with their theological training. This phase of the project sought to understand who or what has motivated young British Muslims to become religious professionals, and what they understand the role to involve.
- 'How do British Islamic organisations view Muslim religious professionals, both those who have been ‘imported’ and those who are British-trained?' This phase of the project aimed to gain some insights into the range of opinions and experiences that Muslim organisations have about Muslim religious professionals, and their ‘desiderata’ for British Muslim theological education.
- 'How do practising Imams reflect on their role and training today?' This phase of the research made some initial assessment of what the role of an Imam in Britain today might entail…in order to assess the correspondence between what seminarians thought it involved and what serving Imams claim it actually involves.
Outcomes of the project
A summary report of the pilot project.
- Closed worlds: (not) accessing Deobandi dar ul-uloom in Britain. Fieldwork in Religion, vol (1):1, 2005, pp.7-43
- Educating the Ulama: Centres of Islamic Religious Training in Britain’. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 17(1), 2006, pp.55-76
Developments from the project
As a result of the project, a successful application was made to the AHRC-ESRC Religion and Society scheme for a further, more extended project on Muslim Chaplains in the UK. Work on Muslim Chaplaincy will also take place within the new Centre for Chaplaincy Studies .