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Leadership, Authority and Representation in British Muslim Communities conference

Roomful of delegates at Leadership, Authority and Representation in British Muslim Communities conference

This one-day conference on 21 January 2019 brought together academics and activists to explore issues of leadership, authority and representation in British Muslim communities.

Who speaks for British Muslims? How is authority construed, constructed and exercised in an age of mass media and the internet? What internal and external factors shape leadership structures and modalities of representation for British Muslims living as a minority in a culturally Christian but largely secular social context? Where do leaders come from in a decentralised religious tradition lacking a priestly hierarchy? How do government discourses and media representations impact upon dynamics of leadership and authority in British Muslim communities?

Keynote lectures by:

  • Ataullah Siddiqui (Markfield Institute of Higher Education)
  • Shaukat Warraich (Faith Associates)

Panel discussion on ‘The Future Role of Imams in the UK’ with:

  • Saleem Kidwai (Chair)
  • Shuruq Naguib
  • Atif Imtiaz
  • Mufti Abdur Rahman Mangera
  • Myriam Francois-Cerrah
  • Imam Qari Asim
  • Rehanah Sadiq

Speakers and panellists

The conference was organised in conjunction with a special issue of the international journal Religions jointly edited by Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray and Dr Riyaz Timol.

This conference explored issues of leadership within British Muslim communities. Leadership takes many forms. It includes liturgical and ritual leadership from imams (who may be paid, unpaid, or low-paid) and educational leadership from academics or those serving in madrassahs, seminaries and other kinds of private establishments. It encompasses both women and men and is exercised in increasingly diverse ways, such as virtual forums online or Islamic television channels. Religious leadership is also provided by an elite group of professionals with expertise in Islamic law, who may carry the title ‘mufti’ or ‘ayatollah’, or by Sufi shaykhs who provide guidance for their disciples.

Political leadership has emerged via a number of British Muslims taking up positions within local and national governance, some of whom have acquired senior government positions such as the Mayor of London Rt Hon Sadiq Khan or Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Alongside this, a range of regional and national organisations have developed to ‘represent’ the interests of Muslim communities in civil society, often headed by those with skills derived from a variety of public service and charitable roles. Bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain and their affiliates exercise national influence while various councils of mosques claim to advocate on behalf of broad regional congregations. Muslim leadership roles have seen further diversification in recent decades through incorporation into professions such as chaplaincy and youth work, while those British Muslims in senior positions within the media, or the third sector, often function as influential spokespeople. Others who have succeeded in the public eye, such as Sir Mo Farah CBE or Nadiya Hussain for example, act as ‘role models’ garnering followings among a wide cross-section of British society.

By focussing on British Muslim community leadership, this conference provided systematic focus on a topic that had hitherto been given rather diffuse consideration. It complemented historical work on community leadership (Birt 2008, Birt 2008, Geaves 2009), as well as more contemporary discussion about the training and role of imams and Muslim chaplains in Britain (Lewis 2002, Birt 2005, Birt 2006, Gilliat-Ray 2006, Gilliat-Ray 2008, Gilliat-Ray, Ali et al. 2013, Hafiz 2015). There is merit in exploring issues of leadership from an interdisciplinary perspective, in order that scholars of religion, sociology, political science, history, and Islamic Studies can bring synergistic focus to a topic of current academic and political debate.

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Professor in Religious and Theological Studies, Head of Islam UK Centre

+44 (0)29 2087 0121
Dr Riyaz Timol

Dr Riyaz Timol

Research Associate in British Muslim Studies

+44 (0)29 2087 4884