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Understanding British Imams

Understanding British Imams is a four-year research project based at Cardiff University’s Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK.

Read the latest project update in the British Sociological Association’s Socrel Newsletter - June 2023.

Background to the research

Imams are the largest group of Muslim religious professionals in Britain who work principally within mosques leading prayers, delivering sermons and providing guidance to their congregations. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that this role is being expanded to encompass pastoral care, chaplaincy, charity work or wider community projects such as inter-faith activity or civic events.

Further, the pressures of a post-9/11 and 7/7 socio-political climate, in which counter-terrorism measures become increasingly conflated with integration issues, have foregrounded the imam as a figure that may guide his flock in either constructive or destructive ways. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, the British imam has only rarely been the subject of in-depth ethnographic research.

Generously funded by the Jameel Research Programme, this project aims to fill this lacuna by conducting the most detailed and rigorous study ever undertaken of British imams; and communicating the results, and interest in Muslim religious leadership in the West more generally, to many beneficiaries.

The project will transform our understanding of British imams and create a lasting reference point for future research on Muslim religious professionals.

Dr Riyaz Timol discusses the ‘Understanding British Imams’ research project on British Muslim TV

British Muslim TV video

Our research aims

Running from 2019 to 2023, the project has several key aims which can be summarised as follows:

  1. To develop a national profile of British imams based on biographical details such as age, ethnic origin, language usage and country of birth. This has been done through a meticulously planned national mapping exercise involving multi-sited mosque visits, telephone interviews and an online survey. We are pleased to have gathered data from more than 1,200 British mosques and, because many mosques employ more than one imam, to have gathered data about more than 2,000 individual imams.
  2. To develop rich insights into the personal, lived experiences of British imams. This has been done through a series of in-depth interviews conducted with 40 different imams of all backgrounds across Britain. We are pleased that the project has received such strong support from imams themselves who have taken out many hours to speak with us and share their experiences.
  3. To elicit British Muslim community views on imams based on their personal experiences of interacting with them. This element of data capture was achieved through a detailed online survey which attracted 587 responses from a wide spectrum of the British Muslim community.
  4. Based on the project findings, to make a series of recommendations to British Muslim community groups about how best to help imams serve their congregations. This could include the development of evidence-based training packages for ‘Continuous Professional Development', or a structured improvement of the working conditions of imams regarding such issues as salary, contracts, leave, etc.

The project team

Dr Riyaz Timol - Principal Investigator

Dr Timol’s PhD dissertation was shortlisted for the 2018 BRAIS - De Gruyter Prize in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World.  As the Principal Investigator, he has overall management of the project contributing to data collection, analysis and write-up.

Dr Riyaz Timol

Dr Riyaz Timol

Research Associate in British Muslim Studies

+44 (0)29 2087 4884

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray - Co-Investigator

Professor Gilliat-Ray has been researching Muslim religious professionals in Britain for two decades, with a focus on Muslim chaplains. Her role involves shaping the overarching intellectual contributions of the project, especially as a specialist in the sociology of religious professionals.

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray

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

+44 (0)29 2087 0121

Imam Dr Haroon Sidat - Research Associate

Dr Sidat’s recently completed PhD consisted of a detailed ethnographic study of a British Dar al-Uloom (Islamic seminary). Having served as a part-time imam for several years, he is uniquely positioned to conduct the bulk of the fieldwork on this project.

Dr Haroon Sidat

Dr Haroon Sidat

Research Associate

+44 (0)29 2087 5650

Seherish Abrar - Research Assistant

After completing a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Education at the University of Huddersfield, Seherish was awarded the Jameel scholarship for postgraduate study at Cardiff University. She completed the MA ‘Islam in Contemporary Britain’ in 2019 with her dissertation centring around the religious authority of female ‘Ulama in British Muslim communities.

Maulana Muhammad Belal Ghafoor - Research Assistant

Following his BA in Islamic Studies at the University of Leeds, Belal completed the Diploma in Contextualised Islamic Studies and Leadership at the Cambridge Muslim College. He has also served as an imam and teacher in both mosque and seminary settings. As a Jameel Scholar at Cardiff University, Belal’s MA thesis examined Muslim religious leadership in Scotland.

External advisors

The project is supported by a diverse range of imams, academics and community leaders (in alphabetical order).

Waqaus Ali Knowledge to Action
Maulana Mohammad Asad Birmingham Central Mosque
Imam Qari Asim MINAB
Dr Usaama al-Azami University of Oxford
Professor Mashood Baderin SOAS University of London
Dr Abdul Haqq Baker former Chairman of Brixton Mosque
Professor Masooda Bano University of Oxford
Yahya Birt University of Leeds
Ustadha Ameena Blake Markfield Institute of Higher Education
Shaykh Belal Brown Marifah Essentials
Mufti Zubair Butt Al-Qalam
Professor Grace Davie University of Exeter
Shaykh Shams ad-Duha Mawarid Lifestyle
Professor Ron Geaves Islam-UK Centre
Shaykh Dr Haitham al-Haddad Muslim Research and Development Foundation
Imam Mohammed Hammad Kirkcaldy Central Mosque
Dr Julian Hargreaves Woolf Institute
Imam Abdullah Hasan British Board of Scholars and Imams
Dr Hisham Hellyer Royal United Services Institute / Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Shaykh Arif Abdul Hussain Al-Mahdi Institute
Shaykh Dr Musharraf Hussain Karimia Institute
Dr Atif Imtiaz Muslim Charities Forum
Qari Is’Haaq Jasat National Huffadh Association UK
Hassan Joudi Muslim Council of Britain
Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari Darul Iftaa
Imam Adam Kelwick Light Foundation
Dr Edward Kessler Woolf Institute
Dr Asma KhanCardiff University
Imam Habib Khan Al-Azhar Alumni UK
Shaykh Amin Kholwadia Darul Qasim, Chicago
Professor Saleem Kidwai Muslim Council of Wales
Ustadh Hamid Mahmood Fatima Elizabeth Phrontistery
Shaykh Zahir Mahmood As-Suffa Institute
Professor Peter Mandaville George Mason University
Dr Richard McCallum Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies
Dr Mohamed Mesbahi Islamic College
Professor Barbara Metcalf University of California
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra Muslim Council of Britain
Professor Ebrahim Moosa University of Notre Dame
Imam Ghulam Moyhuddin Ashton-Under-Lyne Central Mosque
Shaykh Dr Abdal Hakim Murad Cambridge Muslim College
Professor Shuruq Naguib Lancaster University
Mehmood Naqshbandi
Maulana Zeerak Nasim Dawat-e-Islami UK
Professor Jørgen Nielsen University of Birmingham
Dr Dietrich Reetz Zentrum Moderner Orient
Huzaifa Saeed Minhaj-ul-Quran
Professor Hansjörg SchmidUniversität Freiburg
Professor Alison Scott-Baumann SOAS, University of London
Mufti Yusuf ibn Shabbir Islamic Portal
Professor Ataullah Siddiqui Markfield Institute of Higher Education
Maulana Rafiq Sufi Lancashire Council of Mosques
Shaykh Muhammad Reza Tajri Al-Mahdi Institute
Reverend Dr Andrew Todd Anglia Ruskin University
Shaukat Warraich Faith Associates
Professor James Woodward Sarum College
Shaykh Dr Asim Yusuf British Board of Scholars and Imams

While Cardiff University seeks to consult widely with a broad spectrum of stakeholders to facilitate the successful delivery of the project, it does not necessarily endorse the viewpoints or positions of any external individual or organisation associated with this project.

Contact us

British Imams