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.
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
Our research aims
Running from 2019 to 2023, the project has several key aims which can be summarised as follows:
- 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.
- 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.
- To elicit British Muslim community views on a range of issues to do with British imams. This element of data capture is currently live. It is being done through a comprehensive online survey and a series of focus groups held with mosque congregants in key UK towns and cities.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 & 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|
|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|
|Maulana Zeerak Nasim||Dawat-e-Islami UK|
|Professor Jørgen Nielsen||University of Birmingham|
|Dr Dietrich Reetz||Zentrum Moderner Orient|
|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 & 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.