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Understanding British Imams

Understanding British Imams is a three-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.

Complete our short survey

Islam-UK Centre Short Survey for British Imams and Mosque-Goers video.

Complete our survey for British imams

Our research aims

The research has several aims which can be summarised as follows:

  1. To compile an anonymous dataset of British imams comprising basic biographical details such as age, ethnic origin, language usage and country of birth. This is being done through a meticulously planned national mapping exercise involving multi-sited mosque visits, telephone interviews and an online survey.
  2. To develop rich insights into the lived experiences of British imams. This is being done through a series of in-depth interviews conducted with 40 imams of all backgrounds across Britain.
  3. To document a ‘day in the life’ of an average Imam. This will be achieved by shadowing 10 imams for 24 hours each as they go about their ordinary day-to-day activities.
  4. To elicit the views of a range of key stakeholders on British imams. This will be done by interviewing 10 ‘experts’ and conducting five focus groups with mosque congregants. An online web portal will enable members of the public to also participate and contribute views.
  5. To assess existing provisions of ‘Continuous Professional Development’ for British imams and develop, based on the research findings and in collaboration with key community stakeholders, robust evidence-based training packages with the potential of national rollout.

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, Director for the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK (Islam-UK)

+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.

Seherish Abrar

Seherish Abrar

Research Assistant


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 & 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
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 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.

Contact us

British Imams