The British Board of Scholars & Imams

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BBSI: New board of scholars is unifying fragmented Muslim communities

BBSI: New board of scholars is unifying fragmented Muslim communities

BBSI: New board of scholars is unifying fragmented Muslim communities

By Tim Wyatt

A new panel of Islamic theologians, academics and imams, which hopes to offer religious leadership to Britain’s disparate Muslim communities, has seen its work turbocharged by the pandemic.

The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI) came into being in 2019, and at the start of the pandemic was still finding both its feet and an audience.

But as a result of the unprecedented crisis, the BBSI has met a vital need for up-to-date religious guidance. That has accelerated its acceptance by the Muslim community.

What is the context here?

For years, Islam in Britain has been a mostly fragmented faith, with a range of small, independent networks of mosques and no large denominational institutions comparable to other religions such as Christianity or Judaism.

There are a huge variety of schools of thought and tradition within Islam represented among British Muslims. Their internal division on theological positions has often stymied efforts to unite the UK’s growing Muslim community under shared institutions.

For the past 30 years a number of umbrella groups have been successfully formed, most notably the Muslim Council of Britain, but they have all focused on community representation and political lobbying. Hence, when British Muslims look for specific theological guidance, there have been no clear structures or hierarchies to consult.

Stephen Jones, a sociologist of religion at Birmingham University who focuses on British Islam, said Muslims would tend to either listen to their local imam or federation of mosques, or seek out the growing number of self-appointed experts offering Islamic opinions online.

“There is such a diversity of traditions in the UK that it makes it very hard to have a coherent Islamic perspective on things. There has never been a figure who has achieved the stature of a Jonathan Sacks or an Archbishop of Canterbury,” he said.

What is the BBSI?

As a result, since about 2016 a growing number of Islamic scholars, imams and academics have been holding occasional symposiums to debate particular theological issues and offer cross-tradition edicts, known in Islam as fatwas.

As a result of this work, a need was identified for a permanent body that would issue guidance and opinions for Muslims. In 2019, it became the BBSI.

Those involved in setting it up were deeply aware of the need to ensure representation from all of British Islam and have ensured imams and theologians from all of the various tribes and movements are included.

“Because of everyone being represented it gives an authority and credibility within the community, and that respect,” said the Islamic scholar Zuber Karim, an imam in Dundee and a trustee of the BBSI.

Qari Asim, another imam and BBSI member, said getting so many people from across the breadth of Sunni Islam was a significant achievement. “Over the years there have been many attempts from different angles to have this. It’s an evolving thing but it’s unusual and different because it brings different strands of the diversity of the Muslim tradition.”

Abdul-Azim Ahmed, a researcher into British Muslim Studies at Cardiff University, said the BBSI was unlike any other previous scholarly authority in the UK for this reason.

“When BBSI was issuing their stuff on the coronavirus it was signed off by the Barelvis, the Deobandis, the Salafis. Whatever mosque inclination you’re from, if you’re looking for a name you’re familiar with, you’d find that on their board,” he said.

Dr Jones said he had never before come across any Muslim initiative in Britain that had managed to bridge the internal divides and include such a broad range of thinking

So far the board has not extended to Britain’s much smaller Shia Muslim community, which has different traditions of religious authority from Sunni Islam and has more institutions, too.

What role has the pandemic played?

Those who set up the BBSI expected it would evolve gradually, issuing fatwas as needed and slowly building credibility and support from the Muslim community over many years.

But within a few months of its launch the Covid-19 pandemic threw up many urgent questions that believers needed answering.

In Islamic tradition, the family of someone who has died must ceremonially bathe the body before a funeral and burial, but in the surge of deaths among Britain’s ethnic minority populations it was difficult, if not impossible, to carry out this ritual.

The government then ordered mosques, along with all other places of worship, to shut their doors during the first lockdown and imposed strict social distancing requirements for services once they were allowed to reopen.

Suddenly, British Muslims were facing religious dilemmas they had never considered before, and unlike in much of Christianity or Judaism, they had no well-established denominational leaders to tell them what they should or should not do.

The fledgling BBSI stepped into the midst of this vacuum and began issuing cross-community guidance, which was signed off on by respected figures from every tradition.

“In uncertain times there are some important opinions that are required and it gave that momentum to the organisation itself,” Mr Asim said. “BBSI brings the glorious ancient teachings and connects them with the modern world, for instance whether or not to suspend public prayers, which is a huge thing, or how to pray with social distancing.

“It all hinges on theological interpretation and the need to protect the community, and that’s where scholarship comes in. It’s very timely from that perspective.”

Mr Ahmed agreed, and said that the BBSI launched at what turned out to be an important  moment in history.

Mr Karim said the process would see the BBSI members discuss a particular issue via phone calls and online video meetings, consult specialists such as medical experts or particular theologians who had studied the topic, and then by consensus draw up and disseminate a ruling.

Even as the immediate urgency of the pandemic has ebbed away, there has continued to be a need for fresh guidance. Mr Karim noted how Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and Eid, the festival that marks its end, both fell under lockdown.

Many Muslims needed to know if it was permissible to hold Eid prayers in their homes as the mosques were shut.

Some fell prey to conspiracy theories that argued that the pandemic was overblown or insisted lockdowns were fundamentally unIslamic. “You will find someone in the community who says ‘No, I will stick to praying together with my friend’,” Mr Karim admitted.

But the BBSI could put them right by telling them what they might not know: that the Prophet Muhammad himself had pronounced on plagues in his own time and argued for the importance of isolating those infected.

The nascent board has also found itself playing an important mediating role between the community and the government, as part of the places of worship taskforce convened by ministers to work out how lockdown restrictions could be eased.

“It’s a conduit between the government and the community on this particular occasion and for this time,” Mr Asim said.

What does the future hold for the BBSI?

Dr Jones said while it was too early to tell if the BBSI could cement a position as the religious authority in British Islam, the signs were positive. “I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic but I would say there is much more fertile ground for this kind of initiative than 20 years ago. There are fewer internal divisions in British Islam and it’s much more networked with public institutions.”

The most important factor would be for the board to avoid the government “saying anything nice about it, which is the kiss of death”, he added. “It’s clearly coming out of a recognised need”, but if ordinary Muslims perceive it to be too closely allied with the secular authorities it will lose all its credibility.

Dr Jones said Labour governments had, after the 7/7 London terrorist attacks of 2005, poured millions of pounds into community groups trying to build a more “British” kind of Islam. But this top-down state-led model became too closely associated with anti-terrorism efforts and groups linked to it failed to find acceptance among the grass roots.

Mr Ahmed was also hopeful that the BBSI could become the long-awaited central, respected Islamic institution in the UK. “It’s been playing its cards quite slowly in general, but it definitely may turn out to be a much more important organisation in a few years’ time than it is at the moment,” he said.

And it would not be twiddling its thumbs once the current crisis eventually passed either, he said, noting there were a large number of issues it needed to pronounce on such as end-of-life care for the growing number of older Muslims, and also moon-sighting to calibrate the lunar Islamic calendar, a particular challenge in countries, like the UK, far from the equator.

Even getting as far as it has was a “great achievement”, Mr Karim argued. “There are quite a lot of issues that the Muslim community could be stuck on, but with everyone coming together from all these different backgrounds and finding a common ground, coming to an agreeable position — that’s a great achievement.”

A key feature of its success would hinge on its Britishness, he added. Unlike other competing authorities in Muslim communities, countries of origin, the BBSI was made up of British-born and bred experts who understood the local context and local needs better than a faraway sheikh in South Asia or the Middle East.

“As we have more generations of Muslims here in the UK — you’re talking about fifth or sixth generation — the community now identifies itself as more British than their ancestors who might have had a Pakistani or an Indian or an Arab upbringing. In that respect, BBSI can play a great role.”

But Dr Jones sounded a final note of caution, warning that the same factionalism that had ruined many previous attempts at consensus could also cripple the BBSI, as rival groups could easily arise and ruin its position of unique authority.

“There is a reasonable chance it could become a prominent body for scholarly opinion, but I doubt it will ever be the case it is unchallenged because there is no real infrastructure to give it that,” he said.

“There is no pope who can nominate a cardinal for the UK. Any authority it can get will be developed very slowly through connections and working across different community groups.”

From: https://religionmediacentre.org.uk/news/new-board-of-scholars-is-unifying-fragmented-muslim-communities/

Creating a new Civilisation of Islam – Critical Analysis 

Creating a new Civilisation of Islam – Critical Analysis 

BBSI Academia
Creating a new Civilisation of Islam – Critical Analysis
Critical analysis of the key findings, themes and ideas of Ayaan Institute’s first research, a discussion paper called “Creating a New Civilisation of Islam”.
A virtual round table discussion with Imams, scholars, academics, practitioners and learned activists and thinkers.
Tuesday 12th January 2021
9PM – 10:30PM GMT
To register and attend please email: info@bbsi.org.uk
Expanding the knowledge framework of Islamic thought 

Expanding the knowledge framework of Islamic thought 

BBSI Academia
Expanding the knowledge framework of Islamic thought 
Dr Ebrahim Moosa (Prof of Islamic Studies, University of Notre Dame)
Wednesday 6th January 2021 | 9PM – 10:30PM BST/GMT
For and with Imams, Scholars, Academics, and learned practitioners and activists. Open discussion.
Private Zoom discussion.
To register please email: info@bbsi.org.uk
Top Ten Questions Imams & Scholars Get Asked About Vaccines

Top Ten Questions Imams & Scholars Get Asked About Vaccines

The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI) is a national board of traditionally trained scholars and academics, some of whom are senior medical doctors, expert researchers & practitioners, including in fields such as sociology and anthropology. The BBSI has consulted its expert members and other Muslim scholarly and professional bodies, both from the UK and around the world, to produce these questions and answers. We have also liaised with official and independent bodies in preparation of this report.

A longer guidance, which will explore the issues in more detail, is also being produced, which will examine, among other things, how jurists take decisions on such issues, and how they select and appraise the information they rely upon to do so. It is critical to note that much of the current controversy surrounding vaccination is premised upon what information is considered to be factual and which authorities are trusted. Muslims have a long and proud history of examining exactly these questions, and the scholars consider them carefully.

This preliminary report has been produced to answer common questions that Imams and scholars are asked about vaccination, in order to help them to tackle these questions when they come. We pray it will be of some benefit. It should be noted that this is an evolving situation, and as some of the guidance here is based on current circumstances, it is accurate only insofar as the medical information we have relied upon remains accurate.

It should also be taken on board by the general public that a number of the legal rulings and advice noted in this report are differed upon by some scholars. The BBSI respects qualified difference of opinion, which is a central tenet of traditional Islamic knowledge, and advises individuals to discuss their own personal circumstance with their own scholars and health professionals.

Allah knows best.

To read the full guidance please Download: BBSI-Vaccines-2020

Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

Open call to end Islamophobia faced by Muslim staff and students in Higher Education Institutions

The recently published EHRC report (November 2020) has shown evidence of institutional and structural racism experienced by ethnic minority academics. Empirical research focusing on Muslims provides evidence of widespread experiences of Islamophobia (anti-Muslim discrimination) (Allen, 2014; Awan and Zempi, 2019).  Islamophobia has been reported in Higher Education (Scott-Bauman, 2019; Stevenson, 2018); NHS (Malik et al, 2019); and when seeking employment (Wykes, 2018).

In Higher Education, research confirms that Muslim staff and students, as well as those perceived to be Muslim, experience varying forms of Islamophobia which go beyond social exclusion (Hopkins, 2011; NUS, 2012). These include microaggression, increased surveillance and anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims continue to report discriminatory incidences which are defined as Islamophobic (Saeed, 2018; Thomas, 2016). Since the ‘war on terror’, increased securitization relating to legislation and policies together with religious profiling of staff and students have become acceptable and regular at UK universities. Islamophobia is tolerated in HE, with increased incidences and non-existent institutional response procedures (Tyrer and Ahmad, 2006; Ullah, 2016).

Ramadan (2017) shows Muslim academics are casually associated with the discourse of terrorism by others on their campuses. Respondents recount being questioned by colleagues on local and global events which are framed in the public domain through the lens of ‘Muslim extremism’. Furthermore, Islamophobia is gendered, and visibly Muslim women academics experience a range of Islamophobic microaggressions in their interactions with staff and students (Ramadan, 2017; 2020).

A common finding across these studies is that Islamophobic incidences on campus continue to go largely unreported, unacknowledged and unchallenged. Thus, universities have become places of hostility for many staff and students who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

The anti-Islamophobia BBSI working group urges the Higher Education sector to urgently tackle Islamophobia on campus by:

  • Redressing the lack of recognition that Islamophobia is distinct from other forms of racism and needs to be challenged at all levels of the university.
  • Providing a consultation with Muslim students and staff to raise their concerns and involving them in framing campus-based policies and strategies.
  • When signing the ‘Race Equality Charter’ (REC) institutions should incorporate detailed assessment of what constitutes Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • Implementing REC assessment which investigates and addresses the impact of Islamophobia on academic appointments and promotions procedures.
  • Setting up robust reporting, complaints, grievance, and wider reporting procedures which specifically include recognition of Islamophobic behaviour, its consequences, and appropriate institutional responses.
  • Including well-developed anti-Islamophobia training for EDI postholders across all HE institutions.

Notes to Editors

  1. The BBSI is an apolitical national assembly of imams, traditional scholars and Islamically literate Muslim academics.
  2. The BBSI supports Muslim academic staff and students and supports #IAM2020 Islamophobia Awareness Month 
  3. For further information, please contact info@bbsi.org.uk

 

Add your signature to the list. Fill in the details below:

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    From the exec summary of BBSI-G10 – Published on 8 Nov 2020

    There is latitude within the current wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. This may change if the regulations change. Madrassas should consider on their own facts whether this is the case for them, and liaise closely with their local authority and the police, as well as ensuring that the education can be delivered safely. Online education should carry on where possible.

    A more detailed discussion:

    The importance of education in our religion cannot be understated; the very first revelation received by the blessed Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was to ‘read’, and the Quranic verses and hadiths about the merit of seeking knowledge are too plentiful to mention. This importance, not merely to the education of children (and adults), but also in terms of secondary benefits of freeing up parents and carers to seek work and income, as well as rest and respite, has also been recognised by the government.

    Safety remains the key consideration. As with prayer and opening places of worship, our position is that cessation of such activities as congregational worship or education can only be countenanced because of an over-riding preventative (mani’) – here, maintaining the health of attendees and the community in general. As such, our position is dependent upon whether or not the preventative measures will actually achieve this end. It is recognised that we now know a lot more about the virus than we did six months ago, especially in terms of who is affected, how it spreads and how to mitigate transmission.

    In this, we rely on expert opinion, who now indicate that such gatherings are safe enough to be allowed. Hence a major difference between the first and second lockdown is that places of education – schools and universities – are open this time. However, this blanket permission has not been extended to out-of-school settings, such as madrassas.

    The BBSI fully recognise that religious education is just as important as (if not more so than) mainstream education, and continue to advocate for this position in the forums in which we are involved – although it should be noted that our taskforce does not advise directly on the question of education. This is the responsibility of Department for Education. Our position is that, given that education is important and schools are deemed safe enough to be open, madrassas should also be open as long as: (1) educational gatherings are deemed safe by the Public Health experts, and (2) they are sure that they can follow the government health and safety guidelines.

    However, there appears to have been significant confusion about whether madrassas can in fact remain open during this period of lockdown. This confusion is caused, it seems, by the apparent contradiction between the government guidelines and the wording of the legal regulation. In the most recent update, including the legislation that has been passed in parliament, it is apparent that the default position is that madrassas should not be open, except in particular exceptional circumstances: that they are providing “necessary and reasonable” “education”. The regulation is silent on what this means, and leaves the determination of whether this is the case up to interpretation by the providing bodies; the guidelines on the other hand provide examples which do not appear to be restrictive (ie: there may be other examples). The most important of these is that if the madrassa is providing an essential child-care service to parents who have to go out to work or study.

    As such, this is a legal test which each madrassa will need to look at on its own facts.  It should also be noted that this may well be resolved one way or another in updates to either guidance or regulations, and that ultimately it is the local authority that will determine how the rules are to be interpreted and understood. Our advice, therefore, is to liaise closely with the Local Authority and Police, and provide clear examples of the types of permitted activity occurring on one’s premises. In summary, there appears to be latitude within the wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. What precisely this entails should be a matter for discussion between madrassas and the local authority, unless and until the ambiguity in the central guidance is resolved.

    We will continue to advocate for the importance of religious education, as we are advocating for the centrality of places of worship and communal prayer. We would also encourage the use of online education where possible, and remind all of the importance of containing the spread of the virus, especially in our community which has been affected in an outsize way.

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON LOCKDOWN UK 2.0

    BBSI GUIDANCE ON KEEPING MOSQUES OPEN FOR PRIVATE WORSHIP – BBSI-G10

    1. The various pieces of guidance are issued by central guidance, interpreted and enforced by local authorities, and then implemented by masajid. This means that there is a lot of scope for difference of interpretation and potential confusion.
    2. BBSI, being part of the government taskforce, have co-authored and signed a high-level inter-faith letter to the government that strongly reinforces the necessity of faith in the life of the community, and the centrality of the masajid in providing this. We also support the statements regarding this issued by various Muslim organisations. We are also working to establish collective worship as soon as possible and iron out any confusion arising from Government Guidance.
    3. During the November lockdown, masajid can remain open for individual worship, and where possible, we should continue to honour them whilst maintaining safety. We advise all masajid to notify the local authority and police of any permitted activity according to the Regulation to avoid any misunderstanding and misapplication of the Regulation.
    4. However, it has been made clear that, unfortunately, no communal worship allowed at all, including Jumua and both formal (Imam-led) and informal congregations. We advise all Masjids to follow the Regulation and Gov Guidance. Where there is apparent conflict with the Regulation and Gov Guidance, follow the Regulation, seek legal advice and clarification from the LA and Police. It is important for masajid to be aware of any dangers and concerns as a result of Covid19 both locally and nationally.
    5. There are no change to the regulations for funerals, and janaza congregations can occur with up to thirty participants.
    6. There is latitude within the current wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. This may change if the regulations change. Madrassas should consider on their own facts whether this is the case for them, and liaise closely with their local authority and the police, as well as ensuring that the education can be delivered safely. Online education should carry on where possible.
    7. Jumua cannot be performed virtually – see our previous guidance for details of this.
    8. We remind all believers that, notwithstanding the importance of our places of worship, it is a religious priority to maintain our own and others’ health, and we urge Muslims to continue to care for themselves and all members of the British community, and to keep safe.
    9. This is likely to be another very difficult period for all of us. We may well once again encounter deaths and serious illness in our community, the inability to perform our religious obligations, increasing isolation, worsening mental illness and extreme pressure on the NHS and its staff. Where there is an increase in infection rates, hospitalisation and deaths and the capacity of the NHS is overstretched to breaking point consider further voluntary limits of even permitted activity at the Masjid.
    10. Lastly, We ask Allah that all of us are given the taufiq to turn to Him in supplication, patience and worship.

    For full guidance please click BBSIG10 – Guidance on keeping mosques open – lockdown 2

    Operation Vaccination in Muslim communities

    Operation Vaccination in Muslim communities

    Flu affects our immune system, making it easier for us to contract other infections, like COVID-19 or pneumonia, and can make other long-term illnesses worse. With Muslim communities having higher mortality rates of COVID-19 than any other faith group, flu threatens to further impact the health of our communities.

    Operation Vaccination is a campaign to increase awareness in Muslim communities about the importance of getting the flu vaccination this winter. 

    This campaign has the potential to save thousands of lives insha’Allah, as past flu outbreaks have caused between 4,000 to 22,000 deaths in England alone.

     

    Download Key Facts sheet: OV_KeyFacts

    Please see more details: https://mcb.org.uk/resources/opvac/

    LOCKDOWN – UK 2.0

    LOCKDOWN – UK 2.0

    Public Announcement from The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI)

    Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in consultation with community organisations, health and medical experts, the BBSI has been providing ethico-religious guidance to the community. At the outset of the pandemic, the BBSI, along with the other faith organisations, was invited to be part of the government’s taskforce. We have been and are actively liaising with the MHCLG government task force as advisory members to ensure that the eventual guidance reflects the needs of the Muslim community. We have also been liaising closely with many Muslim groups up and down the country to develop this.

    The closure of places of worship (including mosques) was inevitable during the first nationwide lockdown restrictions. The government since then has been working with faith communities to enable the guidance to reopen and open safely, providing clear operational guidance for ensuring that faith communities can continue to provide this essential service, whilst adhering to clear scientific and operational guidelines. These have been developed with faith organisations like the BBSI, as well as SAGE, to ensure that they are comprehensive but also – crucially – theologically non-prescriptive. We have also been working with medical experts and organisations to provide relevant guidance to the Muslim community – ensuring that both religious and spiritual needs are being met while safeguarding the community from any potential harm of covid-19.

    In the 72 hours since the Prime Minister’s announcement of another lockdown, the BBSI has been advocating for places of worship to be allowed to continue to hold congregations and to fulfil their spiritual and religious commitments. This is on the basis that they have proven to be both safe and ever more essential in our current crisis. We have raised the following points and will continue to do so at the relevant level:

    • Faith communities have gone above and beyond to make their worship and service covid-19 safe. It is our clear understanding that there is minimal evidence of any significant transmission in mosques that have been fully compliant with the co-produced guidance.
    • The paramount importance of social and spiritual connectedness for holistic spiritual, psychological and social wellbeing must be factored in while devising the guidance. Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, we have seen an increased number of the UK population (and worldwide) developing mental-health related difficulties. When the tier system was introduced, facilities like gyms were made an exception of for wellbeing reasons. It is our argument similar considerations should be factored in for places of worship.
    • We have strongly advised that the guidance does not account for the variation of forms of worship in the community. This is reflected in the language of regulations, that implicitly assumes that worship is (or should be) performed in a certain way, and demonstrates a subconscious bias that has real-world effects on how our places of worship are utilised.
    • We have also advised that it may have the undesired effect of disadvantaging certain faith communities over others, which is likely to subsequently lead to a sense of unfairness and being put upon. This is, of course, over and above the sense of diminishment of the importance of faith that many British faith groups felt was unfortunately on display in the announcement of the second lockdown. Furthermore, we have counselled that equalities legislation also needs to be borne in mind, to ensure that no one is being unduly disadvantaged.
    • In addition, we have advised that given the centrality of the scientific recommendation in driving guidance and regulations, that the government guidance should work towards nuancing the language such that it amounts to a set of exclusion criteria on the basis of health and safety evidence, rather than implicit pronouncements about how faith communities do or should perform acts of worship. In this way, the regulations will be explicitly faith neutral, and yet at the same time can be quite prescriptive about actions or circumstances that increase risk unacceptably. We are actively working with MHCLG to nuance the wording of the guidance to ensure this.

    The BBSI, along with other faith communities, are part of the government taskforce in an advisory capacity. Our responsibility is to advise the relevant stakeholders to consider the variations of the faith communities we have in the UK so that they can fulfil their social and spiritual activities. We wish to acknowledge the tireless work of MHCLG in both listening to faith groups and advocating for the centrality of faith in getting us all through this pandemic. In the end, though, it is up to the relevant decision-makers to make the final call.

    We have – and will continue to do – what we can, while working with medical and scientific experts and other faith groups. On behalf of the Muslim community, we will also be writing directly to the Prime Minister. We want to reassure the Muslim community that we have been working proactively in the best interest of our community, while trying to provide contextual guidance so that we all are able to fulfil our religious, social and spiritual activities. We pray for your continued support in doing so.