The British Board of Scholars & Imams

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BBSI Eid ul Fitr Guidance – 1442

BBSI Eid ul Fitr Guidance – 1442

BBSI Guidance – Eid 1442 – Turning to Allah in Ease and Hardship

To You, our Lord, do we complain of our weakness, our lack of support and the humiliation we are made to receive. O Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak,
and You are our Lord.

To whom would You leave us? To a distant stranger who receives us with hostility? Or to an enemy whom You have given power over us? But as long as You are not displeased with us, we care not what we must face. Yet, O Allah, we would be more pleased with Your mercy.

We seek refuge in the light of Your Blessed Countenance – by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the Life Eternal are put in their right course – against incurring Your wrath or being the subject of Your anger. To You do we submit, that we might earn Your pleasure, for everything is powerless without your support.

The month of Ramadan is one in which, as well as our spirits drawing closer to God in worship, our hearts grow closer to our fellow human beings through the feeling of hunger and fatigue, and through our supplications for them by night. As the month has drawn on, our hearts have been filled with grief and hurt about the situation of oppressed and persecuted communities, particularly Muslim ones, throughout the world.

Whether the ongoing oppression of the Uighurs in China, the ongoing and needless devastating famine in Yemen, the continuing plight of the displaced Rohingyas, the brutalised Syrians, or those in developing countries being overwhelmed by COVID-19, it is both right and natural to feel a deep sense of empathy and compassion for their suffering, as well as a burning desire to somehow rectify their circumstances. This is the definition of raḥma (mercy), and we are the Community of the Mercy to all creation (peace and blessings upon him).

The latest news about the dreadful events at Al-Aqsa, Jerusalem, Palestine and now Gaza: yet more Palestinians being forced from their homes, thousands of worshippers being assaulted by the Israeli army during prayer on the most holy nights of the year in one of our most sacred places, have served as a grim capstone to this feeling. Many Muslims, from the relative comfort and safety of our lives in the UK, feel increasingly helpless about what we can do to assist our brothers and sisters – in Islam as well as in humanity – elsewhere in the world.

At present, it is not the role of the BBSI to put out statements or calls about events occurring beyond our borders, though many of our Council have done so in our personal and other organisational capacities. However, it is very much the role of this fellowship of scholars to provide guidance and theological leadership for the community in such circumstances. In recognition of this, we humbly offer up this guidance for constructively channelling the human feelings that we all experience for the suffering of our fellow human beings and believers into holistic action, at spiritual, physical and emotional levels.

Responding Spiritually

The first of these is to turn to God in earnest worship, sincere repentance, and heartfelt supplication. This is especially but not exclusively so during blessed times such as the nights of Eid, the last third of the night, at fast-breaking and after prayer. Unfortunately, this is something that is often dismissed by those who feel that more tangible action is the only true action. Yet this is not an alternative to physical action, but rather the true basis of all our deeds. 40 times a day, we recite in prayer “You alone we worship, and to You alone do we turn for aid, guide us to and along the straight path”. This is the basis of all our interactions with the world around us: we first turn to our Lord, acknowledging His lordship, His power, His wisdom in directing the events of creation, and seeking to act based on His infinite strength and wisdom, rather than our own weakness and fallibility.

We strongly encourage every Muslim, no matter whether you think your du’as are worthy of being answered or not (they are), and no matter how religious or not you consider yourself to be, to sincerely supplicate to Allah to relieve oppression, to end persecution, to provide consolation, to bring relief, to rectify affairs, and to cover all in His merciful embrace. In addition, always remember that everything that occurs falls under the decree and destiny of Allah, and nothing escapes His Knowledge, His Will and His Power. There is no place for hopelessness, helplessness, despair or futile rage in the heart of a believer, and if you experience any of these feelings, then turn back to Allah, for ‘in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace’.

We encourage the recitation of the powerful du’as that have been transmitted from the Prophet (s), his companions and successors, and the righteous of this Umma for relief and success, including the prayer of need, the Du’a al-Nasiri, and others. Additionally, we strongly encourage mosque Imams (and individuals) to consider the performance of the Qunut al-Nazila (the prayer to avert calamity), to be recited aloud after the ruku’ of the last rakat of any of the 5 daily prayers. This is a confirmed sunna during periods of great crisis, particularly but not exclusively according to the relied upon (mu’tamad) position of the Shafi’i school. The Hanafi school’s position is to recite the Nazilat at Fajr prayer after the second ruku.

All other actions, whether financial support, information raising, and protests of different types, are to be undertaken with the firm conviction that it is Allah who rectifies affairs and brings success; human endeavour in this regard is thus primarily about fulfilling our responsibilities to God and the community to ‘stand as witnesses for justice, even if against our own kin’, to ‘assist one another in righteousness and taqwa, and not assist one another in fomenting sinfulness and enmity’, to ‘stop evil, whether by hand, tongue, or to detest it in one’s heart’ and to ‘bring forth the good, for Allah loves those who bring forth good’.

Responding with Knowledge and Action


Seek to learn about the situation of Muslims around the world, especially those in states of difficulty and hardship.
This should go beyond simply regurgitating snippets of information from social media, which may or may not be verified, and apprising oneself of the nuances and complexities of the circumstance (or at least, to realise that there are complexities).


Based on this, seek to work towards strategic, achievable and concrete solutions or assistance, rather than tokenistic gestures that are quickly forgotten.

Inform others of the plight of Muslims in a clear and fair-minded way. Consider your audience, and what element of the situation is likely to appeal to them most.


In terms of the land of Bayt al-Maqdis, specifically, one should seek to understand and distinguish between the theological and ethical aspects of the conflict.

The latter relates to acts of oppression and persecution, such as state-sanctioned indiscriminate killing, seizure of people’s homes, the use of state power to terrorise and dominate a largely helpless population, discriminatory policies, unfair and unequal distribution of resources, and so forth, which have all been documented by Palestinian, Israeli, and international rights organisations.

This latter element is common to many conflicts and the source of much human misery – whether Muslims are the victims, perpetrators, both, or neither – and we should always be vociferously opposed this no matter where it occurs.

The former relates to, for example, the importance of the land to all three Abrahamic faiths, and the specific importance of the region in Prophetic discourse. Syro-Palestine (Shaam) and al-Aqsa specifically have a very special place in the hearts of Muslims: our first qibla, the setting-off point of the Mi’raj, and the place where all the Prophets were honoured to have our Prophet (s) lead them in prayer. It was a place that he (s) spoke about many times – there are over forty Prophetic narrations on the blessedness of this land.


Fulfil your responsibility to both speak out against injustice, oppression and persecution in a general way, but also to raise awareness of the ‘Palestine Question’ and its importance to Muslims around the world.

Supporting charities and other agencies working to alleviate the suffering of those who are oppressed, wronged and downtrodden, financially, by volunteering and by offering your own skill set to their disposal. Support movements such as BDS, which are peaceful means to raise awareness.

Additionally, once it is safe to do so, every Muslim from the UK should make a firm intention to visit Jerusalem at least once in their lives. There is nothing that the inhabitants of that land wish for more than for the world to know that the Muslims have not forgotten Palestine, and nothing that makes them happier than our visiting them and thereby showing that solidarity with them.

At the same time as visiting the holy sites, visit Palestinian families, send gifts for their children, support their businesses and economy however you can. If possible, also visit one of the interfaith organisations in Jerusalem – some set up by Israeli Jews themselves – that work tirelessly to hold their own government and people to account and to bring about fairness.


Learn and raise awareness about the causes of the occupation – some historical, some contemporary, some theological and others political – that fuel the ongoing conflict.

Seek to understand the reasons for, signs of, and ways to overcome bias in the media.

At the same time, learn about the complexity of the situation, and the complicity of some Muslim countries in the ongoing persecution – whether occurring in Palestine, Syria, China, Myanmar or elsewhere.

Recognising when the Muslims themselves are committing wrongs, and clearly distinguishing between the action (which may be wrong) and the reason for the action (which may be justified).


Work together in a strategic, cohesive manner to find effective ways of both supporting organisations and individuals that are supporting truth and justice, and calling out and holding to account those that propagate falsehoods, support oppression.

Pressing our elected representatives to raise these issues in the corridors of power, and supporting them when they do so.

Developing effective media strategies (and supporting those with the ability to do so) to challenge distorted narratives, including coordinated campaigns to demand fairness in media reporting.

Working with other faith-based, or secular organisations to build bonds based on mutually agreed objectives and ideals, on the basis of the Quranic dictum: ‘Come to a word (agreement) common between us’.

Lastly, we urge all believers, during this blessed time, not to lose hope in Allah’s mercy, wisdom and power. There are many individuals and organisations working tirelessly both at grassroots and within the corridors of power and influence who have started to see a deep-rooted change in attitudes towards some of these adversities – particularly Palestine.

More broadly, though it may be difficult to believe, the Umma of Muhammad (s) has been in a worse position than this, and it has survived. It will survive this too. Place your trust in the Decree of Allah, and set your hands, minds and tongues to work in fulfilling His command. Be peacemakers. Be witnesses for truth, justice and reconciliation. Be beacons of mercy and compassion for all mankind, yet unafraid to stand up to tyranny, following the Sunna of the Mercy to all Creation (s).

Lastly, remember that we are created for the hereafter, that this world is only a temporary abode, that after hardship comes ease, and that the reality of things is not the same as its appearance. Many of those in states of hardship and suffering have been raised – by that very suffering – to such states of Iman that they will look to us with pity on the Day of Resurrection, as we look towards them with pity now. As He told the Prophet (s) at the outset of his mission,

‘Your Lord has not abandoned you, nor is he displeased, and what is to come will be far better for you than what has gone past.’

Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week with Five ways to Wellbeing and Islam

Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week with Five ways to Wellbeing and Islam

Monday 10 May 2021, marks the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week, the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health.

COVID-19 has impacted the whole world; for almost everyone, life has had to change profoundly with an increase in a range of mental health conditions for adults, from emotional exhaustion, sleep problems and anxiety to depression. In response, the Good Thinking team has been developing the service making changes to offer better and more relatable support to Muslim communities in London. Millions of us have experienced a mental health problem or seen a loved one struggle and we understand that people might be feeling anxious, stressed or struggling with other mental health concerns.

As part of the awareness week, Good Thinking has been working in partnership with Muslim communities in The London Borough of Newham, Newham Council’s Public Health Team, and the Mental Health Lead for North East London CCG to create the Five Ways to Wellbeing and Islam, as recommended by the NHS. This expanded resource is to meet the growing demand for mental health support across London and its diverse communities and to provide curated resources that feel more culturally appropriate for faith communities.

The five ways to good mental wellbeing and Islam, are based on NHS advice and are also encouraged in Islamic teachings, they are:

  1. Connect with Allah and with people
  2. Be physically active
  3. Learn something new each day
  4. Give to others
  5. Pay attention to the present moment

Endorsed by the Muslim Council for Britain, British Islamic Medical Association and The British Board of Scholars and Imams, the Five Ways to Wellbeing and Islam will be available in seven languages English, Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu, Somali, Hindi and Arabic as part of the wider toolkit. The toolkit provides a series of videos and accompanying animations on the five ways to wellbeing that can be shared on WhatsApp and across various social media platforms.

It has never been more important to look after your mental wellbeing and help your loved ones.

Dr Wajid Akhter, Vice President, British Islamic Medical Association, said:

“In order for communities to improve their mental health, they need to be able to view it in terms that they recognise and empathise with. The “5 ways to good mental wellbeing and Islam” developed by Good Thinking is a perfect example of faith-based and mental health expertise combining to produce guidance that is not only accessible but hopefully inspirational.”

Sheikh Hasan, Founding Trustee, The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI), said:

“With our communities feeling worried, anxious and isolated during these challenging times, Good Thinking highlights that there are lots of things we can do to look after our mental wellbeing and help others. We are pleased to endorse this campaign and commit to working alongside Good Thinking and other key partners to play our role in supporting our community.”

Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said:

“There has never been a more crucial time to support mental well-being initiatives due to COVID-19. The Good Thinking campaign will provide a range of resources to help Londoners improve their mental health in so many ways. It is my pleasure to support this initiative along with key partners in this vital work they are doing for our communities which is needed more than ever.”

Dr Imrana Siddiqui, GP & Clinical Lead for Mental Health North East London CCG, said:

“Islam promotes a holistic way of life and encourages good mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Good Thinking, by meaningfully co-producing with Muslim communities and experts, has produced a compelling resource incorporating values of Islam harmoniously into NHS guidance. We hope Muslim communities will find these culturally tailored resources relatable and practical in promoting wellbeing and self-care during these challenging times and beyond.”

Cllr Zulfiqar Ali, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, Newham Council, said:

“Newham Council is delighted to be collaborating with Good Thinking to raise awareness of mental health wellbeing within the Muslim community, especially in this extraordinary climate. It is vital that communities recognise that poor mental health is an illness and treat it with the same seriousness as poor physical health. It is comforting to know that there are many resources available to help treat mental illness, and I urge residents not to suffer in silence. The first step is acknowledging it and then talking to your GP who can refer or signpost you to the right services.”

Muhammad Uddin, Newham Muslim Forum, said:

“We’re living through incredibly challenging times and our communities are facing intense pressures. People are worried, anxious and feeling alone. The Good Thinking app gives us some very important tools that we can use to help manage our mental well-being, while engaging with our faith-based traditions. We can only help others if we first help ourselves. Newham Muslim Forum are pleased to endorse this campaign and commit to working alongside Good Thinking and other key partners to play our role in supporting our community.”

Some of the ways you can support this campaign during Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond:

For more information, visit


Notes to editors

For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, please contact

About Good Thinking

Good Thinking is an online mental wellbeing platform that helps Londoners look after their mental health and wellbeing in a way that works for them. Since its launch in 2017, more than half a million people have used our digital service to tackle anxiety, stress, low mood, sleep problems and other concerns. Good Thinking is free for those that live, study or work in London thanks to the support of the Mayor of London, London Councils, Directors of Public Health and Public Health England. It is delivered by Healthy London Partnership.

Available 24/7 on any device and completely anonymous, Good Thinking provides a range of resources to help Londoners improve their mental wellbeing, including free NHS-approved apps, articles, blogs, podcasts, self-assessments, videos and printable workbooks. All the apps we recommend are independently assessed and our clinically validated self-assessment tool is powered by DoctorLink.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have expanded our resources to meet the growing demand for mental health support across London. Londoners have told Good Thinking that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to their health – they want information and support that reflects how they live and what their values are.

So, Good Thinking has been working with a variety of organisations, faith communities, academies, charities, and many others to create tailored, impactful content. Everyone’s mental health is different – we are here to help you find your own path to improve your wellbeing. Visits to our website and downloads of our resources have increased significantly during the pandemic.

For more information, visit

The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI): Welcoming the Month of Ramadan 1442

The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI): Welcoming the Month of Ramadan 1442

In the Name of Allah, Merciful to all, Compassionate to each!

All praise belongs to Allah, and may His peace and blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

The British Board of Scholars and Imams (BBSI) would like to extend its congratulation to the British Muslim community in the UK and the Muslim Ummah around the world for the commencement of the special month of Ramadan 1442. Whichever day the communities begin the blessed month of Ramadan, it asks Allah almighty to help us to please Him and get closer Him.

Fasting in Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam. The Prophet ﷺ said that Islam is built upon five pillars: to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His final messenger; to establish Salah; to pay the Zakat; to carry out Hajj; and to fast the month of Ramadan.

Allah asserts in the Qur’an:

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” [2:183]

Fasting the month of Ramadan is a monumental opportunity for seeking the forgiveness of Allah. The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who fasts during Ramadan with conviction (iman) and anticipating his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven; he who prays during the nights in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven; and he who passes Laylat al-Qadr [the Night of Decree] in prayer with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven.” [Bukhari and Muslim.]

Therefore, the BBSI is appealing to British Muslims in particular and the Muslim Ummah at large to use this month as a means for their success in this life and the hereafter. The following are some recommendations to achieve the maximum this month.

  1. To establish the reality of the oneness of Allah in all aspects of their life, to establish their five daily prayers and to give the Zakat of their wealth.

“And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give Zakat. And that is the correct religion.” [98:5]

  1. To turn to Allah in repentance. This entails specifically to abandon the major sins and to have a sincere intention not to go back to them.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Avoid the seven destructive things.” It was asked: “What are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Associating anyone or anything with Allah in worship; practising sorcery, killing of someone without a just cause whom Allah has forbidden, devouring the property of an orphan, eating of usury, fleeing from the battlefield and slandering chaste women who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers.” [Burkhari and Muslim]

Allah also says, “And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” [17:32]

  1. To maintain the highest aims and objects of the Sharia after worshiping Allah Almighty. These are summarised in this verse:

“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” [16:90]

  1. To establish the overall oneness of the Muslim ummah and to use their differences as a positive tool for the flourishment of the Ummah.

“The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy.” [49:10]

  1. To turn more to the Book of Allah as the month of Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an.

“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion.” [2:185]

  1. To maintain ties of kinship. This includes looking after relatives, forgiving them and starting a new chapter with them.
  2. To turn to the helpless and oppressed people to help them and stand up for them. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. He should not oppress him nor should he hand him over (to his devil or to his self which is inclined to evil). Whoever fulfils the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever removes the troubles of his brother, Allah will remove one of his troubles on the Day of Resurrection; and whoever covers up the fault of a Muslim, Allah will cover up his fault on the Day of Resurrection.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

  1. To take all the needed means to empower the Muslim Ummah. That includes different levels of engagement—political, social and otherwise. It also includes using the available advanced technologies and management systems to improve the wellbeing of our Ummah.

May Allah the Mighty and Majestic accept from all of us, and may His peace and blessings be upon our Master Muhammad ﷺ.

BBSI Ramadan 2021/1442 Guidelines for the UK Muslim Community

BBSI Ramadan 2021/1442 Guidelines for the UK Muslim Community

This guidance will address the most salient issues that affect the community in this blessed time. It is based on sharia guidelines about the performance of these central acts of worship, but also takes into consideration the health and safety guidance from Public Health England, as
well as government guidance and regulations relating to lockdown. The major points have been discussed and agreed with central government representatives just prior to publication, and should serve as evidentiary in discussions with local authorities and health boards.

We pray that this month is one filled with spirituality, charity, striving, mercy and forgiveness for all of us, through which we draw closer to our Lord and one another – emotionally, not physically!

To read and download the full guidance please click bbsi ramadan guideline 2021 V6blue

Cash Transfer of Zakat: the issue of Tamlik and modes of Zakat distribution

Cash Transfer of Zakat: the issue of Tamlik and modes of Zakat distribution

Modes of Distributing Zakat – the issue of Tamlik. This paper was first presented at a symposium with imams and scholars from all over the UK back in 2015. This has been published in an academic journal by the author.

To read and download please click Taml k proper to Quasi taml k Unconditional Cash Transfer UCT of Zakat Money Empowering the Poor and Contemporary Modes of Distributing Zakat Money



Reports suggest Batley Grammar School used materials that depicted the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) wearing a turban with a bomb in it. Such caricatures are extremely offensive and distressing which only serve to play into the stereotype of Islam and Muslims being synonymous with terrorism.

The BBSI has undertaken to prepare a clear statement about the status of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم, explaining precisely why Muslims are so hurt and distressed at such insulting depictions of him.

Schools have a responsibility to provide an environment in which children can feel safe, valued and respected and wherein their learning is carried out without ridicule of their beliefs and practices.

We welcome the acknowledgment of Batley Grammar School that the material used was inappropriate and was not conducive to a safe and healthy teaching environment, and note the steps they have taken in engaging with the local Muslim community to resolve the matter together.

We would also like to commend the various Batley Muslim community organisations on how they have constructively engaged with the school and are confident that an appropriate resolution will be reached.

Further, we support the right to publicly express views in a responsible and legitimate manner, which is also part and parcel of the Islamic tradition.

Finally, we encourage all Muslim communities in the UK to engage positively with their local authorities and schools on appropriate teaching materials which are age appropriate and sensitive to the pupils’ religious and cultural heritage.

Mental Health Toolkit for Imams and Scholars

Mental Health Toolkit for Imams and Scholars

The British Board of Scholars & Imams (BBSI) developed a unique mental health toolkit and delivered mental health training webinars to over 200 imams, scholars, chaplains and mosque committee members across the UK and abroad. Please see below the toolkit and a brief report of the webinars conducted. We would like to thank everyone for their participation. If you would like to organise a webinar please contact us:

To download the toolkit please click Mental Health Toolkit

To download the webinar report please click MH_Toolkit_Webinar_Report_Final

Regulation permits Madrasas to open for face-to-face teaching, subject to conditions being met

Regulation permits Madrasas to open for face-to-face teaching, subject to conditions being met

Following a meeting on 23 March 2021 with a Government adviser, BBSI has confirmed that current Regulations in force from 8 March 2021 permit Madrasas to open for the purposes of supervised activities for children, that is for face-to-face teaching but only for a select group of children including:

  • where the child or young person is vulnerable, and
  • the provision or activities are reasonably necessary to enable the parent/person who has parental responsibility for, or care of the child, to work, search for work, to undertake training or education, attend a support group or to attend to a medical need.

Please read the Regulation and relevant Government guidance(s) including on out of school settings and on what is understood as vulnerable children – see links below.

Madrasa Managers who consider opening for face-to-face teaching as well as remote teaching must ensure risk assessments are updated including to take account of local infection rates and to implement reasonable precautionary measures to continue to ensure staff and students are safe at the Madrassah.

Regulations on Madrasa, i.e. supervised activity for children is likely to be eased and changed on 12 April 2021 to allow ‘all’ children to attend for face-to-face teaching.

If Madrassah Managers decide to open for face-to-face teaching, please consider as best practice:

  • To notify the Local Authority and Police of any permitted activity at the Masjid/Madrassah incl. sending a link of the Regulation to explain what it permits to pre-empt and avoid any complaints being taken seriously,
  • To post the relevant passage of the Regulation or its summary on the notice board – see link below.
  • To obtain appropriate support and advice


24 3 21

  1. Summary of the current Regulation can be found on page 23 of the College of Policing website


  1. Protective measures for holiday and after-school clubs, and other out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak Updated 11 March 2021


  1. Children of critical workers and vulnerable children who can access schools or educational settings updated 9 March 2021




Imams and Scholars Mental Health Toolkit Webinars

Imams and Scholars Mental Health Toolkit Webinars

The BBSI in partnership with MIND’S  ‘A time to change campaign’ have been delivering unique mental health webinars to imams, scholars, chaplains and mosque committee members all over the UK (europe, canada, USA etc). So far over 150 imams and scholars have attended.
For more info:
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.”