An overhaul of processes and governance arrangements at a scandal-hit mosque could take several years, according to one of its leading reformists.
The lawyer, Aamer Anwar, who chaired an event last week bringing together the various factions of Glasgow Central Mosque, said there was a “sense of urgency” about the need for change, but stressed it would take time to implement new procedures.
The mosque, Scotland’s largest, has been rocked by allegations about its head of religious events, Sabir Ali. A BBC investigation claimed he had held senior positions in Sipah-e-Sahaba, a terrorist organisation banned in the UK and Pakistan.
Ali has not been suspended from his position although the mosque has unequivocally condemned Sipah-e-Sahaba as a “sectarian group of killers”.
With a Police Scotland investigation under way and the Muslim community still reeling from the fatal stabbing of shopkeeper, Asad Shah, the mosque’s warring conservative and liberal groups have vowed to put their differences aside.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Anwar, who has been a vocal critic of traditionalist figures at the institution, said the mosque could not allow the reconciliation efforts to fail.
“There’s a sense of urgency here. We need to move fast and can’t allow these matters to drift. We have to build on what has started in the past week,” he explained.
“The mosque themselves have taken responsibility and said they need to implement all sorts of action plans to ensure that the community is safe, that our young people are safe, and so they can ensure that no groups, no extremist organisations, no violent organisations can radicalise our young people or be involved in the community.
“We can never hope to stamp it out completely, there’s nothing foolproof. But people shouldn’t forget this isn’t just about the Muslim community, it’s about all communities.
“We’re trying to move mountains to get to that position very quickly, but this will take time. It’s a question of a five-year strategy, but it’s also a case of dealing with things week to week.”
In an interim report into the mosque, otherwise known as Jamiat Ittihad-Ul-Muslimin, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCAR) was critical of governance arrangements at the institution and made a series of recommendations, including an amendment to its dissolution clause so as to protect the charity’s assets and ensure it is compliant with charity law.
Dr Shafi Kausar, president of the mosque, said: “Glasgow Central Mosque will support any authority, including OSCAR and Police Scotland, in any investigation they want to take.
“We also welcome the recommendations made by OSCAR and will move to ensure they are implemented.”
He added: “We want our mosque to reflect the diverse needs of the whole community and when the new committee is elected, intend to make our practices transparent and accountable.”
Anwar said detailed discussions about the way the mosque carries out its business would continue.
He said: “The processes have to be discussed in detail but there have been a lot of discussions around those issues for several months, so everybody is in agreement that there needs to be transparency and accountability and that the OSCAR recommendations need to be implemented.”
The meeting between various members of the mosque was described as a “unique” and “important” occasion. It was also attended by representatives from the Muslim Council of Scotland, New Mercy Asian Church and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Glasgow.
Mohammed Ashraf, a trustee of the mosque, told the press conference: “The message of unity against extremism and violence is an important one for all of our communities, but there is no point in talking about unity and tolerance unless we say loud and clear that we are united in our condemnation of radicalisation, terrorism and extremism, and any support or affiliation for such activities, no matter which organisation it may be.”
Farkhanda Chaudhry, the first Muslim female to become a Justice of the Peace in Scotland, who was also at the press conference, said: “I believe that the only way to deal with the big issues we’re facing is to come together and find solutions by co-operating with each other.
“We all have a stake in the society that we live in and the strongest thing that binds us is our common humanity.”
Asked whether he thought the unity brokered for the press conference would last, Anwar replied: “We have no other option. The unity has to hold. The spotlight’s on the mosque now so the unity has to be preserved.
“I think it’s come as a real shock to the community and it’s been a sad loss to the community, but it’s also been a wake up call – we don’t want this in our city, we don’t want it in our communities, we don’t want it in our mosques.”