The Council of Mosques, UK & Eire was established in 1984 with its offices at the Muslim World League (Rabita-al-‘Alam al-Islami) in Goodge Street, London. This was a follow-up to a meeting the previous year that appointed interim office bearers and began to recruit affiliates.
According to the constitution adopted at the first annual general meeting, the director of London Rabita would be chairman, while affiliates elect an executive committee and general secretary. Hashim Mahdi (previously interim chairman) and Chowdhury Mueenuddin (previously interim secretary) served as chairman and general secretary respectively. On Hashim Mahdi’s departure in 1986, he was succeeded by Hasan al Ahdal. Apart from offering the second floor of the Goodge Street premises to the Council, Rabita staff members Nazrul Islam Bose and Gulamur Rahman were assigned to provide administrative support.
The Council’s executive council included Bashir Maan (Glasgow), Sher Azam (Bradford), Akbar Ali (Liverpool) and Iqbal Sacranie (Balham Mosque, London).
The publication of the Swann Report in 1985 was an important milestone for British Muslims because it addressed issues of multiculturalism in a lukewarm manner, particularly on second-language teaching and faith schools, for example
- The linguistic, religious and cultural identities of ethnic minority communities should be fostered but we cannot support the arguments put forward for the introduction of programmes of bilingual education in maintained schools
- The establishment of ‘separate’ schools would fail to tackle many of the underlying concerns of the communities and might exacerbate the very feelings of rejection which they are seeking to overcome [. . .] the right of communities to seek to establish their own voluntary aided schools is firmly enshrined in the law. At the same time we do not believe that such ‘separate’ schools would be in the long term interest of the ethnic minorities communities.
These challenges led the Council of Mosques to publish ‘The Muslim Response to the Swann Report’, with contributions by expert Muslim educationalists, notably Professor Syed Ali Ashraf and Akram Khan-Cheema.
The Council organised conferences on issues of concern to mosques – for example, ‘Safety of Mosques’ in November 1896 (click here). The speakers at this event provide an example of how Muslim civil society began its wider engagement with politicians and also key interfaith coordinators like Brian Pearce.
In February 1988, the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa sought its help in a case being heard at the High Court, Cape Town, relating to the Qadiani presence in South Africa. (click here). Chowdhury Mueenuddin was invited to provide a witness statement in support of the view that the Qadiani creed was distinct and separate from Islam.* He stepped down as secretary of the Council of Mosques in 1988 after serving two terms.
The Council had a different membership base to the Union of Muslim Organisations. Both were to some extent overshadowed by the emergence of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, that took the lead on mobilising the mosques’ responses to the Rushdie Affair, and later by the Muslim Council of Britain, which had the provision of voluntary aided status for Islamic schools and a religion question in the Census as early campaigning issues.
*An example of new modes of communication in the late 1980s: Chowdhury Mueenuddin notes, “I had to request a colleague in London – Saifuddin, secretary of the Tottenham mosque in London – to send me some further documents; this was the first time I came across fax machines.”