Young Muslim men are turning away from religion in their droves because of the oldfashion attitudes in Britain’s mosques, according to the Prison Service’s Muslim advisor. Ahtsham Ali said it was one of the reasons why a growing number of Muslims are turning to crime and finding themselves in prison. We take a look at how Yorkshire’s Muslim communities feel about this and whether old fashioned Imams need to change their ways.

Mr Ali also blamed family breakdown, problems resulting from arranged marriages, drugs and the absence of male role models.  The cleric was highly critical of UK mosques for failing to understand young Muslims raised in Britain and said a main factor was that most import foreign imams who cannot speak English and focus only on religious rituals.

Mr Ali, who has been the Prison Service’s adviser for eight-and-a-half-years, said:

“Most will get imams imported from other countries who can’t speak English. More importantly they can’t relate to second and third-generation youngsters growing up here.

“It is a tragedy. I have seen youngsters, the next generation, just totally switch off from it. This is dangerous. It allows others to take advantage, to take up the vacuum.” In March 2010, 10,358 of the 85,184 people in prison were Muslim, while there has been a steep rise in the number of Muslims behind bars over the past two decades, according to the National Offender Management Service.

Cllr Abid Hussain, who is also senior vicepresident of the same Mosque Committee said the language barrier was a prominent problem and noted that kids often lost interest because they couldn’t understand Urdu or Punjabi.

“Up until a few months ago the teachers were having problems speaking English which obviously caused some difficulties,” he said.

The Madni Jamia Mosque in Bradford has been doing things a little differently for a while now.

Offering madrassas in English as well as recently hosting a careers drop-in day, the Thornbury road mosque is moving with the times.

Mosque General Secretary, Abdul Sattar said: “It’s different to when we grew up when we could not understand Urdu very well. Mosques should be teaching in English as well as it’s the mother tongue of many of the children.

“You’ll find that the children learn quicker and they remember more, which they can put into their own lives.” Discussing other reasons why he believed the numbers are on the rise, Mr Ali added:

“There is a lot of family breakdown happening now. The divorce rate is very high.  I think there is a struggle for those who have been born and brought up here and their acceptance of arranged marriage.” Mr Ali urged mosques to become more accessible to the young, for faith leaders to make religion fun and put more emphasis on teaching religious ethics.

One mother Wajida Iqram, used to send her 11-year-old to a madrassa in Leeds for Quranic studies and said she now prefers to self teach her kids.

“Nothing has ever happened to him, but I have heard the stories, which are becoming increasingly more common, about what goes on at some mosques,” she said.  “Hitting kids just gives all the wrong signals out. Rather than doing any good, it does the exact opposite; it’s not the way to teach them with force.

“It’s about wanting to learn about your religion and when you have those bad memories of getting hit, you will always associate your religion with those memories.”

Wajida now self schools her son at home and said it was the best decision she’d ever made.

She added: “Yes sending your kids to the mosque is a great thing and we need to encourage this.

“But I find teaching them yourself builds a greater bond between you and them, something that you will remember forever.  “I remember my mum taught me how to read the Quran and it was brilliant.” A 21-year-old man of Bradford, wanting only to be referred to as Zaf has just served a short prison sentence for assault and he blames the pressures of society for the reasons in high prison rates among Muslims.  “Yes we do have a problem in our Mosques, one of which is the Imams that are in them.

“Most of the ones in Bradford don’t speak a word of English and just continue to do the same things, then we wonder why there are so many problems.

“We need English speakers and those with knowledge to guide the youth of today.” Ayub Iqbal, a crime solicitor from Leeds sees a lot of Muslim clients.

He speaks about his thoughts of the situation: “Most of my clients are Asian.  Now that’s not just because there are a lot of Asians in Leeds and Bradford, it’s because a lot of Asians are getting into crime.

“Now there must be a reason for that. I personally blame lack of education. While I do think some of our imams are a bit out of touch, even non-Muslims can be criminals.” However, one Bradford imam, Fiaz Ahmed said old-school teaching needs to be preserved for fear of losing traditions.  He said: “I think most imams do a good job in not only following their religion but encouraging others to learn as well.”