Recently I wrote this article commenting on the need for a Grand Mufti type role in the United Kingdom and made the case of why I believed now was the time for such a role advocating for Muslim communities. The model I proposed was based on the Chief Rabbinate role which has provided religious representation for Jewish communities and who has become a focal point for discussions and debates relevant to Jewish communities. I am not going to outline the same issues in the article, but here I will outline the kind of person who should fill this much needed role.
Obviously, such a role requires someone who has built up credibility and respect within the various Islamic theological frameworks and communities and who should not be selected by the Government. Any Governmental involvement will lead to a loss of credibility in the eyes of many within Muslim communities as though a ‘community leader’ was being foisted onto Muslim communities and also raises in the minds of some, the old ‘Rajah’ system of leadership so supported by the East India Tea Company in India.
Furthermore, the Grand Mufti must come from collective organic decision making processes within Muslim communities and if this opportunity is lost, the super fragmented cacophony of voices who comment on Islam and Muslims, (some of whom really have very tenuous connections to any Muslim community), will continue to blur messaging at times when clear leadership and a strong moral authority over issues which affect Muslim communities is needed.
Yet, the Grand Mufti also has to do the realpolitik of someone in the public glare and this means understanding the positions and views of other faith communities and those who choose no faith, whilst also using astute political judgement on matters. Anyone considering to make the case internally within Muslim communities as to why they have the skills, abilities and moral authority to fill this role, should therefore realise that the role will involve political judgements.
So what else with the successful candidate need? Well, given the intense spotlight placed on statements made by social commentators who happen to be Muslim and given that there is a whole industry of spin merchants who promote anti-Muslim bigotry, the Grand Mufti will, sadly, have to have the skin of a rhinoceros. In other words, they will probably be agitated against and smeared by web-sites, anti-Muslim bigots, half-baked web-sites and extremist far right web-sites. Shrinking violets need not therefore apply!
Lastly, the individual will have to be relevant to young Muslim populations given that nearly half of his audience will be under 25 in the UK. They will also have to have an outlook firmly rooted in Islam and based on pluralism, equality, social justice and be able to articulate clearly how religion is able to adapt and include those from communities such as the gay Muslim community. Whilst the last community is still controversial in Muslim communities, there is no dichotomy in advocating on issues affecting faith communities and in ensuring the right to liberty and the right for people to live their lives free from fear, intolerance and bigotry. This means taking a position of ensuring that such communities are included within the developments and dynamics within Muslim communities, rather than maintaining the current position of ‘say nothing and hear nothing.’ This simply does not work and does not acknowledge a deeply religious section of the Muslim LGBT community in the UK.
So far so good? Anyone reading this article would think that such a person will take decades to find. I personally disagree and the last 5 years have seen a range of potential candidates take social positions on complex matters. The ‘carpe dieum’ moment is now and a final thought to consider. When revelations of prophethood were given to Muhammad in the seventh century, he sought advice from one person. The person he sought advice and took that advice from, was his wife, a trader and businesswoman. It was she who provided him with the initial support to step forward and to trust in the message of Islam. If that spiritual strength came from a woman, there should be no barrier for a future Grand Mufti to be a woman. For those who take a sharp intake of breath at the thought of this, you do a dis-service to a guide and anchor for the Prophet of Islam. She was after all female, confident, worldwise and most of all, willing to guide.