A2   Appendix 2:  The 'Church Warden' model of community engagement

Church Wardens are lay-members of the established Christian church, i.e. not ordained priests, who are committed to the practice of Christianity, are regular in their involvement in church rituals, who are respected in their local community and who are therefore called upon to be closely involved in the running of the local church – wardens of the church.  Their duties involve administration, maintenance and care-taking.  Therefore their role is an intermediary between religious authority and civil authority.

In grafting the equivalent of this role onto masjids, I am explicitly excluding masjid trustees, committee members and “community leaders”.  In fact, invariably, these people exclude themselves, because they are respectively, first-generation elders out of touch with public society, or highly protective defenders of the obstructive and ostrich-blind status quo (who are rarely seen in the masjid anyway), or self-appointed guardians of the selective self-interest of a domineering ethnic group or blood-sharing, biraderi tribe and its party-political interests, many of whom would struggle to know where the masjid actually is.

To define who qualifies as a putative Muslim equivalent of a church warden, there is currently nobody in such a role.  Our objective is to create the role from scratch and to use it to construct an alternative security structure for the masjid around such a role.  (I am not for a moment suggesting that these people exercise physical control like nightclub bouncers or uniformed guards – rather they act as moderators whose authority rests in a combination of awareness, sound judgement, the trust of the masjid’s usual users, and, now to be created, strong links with sources of public authority in the local community, i.e. the police and local government officials.)  In any masjid there are a small number of people who attend the salaah regularly several times a day, most days of the week.  They are given little or no say in the affairs of the masjid, but they understand its security needs, its politics and its challenges better than anybody.  Among the masjid’s challenges will be the induction of newcomers, neophytes, and those who would induce them, whether to a mainstream version of Islam or to a challenging version, the latter including any conceivable variation of liberal, conservative, civil, militant and potentially, violent extremist. 

To create the ‘church warden’ role it is necessary to reproduce attributes comparable to the Christian Church’s equivalent, and to side-step the retarding influence of the incumbent management without actually antagonising masjid management into its customary obstructiveness.  First however it is essential to state what the ultimate intention is.  This is to create a small body of people in each Muslim community who have high quality trusted relationships with the authorities in that area.  The epitome of such a body would be the peculiar British institution of Special Constables, volunteer warranted police officers,

  • drawn from relatively young, conscientious Muslims that are closely involved with their local masjids;
  • who are in tune with the need to apply decent standards of behaviour to sectarian and schismatic tensions in the Muslim community;
  • who will recognise the potential susceptibility of neophytes and those on the fringes of the religious community to the attractions of extremism;
  • whose passive presence will deter extremists from exploiting the vulnerabilities of the masjid;
  • who will be able to act with authority and gravitas within the community without necessarily drawing on their warranted powers, to intervene appropriately before any criminal line has been crossed;
  • who will be able to explain and interpret situations accurately to their peers within the police, local and other authorities to head off misunderstood, critical situations;
  • whose presence will remove the need for the incumbent, obstructive management to block any more wholesome diverse activities from being established in the masjid.

That is quite a list of responsibilities, but most of them can be achieved simply by such people being present at frequent intervals and having the right degree of respect among their co-religionist peers.  While Special Constables epitomise this position, the role is viably filled with anyone who has both the respect of and personal relationships with the masjid congregation and the local community’s sources of authority.  The vital point is that it replaces the current, pervasive security structure in which the masjid is presumed secure as long as any activities are banned unless they conform precisely to the limited and archaic views of the decrepit management and trustees.  (Comparable, though perhaps less spectacularly authoritative, alternatives to Special Constables might include St John Ambulance volunteers, or in some areas, volunteer part-time firemen, perhaps, but ultimately this does not require such formalised basis for authority.)

Please note that although this need has arisen from the circumstances of the Muslim community, there is absolutely nothing in this that could not be applied with just as much value to any other community, religious or social or political, that involves the need to manage collective social space – places of worship, sports facilities, social clubs, voluntary groups etc.

So how do we create this new role?  And from outside the Muslim community as well!

Creating 'Masjid Wardens'

Firstly let me be clear that I am not suggesting creation of formal, named roles - the 'Masjid Warden' epithet exists purely as literary shorthand for the analogy.

The creation process requires build-up of close mutual relations between some of our putative regular masjid users and those in authority, in particular, the police.  Traditional approaches to this sort of problem have been totally one-sided and sinister, i.e. the cultivation of informants.  This is precisely the opposite of what is required however.  It is not realistic or desirable to pick out individuals and approach them unsolicited and expect a positive outcome – it would smack of recruiting informers.  Ordinary direct recruiting of police, PCSOs and special constables can of course occur as it does now, but this is constrained by recruitment budgets, targets and quotas, and relatively ineffective since ‘specials’ are low down on the force establishment priority.  PCSOs themselves can be useful in the role I describe, but are constrained by their career position, whereas potentially volunteers can be drawn from those with quite diverse social and economic backgrounds.  Direct recruitment is also vulnerable to hostile interventions from Muslims disaffected from the police – usually highly-charged, politically motivated individuals, sometimes militant, and not necessarily extremists, because many Muslims have had frankly rotten experiences at the hands of police, PCSOs especially, and immigration and border control officials routinely.  One leaflet that was circulated in the vicinity of a police recruitment activity is reproduced at the end of this document to give readers a flavour of the issues.  (It is rendered as a medium-quality image in order to reduce its accessibility to those who would distribute it further.)  I would welcome and share contributions from knowledgeable Muslim scholars who care to comment on it from a religious doctrinal perspective.

Since direct recruitment is likely to be ineffective, a more circumambulatory route must be taken.  The critical factor is in building the mutual relationship.  This can only be achieved by sustained, benign contact over a long time.  Community police officers have a relatively long period to cultivate relationships, but their focus is marginal to the daily running of the masjid, their contact is sporadic and they are unlikely to accommodate all the esoteric complexities of masjid internal politics.  Instead, the relationship has to be created the other way about, drawing people in through activities which benefit them individually and directly, and maintaining and sustaining their involvement in those activities over a long period.  By providing activities that are of value to the kind of people who use the masjid regularly, that enhance the quality of their contribution to the masjid and its users, it becomes possible to create valuable personal relationships between individual masjid regulars and individual police and local officials.  Achieving that personal level of trusted mutual contact is a worthwhile goal in itself, and drawing further on it to encourage involvement of those individuals in the Special Constabulary would create a rock-solid base for community engagement and for masjid security as well.

Two important points arise at this stage.  Firstly, negatively, quite a lot may need to be done to demonstrate the value of the kind of activities that may be provided and their relevance to masjid users.  Complacency permeates the attitude of most Muslim communities in Britain.  Secondly, positively, Muslims have a flourishing involvement in community and charity work that is deeply rooted in religious commitments.  However this is invariably confined to within the Muslim community itself – although it transcends national boundaries it rarely transcends ethnic ones.  Nevertheless the kinds of activities that can be provided have potential value beyond the needs of the masjid and its users, and undoubtedly should be provided alongside encouragement and practical help for the recipients to get directly involved in community activities in the wider community.

What follows is a long list of potential activities that provide a justification for sustained and regular collaboration between the small number of facilitators and the small number of practising, involved Muslims as putative 'Masjid Wardens'.  It is that sustained contact which enables a relationship to be created:  the facilitator regularly involves himself with a small group of people he finds on first visiting the masjid, gets to know some of those individuals who participate in the first activities or in organising the activities, he re-establishes the relationship when he returns to follow-up or to introduce further activities, and continues to build on the relationship with a small core of people who themselves sustain their involvement and interest.  In this way we sidestep the inhibiting, gatekeeping role of the usual established community spokesmen.

The Activities

So what can be provided, in what form to achieve the required ends, and how can it be presented as relevant?  The activites are a means to an end, but the means has to be put to masjid users, who, like much of the Muslim community, are rather complacent about extremism and about community engagement.  Since most frequent and regular masjid users are the ones who are most complacent about the status quo, these activities need to justify themselves, and so must be presented as opportunities for self-development and for taking on a more responsible role in the masjid as an important community institution. That may be hyperbole, but always keep in mind that however much or little value these activities may be, they are not the goal in themselves – they are a vehicle through which specific individuals involved in them, among the local Muslim community and the authorities, build up a close, trusting relationship over a long period.  Once the concept is understood, readers ought to be able to think of other examples, and I would be delighted to add these to this paper. 

  • Building security, safety and protection:  Police crime prevention officers will have no difficulty recognising the kinds of issues that arise in managing the physical security of the masjid premises.  This in itself does not amount to a significant transfer of knowledge or skill, but it would be easy to extend the basic and specific advice that a crime prevention officer would give, (a) to wider scoped and more general tuition on the principles behind crime prevention, and (b) to pep-talk participants into being able to take the crime prevention messages and advice further into the local community.  The same theme could naturally be extended to cover public and workplace safety and accident prevention, and of course fire safety, precautions and prevention and fire regulations.  This provides the opportunity to bring in local government and fire service officers in a positive way instead of in the normal slightly antagonistic way where the masjid is being inspected.
  • Health and personal safety:  First Aid training is a subtly powerful form of positive empowerment as well as a vital piece of social capital.  There is no peculiar need for trained First Aiders in a masjid, but it is relatively easy to make a case for obtaining a useful First Aid qualification, e.g. that for First Aid At Work.  The cost and benefit of full training (until 2007 it was 4 days full-time every 3 years and I believe it is changing to 2 days every year) does not make it viable for private individuals to pursue alone, but statutory requirements mean that employers finance such courses.  Police forces may be able to provide accredited training directly from their own staff, although, from personal experience which illustrates my point about empowerment, police themselves may defer.  (The specific experience involved a road traffic incident.  I offered my assistance to a small crowd around an injured person, and responding to my distinctively Islamic appearance, was emphatically cold-shouldered.  I then stated I was a qualified first-aider and the change from the gathered people was immediate and total – they all chipped in with explanations of what happened.  The police arrived before the ambulance and whereas I expected to hand-over to them, instead they handed over the first aid kit from their van and left me to guide them with regard to the casualty’s medical needs!)  Aside from first-aid training, other personal safety-related tuition might include steps for safety from attack on the streets; or self-defence techniques; or the range of issues around child-abuse – recognising it and responding to it, and steps required for child protection; or the issues around domestic violence (these are discussed in a different context in the Guide pages).
  • Skills associated with voluntary associations:  The masjid is basically a voluntary association and as such it requires constitutional management and maintenance, especially if it is a registered charity as many are.  Other segments of the voluntary sector may be tapped into as part of a general community integration process, or individuals within the key bodies, principally the police, might be called on for their personal knowledge.  The skills concerned include fund-raising methods, book-keeping and auditing, record-keeping, charitable trust regulations and responsibilities, campaigning and lobbying, etc.  These are mostly ‘soft’ skills, so the practical steps to coaching such skills may have to be developed from scratch and specifically for this sort of audience.  Therefore it could be done under a community relations development umbrella or a police community safety umbrella with a little imaginative accounting.  They could also be developed once and reused elsewhere, with local authority and police networks used as a conduit for them.
  • Local authority regulations and responsibilities:  building controls, planning processes and planning permission; where relevant, trading standards, public health and food retailing standards; if there was sufficient interest, the activities could be extended beyond the ‘skills’ element, into for example public presentations on the work of such people as trading standards and public health inspectors – this relationship could thereby shift from the usual one perceived of as ‘officious busybody’ to one of a valuable public service that thus-wise has the opportunity to co-opt a marginalised (and therefore frequently transgressing)  part of the community into empathy with its goals.
  • Political processes:  Numerous government advisors recommend the patronising approach of schooling in civics (an approach which is also insulting for people coming from the Indian subcontinent where democratic processes are prized far more highly than the apathetic UK, regardless of their serious flaws there, and which includes the largest democratic country in the world, and whose countries have a surprisingly free, outspoken and non-frivolous press).  What is really needed, certainly at the level of community engagement that these activities describe, is for practical mentoring in the processes of political engagement – effective lobbying of councillors and MPs, organisation and divisions of responsibilities among local councillors and local authority employees, explanation of the roles of pressure groups in the UK political process, local political demographics and of course, appropriately qualified, the roles and goals of the locally significant political parties.
  • Leadership skills:  The corollary of the preceding suggestion is to provide training in the related practical skills, skills which are needed quite explicitly for capacity-building within any marginalised community.  These include leadership training, team-building, communications and presentation skills and technology, oratory, possibly basic graphical design and print production.  What makes these sorts of skills relevant in the context of relationship-building with the authorities, is that training in these sorts of skills is provided within professional development curricula of many organisations and enterprises.  While it may be considered a bit of an imposition to provide expensive, contracted-in training to what are at best, ‘clients’ when it may be at a premium within the host organisation, some form of facilitation might nevertheless be worthwhile.  For example, places may be added to existing training programmes, or an enthusiastic, reasonably capable amateur from within the local Muslim community (or even from within the local authority organisation or service) may be encouraged to provide training, collaborating with the local authority or police or other service to help with preparation, coaching and provision of training materials or facilities.  Such collaboration is in itself the kind of personal relationship-building activity I have in mind.
  • Education, sports and recreation:  While one might consider specifically youth-oriented activities such as homework clubs, tuition, sports and martial arts, etc, I think these shift the focus into a different context and should not be considered here.  The context is of youth development and is therefore less focussed on long-term relationships with individuals; the turnover of individuals involved will be high and there will be less opportunity to build relationships.  Moreover, the key people involved in the ‘Church Warden’ model activities are those with a long-term commitment to the masjid and Muslim institutions, whereas it is not the place of external authority-wielding bodies to influence the relationship between youth and organised religion.  Nevertheless, facilitation of youth activities through provision of facilities such as sports halls, equipment or coaches, may be relevant – the focus is on building a relationship between the key individual in the supplying organisation and the Muslim activity organiser rather than with the participants.  Furthermore, there are relevant education needs to be cultivated, such as the explanation and encouragement of school governorships, of participation in SACRE committees on local school religious education, etc.  These are a long way from the remit of a police community-relations project, but the organiser of the latter can set up people to provide presentations and encouragement of the former.
  • Local voluntary organisations:  The Muslim community includes many people heavily involved in voluntary and charity work, but this tends to be very much internal to the Muslim community.  A cross-over of skills and experience in the voluntary sector would be well worthwhile anyway, so the community-relations project could set up opportunities for local community welfare and other charities to draw in local Muslims both as volunteers by explaining their work, and in sharing experience.  Again the relevance of the project is in providing opportunities to meet and collaborate on the organisation of such activities, whereas many in the Muslim community have little or no idea how or why they should be involved with e.g. Community Service Volunteers or Help The Aged, or drug abuse welfare work, or of the opportunities to volunteer e.g. in hospital portering, prison visitors, the magistracy, police scenario planning, … which comes quite neatly to broaching the possibility of volunteering as a Special Constable, which is where we started!

Continuity of Contact

Providing any or all of the above skills, training and facilities will not create 'Masjid Wardens', and nobody can claim that it will have a useful impact against extremism either, although all the activities described could have a positive benefit for community cohesion.  That is not the point!  The point is for the police in particular, and others by extension, allow a small number of officers to build up close working relations with a small number of members of the Muslim community (and/or any other identifiable subset of the community) who themselves are well-placed to recognise the situations in which individuals could be drawn to extremism, and give them the means to tackle the problem. The 'means' implies anything from explaining the situation accurately to the authorities to passive prevention simply by being respected and involved in the masjid.

So the purpose of the foregoing long list of potential activities is to provide a justification for sustained and regular collaboration between the small number of officers as facilitators and the small number of practising, involved Muslims as putative 'Masjid Wardens'.  It is that sustained contact which enables a relationship to be created:  the facilitator regularly involves himself with a small group of people he finds on first visiting the masjid, gets to know some of those individuals who participate in the first activities or in organising the activities, he re-establishes the relationship when he returns to follow-up or to introduce further activities, and continues to build on the relationship with a small core of people who themselves sustain their involvement and interest.  In this way we sidestep the inhibiting, gatekeeping role of the usual established community spokesmen.