State to bankroll Muslim thinkers

The Government is to fund a council of Muslim theologians to make rulings on controversial elements of Islamic doctrine.

The plans have been criticised by figures in the Muslim community who say that a state-sponsored commission will lack credibility with Muslims.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said that the idea was intended to tackle Muslim extremism, and was the result of discussions with Muslims.

She also said that although the Government would fund the discussions, they would be overseen by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, not by Ministers.

But Dr Azzam Tamimi of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought told the BBC’s Today programme: “Usually Muslims are suspicious of government-sponsored or government-organised commissions and this is a problem we’ve been having in Muslim countries, where there is no freedom, where governments intervene in the religious affairs of people.”

He added: “Credibility is something that people decide, not governments. The government actually erodes the credibility of people by naming them as members of such government-appointed commissions.”

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: “If Muslim scholars want to get together to support democratic values that’s fine. Involving the Government is another matter.

“Surely the extremists the Government wants to stop will not be influenced by this initiative, precisely because the Government are funding it.

“It is right for the Government to enforce the law and to promote democratic values. But when it comes to directly influencing the theological beliefs of a religion (however desirable it may be to do this) many people will have concerns about religious freedom.”