Leading in Leeds

9th September 2005 at 01:00
Three of the four suicide bombers who attacked London on July 7 were from Leeds. So what has the mood been like among the city's Muslim youth in the run-up to the new term? Elaine Williams finds out

Schools and mosques must work harder to take on the concerns of Muslim young people, says Jamil Ahmed, general secretary of the Leeds Islamic Centre and manager of the city's Harehills education action zone.

He says the tragedy of suicide bombers from within their community has been a wake-up call to British Muslims to acknowledge the tensions faced by their youngsters - many of them third or fourth generation British - who are often expected to conform to a traditional way of life while at the same time feeling the pressure of fitting into contemporary society.

Many have parents whom they regard as Muslim in name only. "A large percentage of Muslims are not practising," says Jamil Ahmed. "My own parents did not pray five times a day as I do now, and so when young people are searching for answers to their lives, they do not find it in their parents. They make choices independently. They choose the mosque they wish to go to, the sect they wish to follow. They are no longer holding on to the values of their families. Twenty years ago parents were much more aware of what their sons were doing; there is an independent culture now.

"It is wrong to think that there is a coherent Muslim community; there are different elements within it and different pressures. As we now have to contend with criminal issues - the prison population of Muslims is growing, whereas 20 years ago you would have found very few - so we have to contend with extremist issues. Nothing came to our notice in this community to make us think that we would face such a tragedy."

Mr Ahmed, who has helped to set up an Institute of Diversity based at Trinity and All Saints college of higher education in Leeds, says much more needs to be done to engage with young people. "Parents, schools and community leaders must work together to make young people feel comfortable with their need to question established values, to prevent them from being hijacked by outside, extreme influences. They have to feel that they can talk openly about their concerns and worries.

"When young people debate outside the mosque about what they see as attacks on Muslims worldwide, the reaction of mosque leaders has been to dismiss them, move them on so that the mosque does not get a bad reputation. My line is that we should bring them in, sit them down, engage with them openly. It's not enough expecting young people to come along to our nice services and conform. The imams have to get out there, get among them, talk to them. The links with schools have to be made. We are all working to the same end: teaching tolerance. The pressure is on all of us."

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