Tuesday 6 September 2016

Sharia compliant governance

Since my appearance at the "Living Islam Festival" in Lincoln I've been thinking and discussing how we develop stronger governance in our Muslim charity world. The UK has some very great Muslim charities and the fact is that the Muslim community is the most generous of our communities in terms of its giving. During Ramadan over £100m is raised for charity. They put their Christian compatriots to shame in how they support charity. This is something we should celebrate. But we don't.  Instead, especially since Brexit, we have seen a rise in intolerance and hate crime.

However that is not to say there are no problems. It is clear that the Muslim charity world has grown exponentially but its governance has not. We can see the same problems of founder syndrome that beset other charities. Many of the boards of trustees are too large and often too old. But there is appetite for change, and we need to support and encourage that change.  One of my criticisms of the Charity Commission is not that it is not doing its regulatory job, but that there is a perception of fierce and disproportionate regulation when what we need is more support and encouragement. We need to work together to change that perception.

Since my Lincoln visit I have been speaking to various Muslim leaders and charities. In particular, I have accepted the role of one of the patrons of the Muslim Charity Forum, a great organisation that is working to develop leadership, and I met their leaders recently to talk about how we can develop their umbrella role in the sector.

The Cambridge Muslim College is a particular treasure. I went to see the Dean and Academic Director over August. It was one of those meetings where you get a flash of the blindingly obvious. If we are to make inroads into governance reform and development in the Muslim charity world, we need to develop what we can describe as Sharia compliant codes of governance.

There is nothing in our current Code of Good Governance that is inimical to Islamic teaching, indeed the underpinning ethics of the code are found in the tenets of Islam. However the code is expressed in the language of the Anglo Saxon world of management-speak. It is however easily translated into the language and teachings of the Koran. Indeed the development of Islamic charities has close parallels with the teaching of the Christian faith.  One of the 5 pillars of Islamic faith is charity or giving, just as in the Bible we are taught that giving is essential to the Christian life.

And this applies also to the development of leadership and management training; again the texts here are so often driven by an Anglo Saxon, usually American approach, when we could root the learning in the traditions of the Islamic world.

So there is work to do.  But we must be clear: if we are to encourage our Muslim communities to play a full life in civil society, an approach based on tolerance and respect is needed. Unfortunately we have a government-driven approach based on counter terrorism and legislation which undermines efforts to support our 3m strong Muslim community.

So now my task is to work with colleagues to see how we can develop this "Sharia compliant" approach. Of course it may raise eyebrows... I remember the speech of the former Archbishop of Canterbury when he talked of Sharia but then again we do need this debate. 

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