The Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) has spoken out strongly about grooming culture. Julie Siddiqi, chief executive of the ISB, coordinated a Muslim-led coalition to campaign against offenders, known as The Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. (Image source: Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Not all Muslims remained silent about the grooming gang problem. We have already seen how the new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, a Muslim of Pakistani origin, took rapid action to open an enquiry into the crimes. A number of Muslim organizations and individuals have spoken out against the gangs, and condemned them for bringing their faith into disrepute. The integrative Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), for one, has spoken out strongly about grooming culture.
In May 2013, Julie Siddiqi, chief executive of the ISB, coordinated a Muslim-led coalition to campaign against offenders, known as The Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, which, in turn, was launched in Bradford with the backing of the Bradford Council of Mosques. The following month, a Muslim group called Together Against Grooming (TAG) declared that a Friday prayer sermon (khutba) would be read out in around 500 mosques across the country to draw attention to the grooming issue. The sermon was written by Alyas Karmani, an imam who has a background in psychology and serves at several mosques around Bradford. Karmani specializes in sexual counselling from a non-fundamentalist perspective and has worked on a PhD entitled, "The Crises of Masculinity and Urban Male Violence". His detailed understanding of the grooming gangs and their various motivations are perhaps the most sophisticated yet advanced by a Muslim expert and should be taken into account by any present or future investigation.
Some other Muslim organizations such as the progressive Islamic Society of Britain have sent out sermons on the same issue. There can be no question that there is an important and growing range of Muslim reaction to the shame brought on the communities by the grooming gangs and the reluctance in many places even to talk about sexual matters. This reformist activity in the migrant community needs to be encouraged and backed by government resources.
There are, however, other, sometimes deeper aspects to the problem that still remain to be explored. Not all mosques agreed to read Karmani's sermon, and some claimed -- quite incorrectly, as it happened -- that the grooming issue was a thing of the past. Many of those deeper aspects are directly related to the persistence of religious fundamentalism and a wide refusal among many to integrate within British society. Despite the efforts of moderate Muslims, mosques and institutions to stop young men and women travelling abroad to take part in jihad or bring back wives from abroad, many have done so. Sermonizing, even with good intentions, may not address the underlying reasons for seemingly anti-social behaviour.
Also in 2013, Taj Hargey, imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, and a controversial reformist, spoke out following the trial and conviction of six members of a child sex ring from Oxford. He contended that some imams were indirectly inspiring the grooming gangs through their contempt for non-Muslim women:
On one level, most imams in the UK are simply using their puritanical sermons to promote the wearing of the hijab and even the burka among their female adherents. But the dire result can be the brutish misogyny we see in the Oxford sex ring.
He wrote at length about the ways in which fundamentalist attitudes influenced some men:
True Islam preaches respect for women but in mosques across the country a different doctrine is preached - "one that denigrates all women, but treats whites with particular contempt"....
The men are taught that women are "second-class citizens, little more than chattels or possessions over whom they have absolute authority"...
The view of some Islamic preachers towards white women can be appalling. They encourage their followers to believe that these women are habitually promiscuous, decadent, and sleazy — sins which are made all the worse by the fact that they are kaffurs [sic for kuffar, pl. of kafir] or non-believers.
Their dress code, from miniskirts to sleeveless tops, is deemed to reflect their impure and immoral outlook. According to this mentality, these white women deserve to be punished for their behaviour by being exploited and degraded.
The largest and most influential of all UK mosques are those of the Deobandis, a highly conservative majority denomination in Pakistani Islam that also dominates the seminaries within the UK and in which future imams are trained.
According to the author and Investigations editor at BBCNewsnight, Innes Bowen:
What most Deobandi scholars have in common is a conservative interpretation of Islamic law: television and music for the purposes of entertainment, for example, are frowned upon if not banned; attitudes towards women are deeply conservative, with, for example, some scholars advising Muslim women that their religion does not permit them to travel any distance unless accompanied by a close male relative. That this description of such an austere brand of Islam sounds similar to that propagated by the Taliban in Afghanistan should not be surprising – the Taliban movement grew out of the Deobandi madrasas of Pakistan.
Many Deobandi and other fundamentalist preachers and online fatwa sites promulgate the doctrine of al-Wala' wa'l-Bara', which may be roughly translated as "loyalty [to Islam] and avoidance [of unbelievers]". This belief reinforces the need to stay away from, and even to have enmity towards, the inferior non-Muslim world. It is not far-fetched to see how, through this doctrine, a sense of total difference from, and contempt for, non-Muslims in general -- and non-Muslim girls and women in particular -- may have given many of the grooming gangs a debased level of justification, even self-righteousness in the members of the grooming gangs.
Hargey's link between the grooming gangs and hard-line religious leaders is borne out by an article published in 2018 by the serious liberal newspaper, The Independent. The author is Ella Hill, one of the girls abused in Rotherham and now part of the largest child sexual abuse investigation. She begins:
As a teenager, I was taken to various houses and flats above takeaways in the north of England, to be beaten, tortured and raped over 100 times. I was called a "white slag" and "white c***" as they beat me.
They made it clear that because I was a non-Muslim, and not a virgin, and because I didn't dress "modestly", that they believed I deserved to be "punished". They said I had to "obey" or be beaten.
Later, she refers to a Swedish government meeting in 2017, when it was stated that:
Sexual and gender-based violence is used as a tactic of terrorism by a range of today's violent extremist groups. This makes it essential to address violence against women and girls as an integrated part in countering and preventing violent extremism.
She then argues that:
Religious indoctrination is a big part of the process of getting young men involved in grooming gang crime. Religious ideas about purity, virginity, modesty and obedience are taken to the extreme until horrific abuse becomes the norm. It was taught to me as a concept of "othering".
"Muslim girls are good and pure because they dress modestly, covering down to their ankles and wrists, and covering their crotch area. They stay virgins until marriage. They are our girls."
[Author's note: Italicized in the original, but should probably have been in quotation marks. The passage is evidently meant to be words spoken by gang members who used her.]
She also emphasizes this religious background to her treatment, stating that "My main perpetrator quoted scriptures from the Quran to me as he beat me." Nevertheless, she goes on to say that "Most grooming gang survivors I know absolutely condemn anti-Islamic hate, and we're uncomfortable with English Defence League protests. We certainly don't want random attacks on 'all Muslims'. You can't cure harm with more harm."
The connection between fundamentalist religiosity, terrorism and gender crime is not as fanciful as it might have seemed at first. There are decent Muslims everywhere who work hard to counter all the anti-social and criminal activities in which so many of their co-religionists engage and the theological positions through which they try to justify what they do. But terrorist attacks, anti-Semitic hate speech, and sexual harassment of young white women are real crimes committed by a different kind of Muslim and must be addressed as such.
In a report published on December 12, 2017, the important Muslim counter-extremism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, addressed at length the problem of the grooming gangs. Written by Quilliam's CEO, Haras Rafiq with media strategist and researcher Muna Adil, the report, "Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation: Dissecting Grooming Gangs", consists of a comprehensive data analysis of grooming gang cases identified in the UK since 2005. Ten case studies from 2010-2017 are also analysed in depth to help determine any similarities and identify any patterns that exist across the cases.
At the root of the problem seems to lie the fact that many Muslim men have failed to integrate into British society. According to Muna Adil:
There are elements from within the British Pakistani community that still subscribe to outdated and sexist views of women embedded within their jaded interpretations of Islam. These backward views are passed down from generation to generation until the lines between faith and culture dissolve, making it increasingly difficult to criticise one without being seen as a critic of the other.
Quilliam's findings echo a number of earlier reviews and surveys of the British Muslim community as a whole. In her 2016 government-commissioned review into integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities, Dame Louise Casey found evidence that the hardest group to integrate was the Muslim community. In her Executive Summary, she notes (paragraph 30) that:
People of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity tend to live in more residentially segregated communities than other ethnic minority groups. South Asian communities (people of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi ethnicity) live in higher concentrations at ward level than any other ethnic minority group. These concentrations at ward level are growing in many areas.
She adds that that, "Compared to other minority faith groups, Muslims tend to live in higher residential concentrations at ward level". She continues:
[Paragraph] 32. The school age population is even more segregated when compared to residential patterns of living. A Demos study found that, in 2013, more than 50% of ethnic minority students were in schools where ethnic minorities were the majority, and that school segregation was highest among students from Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic backgrounds relative to other ethnic groups.
[Paragraph] 44. Polling in 2015 also showed that more than 55% of the general public agreed that there was a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society, while 46% of British Muslims felt that being a Muslim in Britain was difficult due to prejudice against Islam. We found a growing sense of grievance among sections of the Muslim population, and a stronger sense of identification with the plight of the 'Ummah', or global Muslim community.
She also highlights problems with the national language:
[Paragraph] 52. English language is a common denominator and a strong enabler of integration. But Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups have the lowest levels of English language proficiency of any Black or Minority Ethnic group and women in those communities are twice as likely as men to have poor English.
Finally, we should note her statement on gender equality, which is clearly linked to the Muslim communities:
[Paragraph] 57. ... in many areas of Britain the drive towards equality and opportunity across gender might never have taken place. Women in some communities are facing a double onslaught of gender inequality, combined with religious, cultural and social barriers preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents. And violence against women remains all too prevalent in domestic abuse but also in other criminal practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called "honour" based crime.
Casey was not the first to draw attention to most of these issues. In 2007, the British think tank Policy Exchange, published a detailed report titled "Living apart together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism", written by three young Asian researchers. Their most striking finding, drawn from a survey, was that the youngest generation (16-24 year olds) were more radical in their beliefs than their grandparents (55+ year olds). Thus, 37% of the youngest would prefer to live under shari'a law than British law, compared to only 17% of their elders; 36% of the youngest believe that if a Muslim converts to another religion they must be punished by death, compared to only 19% of the oldest; a high 74% of 16-24 year olds prefer Muslim women to wear the veil, compared to a mere 28% of 55+ year olds -- an astonishing reversal. Most immigrant communities -- notably Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles and others in the United States' "melting pot" -- come to identify with their host country within the second and third generation, and that has been largely true of the United Kingdom.
One particular feature that distinguishes Muslims from the rest of the increasingly secular UK population is the extent to which religion plays a major role in people's lives. Figure 2 of the report shows that 66% agree strongly and another 20% of Muslims tend to agree that "My religion is the most important thing in my life". In Figure 1, 49% say they pray the full 5 times a day, and 22% 1-3 times a day, with a tiny 5% replying "never". It is important to read the report in full. for it has many supportive things to say about British Muslims:
However, there is also considerable diversity amongst Muslims, with many adopting a more secular approach to their religion. The majority of Muslims feel they have as much, if not more, in common with non-Muslims in Britain as with Muslims abroad. There is clearly a conflict within British Islam between a moderate majority that accepts the norms of Western democracy and a growing minority that does not. For these reasons, we should be wary of treating the entire Muslim population as a monolith with special needs that are different to the rest of the population.
An extensive poll of Muslim opinion conducted in 2016 by ICM showed that things were much the same or worse than in 2007. It was reported on by Trevor Phillips, a son of Caribbean immigrants and former chairman of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission. In an article for the Sunday Times, he expressed his deep frustration with the Muslim failure to integrate:
...for a long time, I too thought that Europe's Muslims would become like previous waves of migrants, gradually abandoning their ancestral ways, wearing their religious and cultural baggage lightly, and gradually blending into Britain's diverse identity landscape. I should have known better.
Another 2016 survey, carried out by a Czech think tank, European Values, found that some 44% of Muslims held views corresponding to radical Islamic fundamentalism.
"The survey discovered 57 percent of Muslims reject homosexuals as friends, 45 percent said they don't trust the Jews and 54 percent think of the West as an enemy of Islam. Among fundamentalist Muslims, 72 percent of respondents said they would use violence to defend Islam. Among regular Muslims, that number amounted to 35 percent.
"An incredibly large number of Muslims want Islamic Sharia law to dominate over local laws. For instance, 72 percent of Muslims in France want to see Sharia as the main or only source of law in the country. That figure remains astonishingly high in the United Kingdom at 69 percent."
Dr. Denis MacEoin taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British University and is a Senior Distinguished Fellow at New York's Gatestone Institute.
 For a well-researched study of Deobandism in the UK, see Innes Bowen, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam, London, 2014.
 Bowen, pp. 11-12.
 Trevor Phillips, "An Inconvenient Truth", The Sunday Times, 10 April 2016.