Imams are to be encouraged to deliver their sermons in English under measures being prepared to rid Britain of hate preaching.
The Telegraph has been told that the counter-extremism taskforce is working on the plans amid concern that preaching in foreign languages enforces divisions between Islam and mainstream British society and can foster radicalisation.
Ministers have been inspired by some Middle Eastern countries that have begun urging that sermons be published in English online. A senior Government source said: “If imams are speaking in another language it makes it far harder to know if radicalisation is taking place.”
Speaking English is important for all, imams included
David Cameron, speaking last year
Measures are being prepared for the long-awaited counter-extremism proposals after an initial strategy was published in October 2015. Exact measures are yet to be finalised but one source said tougher licensing rules for foreign preachers was being considered.
Currently, imams from outside the European Union who visit Britain have to prove they can speak English before a visa is granted. However, sources have ruled out the introduction of any new licensing scheme for imams already in the UK because it could be seen as a curb on religious freedom.
Tackling radicalisation in Britain was one of Prime Minister Theresa May’s priorities during her six years as Home Secretary. A speech she gave before the 2015 general election set out a series of “bold” measures that could be adopted in order to counter home-grown extremism.
“Everybody in our country is equal and everybody is free to lead their lives as they wish. But our society does not just confer rights; it demands responsibilities,” Mrs May said back then.
“You have the freedom to live how you choose to live – but you must also respect the freedom of others to live how they choose to live.”
She also promised a “step change” in helping people to learn in English and she hinted at tighter language rules on “foreign religious workers in pastoral roles”.
Debate about whether imams, who lead prayers at mosques, should use English has been making headlines for more than a decade. A survey of 300 mosques in 2007 found that just 8 per cent of imams were born in the UK and only 6 per cent of them spoke English as a first language.
The Tory 2015 election manifesto promised to “confront and ultimately defeat” extremism and make protecting Britons their “overriding priority”.
The document pledged to “tackle all forms of extremism, including non-violent extremism, so our values and our way of life are properly promoted and defended”.
The Conservatives’ 2015 counter-extremism strategy has yet to undergo formal consultation amid reports that wrangling over how to define extremism has held up the process.
In 2016, David Cameron called for more imams to speak English to help guide young Britons away from the “poisonous rhetoric” of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
He said: “When I was sat in a mosque in Leeds this week one of the young people there said how important it is that imams speak English because if you have got young people, sometimes who speak English themselves but not Urdu and not Arabic, they need someone to guide them away from Isil and their poisonous rhetoric.”
He said: “That’s why we’re going to be targeting money at people, very often women, who’ve been stuck at home, sometimes by the men of the house. Speaking English is important for all, imams included.”
A Government spokesman said: “There are no plans to license imams or require imams to have a minimum level of English language proficiency beyond visa requirements already in place.”