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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: Britain should do more to monitor Islamic groups and schools, crack down on forced marriages and help people to leave oppressive religious groups, a government consultation is reported to recommend.
The report, to be released within weeks, is set to be what the Guardian described on Wednesday as “the most sweeping review of the relationship between faith and the state in recent times”. It is led by Colin Bloom, a former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship who was appointed in 2019 to review the government’s engagement with various faiths.
Several sources have told the Guardian that the report, which is due to be published by the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, will call for the monitoring of unregistered faith schools, where there are concerns about abuse and radicalization.
It however also warns that such measures risk clashes with faith leaders, who have previously resisted attempts by ministers to intervene in religious affairs.
Other sections will also call on the government to do more to combat forced marriages and offer more help to those attempting to leave oppressive religious groups.
The recommendations are likely to boost calls for stricter monitoring of Islamic groups by Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove.
The Muslim Council of Britain told the Guardian: “There remains a lack of any meaningful engagement by government with diverse British Muslim communities.
“We would hope that the Bloom report recognizes how vital it is for the government to establish meaningful engagement with British Muslim communities more broadly and the key role Muslim-led representative bodies can play in facilitating this.”
In the past, Conservative ministers have attempted to regulate such schools before but were forced to back down due to protests from mainstream religious groups.
Following the “Trojan horse” scandal in 2015, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to crack down on Islamic madrasas by allowing inspectors to visit any institution where children are taught for more than six hours a week.
Islamic groups claimed they were being unfairly singled out premised on shaky evidence of systemic radicalization within their community.
Cameron reportedly abandoned the plans after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that it would make running Sunday schools more difficult.
Some of the Bloom proposals will also be intended to strengthen religion as a core component of British society. This includes providing resources for religious education in schools and increased funding for chaplains in prisons, schools, and universities.
“I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive,” one source familiar with large parts of the report told the Guardian.
“Colin [Bloom] has gone in-depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away,” they added.
Richy Thompson, the director of public affairs at Humanists UK, said: “In the past, the government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups, but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse.
“If this report is to see the government change tack here, then that is to be welcomed.”
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