Muslim Council vows action to stop children being groomed for sex
The Muslim Council of Britain has said it will take action to prevent girls being "groomed" for sex.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra of the council said people were sometimes reluctant to speak out - but they have a "religious duty" to do so.
He said the council was working with groups including the NSPCC, police and Muslim organisations to educate people.
The action comes after high-profile sex abuse cases involving Muslim men in Rochdale and Derby.
"This is an appalling and abhorrent kind of behaviour which is totally unacceptable regardless of race or religion," said Sheikh Mogra, the MCB's Assistant Secretary General, on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme.
"Some of those perpetrators who have recently been convicted happen to be from the Muslim community so we need to be at the very front of the voice that is condemning this."Universal problem
Sheikh Mogra said grooming should be seen purely as criminal behaviour, and using "labels of race or religion" could "drive the problem deeper underground".
He said men who were grooming children and "profess to be following the religion of Islam" were really doing "exactly the opposite".
"They have used drugs, they have used alcohol, they have used prostitution and all kinds of other methods which are all forbidden within Islam," he went on.
The Muslim Council of Britain is planning a national conference to educate people about grooming, and Sheikh Mogra said the message would be very clear.
"You cannot hide these criminals within your ranks; it is your duty to come out and speak out against it because that is what Islam requires of you," he said.Split views
After the Rochdale case, in which nine men, mainly of Pakistani origin, were convicted of grooming and abusing five white girls, there was a debate about whether race was an issue in such cases.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of The Ramadhan Foundation, which aims to promote better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, said on-street grooming was "a significant problem for the British Pakistani community".
"There should be no silence in addressing the issue of race as this is central to the actions of these criminals," he said.
"They think that white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought; it is this sort of behaviour that is bringing shame on our community."
But police said grooming was "not a racial issue", with Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood, of Greater Manchester Police, saying the case was about "adults preying on vulnerable young children".
"It just happens that in this particular area and time, the demographics were that these were Asian men," he said.
MP Keith Vaz also said "no particular race or religion" tended to be involved.
"There is no excuse for this kind of criminality, whoever is involved in it, but I don't think it is a particular group of people, I don't think it's a particular race or religion," he said.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said child sexual exploitation spanned "all cultures and ethnicities".
However, a spokeswoman said recent cases did "highlight that Asian males have been involved in an organised manner in exploiting young women".
"Some of these cases involved offenders from different backgrounds as well, although CEOP are investigating why there may be a majority of Asians in these particular kinds of offence."