Muslim religious leaders condemn child sex grooming
The sexual grooming of children has been condemned by Muslim leaders across the UK in a sermon read to thousands of worshippers.
Organisers Together Against Grooming (TAG) said imams at hundreds of mosques had pledged to read the sermon to congregations during Friday prayers.
The sermon highlighted how the Koran emphasised that Muslims must protect children and the vulnerable.
The policing minister Damian Green said it was a "very important" move.
"It reminds people that the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, of British Muslims, condemn child sexual abuse as strongly as any other group in modern Britain," he said.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam at Abu Bakr Mosque in Leicester, said: "People were troubled by us reading the sermon and one man asked me how he could stop it being read.
"He said 'it was not our fault this had happened, our religion does not teach us to do these things and we are condemning it'.
"But as I said to him our only option is to speak out about it."
Mr Mogra added the sermon's message was very clear "this is an evil against humanity" and he was "absolutely delighted with the response".
On Thursday, seven men who abused girls as part of a sadistic sex grooming ring based in Oxford were jailed for life at the Old Bailey. Two of the men were of east African origin and five of Pakistani origin.
The Muslim Council of Britain, the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board and the Islamic Society of Britain all pledged to devote sermons to the issue of sexual grooming, said TAG, a not-for-profit organisation set up to tackle sexual grooming in the UK.
However, Monawar Hussain, founder of The Oxford Foundation, which runs educational programmes to promote religious and social harmony, said the sermon was a "fundamental error of judgement" that would play into the hands of far-right groups.
Mr Hussain, imam at Eton College, said: "Our view is that there is no Muslim on the face of this earth that does not already know that child sexual abuse is evil and wicked: this is normal standard teaching in most mosques.
"There is a terrible danger that far-right groups will point to this and say 'I told you so'."
The sermon, written by Alyas Karmani, an imam and youth worker in Keighley, West Yorkshire, opened with a quotation from the Koran forbidding "sexual indecency, wickedness and oppression of others".
These "disgraceful actions" must be wholeheartedly condemned, it added.
It finished with a call for action and reminds Muslims to speak out if they see any "evil action".
Mr Karmani said: "There's a profound disrespect culture when it comes to treating women. One of the reasons we feel this is the case is poor role models.
"Access to pornography, which also objectifies women, is creating a culture where men are now ambiguous when it comes to the issue of violence against women."
Speaking before the sermon was read out at Friday prayers, Mr Karmani said it had been circulated in an effort to counter what he claimed was a taboo in mosques about talking about sex.
The sermon is the first phase of a "hard-hitting" campaign following a number of high-profile child grooming cases involving Asian men in Bradford, Oxford, Rochdale and Telford, said TAG spokesman Ansar Ali.
"We have been horrified by the details that have emerged from recent court cases and, as Muslims, we feel a natural responsibility to condemn and tackle this crime," said Mr Ali.
"Potentially on a Friday you've got hundreds of thousands of people walking into a mosque and you have their undivided attention, so what better medium to try and send a powerful message and raise awareness?"
While sexual grooming and child abuse affected all sections of society and was perpetrated by people of all ethnic groups, the Koran exhorted Muslims to "act against evil and injustice and create just societies", he added.
"We are united in our stand against sexual grooming and, as Muslims, we are leading the effort to rid society of this crime."
The Muslim Council of Britain said that, in conjunction with TAG, it had circulated a Khutbah (Friday sermon) to all affiliated mosques and Islamic centres addressing the issue of grooming.
'Beyond the mosque'
In a statement it said: "The sermon... raises awareness about what has recently been revealed of the horrific cases of abuse, condemns the behaviour and highlights teachings from the Koran, which obligates the safeguarding and protection of women and children."
Former Labour MP for Keighley Ann Cryer said she was "delighted" by the move, which she said showed the issue was being taken more seriously than in the past.
Ms Cryer said she was approached by mothers worried about grooming in 2002, and was frustrated when police, social services and mosque elders took no action.
"I just hope this message gets beyond the mosque to the non-attenders, because by and large the people who behave like this don't go to the mosque," she said.