POLITICS: Islam's True Voice Should Be Heard Now, Says Blair
Byline: By James Tapsf ield and Aislinn Simpson
Tony Blair yesterday urged the "true voice of Islam" to make itself heard as the Government pledged funding to discourage extremism by training imams in UK universities.
The Prime Minister insisted British Muslims overwhelmingly wanted to be loyal citizens, despite the disproportionate public attention given to small, unrepresentative groups of radicals.
Speaking at a conference on Islam in London, Mr Blair also stressed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan should not be viewed as driven by religion.
His comments came as the Government moved to designate Islamic Studies "strategically important" to Britain's national interests, allowing tighter official scrutiny of university courses.
Ministers are warning that the courses currently expose students to narrow interpretations of Islam and must be reformed to combat violent extremism.
A pounds 1 million project is to be launched to improve the quality of Islamic Studies courses and academic research, following a report published yesterday by leading scholar Dr Ataullah Siddiqui.
The Siddiqui Report, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, warns that many university courses in Islamic studies focus too narrowly on the Middle East. And it says they fail to reflect the modern "realities" of Muslim life in multicultural Britain.
It is hoped training more imams and religious leaders in the UK will allow a shift away from ministers from overseas, who often struggle to engage effectively with young people born and brought up in Britain.
Mr Blair told the audience of academics, scholars and religious leaders that Islam was not a "monolithic faith", but one made up of a "rich pattern of diversity".
"Muslims overwhelmingly want to play a full part in the complex and diverse societies in which they find themselves - both contributing and shaping those societies.
"Most seek to play a part as loyal citizens of their countries and as loyal Muslims. …