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UK Politics

Muslim panel to advise on rights and wrongs of veil

The wearing of the Islamic veil will be one of the issues examined by a panel of Islamic experts that is being set up by the Government.

Cambridge University has been commissioned to create an independent board of academic and theological experts. It will include 20 leading Muslims and is expected to compile a report on Islamic beliefs in relation to life in modern Britain over the coming academic year.

The Communities Secretary, Hazel Blears, announced the move as part of a package to crack down on extremism and radicalisation. She said: "It is not for government to dictate on matters of faith or religious teaching. But Muslim communities themselves have told us that stronger leadership is needed on what are often controversial issues."

A Communities Department spokeswoman said the board's membership would reflect the diversity of Muslim communities in the UK.

"It will look at things like the veil, about being both Muslim and British and whether Muslims can feel confident in voting and engaging with society like that," said the spokeswoman.

A series of incidents have led to concerns that the wearing of the Islamic veil is one of the major barriers in community relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Britons.

Ms Blears also announced that young Muslims will be taught citizenship in mosque schools in an attempt to prevent them being turned into extremists. Trials of the new lessons will begin in several cities at the start of the new term in September. The initiative is designed to show that there is no conflict between Islam and being British. "We need to encourage and create safe places for sensible debate around issues that extremists can seek to exploit and make sure that young British Muslims recognise that their faith teaches shared citizenship values," Ms Blears said.

Officials said mosque teachers in London, Leicester, Birmingham, Oldham, Rochdale and Bradford would be trained in using the new materials over the summer. They will be used alongside traditional lessons about the Koran.

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam with the Muslim Council of Britain, said the creation of the group had been driven by Muslims rather than the Government. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We felt we needed something of this nature to help create a better structured approach to how we are educating our children.

"We feel our children need to be taught that they can be proud Muslims and proud young British people."

Sheikh Mogra went on: "This board has to be something owned by us, driven by us but supported by government. We've made it clear that it's not for government to touch our theology or touch the way we train our people."