Leadership and Capacity Building in the British Muslim Community: the case of 'Muslim Chaplains'

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of History, Archaeology & Religion


In recent years, a number of critical questions have been asked about the professional religious leadership of the Muslim community in Britain. As well as being the subject of public and popular debate, it is a topic that is also starting to be explored among academics. However, very little research has been done on the emergence of a new kind of distinctive Muslim religious professional in Britain, namely, Muslim chaplains.

A number of public institutions in Britain, such as prisons and hospitals, now employ Muslim chaplains (both male and female) to deliver the pastoral care needs of Muslim prisoners and patients. Given their acquired understanding of public life and institutions, their need to work as part of multi-faith teams, and their need to deploy skills of counselling and care with a cross-section of sometimes very vulnerable people, they are being regarded by some as role-models for the kind of professional religious leadership sought across the Muslim community more widely.

Working in a close collaborative partnership with Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicester (MIHE), an Islamic college providing the only certified qualification in Muslim chaplaincy, this project seeks to find out more about four aspects of Muslim chaplaincy. Firstly, we want to find out more about who decides to become a Muslim chaplain, and why? What kind of prior training and experience do chaplains bring to their role? What is the career trajectory of Muslim chaplains? Secondly, we are seeking to establish what is actually involved in the work of a Muslim chaplain. What is said and done, when, where, and how, during Muslim chaplaincy practice? Thirdly, the research intends to find out how the emergence of Muslim chaplaincy has been shaped by prevailing institutional structures and power dynamics. How have Muslim chaplains navigated their way through the politics and structures that shape their work? Fourthly, through consultation with the users of Muslim chaplaincy, the research will investigate the impact of chaplaincy practice.

These questions will be explored through qualitative research methods, especially interviews, ethnographic observation, and focus groups.

In the first year of the project, the research team will conduct interviews with past and present students of the MIHE course, as well as with serving Muslim chaplains from a range of sectors (health, military, prison, education). The first year will also involve a detailed review of relevant literature and a critique of the syllabus and learning materials provided to MIHE students.

In the second year of the study, the researchers will conduct follow-up observation of Muslim chaplains, as they actually conduct their chaplaincy work. Interviews will also be conducted with stakeholders and observers of Muslim chaplaincy development, such as members of the Association of Muslim Chaplains, and with users of Muslim chaplaincy.

The data will be analysed by all members of the research team, who combine sociological, theological, educational, and pastoral skills and expertise.

Significance and impact:
This interdisciplinary and innovative research will chart the emergence of a new religious discourse and practice in Britain. It will increase our understanding of the sociology of Muslim religious professionalism by asking questions about the recruitment, training and education, and deployment of Muslim chaplains. Furthermore, by examining the texts, rituals and Islamic traditions that underpin Muslim chaplaincy, the project will for the first time begin to chart the educational and theological underpinnings of Muslim chaplaincy.

As an outcome of the study, there will be informed dialogue about Muslim religious training and professionalism in Britain, which reflects both stakeholder and academic perspectives. The research will also contribute to international discussions about Muslim involvement in chaplaincy, especially in the USA.


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Description A decade ago, the Leverhulme-funded pilot project entitled 'The Training and Development of Muslim Religious Professionals in Britain', mapped out for the first time the landscape of confessional training provision for Islamic religious professionals in the UK. Research at the time showed that there were approximately 25 Islamic seminaries in Britain; a large majority from the South Asian Deobandi school of thought. Many of the graduates of Deobandi seminaries in Britain had been at the forefront of the developing role of Muslim chaplains in British prisons and hospitals.

One of the aims of the pilot project was to establish the feasibility of a large scale project about the training of imams in British Islamic 'seminaries' (dar ul-uloom). The main aim of this study would be the understanding and engagement with these institutions - seen as vital in further developing the structure of a Muslim chaplaincy.

This research gives Muslim Chaplains the authoritativeness to dispel the idea that 'Muslims don't really do pastoral care'. It also demonstrated that the function of the Muslim Chaplain was more than leading prayers, issuing religious rulings and giving sermons; rather, the role was shown to be around working with individuals and seeing to their spiritual and moral needs.

Following on from the pilot project, the Cardiff Muslim Chaplaincy Project discovered how increases in the number of Muslim chaplains in the prison, health and the armed services - as well as the appointment of a 'Muslim Advisor' to the HM Prison Service - had significantly improved.

The management of religious diversity and arrangements of pastoral care had also grown in numbers alongside the quality of provision - both in terms of the chaplains' own abilities to provide help, support; suitable referrals to other services and the quality of candidates to the chaplaincy posts.

Research also showed that more members of minority groups now had access to chaplaincy provision and pastoral care. As a result, chaplaincy is now increasingly seen as a viable career path for aspiring members of minority groups.

Overall, the research undertaken since 2003 demonstrates that the contribution of professionally well trained Muslim chaplains is an example of the positive role of British Muslims in social cohesion.

Professor Gilliat-Ray's research has demonstrated the positive effect of involving Muslim religious professionals in providing religious and pastoral care in public institutions in Britain, especially in prisons and hospitals.

Raised awareness of these benefits on account of this research has led to a more positive attitude towards chaplaincy among Muslims and encouraged more prisons, hospitals and other institutions to recruit Muslim chaplains. Standards of care for prisoners, patients and other services users have consequently improved while other staff now have a better understanding of Islam and a more cohesive multi-faith approach to service delivery.
Exploitation Route The findings have already contributed to HM Prison Service work.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/islamukcentre/research/muslim-chaplains-research-project/
Description Muslim chaplains formed a Yahoo group to share common experiences and issues as a result of our end-of-project workshop. This has helped with their networking. There is now a project to support the educational development and training of HEI chaplains (AMCeD) and the book from our project is now a core text. Mansur Ali (postdoctoral fellow) has acted as an advisor to HM Prison Service in relation to their Islamic educational work.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact As a result of my research I was asked to be a Commissioner for the Citizens UK 'Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life'. I was able to demonstrate through my involvement the positive role of Muslim chaplains in public life. The report will be published in 2017.
URL http://www.citizensuk.org/commissioners
Description Memorandum of Understanding signed with Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester 
Organisation Markfield Institute of Higher Education
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of our grant, we signed an MOU with Markfield Institute of Higher Education in Leicester. This institution provided us with access to former students of their Certificate in Muslim Chaplaincy course...and allowed us to observe a cohort of students as they went through the programme.
Collaborator Contribution Access to former students, access to current students.
Impact Feedback was provided to MIHE as a result of our work which has helped the institution develop its programme.
Start Year 2009
Description Practitioners Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 60 Muslim chaplains from a range of sectors came to a one-day workshop at Cardiff University. It was the first time that chaplains from different sectors had met together, and found they were facing very similar issues. The scope for collaboration was clear, on issues such as 'sudden death' which can occur in prisons, hospitals, military or educational institutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-15008841