"Imams hardly in touch with their local community"

Research commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Support Unit shows that many of the imams who are working in Flanders hardly speak any Dutch, the language of their local community. In addition, they are hardly in touch with the local community.

An imam is the leader of congregational prayer in a mosque.

The research shows that most of the imams active in Flanders didn't grow up here and never learnt French or Dutch. They have little understanding of Belgian or Flemish affairs. As a result contacts with Belgian youngsters are strained. In consequence many young Muslim Belgians go in search of information about Islam via other channels increasing the chance of radicalisation.

Flemish equal Opportunities Minister Geert Bourgeois (Flemish nationalist) has asked the managements of Flemish mosques to adopt a Dutch name in order to improve general perception as well as contacts with young Muslims.

The minister feels that mosques today face a change in generation: "Work undertaken by the first generation that has become older forms a sound basis to continue to construct mosques that are in step with their time, that are in touch with their local community and communicate with broader society." The research also shows that a youngster generation now stands ready to take over the torch.

Flemish Education Minister Pascal Smet (socialist) is considering the organisation of courses for imams. "This could resolve the problem" said Mr Bourgeois.