Clarke announces £5 million faith fund

A £5 million 'faith fund' to support religious groups working for a more integrated Britain was launched today by Charles Clarke.

The home secretary's announcement came after an "extremely constructive" meeting with Muslim leaders on how to improve integration between different communities.

In the months since the July 7th bombings in London, members of the Muslim community have met to discuss issues such as Britain's foreign policy, how the security forces deal with ethnic minorities and the impact of new anti-terror legislation.

And today the leaders of those consultation groups presented their findings to Mr Clarke. Among their proposals were the setting up of a national advisory body for imams and organising a national tour of respected Islamic scholars around the UK.

"We will, all across government, look very carefully at the detailed recommendations. But my initial take is overwhelmingly positive," Mr Clarke said.

The main point was that all the areas discussed were "perfectly legitimate areas for debate" and would be addressed within the confines of Britain's democratic institutions, he added.

Meanwhile, a £5 million 'faith communities capacity building fund' was being set up to support debate about how to improve integration among all Britain's religious groups.

This comes the day after Mr Clarke announced a commission on integration, which is intended to report by July 2006.

One of the groups that met with Mr Clarke today was concerned with extremism and Islamophobia, and group head Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said foreign policy had been high on the agenda.

"Yet in our group there was unanimity that whatever the difference we have, any articulation of this must be through the established democratic framework of this country," he said.

Another group concluded that an independent national advisory body be set up to equip imams with new skills, so they could help in youth work and teaching young Muslims English, and even encourage British-born Muslims to become imams themselves.

Meanwhile, Abdel Ullah, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, took his group to the US to see how Muslims felt about their identity there.

They recommended that leading Islamic scholars with whom young people could identify, toured Britain to show them the "true meaning of Islam".