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Call for better use of existing powers...
Call for better use of existing powers

By Nick Golding

Muslim leaders are calling on local government to be 'visionary' in its use of powers to promote community cohesion.

The alleged transatlantic plane bombing plot has renewed interest in how this autumn's local government white paper will back cohesion - but many senior figures insist councils already have the capability to make a difference.

Tony Blair's decision to bring local government and cohesion together in one department has left councils at the forefront of the drive to ensure Muslims do not feel stigmatised.

Ministers have already signalled their desire to use the white paper to rebuild the institutions of civic society to overcome apathy and disquiet, but many community representatives want it to concentrate on promoting best practice.

Ibrahim Mogra, the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's interfaith relations committee, said: 'There are cases where Muslims find difficulty in getting planning permission for a mosque or education establishment and there could be more use of schemes like Leicester's where there's special prayer-time arrangements between traffic wardens and the mosque.

'These might sound petty but they have a major impact. If you get these areas right they build confidence.'

Humera Khan, a founding member of the An-Nisa Muslim women's group, said too many council-led cohesion initiatives were race-based, rather than faith-based, meaning they failed to engage Muslims.

'Our council set up a new Muslim group, the brainchild of a Muslim councillor and a couple of people in the Labour party who wanted to be seen doing something but they were talking to us in a patronising way,' she said. 'Success is about having a vision.'

Other areas where councils could be more sensitive include the speedier issuing of death certificates to enable burials to meet religious requirements and less nudity in sex education, leaders say.

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