American imams are being brought to Britain and Europe to show how Islam can be taught within a Western context.
The initiative, which is being co-ordinated by the US government, aims to challenge the preachings of extremist religious leaders from abroad who claim Islam and the West are incompatible.
Officials believe American imams, who have assimilated into US society, are able to provide a counter-balance to European imams, many of whom have come to Europe to preach from other parts of the world.
A senior adviser to the US government yesterday said such religious figureheads were unfamiliar with the context within which they taught and as a result often imposed an inappropriate version of their faith on to young Muslims.
Speaking during a visit to Birmingham’s Central Mosque yesterday, Farah Pandith - assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said: “One of the issues in Europe right now is a lot of imams are coming from foreign countries.
“So how can you get a theological expert to speak in the cultural context when they are not from Europe?
“There has been an understanding that if you want to engage young Muslims in America you have to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk in a way that makes sense to these people.
“What I have seen across Europe is many imams are not able to do that. You are seeing someone from a village in a particular part of the world coming to Europe to speak to kids and trying to get them to be like a kid in their village when in fact they are in the West and in a very different context.”
Ms Pandith, who is visiting Europe to “debunk some of the mythology about America”, said there was in reality no such thing as a Muslim world and a Western world.
“There is a violent ideology that uses that as a pivot point to pull back communities to suggest you can’t be both Muslim and Western.
“There is an increase of mainstream Muslim voices that are part of the West and saying that it is not contradictory. There is a large consensus and a growing support by Muslims that say they don’t want that ideology that separates them from the rest.”
Ms Pandith said after 9/11 the “entire world was floored” that such an event could happen. Since then, she said, the US government had put a lot of effort into building bridges within faith communities to avoid mistrust and suspicion exploding into reprisals “Were there cases where some communities were disrespected?” she said.
“Yes. But even in the immediate aftermath the Department for Justice went into these communities to work very closely to make sure they understood their civil liberties.”
Ms Pandith said there has been a “sea change” with American Muslims working to “push back” hateful ideology, particularly after witnessing the 7/7 bombings, which were the work of UK terrorists. However, she added: “It would be fair to say there is not a place on the planet that is immune from the violent ideology. “Americans understand that they aren’t immune. We are lucky that nothing has happened in this country since that time. But we have to be diligent.”