Mandelbrot set image very small MohammedAmin.com
Serious writing for
serious readers
Follow @Mohammed_Amin
Join my
email list

Search this site

Custom Search
Tap here for MENU

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Need for Constitutional Reform

Summary

Posted 20 January 2011 Updated for broken links 7 November 2015.

This document was prepared on 3 January 2011 as a submission to the MCB Constitution Review Working Committee. The text below has been slightly amended from my original submission to take account of some points that occurred to me on 18 January 2011 when the document was being discussed with the review committee.

Background to the constitutional review

At the MCB AGM on 20 June 2010, there were a number of concerns expressed from the floor that the MCB was too heavily dominated by one narrow faction.

On 24 November 2010 the MCB announced on its website that it was carrying out a constitutional review. The terms of reference of that review used to be on the MCB website but are no longer available there.

My involvement with the MCB

My views are based upon my experience of the MCB between June 2008 and June 2010. During that period, I was an elected member of the Central Working Committee and chair of the Business & Economics Committee.

These roles and related activities such as attending a number of meetings of the committee comprising the office bearers plus committee chairs and daily email interactions gave me a detailed appreciation of the MCB’s strengths and weaknesses.

Review of the current MCB constitution and recommendations for change

For over 40 years I have been involved with the running of both voluntary and commercial or professional organisations, and have taken a detailed interest in their legal and constitutional structures. This experience has been invaluable when considering the MCB’s constitution.

According to its website, the MCB was inaugurated on 23 November 1997 and the current version of its constitution is dated 28 April 2002. Regardless of the issues that may have mattered when the MCB was created, my only concern is to assess whether the MCB constitution is appropriate in 2011.

As with most bodies, the MCB constitution can be amended by its General Assembly by Special Resolution. However, two parts of the constitution may not be amended. These are the Preamble and Clause 3.1.

In passing, there appears to be a layout error. At first sight, the preamble seems to comprise only the top third of the page. That is because the words “Declaration of Intent” have been wrongly placed in the first column, instead of being used as a sub-heading in the second column. Correcting this would make it clear that the preamble comprises the whole of page 6, which is clearly what was intended.

1) Legal Status

Clause 7.1 makes clear that the MCB is an unincorporated association, which is why it requires Holding Trustees as provided for by clause 7.2.

Having the MCB as an unincorporated association creates personal risks for the trustees and probably also others. Should the MCB have liabilities exceeding its assets, for example if it lost a legal action resulting in a large claim against it, there is a strong risk of the trustees, office bearers, and possibly also Central Working Committee members, as well as MCB member organisations, being liable for the MCB’s debts.

Good practice would be to constitute the MCB as a company limited by guarantee. This has been mentioned as an aspiration for some time, but no progress has been visible.

Recommendation

The MCB should reconstitute itself as a company limited by guarantee at the earliest possible date.

2) Membership

Only organisations can be members of the MCB, and they are categorised as follows:

Category

Annual fee per affiliation form on MCB website

Entitlements

National bodies

£500

Entitled to 3 delegates at the General Assembly and also entitled to nominate one member of the Central Working Committee.

Regional bodies

£200

Entitled to 2 delegates at the General Assembly and also entitled to nominate one member of the Central Working Committee.

Other bodies

£50

Entitled to 1 delegate at the General Assembly.

No entitlement to nominate a member of the Central Working Committee.

The MCB’s member organisations (affiliates) are listed on its website.

On 25 December 2010 I downloaded the list as it then stood into Excel for analysis purposes. There were 457 organisations listed. Of these, 24 were National, 11 were Regional, and the rest described as Local / Specialist, which puts them into the “Other” category of the above table.

However, the above table does not bring out the extent to which certain organisations can increase their voting power by affiliating their individual branches. By sorting the list of Local / Specialist bodies and looking for similarity of names, I found the following groupings:

Name of parent organisation

Number of separate local affiliates

UK Islamic Mission

34

Islamic Society of Britain

15

Young Muslim Organisation

10

Islamic Forum Europe

10

Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith

7

Preston Muslim Society

4

Muslim Welfare House

4

The above details show how a small number of organisations are able to dominate the MCB by:

  1. Possessing the right as National and Regional bodies to nominate a member of the Central Working Committee.
  2. Possessing significant voting power via their affiliates to determine the elected members of the Central Working Committee.

There is also an implicit underlying assumption that the management of organisations speak for their members.

That is largely true for some organisations that have proper membership lists and conduct elections to decide their management. However in my opinion it is not true of most mosques, since mosques generally do not have a formal membership. Instead, most mosques are run by a self perpetuating group drawn from the original founders augmented by selected younger people as the founders age. Few mosques have a formal membership taken up by all worshippers and democratic election of their management.

It is impossible for an individual to become a member of the MCB. For some time, the MCB has been asking individuals to donate to the MCB by standing order, with limited success. (I myself have given £100 pa for many years.) In my view, one key reason for the limited success is that individuals who give to the MCB obtain no entitlements of any kind, and in particular have no influence over how the MCB runs.

The MCB has also found it hard to get organisation from certain Muslim communities, such as the Somali community, to affiliate. It would be easier to persuade some individual members from such communities to affiliate, and they could then become ambassadors into their respective communities.

Recommendations

  1. The MCB should bring in an additional category of membership, Individual Members, who must be Muslims in accordance with the present clause 3.1.
  2. Each Individual Member should be entitled to one vote at the General Assembly, and using the above fee structure should pay an affiliation fee of £50.
  3. Under the above fee structure, each Regional Body should be entitled to send 4 delegates to the General Assembly.
  4. Under the above fee structure, each National Body should be entitled to send 10 delegates to the General Assembly.
  5. The rights of National and Regional bodies to nominate someone onto the Central Working Committee should be abolished.

The above proposals produce a just distribution of voting power at the General Assembly, whereby each £50 paid in affiliation fees gives the payer the same amount of voting power.

There may be concern about “entryism” in the form of a sudden influx of members just before a General Assembly meeting. This can be countered by requiring an individual or an organisation to be a paying member for a certain period of time (for example two years) before acquiring voting rights. Any such rule should be enforced in a neutral manner between individuals and organisations.

My reading of the present MCB constitution is that it cannot be amended to enable individual membership due to clause (a) of the Declaration of Intent. If that reading is confirmed by the MCB’s legal advisors, the MCB needs to consider how to proceed.

One possible approach would be to dissolve the existing MCB. As surplus funds must be paid to charity under clause 9, one would first allow the reserves to reduce to nearly zero by delaying the collection of affiliation fees. One would then constitute a new body, “New MCB”. That step could be combined with the move to incorporating as a company limited by guarantee.

3) The General Assembly

All organisations need to have a supreme decision making body, and the General Assembly serves that role with the MCB as with any other body’s general meeting of members.

Great effort is put into organising the elections, with candidates for the Central Working Committee being asked to supply written profiles of themselves which are photocopied and supplied to each delegate at the General Assembly. Much of this effort is wasted as delegates have insufficient time on the day to read the profiles. Moreover, many delegates attending the June 2010 General Assembly came with pre-printed lists of candidates to vote for, supplied to them by their organisations. Quite apart from any issues of security, since the MCB had not publicised the names of candidates in advance, the cost of printing candidate profiles was wasted in such cases.

Only delegates who actually turn up are able to vote as proxy votes are not allowed. Accordingly the attendance, and therefore the actual voting power exercised, at the General Assembly is only a small proportion of those entitled to attend.

Recommendations

  1. The meeting should be renamed as the Annual General Meeting of the MCB, since that is what it is.
  2. Clause 4.1.2 should be revised to better set out the functions of the AGM. For example, at present it does not stipulate that the annual accounts of the MCB should be approved by the AGM. A good starting point would be to review the responsibilities of an AGM of a company, and to review the constitutions of some other bodies, to improve the drafting.
  3. Clause 4.1.2 (a) is particularly in need of revision as it does not specify the process for such a resolution being tabled. Accordingly, an MCB General Assembly meeting could find itself with a motion radically changing policies being proposed from the floor without any advance notice.
  4. Proxy voting should be introduced. This would allow voters to read the candidate profiles before voting.
  5. To enable elections to be run smoothly with high security over ballot papers, the process should be contracted out to a body such as Electoral Reform Ballot Services, which would also enable the use of the single transferable voting system (STV). STV is also readily adaptable to accommodate any arrangements for reserved seats, e.g. for women or for particular ethnic or religious sub-groups if desired.

4) The Central Working Committee

Per clause 4.2.1 (c) The Central Working Committee comprises:

  1. Elected national representatives - 25.
  2. Elected zonal representatives - 12.
  3. Members nominated by National or Regional bodies, not to exceed the number of elected members. Accordingly, up to 37 CWC members may be nominated, although the current complement of National and Regional bodies could only nominate 35.
  4. The CWC can itself co-opt members under 4.2.1 (d) without any numerical limit.

The functions of the Central Working Committee are set out in clause 4.2.2. If one read the MCB Constitution without knowing how the MCB functions in reality, one would assume that the CWC is the body that runs the MCB from day to day, as the CWC is responsible “for carrying out the policies laid down by the General Assembly” and for “taking initiatives.”

The current membership of the CWC is listed on the MCB website has 66 members listed. In particular, there are only 15 CWC members nominated by National affiliates and 9 CWC members nominated by Regional affiliates. This means that some of the National and Regional affiliates listed on the MCB website have not take up their entitlement to nominate members.

It is of course impossible for a 66 person committee to function effectively, let alone discharge the responsibilities given to the CWC by the MCB constitution.

My experience while a CWC member was that many members did not attend; sometimes the entire meeting was inquorate (the quorum being one third per 4.2.3 (c)) while quite regularly the quorum did not exist at the start of the meeting. However if everyone had turned up it would be impossible for everyone to make any meaningful contribution to the discussion; a five hour meeting say means only 4 ½ minutes of talk time each with 66 attenders. Clause 4.2.3 (b) which allows a CWC member missing two consecutive meetings without reasonable cause  to be removed was never applied in my two years of membership.

The list of members demonstrates that the CWC is overwhelmingly male. The MCB has talked about gender equality for many years, but not taken any effective action to increase participation by women. That is not surprising since the management of almost all of its affiliates is also overwhelmingly male.

Recommendations

  1. The CWC should be replaced by a Council of 12 elected persons together with the office holders discussed in later recommendations.
  2. The 12 elected persons should be elected by single transferable voting.
  3. 6 of the 12 elected members must be women, provided that at least 2 women stand as candidates for each female reserved position.
  4. The Council should meet monthly in person or by conference call.
  5. The Council should create its own standing orders to specify what decisions must be taken by it, what can be decided by the office bearers acting collectively, and what can be decided by the Secretary General (to be renamed President, see below) individually.

5) The Secretary General and the other Office Bearers

The Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General and the Treasurer are presently elected by the CWC from amongst the elected CWC members. The three Assistant Secretaries General and the Deputy Treasurer are presently elected by the CWC from amongst the CWC members, but do not need to be elected CWC members.

Under clause 4.2.4 (e) the Secretary General is responsible for convening meetings of the Office Bearers to carry out the decisions of the CWC. As explained above, this is a constitutional fiction. Apart from rare controversial decisions such as deciding to attend or boycott the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, the CWC does not take operational decisions in practice; they are taken by the Office Bearers.

Clause 4.2.5 (a) sets out the responsibilities of the Secretary General. The language, e.g. “direct the work of the Central Working Committee in implementing the policies set by the General Assembly” does not fit the facts since the Central Working Committee does not itself deal with implementation. Similarly, the roles of the other Office Bearers are not specified well in relation to what actually  happens, particularly with regard to the 3 Assistant Secretaries General and the Deputy Treasurer.

The fact that the Treasurer must be an elected CWC member significantly narrows the scope for the MCB to appoint a treasurer with the right level of professional expertise.

Recommendations

  1. The Secretary General should be renamed the President.
  2. The Deputy Secretary General should be renamed the Deputy President.
  3. Both the President and the Deputy President should be elected at the biennial election AGM by all the delegates. Preferably proxy voting and STV should be used as proposed earlier in this paper for electing the Council.
  4. The Treasurer should be appointed by the Council and may be any Muslim who is willing to perform the role. Once appointed, he or she becomes one of the Office Bearers.
  5. The immediate past Secretary General (past President) should also continue as an Office Bearer for the following two year period.
  6. These 4 Office Bearers should serve on the Council along with the 12 elected Council members recommended earlier.
  7. The other office bearer positions should be abolished.

6) The Constitutional Committees

Clause 4.3 of the constitution mandates the existence of five committees and gives each of them a specific remit:

It is quite unusual for a constitution to specify the requirement for certain committees, while ignoring the many other active committees that the MCB also has. It is also quite unnecessary.

Recommendations

  1. All reference to the constitutionally mandated committees should be deleted from the constitution.
  2. The MCB Council (comprising the elected members and the office bearers) should decide what committees the MCB should have, specify their remits, and provide any necessary guidance on how they should operate.

7) The Board of Counsellors

Clause 4.4 provides for a Board of Counsellors and sets out their role. The MCB website has a page for the Board of Counsellors but it is blank.

The MCB does list its 4 Advisors on the website.

However it is clear from the website that the Board of Counsellors is a different group of people from the Advisors; they are just not named on the website.

The most recent annual report of the MCB on its website is that for the year 2007-2008. At the back, it lists the then Board of Counsellors as:

Judge Khurshid Drabu
Professor Dawud Noibi
Professor Khurshid Ahmed
Maulana Yusuf Motalla
Dr Ali Mughram Al-Ghamdi
Adam Patel
Professor Salim Al-Hassani
Dr Abdul Raheem Khan
Dr Kamal El-Helbawy
Dr Basil Mustafa
Mr Tanzeem Wasti
Mr Misdaq Zaidi
Mr Yousuf Bhailok
Mr Ahmad Al-Rawi
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
Dr Akber Mohamedali
Mrs Unaiza Malik
Dr Daud Abdullah

Most of those named above are actively involved with the MCB in other capacities, while some were distinguished persons but not actively involved with the MCB during my time there.

The remit under the constitution of the Board of Counsellors is very unclear. For example, “the Board shall also act as the body for grievance and dispute resolution.” Does that mean, for example, that the Board of Counsellors would get involved in overturning a decision to dismiss one of the office staff?

In my two years at the MCB, the Board of Counsellors was invisible.

The Constitution is silent on how the Board of Counsellors is constituted, how long the members serve for, and how new members are elected. Clause 4.4 contains a few provisions, for example the immediate past Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General and Treasurer all become members for four years, but the provisions in clause 4.4 are seriously incomplete.

Recommendations

Concluding comments

The recommendations in this paper may be considered radical. However the MCB’s constitution needs radical reform. Apart possibly from individual membership, there is no reason why all of the reforms proposed could not be passed by special resolution at the June 2011 General Assembly meeting if the will is there.

The greatest question is whether the bodies named above who presently have effective control over the MCB are willing to relinquish their control in the interests of having a body that genuinely represents the full spectrum of British Muslim opinion.

 

The Disqus comments facility below allows you to comment on this page. Please respect others when commenting.
You can login using any of your Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Disqus identities.
Even if you are not registered on any of these, you can still post a comment.
comments powered by Disqus

 

Custom Search

Follow @Mohammed_Amin

Tap for top of page