Newsmaker: An appealing combination

Ghulam Rasool, head of the Faith and Social Cohesion Unit at the Charity Commission, aims to improve governance among religious charities.

Ghulam Rasool
Ghulam Rasool

The main themes of Ghulam Rasool's life are education and faith. He has always worked in these areas and even counts working in inter-faith settings and improving social cohesion as hobbies. No wonder he gets a little frustrated when asked to sum up his career. "My life is very diverse and my employment doesn't reflect the full picture," he says.

Rasool is a trained imam, a qualified teacher and an inter-faith charity champion. He is also head of the new Faith and Social Cohesion Unit at the Charity Commission. "The words 'faith' and 'social cohesion' were an appealing combination," he says. "Faith is not seen negatively, but as something that can bring people together."

Rasool's day-to-day job is likely to be more practical than this observation suggests: the unit's main task is to improve governance among religious charities. Work will start with Muslim organisations. "Our intention is to work with all faiths, but we have to start with one group because of resource issues," he says. "Islam is the second-largest religion in the UK and the fastest-growing."

The commission has 343 mosques on its register, but there are more than 1,200 in England and Wales. The unit's work will include improving the governance of registered mosques and encouraging others to sign up.

Rasool says the main issue will be to challenge the perception that the commission is there only to apply the law and police people's faith. "We need to explain the benefits of registration," he says. "Many charities face issues of financial sustainability, something tax relief could help with. But registration will also improve their governance and accountability by giving them access to support and guidance."

Another problem is awareness. "The people who run mosques are capable but, like everyone else, they can upgrade their knowledge," he says.

These issues were raised in a number of consultations organised by the Charity Commission, religious bodies such as the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body and government departments. He says this explains why Muslim charities got first pick.

"There has not been anywhere near the same level of interest in and consultation with other faiths," he says. "I'd like to see more commitment from other groups to keep the momentum of the unit's work going."

The unit is recruiting seven outreach workers and managers who will work in four areas: Yorkshire, the Midlands, London and Lancashire. Rasool is based in Birmingham and commutes to London three days a week.

The funding - £1.2m from the Department for Communities and Social Cohesion - runs out in 2009, at the same time as the programme for Muslim organisations ends. The commission is looking for new sources of funding to ensure other faiths can benefit from lessons learnt with mosques.

Rasool insists the project does not mean that religious charities are receiving an unfair amount of attention and funding. "Faith-based charities are a growing and vibrant part of the sector," he says. "It's an important element of modern-day Britain; our consultations suggest there is a desire for more interaction with the commission."

He is also adamant that the faith unit will not be linked to the terrorism unit. "Our policy is that both worlds are kept separate because, once they become linked, they pollute our vision and corrupt our independence."

Religious charities will be under the spotlight in 2008. The unit will be fully staffed by the New Year, public benefit requirements will come into force and a number of previously excepted and exempted religious organisations will have to register with the commission. One thing is clear: Rasool is in for a busy year.

<h2>Rasool CV</h2>

2007: Head of Faith and Social Cohesion Unit, Charity Commission

2007: National mosque capacity-building coordinator and membership development officer, British Muslim Forum

2001: Secondary school teacher

1998: Imam and homework club coordinator

1996: City challenge & urban renewal housing community caseworker, Black Country Housing Association

1993: Community and benefits adviser, Citizens Advice Bureau.

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