Fundamentalist interpretations of Islam that restrict women's rights are rising, says former leading imam

Mosques using a literal interpretation of the Qu'ran to restrict women's rights are becoming more common in the UK, a former imam has said.

The comments, from a leading Islamic expert, follow revelations that some British mosques are commanding women not to go out without a male chaperone, not to wear jeans and to avoid Facebook.

Dr Salah al-Ansari, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Quilliam Foundation, said this misinterpretation of Islam, which take the Prophet Mohammed's words on the role of women out of their proper social and historical context, was "very irritating to moderate Muslims."

"This literalist interpretation has been on the increase since the 1970s onwards," he told The Independent.

"And even if it is not being published, it is being said behind closed doors, which is actually the more likely scenario. It is serious."

The Blackburn Muslim Association is one of the groups which has published orthodox rulings, including one on women not travelling more than 48 miles without a male chaperone.

Dr al-Ansari, who is a former imam at the London Central Mosque, said that rules on women's clothing were not written anywhere in the Q'uran.

Instead the rule was part of the hadith, which are a collection of stories told about the Prophet's actions that traditionally are held to be flexibly interpretable.

In the historical setting in which they were spoken and written, women often took a male chaperone with them because they were genuinely unsafe, Dr al-Ansari said. "In another story, the Prophet says he imagines a time when a woman can travel from Yemen to Mecca only with the presence of God.

"What we are criticising are these literal interpretations, they are not fitting with the modern day."

The Croydon Mosque and Islamic Centre also published a document entitled "Advice for the husband and wife," since taken down from the group's website, which said a woman should seek her husband's permission before leaving the house and "should not do so without his knowledge".

According to The Times, another article described modelling and acting as "immoral acts."

"If we follow this literalist interpretation, we actually risk making the Prophet say contradictions," Dr al-Ansari said.