A group of Islamic fundamentalists condemning all voting as an “apostasy” today hijacked a meeting of Britain’s largest Islamic organisation which was intended to help Muslims decide how to vote at the general election.
The Muslim Council of Britain‘s (MCB) press conference was planning to launch a 10-point question card for Islamic voters to quiz candidates on, when around 15 men burst into the meeting at the Central London Mosque in Regents Park.
They condemned the council as a “mouthpiece” of the prime minister, Tony Blair, and US president, George Bush, and handed out leaflets claiming anyone voting would become a ‘kaffir’ or apostate.
An MCB spokesman dismissed the group as “loud bullies”.
The demonstration lasted 15 minutes before the men, two of them masked, left the mosque and order was restored.
Today was supposed to see the MCB, whilst not endorsing Labour per se, say that the government’s policies “offered more” to Muslims, despite massive opposition to the Iraq war.
Instead, there was chaos as the group, some of whom identified themselves as the “Saviour Sect”, burst in.
The MCB secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, suspended the press conference as one man shouted: “We are here to question the MCB and their alliance to the British government. We are here to condemn you and your organisation.” He said voting in the general election was “an act of apostasy”.
One of the masked men shouted: “Kaffirs. MCB are dirty kaffirs.”
Another man yelled: “The MCB are a mouthpiece of the British government of Tony Blair and George Bush. They don’t represent Islam. They don’t represent British Muslims.”
The group shouted militant slogans from the centre of the meeting room, surrounded by the media. As they left they were unchallenged by around 10 police officers standing outside.
The Saviour Sect leaflet handed out read: “Vote today… become Kaffir tomorrow!”
It bore photographs of Mr Blair, Conservative leader Michael Howard, the Liberal Democrats’ Charles Kennedy and George Galloway, of Respect.
“The above are all shayaateen (devils), crooks, criminals and false gods. Voting for any political party which has a policy of legislating a law is Kufr Akbar (a major apostasy) and will take you outside the fold of Islam.
“It will also nullify all your good deeds and guarantee your seat in hellfire for ever.”
Before the incident, the prime minister had been questioned about the Muslim vote at a Labour press conference in Birmingham.
He said: “The Muslim community, like other people, will judge things in the round … On public services as well as those of interest to the Muslim community.
“I know that the war was a very divisive issue in the Muslim community and elsewhere. But there were 8 million Muslims in Iraq who came and voted in the election. There’s now a democratically-elected government and every chance it will become a prosperous country.”
Before the press conference was disrupted, the MCB presented questions it suggested Britain’s 1 million Muslim voters could ask prospective MPs.
The questions included whether the candidate would support the immediate publication of a timetable for British troops to withdraw from Iraq and back new religious hatred laws to protect Muslims.
Mr Sacranie said Muslims were “the most marginalised and deprived” group in Britain but that “indulging in self-pity is not a trait of the Muslim community”.
He said every Muslim should vote as a religious and civic duty.
MCB public affairs committee chairman, Sher Khan, dismissed the interruption, saying: “The fringe elements are simply just louder and simply just bullies.”
Meanwhile, a different group of senior Islamic clerics and scholars today urged Muslim voters to back Labour, despite their anger over the Iraq war.
The group – which described itself as some of the leading scholars and spiritual figures in the British Muslim community – said in a letter to the Guardian that its disenchantment over the Iraq conflict had to be balanced against the government’s achievements in social policy.
While it urged the government to outline a “swift and responsible” exit strategy from Iraq, it said Labour had delivered “valuable changes” for Muslims. These included support for Muslim schools, the creation of so-called “Islamic mortgages”, which are nominally interest-free, and a commitment to outlaw incitement to religious hatred in a third term.
They added: “We also strongly welcome this government’s commitment to tackle and reduce poverty in third world countries and we are calling for them to commit to a firm but fair foreign policy that will prevent Britain going to war against any Muslim or non-Muslim country without the authorisation of the United Nations, and will work towards resolving the Kashmir and Palestine issues.”