Transcript: A Question of Leadership

What follows is a transcript of “A question of Leadership“, first broadcast Sunday 21 August 2005, 22:20 BST on BBC One.

This should be checked against transmission for accuracy and to ensure the clear identification of individual speakers.

Unidentified speaker: It’s a great honour to kill these people? Islam not a religion of just you speaking we got to people of action.

John Ware: Two British Muslims prepare to go on a suicide mission. They’re sent on their way to the strains of a song hailing them as heroes fighting for the homeland.

But it wasn’t their homeland. Their target was a seaside bar in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

3 civilians were killed and more than 50 injured.

The British bombers’ sole connection with Palestine was that they were Muslim.

Yet they were prepared to kill civilians for their Palestinian brothers overseas. Then came London: again the bombers were British born Muslims.

Again their target was civilians – but this time it was their fellow citizens.

Leaders of the Muslim communities were summoned to Downing Street by the Prime Minister who called on them to help root out what he termed this “evil ideology” of Islamist extremism.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister: We all accept and advocate a society of tolerance and respect for people from whatever race or religious background they come from.

John Ware: Sir Iqbal Sacranie, on the left, is generally presented as the Muslim community’s main representative. He certainly has the ear of government.

He’s the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. After the British bombing of the bar in Tel Aviv, Sir Iqbal said it hadn’t marked a growth in Islamist extremism here.

Now he does admit there is a problem.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: The Muslim community is determined to deal with this issue head on. And it will now come up with various pro active measures. That means we go into the community to address that issue.

John Ware: Extremism feeds off a conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the West are conspiring to undermine.

My journey through Muslim communities since the London bombings suggests their leaders have not acknowledged the extent to which these views are held in Britain.


John Ware: Britain has around 2 million Muslims.

Muslim leaders have condemned utterly the bombings.

And yet this murderous rage grew from within their communities.

Some influential Muslims believe the time for a full and frank debate about where Islam is going here is long over due.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Institute: I think the British people may give us benefit of doubt once this time, but if this were to be repeated, then I think the Muslim position ? future is very bleak. And knowing our community, the amount of fundamentalism and extremism that exists, I’m not quite sure that this will not happen again. “

John Ware: Dr Siddiqui is not alone in believing that sectarian attitudes extend beyond the small number of extremists.

Others doubt the Muslim Council of Britain has grasped the scale of this problem.

Mehboob Kantharia, Founding Member, Muslim Council of Britain: A lot of them still live in a state of denial. It is my personal belief that because they are in this state of denial, they cannot become real, you know, sort of like, forthright, really forthright about wanting to do something about the kind of extremism that prevails.

John Ware: Mehboob Kantharia was a founding member of the Muslim Council of Britain; generally regarded as the moderate face of Islam speaking for the Muslim community.

On its website the MCB emphasises it’s working for better community relations and for the good of society as a whole.

It’s an umbrella for around 400 mosques, and other Islamic groups.

But Mr Kantharia says that within the MCB a distaste for western secular culture still exists.

Mehboob Kantharia: One of the most powerful strands, and many will tear me up and say, ‘sorry, you’ve got it completely wrong’, has been an anti-British, anti-Western stand. We are now British, therefore this is our home, this is our country, this country is not our enemy.

John Ware: Several MCB affiliates do have links to anti western ideologies from abroad.

The Deputy General Secretary of the MCB is Dr Abdul Bari.

He’s also Chairman of the East London Mosque which has maintained good relations with other local faith groups.

Last year a ?10m new Islamic centre was opened.

The guests included Christian leaders. The Chief Rabbi and Prince Charles also sent goodwill messages.

The guest of honour was one of the most prominent clerics from Saudi Arabia – the most austere Islamic state in the world whose ideology is the polar opposite of secular Britain.

But London’s East End is home to many faiths and the Sheikh’s theme was tolerance.

Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, Imam, Ka’ba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia: The history of Islam is the best testament to how different communities can live together in peace and harmony. Muslims must exemplify the true image of Islam in their interaction with other communities.

John Ware: Sheikh Sudais is a leading Imam from the great mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

He had one voice for his Western audience – another for his followers in Saudi. Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais: The worst … of the enemies of Islam are those… whom he… made monkeys and pigs, the aggressive Jews and oppressive Zionists and those that follow them: the callers of the trinity and the cross worshippers? those influenced by the rottenness of their ideas, and the poison of their cultures the followers of secularism… How can we talk sweetly when the Hindus and the idol worshippers indulge in their overwhelming hatred against our brothers… in Muslim Kashmir…

John Ware: The East London mosque received $1m from the Saudis towards their new centre. The mosque’s links to Saudi go back many years.

The mosque’s Chairman Dr Bari remains to be convinced that his honoured guest Sheikh Sudais has repeatedly vilified other faiths.

John Ware: Do I take it that if you were satisfied he had said such things you would not have invited him over?

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Chairman, East London Mosque, Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council Of Britain: Well of course if it was proved that he exactly said this thing that you mentioned then why do you invited people who would be saying like this?

John Ware: I mean, let me say what else he’s reported to have said, he said: ‘There should be no peace with the rats of the world.’ Again he refers to Jews as the scum of the human race, offspring of apes and pigs, and he has also referred to Christians as worshippers of the cross.’ You don’t see Christians in those terms?

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: I don’t see Christians in those terms.

John Ware: You don’t see Christians in those terms?

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: No.

John Ware: No. And idol worship? you don’t see Hindus as idol worshippers, do you ? I’m sure you don’t, do you? Do you?

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well… why are you bringing all this?

John Ware: You, er, I mean you do not regard Hindus as idol worshippers?

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well Hindu… you mean the definition? When it’s idol worshipper, different people worship God in different manners.

John Ware: Mmm.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Once again you are entering into the theological debate and Muslims worship one monotheistic God and many other communities may have different versions of God.

John Ware: No, I understand that.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: The Trinity may be one of them.

John Ware: I understand that.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: And it all depends how you use the word and explain the word.

John Ware: Sure, but this is harsh.. you wouldn’t… I mean no, I accept all that, but this is different, isn’t it. This is very harsh language; this in effect denounces other faiths, Hindus, Christians and Jews.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well denouncing any faith is not acceptable in Islam, that’s not the Prophetic teaching. We need to know the source of this and this is very dangerous thing, that character assassination of Muslim scholars and leaders are getting very widespread.

John Ware: I’m not trying to assassinate his character I’m simply trying to deal with the facts. That’s all I’m trying to do.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: No, I know, you are mentioning… you are saying facts but we have a question whether these are facts.

John Ware: The facts are easily checkable – we found a selection of the Sheikh’s sermons on a Saudi website covering mosques in the holy cities of Medina and Mecca – with English translations.

Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais: Monkeys and pigs and worshippers of false Gods who are the Jews and the Zionists?

John Ware: The $1m gift from the Saudis to the East London Mosque is but a drop in the ocean compared to the billions they’ve spent spreading their narrow form of Islam around the world.

Some of the Saudi millions have been spent on new translations of the Qur’an which are less tolerant of other faiths.

Take a look at this popular English version of the Qur’an not translated by the Saudis.

It translates this verse as saying: “Those who follow the Jewish (scriptures)? and the Christians.. any who believe in Allah?and work righteousness..” can go to paradise.

Now look at this more recent version of the Qur’an, by Saudi appointed translators.

The same verse suggests Jews and Christians would only go to paradise if they “believed in Allah ?and worked righteousness..”

Other recent Saudi translations of the Qur’an make the change to the past tense even more starkly.

One of the leading British experts on the Qur’an is Professor Neal Robinson.

He says this difference in translation may seem subtle, but today casts non Muslims in a completely different light.

Professor Neal Robinson, University Louvain, Belgium: The recent Saudi translation gives the impression that only Jews and Christians before the rise of Islam could be admitted to Paradise not Jews and Christians today who believe in God, look to the coming day of judgement and do goods works.

John Ware: What do you think of this?

Professor Neal Robinson: I think this is a regrettable narrowing. They’ve not changed the interpretation of the Qur’an, this was the prevalent view in the middle ages; just as mediaeval Christians believed that outside the church there was no salvation.”

John Ware: Muslims regard the Qur’an as infallible – because they believe the texts are the divine revelations from God.

Over the last 20 years, the Saudis have flooded the world with harsher interpretations of the Qur’an, cut price and often free.

What message has this missionary zeal reinforced to Muslims about other faiths?

Professor Neal Robinson: That a Muslim cannot be a genuine friend of a non-Muslim.

Professor Neal Robinson: Their whole ideology is one of Arab and Islamic supremacy and they have little room for other more liberal Arab interpretations of Islam and no room at all for West. The West is just dismissed as decadent and secular. They have no understanding of the way in which modern secular societies have carefully separated the domains of religion and state and kept certain areas of public life free of religious influence.”

John Ware: I’ve come to Oxford to meet a Muslim academic who’s lived here for most of the last 30 years. He believes imported ideologies have hindered the development of Islam in Britain.

He doesn’t believe Britain can have a Saudi Islam, a Pakistani Islam, or any other sort of Islam that isn’t indigenous to this country. That way lies an isolated, ghettoised society.

Dr Taj Hargey runs a centre that promotes what he calls “progressive inclusive Islam.”

He says there’s a virtual apartheid in parts of Britain – self imposed by those Muslims who regard non Muslims as Kaafir – in the sense that they are inferior.

John Ware: Have you heard Muslim leaders use the word Kaafir in private to you? I mean you’re a Muslim, would they use that word to you?

Dr Taj Hargey, Chairman, Muslim Education Centre Oxford : Yes, absolutely, I’ve heard it many, many a time.

John Ware: Because they don’t use it to non-Muslims.

Dr Taj Hargey: No, but?I’ve just mentioned that, we have a one vocabulary in private and we have another vocabulary for the public domain, and that’s why you don’t hear it because you’re the public domain.

John Ware: You’ve heard it in mosques yourself?

Dr Taj Hargey: Ad infinitum and ad nauseum, it’s there, it’s with us. We see it from the time you’re a child, you’re given this idea that those people they are Kaafir, they’re unbelievers. They are not equal to you, they are different to you. You are superior to them because you have the truth, they don’t have the truth. You will go to heaven, they will go to hell. So we have this from a very young age.

John Ware: Further evidence of Saudi influence is the Ahl-e-Hadith organisation, a major affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain. Based in Birmingham, and with 41 branches across Britain it is inspired by puritanical Saudi ideology.

One part of its website tells readers their fellow citizens are “Kuffaar”. “Be different from the Jews and Christians”

“Their ways are based on sick or deviant views concerning their societies?”

Muslims are also warned that imitating the Kuffaar and attending “Christmas …..First of April lies, birthday parties..” may lead to “permanent abode in the Hell Fire”

The Secretary General of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie must perform a difficult juggling act.

The MCB is an umbrella group embracing many diverse strands of Islam. But should he also be providing a stronger lead?

John Ware: I’m quoting from Ali Hadith. As I say it’s quite an important affiliate of yours and just to give you one example from their website, they say of Jews and Christians: ‘Their ways are based on sick or deviant views’ and that ‘imitating the Kuffaar leads to a permanent abode in hellfire.’ That’s a ‘Them and Us’ culture, isn’t it, that’s a slippery slope.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain: It’s a view that they hold, it’s a view which?

John Ware: Do you subscribe that view?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: I don’t subscribe to that. I’m not a member of Ahle Hadith but it’s a membership that we have, it’s diversity that exists in the community, having different views on life.

John Ware: Isn’t it a form of diversity that you should disown?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well we must accept the reality on the ground that the diversity that we have with the Muslim Community in the UK and as long as they subscribe to our constitution, which is very clear, which is on the website and it’s totally transparent in terms of its activities of a work which is through the teachings of the Quran and upholding the principles of Islam; then what they do outside the Council, there is no control that we have on them.

John Ware: Let’s talk turkey here, you said outside downing street you’re going to deal with this problem head on. I’m not suggesting they’re your views. But if you’re going to deal with this problem head on, don’t you need to start with organisations that hold Jews and Christians for a start in such contempt? I mean that’s the slippery slope. That’s the slippery slope that people who become extremists start to go down.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well you presumably have that knowledge, I don’t think that that is one clear avenue to bringing about the conclusion that we’re trying to get to. What I’m saying is that there are of course different views being held. We would now?

John Ware: But this is an objectionable view.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: It may have well been objectionable view but the fact is it exists within the community.”

John Ware: While the MCB tolerates an affiliate that denounces other faiths, Iqbal Sacranie was famously intolerant when his own faith was insulted.

In 1989 Muslims burned copies of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses which ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed.

But while Muslims exercised their right to protest, they did not believe Rushdie had a right to free expression.

They demanded the government ban the book

Iqbal Sacranie was one of the joint protest leaders.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Attempting to insult the blessed prophet, peace be upon him, is the most serious crime in the eyes of Islamic law. The crime is considered as transgressing the limits and is worse than treason and is a capital offence.

John Ware: The Iranians had already passed the death sentence on Salman Rushdie whom they regarded as a Muslim.

Their Fatwa said every Muslim had a duty to execute it.

Mindful perhaps of British law, Iqbal Sacranie was reported as saying:

“Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him?” but he still expected Rushdie to be mentally tormented for the rest of his life.

John Ware: Today you still believe that if ‘Satanic Verses’ was published again, you would expect the government of the day to put pressure on the publishers to withdraw it?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well I?

John Ware: Would you?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: There is no?

John Ware: But would you?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: There is no law at the moment, sadly, that would enable me to pursue with a legal course of.. of seeking its withdrawal.

John Ware: If by ‘sadly’ – I take it you wish there was a law which would allow you to withdraw a book of this kind should it be published again. Is that right?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If the law that we would like to sort of see appear, a law does not prevent totally, it’s a very powerful message that goes out in type of what sort of society we have. We respect the freedom of expression but we expect freedom of expression to be exercised with responsibility.”

John Ware: With the Rushdie protests, a new ideology burst into the British arena: Islamism – the fusion of a politics and faith. Where had this come from? I’m on my way to the organisation that mobilised the Rushdie protests. It too is an important affiliate of the MCB.

It was once described as the most influential outpost of militant Islamist ideology in the West – it’s based in Leicester.

The Islamic Foundation was set up in 1974 by leading figures in an Islamist opposition party from Pakistan.

The Jamma’at Islami wants Pakistan to become an Islamic state governed by Sharia holy law.

Professor Kurshid Ahmad: So they thought this is an eminent danger… Chairman and Rector of the Islamic Foundation here in Leicester is also the Vice President of Jamaat Islami – Professor Kurshid Ahmad.

For the professor, Islam is not only a religion but a political manifesto for changing the world.

Professor Kurshid Ahmad: Islam is a revolutionary message. Islam wants the whole of mankind to accept God as creator and to live in God’s presence, in his grace.

John Ware: The Islamic Foundation was a key player in the creation of the Muslim Council of Britain in 1997.

We have spoken to a number of influential Muslims, including some on the MCB, who believe ideology from Pakistan still exerts an undue influence in the MCB.

Dr Taj Hargey: The Muslim Council of Britain is mainly composed of Indo Pakistanis. They have a very narrow, in my view a conservative view of Islam. They toe the line generally of what conservative groups in places like Pakistan preach, and here in Pakistan we have the ascendancy of a group known as Jamaa’at Islami who are quite rigid and quite inflexible, and to a large extent the MCB replicates the ideology of Pakistan and other places in the subcontinent. “

John Ware: The ideologue and founder of the Jamaa’at Islami was Sayid Mawdudi.

He divided the world into believers and non believers.

“God likes Muslims and dislikes Kafirs” he decreed.

He said his international revolutionary party should be called simply; “Muslims”

“The truth is that Islam is a revolutionary ideology which seeks to alter the social order of the entire world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals.”

The Islamic Foundation’s on-line book sales promote the ideology of Mawdudi.

They are currently translating his commentaries on the Qur’an from Urdu to English, describing them as “fully relevant to the concerns of our day.”

John Ware: “It’s not clear to me what relevance Maududi has to the lives, every day lives, of most British Muslims. But your institution promotes Maududi.. I mean it’s absolutely top of the list on your online book?

Kurshid Ahmad: I think that is a total misconstruction of our objectives. Maulana Maududi I said is one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century Islam. We respect his views and we have also published some of his works.

John Ware: You don’t think the idea of Islam being a revolutionary ideology is potentially a dangerous one for young Muslims living in a secular country?

Kurshid Ahmad: Not at all, not at all. It’s a blessing.

John Ware: It’s a blessing?

Kurshid Ahmad: It’s a blessing because what is a revolutionary idea? A revolutionary idea means that let people try to change the world on the basis of values of faith in Allah, justice, service to humanity, peace and solidarity. So revolution is not something to be afraid of.”

John Ware: Professor Ahmad’s view that Mawdudi ideology is relevant to British Muslims is by no means shared by all the teaching staff.

Much of the Foundation’s work is devoted to building bridges with other faiths. Dr Taj Hargey: This Foundation has done some sterling work in many ways. But I think it has a double message. It has a public persona and it’s got a private persona, and the public persona talks about bridge building, talks about inter faith relations, talks about integration and so forth and so forth. But the real inner core is quite a different message. It’s intolerant, it’s rigid, it’s exclusive. So I think we have a schizophrenic ah? movement here. “

John Ware: The British Establishment has focused on that side of the Foundation that builds bridges with non Muslims.

It’s had glowing testimonials from the Foreign Office.

Eighteen months ago Prince Charles opened a new block here.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales: The prime focus for the Islamic Foundation is the promotion of first-rate scholarship and learning, embodying the vision of the founder, the current Chairman and our host today, Professor Kurshid Ahmad.”

John Ware: Perhaps the Prince was unaware of that part of Professor Ahmad’s vision that promotes Mawdudi as a model for British Muslims.

In Mawdudi’s ideal Islamic state, private and public life would be inseparable. In this respect it would bear

“A kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states”

Of lawmaking, he said: “Islam has no trace of Western democracy.”

John Ware: “Quite a lot of the stuff you’ve written and spoken about contains a very strong streak of antagonism against western held?

Kurshid Ahmad: I’m not anti-Western?

John Ware: ? Western culture.

Kurshid Ahmad: This is a total misreading of the situation. In fact in a way I am Western because my education throughout has been in the Western tradition. West to me in that presentation does not represent a particular region. It is a question of values. If?

John Ware: You’re very contemptuous of secularism, put it like that.

Kurshid Ahmad: Exactly. So what I say is.

John Ware: But this is a secular country.

Kurshid Ahmad: Well I am a secularist and I am concerned about secular issues but when I criticise secularism is that approach where we tried to resolve human issues by denying the relevance of religion and divine guidance and values. So Mawdudi has tried to emphasise the moral, the spiritual, the religious approach to life and all its problems, and from that viewpoint his thoughts are relevant to the people in Pakistan, in the Arab world, in Europe, in America, everywhere.”

John Ware: Do you think it is right for the Islamic Foundation to be promoting the works of Mawdudi?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: He’s a. he’s an important scholar and Mawdudi is a renowned scholar and if they feel that his works would help the understanding in the society then. I have read many of his books and I believe he is one of the scholars that I certainly feel is an inspiration to many of us. Institutions like the Islamic Foundation are playing a very important role and we are proud to have them as our affiliates.”

John Ware: Sheikh Mousa Admani is an Imam in inner London. He’s talked several angry young Muslims out of extremism.

The urgent priority, he says, is for a leadership that can articulate a clear cut vision.

Sheikh Musa Admani, Imam, London Metropolitan University: You cannot serve the Muslim community while looking to the east and ideologies that are alien to Islam in the first place. The British people have to be made comfortable that they are not facing another direction, their Islam is not incompatible to being British.”

John Ware: One overt sign of separateness is that of Muslim women covering themselves.

It’s becoming commonplace in Britain.

Some women do it for cultural reasons – some for religious.

The Muslim Council of Britain has recently helped politicise the issue in state schools.

This is Shebina Begum. She took her school to court demanding the right to wear this robe that flows down to the ankles. It’s called a jilbab. She was a pupil in Luton at Denbigh High school which is mainly Muslim. Pupils, parents and governors had already agreed a uniform to guard their modesty, as the Qur’an exhorts: a tunic with loose fitting trousers. Shebina claimed it was her religious right to wear this loose fitting robe. She was advised by the women’s section of the radical Hizb ut Thahrir group, which the government is planning to ban.

Although she was only 16, it was the authentic voice of fundamentalism that many heard.

Shebina Begum: As a young woman growing up in then post 9/11 Britain I have witnessed a great deal of bigotry from the media, politicians, legal officials; this bigotry resulted from my choice a piece of cloth, not out of force but out of my faith and belief in Islam.”

John Ware: The case has provoked much heated debate – especially within Muslim communities.

Dr Taj Hargey: Jilbab, it’s a cultural phenomenon. It is not a religious thing. There is no religious verse, there is no Qur’anic ayah, there is nothing in the Qur’an that says you must wear the jilbab.”

John Ware: Even though Ms Begum appeared to be following a fundamentalist agenda, the MCB supported her, describing the ban as “extremely worrying”.

One former member of the MCB is highly critical.

John Ware: Why do you think the MCB? did support her case?

Mehboob Kantharia, MCB Central Working Committee 1997-2004: Well it’s, you know, another feather in their hat, isn’t it? To stand up for every issue that affects the Muslim community up and down the UK. Whether legitimate within Islamic precepts or not. I mean, for goodness sake, this was the opportunity for them to be counted.

They needed to send out a clear message to the whole of the Muslim community up and down the country, that, “Look, we shouldn’t be creating a fight because we want to fight on religious grounds, when religion doesn’t actually come into this.

John Ware: What he’s saying is that you are fundamentally about rights, rights, rights, and not enough about responsibilities. That’s his point.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well the teaching of Islam gives greater emphasis on responsibilities than rights, and one needs to look at our document, the pocket guide that is prepared: “Rights and Responsibilities” and you will see as much as one acknowledges the rights that we have in a society, it gives greater emphasis on the responsibilities that we have to the society in which we live in. But we do not believe in double standards, we ensure that people have that clear right to exercise what is there for the person.”

John Ware: The Appeal Court has ruled in favour of Shebina Begum. Backed by the government, the school is appealing to the House of Lords.

She described it as “victory for all Muslims” – a victory that was welcomed by the MCB.

Inayat Bunglawala, Media Secretary, MCB: This is clearly a landmark decision. A very important ruling, sending a very clear signal that personal freedoms and right to practice one’s faith ought to be respected.”

John Ware: The MCB’s claim to represent the Muslim Community might suggest that most British Muslims want their faith to be politicised.

But there’s no such thing as a homogenous “Community” here because Muslims come from so many different traditions.

I’m on my way to meet what’s sometimes called the “silent majority” of British Muslims.

Their leaders say they don’t want to be represented by the MCB. One told me: “The MCB’s big problem is that they Islamise absolutely everything.” This is the Ghamkol Sharif mosque in Perry Bar, Birmingham – the face of traditional Islam.

Muslims here follow the Suffi stream – like most in Britain.

They do not politicise their faith; theirs is personal and spiritual.

At the mosque is Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui. A decade ago he believed that Islam and politics should be fused. Now he thinks the only way Muslims will join the mainstream is if that link is broken.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Institute: Our children will not mix, meet, play with other children because they were Kaffir. This is very worrying.

John Ware: Dr Siddiqui believes that by politicising issues like the Jilbab, the Muslim Council of Britain is doing Muslims few favours.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Institute: I thought it was very unfortunate because I was talking to some friends in MCB and our feeling was that jilbab would put the Muslim community beyond the pale. It’s more of a fundamentalist agenda rather than an Islamic agenda. So my first reaction was that of course it’s a victory for human rights but it’s also a victory of fundamentalism in this country.”

John Ware: The point that’s being suggested here is that this is an example, another example, of the MCB playing politics with religion in a secular country.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Religion plays an important role in our daily lives. We cannot totally disengage with religion, with politics. It is ? Islam is a way of life.

Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui: I think by and large this is the direction the Muslim community is taking: rights and no obligations, leading to victim hood, grievance culture. We don’t seem to be grasping what makes a people respectable, lovable, likable. You know, if you are a problem person, who wants to know you?

John Ware: The MCB argues that because their faith dictates their private and public conduct, they act out of principle – not out of opportunism, like some politicians.

This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day was organised by the government to mark the 60th anniversary of the most shameful event in modern European history.

Tony Blair, Prime Minister: For many here today, the Holocaust survivors, there is no need to state this day’s significance.”

John Ware: While some Muslims went, the MCB chose to stay away.

John Ware: You supported the boycott.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Not the boycott we did not boycott it, what we said?

John Ware: You didn’t go to it.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: No. That doesn’t? a boycott has a? a boycott has a total.. a different connotations. It denies the… We do not deny the fact that that?

John Ware: Well how would you define your non presence at Holocaust Day, being the only faith group that wasn’t present, how would you define it?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: No, that was wrong, there were people who attended from the Muslim faith.

John Ware: No, the Muslim Council of Britain. How would you define.. if it wasn’t a boycott, how would you define your decision not to attend?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Indeed, a very principled position we have taken. Of course we share the pain and the grief of our Jewish friends when they.. when they suffered the pain through the holocaust, but the point is that it has to be taken all of them.

John Ware: The principle the MCB say they were defending was to make Holocaust Memorial Day more “inclusive”.

They wrote to the Home Office saying they would only attend if the event included “the sufferings of all people” and in particular what they called

“Other ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world, notably in the occupied Palestinian territories, Chechnya Kashmir etc.” John Ware: If it had been a principle.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Yes?

John Ware: I would respectfully suggest you would have included all kinds of conflicts all over the world involving not just Muslims but other faiths. You chose Kashmir, Chechnya, Palestine, in the reverse order.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If you look at the statement, and I would strongly advise you to look at the statement, advise you to look at what was the document which was submitted to the Home Office which made it absolutely clear that it is all atrocities? Rwanda, Bosnia, it happened to be the fact, it is there, the vast majority of atrocities that we have seen in these modern times have been Muslims.

John Ware: You’ve cited Rwanda in your statement?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: It is, it was cited there, it’s been quoted time and again.

John Ware: In your statement to the Home Office?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Indeed it is. It’s clearly been mentioned.”

John Ware: It’s true – the MCB did cite Rwanda – but only after the story broke accusing them of boycotting Holocaust Memorial day.

When the MCB published their letter to the Home Office it mentioned by name only Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir.

Sheikh Mousa Admani: An issue, a tragedy that happened in history, that people are commemorating, where we should have been shoulder to shoulder, was turned into to politics. So MCB could guide the Muslim community. We may be angry about some Israeli policies but we are not angry about Jews.

John Ware: After the London bombings the MCB’s General Secretary went to Leeds, where three of the bombers had lived.

At this impromptu press conference Sir Iqbal Sacranie focused on the conduct of the Police.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Immediately when the raids were carried out, there’s hardly any communication with the community leaders. We’ve had cases where the pressures on some of the family members while not directly involved with the people who had committed the crime, have been under immense pressure, and their personal material has been removed and been displayed in the national press. This I will be taking up with the commissioner of Police when I see him tomorrow.

John Ware: For their part, the Metropolitan Police have expressed concern at the failure of Muslim communities to recognise when preachers cross the line into incitement to hate.

This is Leeds Grand mosque.

Friends of one of the bombers say he spent a lot of time here. Abdullah Jamal exploded the bomb that killed 26 people on the Piccadilly line.

He was born Germaine Lindsay but changed his name at 15 – also persuading his mother to convert to Islam.

Leeds Grand Mosque was also a place where Sir Iqbal Sacranie chose to pray when he visited the city.

It too is an affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain- and the only mosque in Leeds that follows a political version of Islam.

Some sermons by Shayhk Muhammed Taher look beyond Leeds to the global fraternity of Islam – the Ummah.

The themes are familiar: the supremacy of Islam, and a conviction that Christians and Jews are plotting to undermine it.

Shayhk Muhammed Taher: The treatment of Muslim prisoners on Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Zionist prisons in Palestine. All this is the result of a poisoned culture and is deliberate.

John Ware: The message is that the “War on Terror” is in truth a “War on Islam”

Shayhk Muhammed Taher: We know the reason behind the United States attack on the Muslim World… we have come to see only? their plotting to decrease the faith..”

The sermons at Leeds mosque are in Arabic. Medhdi Lock attended the mosque and translated some of them into English when he was President of the Islamic Society at Leeds University.

Nicholas Mehdi Lock, Teacher, Nottingham Islamia School: The mentality that really infuriated me… really irritated me was that, was the victim mentality, the sort of mentality that we’re victims and they’re doing this to us and they’re causing us this… and they’re humiliating us and subjugating us and we wish they’d stop and why don’t they

John Ware: And is this Israel or the West generally?

Nicholas Mehdi Lock: The West generally.” Shayhk Muhammed Taher: Today we are witnessing a vicious Zionist-Crusader attack, Godless and full of hatred on this Ummah. John Ware: “Do you think that a prayer including this phrase: ‘Today we are witnessing a vicious Zionist crusader attack Godless and full of hatred on this Ummah’ is a helpful healthy, right sort of, message to give to Muslims in Britain today?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: The message to be given out in Britain is to pass the reality of the world we are living in. If there are issues of injustices they must be brought forward we need to be aware of it. We cannot silence the voices that speak against injustices.

John Ware: Another message, ‘We know the reason behind the United States attack on the Muslim world, we have come to see only they are plotting to decrease their faith’ that’s a clear statement that the war on terror is a war on Islam. Now whatever your view about Iraq, would you not accept that the Prime Minister, however misguided he may or may not be, has not gone to war with Iraq because he wants to ‘do down’ Islam?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: The war on terror has been a failure and this…

John Ware: That’s not my question, but is it a war on Islam.. is it a War on Islam?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: The war on terror has been a total failure, the way it’s been perceived, the way it’s been fought. When you try to occupy Afghanistan, when you see what is happening in Iraq, the people on other ground view this war on terror, this is their perception.

John Ware: Indeed. Is it not your responsibility, as the leader of the Muslim community in effect in Britain, whatever your views about the Iraq war to disabuse the Muslim population of Britain that whatever is going on in Iraq is not a war against Islam?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Now, in terms of the motives behind.. nobody knows about, we don’t know about it..

John Ware: You are playing politics again aren’t you.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: It is.

John Ware: You are playing politics with religion.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: We are playing.

John Ware: You are playing politics with religion.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: We are being factual, you don’t want to accept the reality of what Islam is in its daily life.

John Ware: Isn’t it important for you as the leader of the Muslim community in Britain to put the Imam of the Leeds Mosque right when he says that the war in Iraq is about plotting to decrease the faith of Islam.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Our job is not to go and monitor what every single Imam in this country is delivering at the Friday Khutbah. This is perhaps an over estimation of what we as a community organisation can do. We have representatives from across the country, organisations that take our view, it’s such a diverse group of membership that we can only agree upon the common denominator, the lowest common denominator. “

George Galloway, MP: Blair must go; Bush must go. Victory to the Intifada. Long Live Palestine. Long live the people of Iraq, thank you.”

John Ware: The joint-organisers of this demonstration see themselves as the conscience of the Muslim Council of Britain.

The Muslim Association of Britain is a major affiliate of the MCB and rallies young Muslims to the cause of their brothers and sisters in Palestine and Iraq. These placards equating Zionism with Nazi Germany were displayed on MAB’s website.

They’ve appeared regularly at MAB organised rallies.

A Palestinian who often acts as a senior spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain is Dr Azzam Tamimi.

On behalf of MAB he has avowedly promoted Islam as a political ideology.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: They are fighting a war against the world of Islam..”

John Ware: Dr Tamimi has condemned the London bombings.

But he supports suicide bombings in Israel and the resistance in Iraq.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: Nobody wages a war against Allah and wins. Nobody. They are going to lose. They are going to lose Allah Akhbar; Allah Akhbar; Allah Akhba.

John Ware: The Israel-Palestine conflict is over land and holy sites.

It’s a rallying cry for young martyrs in the global Ummah.

Islamist groups like Hamas have used terrorist tactics against Israel because they want to destroy it.

Israeli military operations targeting the Islamists have also caused many civilian deaths.

The Islamists have deliberately targeted Israeli civilians in cafes, clubs and buses using suicide bombers.

Gavin Esler: You know innocent lives are taken among the Palestinians and also among the Israelis. Isn’t that plain wrong in London, it’s wrong in Madrid, it’s wrong anywhere. Azzam Tamimi: It’s wrong in London, it’s wrong in Madrid. Palestine is a completely different situation because the Palestinians are reacting to Israeli oppression.”

Mehboob Kantharia: I was abhorred by his statement, I mean I couldn’t believe that here was a man who was leading a so-called credible organisation known as the Muslim Association of Britain sending out a clear message to not just the young Muslims of this country but every other young person who have some radical ideas that it was okay to become a suicide bomber, to correct an injustice somewhere else in the world. I mean just to use your body.. you know.. as a bomb to go and kill your fellow human beings. “

John Ware: Following the London bombings, to stop more young British Muslims being drawn into terrorism the government says it will prosecute anyone who glorifies terrorism – wherever it happens.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: I don’t glorify killing anybody. I explain, I… my job is to explain. I explain why people resort to certain tactics in certain contexts.

John Ware: So when you said for example: ‘For us Muslims, martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things.’ That’s more than explanation, that’s glorification, isn’t it. Glorification?

Dr Azzam Tamimi: Martyrdom is an Islamic concept. You cannot rule it out of Islam. If people abuse it, or use it in the wrong place, or kill innocent people and call it martyrdom, that’s something else. But martyrdom is definitely an Islamic concept.

John Ware: ‘The blood of martyrs provides nourishment and sustenance for those who continue this struggle.’ That’s more than explanation, isn’t it, that’s glorification – isn’t it?

Dr Azzam Tamimi: Well if you.. if you occupy other people’s lands, people have to..

John Ware: No, I’m sorry, just answer the question. You said all you do is explain, you don’t glorify it, and I’m saying that what you’ve said goes further than that, I think it does glorify.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: So what?

John Ware: Well does it or doesn’t it?

Dr Azzam Tamimi: It has to be attached to a context. What are we talking about? About the concept of martyrdom in general which means offering yourself for the sake of defending your homeland, for the sake of defending your community, then that has to be glorified of course.

John Ware: You said that martyrdom in Israel is quotes: “divine bliss”. That’s glorifying, that is glorifying the tactics in another country irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli government, that is glorifying a terrorist tactic, the same tactic that was used in London. You Mr Tamimi are an apologist for terrorism, aren’t you?

Dr Azzam Tamimi: If you want to consider me so that’s up to you.”

John Ware: After the London bombings, the MCB convened a special meeting at London’s central mosque.

40 of Britain’s most prominent scholars and clerics gathered. The MCB hoped a joint declaration would remove any ambiguity about where everyone stood over suicide bombings.

Moulana Mohammed Shahid Raza, President, World Islamic Mission of Europe: In the name of Allah, we regard these acts as utterly criminal totally reprehensible and absolutely un-Islamic.”

John Ware: In London, yes.

But what about British Muslims carrying out suicide bombings in other parts of the world – as several already have in Israel and Kashmir.

John Ware: It seems to me that you have not entirely clarified the point as to whether it is also Haram, forbidden against the law, a crime, if British Muslims commit suicide bombings somewhere else – it doesn’t matter where. Anywhere.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: My understanding is, that any British Muslim anywhere outside the country, to commit suicide, would that be acceptable in Islam? No, that’s my position ..I don’t think any scholars…

John Ware: Imam Raza who had been introduced as Britain’s foremost Muslim scholar, went a step further:

The declaration applied, he said, not just to British suicide bombers, but to every suicide bomber everywhere.

Moulana Mohammed Shahid Raza, President, World Islamic Mission of Europe: Any Muslim youth, any Muslim man or woman, going anywhere on the globe targeting civilians anywhere by suicide bombing is Harram”

John Ware: But Harram – forbidden – is not at all how the senior spokesman of the Muslim Association of Britain sees it – though he stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity to me.

Dr Azzam Tamimi: That’s a political statement produced under duress, under pressure. I don’t agree that all human bombs anywhere in the world are the same, I would love to see no more of this weapon used anywhere but there are certainly differences and whoever claims that there are no differences and they are all the same is simply confusing the issue.

John Ware: How many people in the Muslim Association of Britain share your view about suicide bombings and Israel being martyrdom operations would you say?

Dr Azzam Tamimi: Well I’d say most Muslims around the world share this opinion.” John Ware: So, where exactly does the Muslim Council of Britain – stand on Islamist groups that use suicide bombers against civilians wherever they are?

Last year Sir Iqbal Sacranie paid his respects to the ideological chief of Hamas the group responsible for dozens of suicide bombings targeted directly at Israeli civilians. gunfire

An Israeli missile strike on Sheikh Yassin killed him in the street, his son, his bodyguards and five civilians.

After his funeral in Gaza, the Central Mosque in London arranged a memorial service for him.

Sir Iqbal chose to attend, and the MCB hailed Sheik Yassin as “the renowned Islamic scholar.”

John Ware: It’s one thing supporting the Palestinians and it’s another, isn’t it, supporting the theological justification which Sheikh Yassin gave to the murder of civilians.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: He may have given that…

John Ware: Well there’s no may about it, he did, he was the spiritual leader and the ideological leader of a terrorist movement.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: In your terms, if it means fighting occupation is a terrorist movement, that is not a view that is being shared by many people. Those who fight oppression, those who fight occupation, cannot be termed as terrorist, they are freedom fighters, in the same way as Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid, in the say way as Ghandi and many others fought the British rule in India. There are people in different parts of the world who today, in terms of historical side of it, those who fought oppression are now the real leaders of the world.

John Ware: Do you think targeting Israeli civilians is terrorism?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Targeting any innocent people in any part of the world, any part, is an act of terror, whether it’s carried out by individuals, whether this is carried out by groups or whether it’s carried out by states, all fits in the definition of terrorism.

John Ware: So if Hamas is targeting civilians in Israel, that’s terrorism, is it?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well, I’ve explained to you?

John Ware: No, no…

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Hold on, whether it is Hamas, whether it is Israel, whether it’s anybody else, any part of the world, we have no distinction. Why are you making it such a difficult question? In simple answer to it, loss of innocent civilian life, we make no distinction between the life of a Palestinian or the life of a Jew. They are all part of human race and life is? there is a sacred? a sanctity in terms of life.

John Ware: So you say. In which case, why did you pay homage to a man who promoted the targeting of Israeli civilians? It’s a very simple question.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: I’ve given you a very simple straight answer earlier on. You just need to refer to my answer. Someone who fought against occupation, fought against subjugation?

John Ware: Using terrorism by your definition, using terrorism.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If anybody.. if there are.. if they are aiming at civilians in terms of loss of life, then we don’t accept that.

John Ware: Then why do you pay homage to him, why just.. you.. you did not have to go to that memorial service in the central mosque, did you, you could have chosen not to go.

A: The point is as a person, and as a responsible person of an organisation, an umbrella body, that has affiliates across the country.

John Ware: Well let them go.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Hold on, hold on. Whoever is organising that, we have a responsibility, we have a responsibility to steer through issues that are very important to the community, issues that are… we are facing day in day out from organisations…

John Ware: Alright but you’ve got a responsibility too, haven’t you, to lead.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Indeed.

John Ware: And set by example.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Indeed.

John Ware: What signal does it send when the general secretary, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain goes and pays homage to someone who supports suicide bombings in Israel?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well..

John Ware: Hang on, what kind of signal does that send to young Muslims in Britain?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If your whole question is based upon one aspect of that person’s belief in terms of supporting it, we look into the wider picture. The suicide bombing that you’re referring to is one aspect of the whole struggle.”

John Ware: When the London bombs went off, the Mayor of London, amongst others, insisted there was no relationship between terrorism and Islam. This evening I’m on my way to a debate packed with young Muslims.

The exchanges are full and frank.

Abu Muntasir, Muslim Youth Leader: This happened in Britain to our people and worst of all in the name of Islam. And that’s.. that jolted us, it’s like saying, ‘well we always knew it was wrong, never had the guts to come and say so’, but it.. it’s been happening for so long in Iraq and Palestine and some people still justify it, and I would.. we can’t?” John Ware: What about the loyalty of Muslims to what’s sometimes called the worldwide nation of Islam – the Ummah.

John Ware: Do you think that that out of this defining moment will come a new relationship between British Muslims and the Ummah?

Ehsan Masood, Project Director, The Gateway Trust: We’re all part of one global Muslim family but I would argue that you can also look a it another way: if someone in my family screws up, you know, I’ll give them a good bollocking, er, in the nicest possible way. But that responsibility is not something that we’re always prepared to own up to.

Shahedah Vawda, Executive Committee, The City Circle: I mean just coming back the question took me totally off guard but just to say that I think maybe that we are lacking, where we’re lacking is we haven’t effectively channelled that anger or that fear or that out pouring of rage that you, pain that you feel when you see fellow Muslims being massacred.

John Ware: Here were confident voices, some wanting those leaders who claim to speak for them to jettison their political baggage.

Ehsan Masood: All our community organisations? have very deep roots in very different Islamic movements abroad, whether it was in Pakistan or Bangladesh or in the Arab world or in South East Asia… A lot of that residue is still there, a lot of our organisations, and it’s very clear to me now that have moved on from there, and there’s been quite a big shift in thinking. But it may take another generation to completely go.

John Ware: One visiting speaker has already begun that journey. Once a hardliner, he has softened his ideological stance.

Abu Muntasir: If my death could restore the life of all those victims, I would gladly die, I would die, I would have myself executed because I feel much scared because non-Muslims would hurt me, I am hurt because innocent people have died and that’s because I’m a Muslim.

Unidentified Speaker: “The jewel of creation most holy most the prophet is so beautiful he’s beyond compare most holy most rare..” John Ware: The battle for Muslim minds in Britain is well under way.

It’s a battle of ideas – between those for whom Islam is personal – and those who also wish to pursue Islam as a political ideology, fuelled by the rages and injustices of much of the Islamic world.

The outcome of this battle will help shape British society in the 21st century. If you visit our website you can read the thoughts of other leading British Muslims on some of the topics raised in the programme.

And you can join the debate by sending your own comments to Panorama’s website.

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Aug. 21, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday August 22, 2005.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at