The most powerful Islamic body in Britain admitted yesterday that it had failed to carry out even basic checks for extremism among its affiliated groups.
The Muslim Council of Britain, which represents more than 400 organisations across the country, said it “assumed” that potential members were moderates and therefore did not investigate their literature or views.
It was responding to reports in a BBC Panorama programme broadcast last night that affiliated members had aired extremist views.
A council spokesman attacked the programme as “manifestly dishonest” in its editing and accused the reporter of pursuing a “vicious vendetta” against Muslims.
Ahl-e-Hadith, a Birmingham-based affiliated group with 41 branches across the country, has an article on its website telling followers to “be different from Jews and Christians” whose “ways are based on sick or deviant views”.
Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the council, told The Daily Telegraph that affiliates were not asked if they had renounced extremism. Neither their membership nor literature was investigated.
However, there is no suggestion that the council is not genuine in its condemnation of extremism and terrorism.
“We do not have time to check the websites of every organisation,” Mr Bunglawala said. “As long as they sign a statement saying they agree to abide by the constitution and pay the ?25, they are free to join. We can’t control what our affiliates say; we are not a policing organisation.”
Panorama suggested that the council was “in denial” about sectarianism in the Muslim community.
The programme, called A Question of Leadership, also raised questions about another affiliated group, the Islamic Foundation, based in Leicester. It was said to promote the books of Sayid Maududi, the founder of the political movement Jamaa’at Islami and whose ideal state would have “no trace of western democracy”.
But Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the council’s secretary general, told the programme that Maududi was “an important scholar”. He said: “Institutions like the Islamic Foundation are playing a very important role and we are proud to have them as our affiliates.”
Fears were also raised by the comments of Dr Azzam Tamimi, of the Muslim Association of Britain, a major affiliate of the council. He told the programme, in a personal capacity, that the concept of martydom “has to be glorified”.
Mr Bunglawala, who has been appointed by the Home Office as a campaigner against extremism, wrote to the BBC to complain of a “pro-Israeli” bias to the documentary and yesterday accused John Ware, the reporter, of pursuing a “vicious vendetta” against the nation’s Muslims. He said that quotes had been shortened to manipulate meaning.
“The programme is deeply unfair. It tries to portray the scholars we admire as loonies.”
Ware responded to the allegations on BBC radio yesterday, saying: “Before even the council had seen the transcript their attack on it was blindly defensive. Our only purpose is to further a debate which many Muslims think is long overdue.”
Miss Rime Allaf, a fellow in the Middle East programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said: “It is not helpful for our understanding of suicide bombers to simplistically dissect a community and its links.”
The BBC said: “We reject any allegation of personal, programme or institutional bias and are confident that the programme is a timely contribution to the debate in Muslim communities.”