Almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hardline Islamic sect whose leading preacher loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah, an investigation by The Times has found.
Riyadh ul Haq, who supports armed jihad and preaches contempt for Jews, Christians and Hindus, is in line to become the spiritual leader of the Deobandi sect in Britain. The ultra-conservative movement, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques, according to a police report seen by The Times.
The Times investigation casts serious doubts on government statements that foreign preachers are to blame for spreading the creed of radical Islam in Britain’s mosques and its policy of enouraging the recruitment of more “home-grown” preachers.
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Mr ul Haq, 36, was educated and trained at an Islamic seminary in Britain and is part of a new generation of British imams who share a similar radical agenda. He heaps scorn on any Muslims who say they are “proud to be British” and argues that friendship with a Jew or a Christian makes “a mockery of Allah’s religion”.
Seventeen of Britain’s 26 Islamic seminaries are run by Deobandis and they produce 80 per cent of home-trained Muslim clerics. Many had their studies funded by local education authority grants. The sect, which has significant representation on the Muslim Council of Britain, is at its strongest in the towns and cities of the Midlands and northern England.
Figures supplied to The Times by the Lancashire Council of Mosques reveal that 59 of the 75 mosques in five towns — Blackburn, Bolton, Preston, Oldham and Burnley — are Deobandi-run.
It is not suggested that all British Muslims who worship at Deobandi mosques subscribe to the isolationist message preached by Mr ul Haq, and he himself suggests Muslims should only “shed blood” overseas.
But while some Deobandi preachers have a more cohesive approach to interfaith relations, Islamic theologians say that such bridge-building efforts do not represent mainstream Deobandi thinking in Britain.
The Times has gained access to numerous talks and sermons delivered in recent years by Mr ul Haq and other graduates of Britain’s most influential Deobandi seminary near Bury, Greater Manchester.
Intended for a Muslim-only audience, they reveal a deep-rooted hatred of Western society, admiration for the Taleban and a passionate zeal for martyrdom “in the way of Allah”.
The seminary outlaws art, television, music and chess, demands “entire concealment” for women and views football as “a cancer that has infected our youth”.
Mahmood Chandia, a Bury graduate who is now a university lecturer, claims in one sermon that music is a way in which Jews spread “the Satanic web” to corrupt young Muslims.
“Nearly every university in England has a department which is called the music department, and in others, where the Satanic influence is more, they call it the Royal College of Music,” he says.
Another former Bury student, Bradford-based Sheikh Ahmed Ali, hails the 9/11 attacks on America because they acted as a wake-up call to young Muslims. This, he says, taught them that they will “never be accepted” in Britain and has led them to “return to Islam: sisters are wearing hijab . . . the lion is waking up”.
Mr ul Haq, the most high-profile of the new generation of Deobandis, runs an Islamic academy in Leicester and is the former imam at the Birmingham Central Mosque. Revered by many young Muslims, he draws on his extensive knowledge of the Koran and the life and sayings of the prophet Muhammed to justify his hostility to the kuffar, or non-Muslims.
One sermon warns believers to protect their faith by distancing themselves from the “evil influence” of their non-Muslim British neighbours.
“We are in a very dangerous position here. We live amongst the kuffar, we work with them, we associate with them, we mix with them and we begin to pick up their habits.”
In another talk, delivered a few weeks before 9/11, he praises Muslims who have gained martyrdom in battle and laments that today “no one dare utter the J word”. “The J word has become taboo . .. The J word is jihad in the way of Allah.”
The Times has made repeated attempts to get Mr ul Haq to comment on the content of his sermons. However, he declined to respond.
A commentator on religious radicalism in Pakistan, where Deobandis wield significant political influence, told The Times that “blind ignorance” on the part of the Government in Britain had allowed the Deobandis to become the dominant voice of Islam in Britain’s mosques.
Khaled Ahmed said: “The UK has been ruined by the puritanism of the Deobandis. You’ve allowed the takeover of the mosques. You can’t run multiculturalism like that, because that’s a way of destroying yourself. In Britain, the Deobandi message has become even more extreme than it is in Pakistan. It’s mind-boggling.”
In some mosques the sect has wrested control from followers of the more moderate majority, the Barelwi movement.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities said: “We have a detailed strategy to ensure imams properly represent and connect with mainstream moderate opinion and promote shared values like tolerance and respect for the rule of law. We have never said the challenge from extremism is simply restricted to those coming from overseas.”