Yesterday The Times revealed the growing domination of Britain’s mosques by the ultra-conservative Deobandi movement. Today, our correspondent exposes extensive links between British Deobandis and the sect’s radical leadership in Pakistan
Here is a tale of two young British Muslims who travelled to Pakistan.
Yasir is 19, comes from Rotherham, supports Liverpool FC and is studying Islam in a Pakistani madrassa that will teach him to hate the West.
There are two reasons why he should not be in a Deobandi seminary in the teeming, dusty backstreets of Karachi. The first is that Pakistan banned all foreign students from its religious schools in 2005 after it emerged that two of the bombers responsible for the July 7 attacks on London that year had spent time in the country.
And the second? Yasir is miserable. He told The Times last month that he was desperate to “get home”, was struggling to cope with life in Karachi and uncomfortable with the seminary’s anti-Western agenda.
Yasir was seven months into an eight-year course of study when he met The Times and during the brief interview his eyes were continually darting from side to side as if in fear that his words might be overheard. He was at first hungry for news of home — what were Liverpool’s coming fixtures, how were England doing in the cricket? — but his strong Yorkshire accent often dropped to a barely audible whisper.
Why was he here? “I don’t know that myself.” What was wrong with Karachi? “It’s crap.” What did he miss about Britain? “Everything. It’s too hard for me here. I don’t like to live here, man. You can’t do anything here. It’s not England. It’s Pakistan.”
The former engineering student gave no explanation as to why he was at Jamia Binoria, whose principal, Mufti Mohammad Naeem, challenged The Times to inspect the seminary to “see if you can find any terrorists”. There were no bomb factories, but for incendiary rhetoric there was Muhammed, a young man from Manchester who was visiting a friend in the seminary’s fatwa (religious edict) department.
Muhammed, who would not give his full name, teaches English to asylum-seekers and, in stark contrast to Yasir, exemplifies Deobandis’ deep hostility towards the West. He was eager to tell The Times that the public had been entirely misled about the real perpetrators of the July 7 attack on London. According to Muhammed, the Government, Mossad, assorted Jews, freemasons and Scotland Yard had conspired to commit mass murder to demonise Muslims. “These are not my opinions. These are facts. The aim was to create terror in the hearts of the British people in order to control them,” he said.
The media were also part of the cover-up. “Why don’t you tell the public that they are being brainwashed and that there is a conspiracy to destroy Islam, as the Prophet told us? Why don’t you tell them that the media is controlled by Jews, that the word ‘British’ is a Jewish word?
“If someone attacks your house, you have a right to defend what is rightfully yours. We follow the way of the Prophet. We will defend Islam. We will defend the Koran.”
Yasir and Muhammed illustrate the complex challenge that Britain’s security services face in countering the threat posed by Islamic radicals. More than 400,000 people travel from Britain to Pakistan each year. The great majority of them go for innocent reasons but some young Britons do go to study in jihadi madrassas and train in terrorist camps. And then they return to Britain. Jamia Binoria has 3,000 students, 500 of them foreigners from 29 countries, including Britain and the US. In its crowded halls children as young as 5 sit in groups on the floor, rocking back and forth as they recite the Koran.
Mr Naeem insisted that his seminary did not train students for military jihad, but added somewhat ambiguously that none of his charges was allowed to fight in Afghanistan “without permission”.
At a second Deobandi seminary, Darul Uloom Karachi, the vice-president estimated that 20 to 30 British Muslims were among his 4,000 students, although The Times was not allowed to meet any of them.
Justice Muhammad Taqi Usmani said that his seminary “extended some help to those who fought in the jihad” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but denied aiding the Taleban in its fight against the US and Britain.
Mr Naeem and Mr Usmani insisted that Sir Salman Rushdie should receive the death penalty for writing the Satanic Verses, and said that his knighthood could only be interpreted as a calculated insult to Muslims.
Both seminaries were named this year in a report that describes Karachi as “a haven for violent extremism”. The report, by the International Crisis Group, notes that “the vast majority of Karachi’s sectarian, jihadi madrassas follow the Deobandi sect”. It says that the leaders of Jamia Binoria have “publicly adopted a pro-jihadi, anti-Western stance”.
Millions of pounds are raised by British mosques and sent to support terrorist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir. One, Jaish-e-Mohammed, is thought to get ?5 million a year from British donors. Close ties also exist between JuB, the representative body of Deobandi scholars in Britain, and JuI, a powerful Deobandi political party whose leader has been called Pakistan’s “patron of jihad”.
The JuB (Jamiat Ulama e Britain, or Council of Muslim Theologians in Britain) claims to have 500 affiliated institutions, including mosques and schools. Its general council includes Deobandi scholars from Bradford, Leeds, Dewsbury, Rotherham, Wakefield, Oldham, Burnley, Nottingham, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Cardiff, Crawley, Luton and London.
The JuB’s general secretary, Sheikh Mohammad Ismail, who lives in Sheffield, is a graduate of Jamia Uloom Islamia, in Binori Town, the same Karachi seminary that spawned Jaish-e-Mohammed. The International Crisis Group calls it “the fountainhead of Deobandi militancy countrywide” and says that “a generation of former students has spread a web of similar jihadi madrassas across Karachi and beyond”.
Several young Muslims from Bradford are students at the Binori Town seminary, which has close ties with the Taleban and has fuelled internal sectarian violence.
The JuB’s website has links to both of the Karachi seminaries visited by The Times. It also carries speeches by Fazlur Rehman, who heads the most powerful faction of the JuI (Jamiat Ulema e-Islam), the Deobandi political party in Pakistan. In one speech, Mr Rehman responds to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad with an impassioned attack on the West. Muslims will only satisfy the West, he says, “when we give up our Islamic teaching, civilisation, morals, worship and religion”. He also laments Pakistan’s support for America and Britain in Afghanistan. “They have turned Pakistan into a dog. They have become our masters and we are their slaves . . . if they attack our civilisation then we will attack them back.”
Mr Ismail told The Times that the JuB, founded in 1962, was an independent organisation, opposed to “any kind of political violence”. But he said:
“You’re trying to link us with terrorism. What about all those masonic and Zionist organisations? What about Palestine, what about Iraq? Where are those weapons of mass destruction? You never, ever talk about that.”
Deobandis run 8,350 of Pakistan’s 13,000 madrassas, which educate 1.5 million children, mostly from poor, rural families. More than a third of the Deobandi seminaries are directly affiliated to Mr Rehman’s JuI.
Mr Rehman, a regular visitor to Britain, told The Times that although his party and the JuB were not affiliated organisationally, “we have a unanimity of thought and ideology”.
Khalid Masud, the chairman of Pakistan’s widely respected Council of Islamic Ideology, despairs that medieval thinking still dominates Islamic discourse and acts as a rigid barrier against integration in Britain.
He was “saddened but not surprised” to read a sermon in which Riyadh ul Haq, a leading Deobandi preacher, urged British Muslims not to make friends with Jews or Christians.
“This is a very normal thing that you hear in sermons here as well. He is not in a minority. They are in the Koran and in our literature, but the historical circumstances have changed,” he said.
“These are medieval teachings, yet even for people living in Europe they have not become irrelevant. That is what surprises me. These are worrying times for all of us.”
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