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Clarion Project interview on Muslim groups fighting extremism

Summary

28 November 2015

For several years I have been aware of the Clarion Project but have not had any direct contact with them. After publication of my Conservative Home article "It is not enough for Muslim organisations simply to condemn terrorism" I was approached by Elliot Friedland asking if I would give him an interview for the Clarion Project.

My policy is to speak to any media outlet provided I am confident that my views will be reported accurately, without concerning myself about other views that outlet may be promoting. Accordingly I agreed to do give an interview. This was conducted by Elliot sending me an email with questions and me sending him an email with my written answers.

The interview was published on 23 November and can be read on the Clarion Project website. I have used Microsoft Word's document comparison tool to confirm that, apart from Americanising some of the spellings, the Clarion Project has published my responses verbatim.

The Clarion Project chose how to describe me. Nothing they have said about me personally is inaccurate. They also added a number of links to my text and interspersed it with a number of photographs. Their website makes it clear that the selection of those links and photographs is entirely the Clarion Project's responsibility.

For the convenience of readers I have reproduced below the Clarion Project's questions and my responses.

What Should Muslim Groups Do to Fight Extremism?

My responses below have not copied any of the links the Clarion Project inserted on their website.

However I have added some links of my own for the benefit of readers. It is possible that in some cases our link choices may coincide; I have not bothered checking whether that is the case as I do not regard it as necessary.

Clarion Project: You called on Muslim organizations to take a more active role in challenging extremism. Why do you think they have not done so until now?

As a preliminary point, Muslim organizations vary, just as there is a very wide spectrum of views amongst individual Muslims. Some organizations such as the UK think tank Quilliam are very clear about the ideological aspects of extremism amongst Muslims.

Looking at those UK Muslim community organizations which have been insufficiently effective at addressing extremism amongst Muslims, I believe there are a variety of factors which have held them back.

The most important factor is that many are unwilling to acknowledge that a flawed understanding of Islam underlies the belief systems of the terrorists that we are talking about. Instead, they contend that the sole cause of such terrorism is grievance with British foreign policy such as its support for Israel, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

While such grievances are regularly cited by terrorists and are undoubtedly an important motivating factor, in my opinion they cannot be the sole cause of terrorism amongst Muslims.

As I have written on several occasions, as well as having a cause to fight for, it is also absolutely essential for the terrorist to believe that what he is doing is a virtuous activity in the eyes of God. That is a theological position. It is irrelevant that the terrorist may be relatively ignorant about Islam, as indeed many are. He will not kill innocent people unless he holds that theological position, even if he does not know what the word “theology” means. Accordingly, bad theology costs lives.

Since these UK Muslim community organizations refuse to accept that the religious beliefs of the terrorists matter, they are unable to compose any form of meaningful approach to addressing such terrorism. Instead they simply issued statements condemning terrorists and pointing out that terrorism is not Islamic.

As a contrast, Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri fully appreciates that the terrorists have a theological position. He has written a 600 page "Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings" to demonstrate why that theological position is entirely unsupportable, and there is a review of the fatwa on my website. Recently his organization Minhaj-ul-Quran, which has a significant UK branch, has produced a curriculum intended to provide an Islamic education which will reduce the risk of young Muslims being radicalized.

Clarion: Organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the MCB which you mentioned in your piece frequently condemn terror but themselves promote Islamist views. What do you think is the most problematic thing about groups like that?

I generally avoid using the word “Islamist” because it is too elastic. A word that encompasses both political parties that operate entirely within a lawful democratic framework such as the AK Party in Turkey or the PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) in Indonesia and also encompasses terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIL is not a very useful adjective.

While I have been on the CAIR email list for six or seven years, I have only had brief contact with a few individuals from the organization when they were visiting Europe. My perception from a distance of CAIR is that they are a civil rights campaigning organization very much like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Beyond that I am unable to comment on their views.

Conversely I know the MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) very well. For the period June 2008 – June 2010 I was an elected member of the MCB’s Central Working Committee. During that period I was also Chairman of the MCB’s Business and Economics Committee which made me a member of their wider leadership team. Since then I have remained on friendly terms with the MCB and am invited each year to their Muslim community leadership dinner and regularly meet members of their leadership at various public events in London.

The MCB has about 500 affiliated organizations. A significant number of them have been heavily influenced by the Indian subcontinent’s Jamaat-e-Islami founded by Abul Ala Maududi and the Middle East’s Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hassan al-Banna.

In my opinion two principal factors impair the MCB’s effectiveness in seeking to prevent young British Muslims being radicalized.

Firstly

Firstly, in practice the MCB tries hard to avoid upsetting any of its member organizations. Accordingly any statements that it issues are bland. This precludes it taking positive positions such as encouraging British Muslims to join the police, the armed forces and the security services that I would regard as non-contentious.

As part of writing this interview response, I carried out some Google site searches on the MCB website to see what they have said about the police, the armed forces and the security services.

While there is a document produced about six years ago celebrating the Muslim contribution to the British war effort in World War I, I found nothing that could be interpreted as encouragement to join the contemporary armed forces. Similarly I could not find any encouragement to join the police or to join the security services. However I came across many documents which refer to the police and the security services in a generally critical tone.

Secondly

Secondly, from many documents on the MCB website, it is clear that the MCB considers that the religious views of the Muslim terrorists in question do not matter. Accordingly it is left with little meaningful to say apart from condemning terrorism. When doing so it sometimes explicitly connects the terrorism to British foreign policy and sometimes remains silent on the foreign policy point.

Since the MCB does not believe that the religious views of the terrorists matter, it has nothing to say about the distorted religious views that ISIL promote to people it is seeking to radicalise. Indeed it rejects the entire concept of radicalisation.

In my view the MCB’s refusal to accept that the theological views of terrorists matter arises from an unvoiced fear that if they accept that the terrorists are motivated, to any extent, by religious views, this will be pounced upon by anti-Muslim bigots and used to promote the (entirely incorrect) view that Islam causes terrorism.

Clarion: What can non-Muslims do to best support anti-Islamist Muslims without being accused of bigotry?

The first thing that non-Muslims can do is to acknowledge and share the condemnations of terrorism that are regularly issued by Muslims when terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Muslims.

At an individual level I am completely fed up by regularly encountering non-Muslims who ask “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism?” Such people are either both blind and deaf, or they are wilfully choosing not to see the many condemnations that are issued. That led me to start a page on my own website as a compendium of Muslim condemnations of terrorism.

Non-Muslims should also do more to share the analysis of terrorism and its causes that is offered by many well informed Muslims such as the Quilliam think tank and Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.

Finally non-Muslims should do more to publicize and celebrate the significant contribution that Muslims are making to every society in which they live, particularly Britain and America. They should also be vigorous in combating anti-Muslim discrimination.

Clarion: When there are terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris, what do you think the best responses are from both Muslims and non-Muslims respectively?

The most important immediate response from both Muslims and non-Muslims is to provide every assistance possible to the security services and if necessary the medical services such as blood donations.

In the longer term, both Muslims and non-Muslims have an obligation to work hard at building a cohesive society by maximizing interaction across religious boundaries. That is one of the reasons I am Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester, as well as being active in other interfaith organizations.

Muslims in particular have an obligation to actively combat the pernicious false narrative that is peddled by those seeking to radicalize young Muslims; a narrative which falsely paints Britain, America and other European countries as being at war with Islam.

Britain and America are in my view amongst the best countries in the world in which to live as a Muslim.

Clarion: Finally, what is your favourite thing about being a Muslim that keeps you in the faith and makes you proud to be part of it?

For me Islam is simply the monotheistic faith that was practiced by all of the Old Testament prophets, and by Jesus (peace be upon him) as well as by Muhammad (pbuh). While this belief in the continuity of the religion is an integral part of Islamic teaching, in my opinion too many Muslims have forgotten it or never learnt it.

Instead they focus entirely upon the time of Muhammad (pbuh) as if Islam was a completely different religion from Judaism and Christianity and with no connection to them.

Although Jews Christians and Muslims have many religious disagreements with each other, just as Jews have many religious disagreements with other Jews, Christians with other Christians and Muslims with other Muslims, in big picture terms I see these three groups as belonging to one religion rather than three.

The differences between the three are minor compared with the differences between them and other religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism.

As with Judaism, Islam is strictly monotheistic whereas Christianity has a very different understanding of the nature of God while stating that it is monotheistic. The only real difference I see between Islam and Judaism is that Islam does not have the concept of a chosen people.

I am a Sunni Muslim for the simple reason that I do not believe that the Prophet Muhammad designated any successor. He had ample opportunity to designate a successor in a manner that would have left absolutely no doubt amongst the Muslims of that time had he wished to do so.

The key principle of Sunni Islam that matters to me is that there are absolutely no intermediaries between me and God, since Sunni Islam has no concept of a priesthood or a religious hierarchy.

Like Malcolm X I deeply value the way that Islam brings together people regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

My father taught me that I should fear God, but fear no man. That has been a powerful influence on my life since the fear of God liberates you from all other fears.

Concluding comments

I believe it is vital for Muslims who do not share the extreme views of groups like ISIL to speak up and condemn them.

Some Muslims mistakenly believe that they are being asked by non-Muslims to apologise for terrorism committed by such groups. That is a complete misunderstanding.

Nobody has ever asked me to apologise for such terrorism, and I while I have regularly condemned it, I have never apologised since it was committed by others and not by me. A Google site search of my website will confirm this.

It is also vital for Muslims to take seriously the fact that the terrorists justify their actions by reference to religious views.

 

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