Over 600 people attended a unique event held in Manchester with a further 2000 people watching live online. The event brought together local and national Muslim leaders to address the current rise in attacks against Islamic values by mainstream politicians and the media. In particular the esteemed panelists discussed the latest set of measures proposed in the new Government report, ‘Tackling Extremism in the UK.’ The report sets out a number of measures including TEBOs (Terrorism and Extremism Behaviour Orders) which are equivalent to ASBOs that could be placed on Muslim speakers and Imams who the government alleges are promoting ‘extremism’. Thus they could be prohibited from attending mosques, delivering talks, meeting with particular Muslims, having access to phones or the internet etc.
The report also highlights what is considered extremism. It states, “They seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Shari’ah as state law, rejecting liberal values such as democracy…” Many of the speakers highlighted that this push to effectively criminalise key aspects of Islam while forcibly pushing secularism onto the Muslim community is a continuation of previous government policies such as CONTEST and CONTEST 2. In the initial CONTEST 2 leaked report it explicitly laid out those aspects of Islam deemed “extreme” that needed to be challenged by national Government, Local Authorities, police and social services. The Guardian newspaper reported on 17/2/2009 that, “According to a draft of the strategy, CONTEST 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:
• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.
• They promote Sharia law.
• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.
• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.
• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
All the speakers believed it was expressly forbidden in Islam to commit violence against civilians in the UK including the unlawful killing of Lee Rigby, they also believed that the government’s approach was to place the blame on the entire Muslim community as well as key concepts of Islam while ignoring the main agitating factor of foreign policy abuses committed by the UK government in Muslim lands.
The speakers included:
Nasir Hafezi a solicitor whose area of expertise is criminal and terrorism law. He discussed the proposed legislation and how it would impact the Muslim community.
Abdullah al Andalusi from the Muslim Debate Initiative explained how Britain had previously criminalised Catholicism during the 16th Century and now the government has shifted the focus away from Catholics to Islam and Muslims. He further explained that such draconian measures need to be challenged through debate and peaceful protests or civil disobedience.
Sheikh Sulaiman Ghani explained that it was forbidden to compromise Islam and that with the attempts to actively secularise the Muslim community our children will grow up affected by these liberal secular ideas and engage in unislamic acts. He also pointed out that the Muslims should continue to support Muslims suffering abroad such as those in Guantanamo or those in Syria.
Muhammad Jahanghir from the Centre of Muslim Affairs explained how the government has policies to police Islamic ideas from the “cradle to the grave.” He provided practical examples of how such policies are affecting the Muslim community such that there are channeling programmes to identify children with signs of “radicalisation”, how the Charity Commissions that can force registered charities like mosques to promote secular values or ban certain speakers and even a programme for wives and mothers to identify “extremist” behaviour in their husbands and children and report this to the authorities.
Moazzem Begg from Cage Prisoners highlighted how Muslims are seeing continued discrimination in the UK whether that is through police stop and searches, schedule 7 detention, or passports and therefore citizenship being taken away from British Muslims. He also identified the harassment of security services and their complicity in acts of rendition and torture in countries like Egypt and Syria. He emphasised the need to highlight these abuses and campaign against the new government proposals.
Sheikh Haitham al Haddad explained that the targeting of Islam is due to the strength of its truthfulness. He quoted the famous saying by George Orwell, “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.” He also summarised key action points such as not compromising on Islamic values, smiling at the enemy hence spoiling his victory, engaging in dawah to the wider society as well as making the communities where Muslims reside better places to live, uniting as a Muslim community as our differences are minor compared to the things we have in common, as well as staying away from sins in order to gain the help from Allah (swt).
Dr Reda Pankhurst from Hizb ut-Tahrir linked the current difficulties Muslims face with the struggle of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his companions. They openly conveyed the religion even though they faced persecution hence we too should be open and uncompromising about our Islam. Dr Reda then highlighted 4 key practical steps for the Muslim community.
Firstly, a document that is currently being prepared that outlines those key Islamic values that are accepted by the Muslim community and gaining signatories from a broad base of Muslims in the UK. This would be used to highlight to politicians and media that the current and proposed policies to target “extremism” would in fact target vast majority of Muslims and effectively criminalise Islam.
Secondly, to provide media training for Imams and community leaders so that they can provide answers to some of the difficult questions posed to them while remaining firm on Islamic values when engaging with non-Muslim media.
Thirdly that the KnowMuhammad (saw) campaign with its dawah packs and exhibitions can be utilised by the Muslims to engage in dawah to the wider society and thereby practically undermine the propaganda and stigmatising of the Muslim community.
Fourthly, a booklet will be produced that will answer difficult questions that Muslims are constantly asked in wider British society.
In addition to the speeches there was opportunity for questions and comments from the audience.