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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

"Dark Age" for Muslims in Britain?  
By M Ghazali Khan

London: A well known civil liberties lawyer recently warned of an impending "dark age" of Injustice for Muslims in Britain. Addressing Muslim News (a monthly newspaper) fourth Annual Awards for Excellence in London last month, Ms Gareth Peirce, who also represents a Guatanamo Bay detainee, Moazzem said, "We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it".

Ms Peirce, who was awarded the Annemarie Schimmel Award for championing a Muslim cause, said, "I know I am representing innocent people; innocent people who know that a jury they face will inevitably be predisposed to find them guilty.

"How is it that anybody in this room knows, or thinks they know, about what is alleged against the people arrested yesterday?" she asked referring to the arrests of nine Muslims arrested in police raids in Southeast England on 30 March for allegedly preparing to make bomb.

Prior to Ms Peirce's speech, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens had complemented the Muslim Community as a "peace loving" and "law abiding" community. Presenting the Good Citizenship Award, sponsored by his own organisation, the Metropolitan Police, Mr Stevens said, "The headline news this week has inevitably centred once again on the threat posed by international terrorism. And you are only too aware there are those who would seek to link the actions of extremists with the faith of the Muslim community. Well, put quite simply, they are wrong. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country are peace loving, law abiding people who completely reject all forms of violence."

In the light of an increasing number of Muslims being stopped and searched by the police and raids on Muslims' houses, Ms Peirce's concerns hold great truth. There are reports of police's alleged highhandedness in dealing with Muslims whose houses were raided on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities and most of whom were taken in police custody and were later released without charge. 

The attitude of British media has seldom been positive towards Muslims. But the tragedy of September 11 provided it an all round excuse to malign the community with no bounds. However, the irony lies in the fact that some fringe Muslims groups unashamedly in the name of Islam and jihad are doing more harm to the community than any media or any organisation whatsoever. Most prominent of these are Al Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and supporters of the so-called Shari'ah Court. 

Omar Bakri (top) and Abu Hamza:CIA-MI5 agents?
Omar Bakri (top) and Abu Hamza:CIA-MI5 agents?

Al-Muhajiroun is led by Omar Bakri, a Syrian born self-proclaimed spiritual leader and the judge of Shari'ah Court of UK. Nothing is known about Omar Bakri's family background and his life in Syria except that he had links with Muslim Brotherhood. After being expelled from Syria in 1982 he settled in Lebanon and joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a breakaway group from Muslim Brotherhood established in Jerusalem in 1953. In 1983 he moved to Saudi Arabia where he founded Al-Muhajiroun. After being expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1985 Bakri came to London. 

In London Omar Bakri established Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) which became active in university campuses and started exploiting Muslim youths' anger against West's policies in the Middle East and succeeded in recruiting them in significant numbers as his firebrand followers. As regards his living, for a number of years Omar Bakri continued to receive unemployment benefits. 

In 1991 Bakri left HT and founded Al-Muhajiroun (AM). He calls himself the spokesman of the International Islamic Front. In this capacity he has given statements on behalf of Taliban as well making each of his statements more provocative and venomous than before. He boasts to have recruited volunteers to fight in Afghanistan, Israel and other countries. The two British, suicide youths Omar Sharif and Asif Hanif, who, last year in May, travelled to Israel to be suicide bombers and were killed, are also said to be members of the AM. Bakri denies it but he admits that Omar Sharif had attended his classes.

In 1991 Omar Bakri threatened the life of the then Prime Minister John Major and was held by the police for 20 hours and released without being charged. In 1999 he issued a "fatwa" against Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and called British Muslims to attack Russian embassy. On 18 September 2001, outside the Pakistan High Commission Bakri issued another "fatwa", this time against General Musharraf. Interestingly when Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan in October 1999, Bakri told his close supporters that he had phoned General Musharraf who had invited him to come to Pakistan and work for the implementation for Shari'ah in the country. 

The type of "service" Omar Bakri is doing to Muslims and Islam may be seen in his recent statement in which he justified the ruthless killing of innocent citizens in Madrid, majority of whom would have opposed the alliance of their government in America's war on terror, specially its role in Iraq. "What happened in Madrid is all revenge. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Anybody (that) commits a crime he should be punished - that's exactly what happened in relation to Spain," Bakri said.

London’s Finsbury Mosque
London’s Finsbury Mosque

Urging Muslim youths to "kill and be killed." Bakri explained, "People like to call it suicide bombing…We call it self sacrifice." He decreed that "If somebody decided to land an aeroplane over 10 Downing Street, for example…" he would go to paradise.

The Syrian born provocateur also told the youths that their "Objective number one" should be to "break the psychology of the occupier by hitting back in their homeland to make them worried about their own wives and loved ones." 

According to Bakri's fatwa, it is haram (unlawful) for British Muslims to vote and take part in British politics. Last year he asked Muslims not to participate in the anti-war protests because, he said, the protestors wanted to disarm Iraq and were not against the aggression on Iraq.

After the sensational news of the arrest of eight Muslims for their involvement in terrorist activities the previous day when on 31 March Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body of British Muslims organisations urged the Muslims and its affiliate bodies to be on guard and report to the police any suspicious activity, the AM demonstrated outside the Regent's Park Mosque and set alight the British flag. AM's spokesman Abdul Rehman Saleem warned the British Government, "There is nothing that me and you or the British services of the Government can do about stopping an attack in this country. There is nothing Tony Blair, this liar, can do to stop al Qaeda…"

While Bakri insists that he preaches his followers to act within the boundaries of British law, the leader of the Supporters of Shari'ah and former Imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, Abu Hamza rejects "Man made laws." According to several reports in the British press Hamza has even told his young followers that the banks were a Jewish establishment and the work of Satan and that robbing them and kuffars (infidels) could be acceptable because they were not protected by Allah. 

The 46 year old so called preacher, who has also worked as a bouncer in a night club, arrived in Britain in 1979 to do degree in civil engineering. In 1981 he married an English woman Valerie Fleming and became a British citizen. He claims to have participated in Afghan Jihad during which, according to him, he lost his two hands and one eye. During Afghan Jihad there were known groups led by Hikmatyar, Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masood etc. and all of the Afghan veterans had to fight under their command but no one knows which group Abu Hamza was with.

It was neither his sanctity as a Muslim scholar nor his experience as a religious cleric that Abu Hamza was offered the job of an Imam in the Finsbury Park Mosque. For several years power struggle had been going on between the trustees of the mosque who had fought with each other for the unchecked control of the mosque. When one of the most power hungry trustee found himself helpless and less capable of dealing with the adversaries, he conspired to seek the help of someone who could give sermons in English and also deal with the militancy of the opposite group. Abu Hamza, as he had the experience of a bouncer and was able to deliver sermons in English to entice the younger generation, became the best choice for the job. 

Abu Hamza did not only oust the opposite camp he also took care of his "benefactor" and silenced him as well. He virtually occupied the mosque making it his base camp and turned it into one of the most controversial places in the UK. If any trustee opposed him he was threatened. Among them is Maulana Shafiullah Patel who had refused to support Abu Hamzah. Maulana Patel also ran evening Islamic classes for children. One day when he was teaching Qur'an to the children a masked man entered the room and beat him up causing severe injuries. The terrified children, some of them as young as five years old, recognised the assailant by his clothes and said that he was a member of Abu Hamza's gang. 

It was in the Finsbury Park Mosque that Abu Hamza ran his Supporter of Shari'ah organisation and allegedly gave refuge to illegal immigrants. It was here that he, from 24 to 26 December, he ran a training camp for Muslim youths which his publicity leaflet described as "military" training. The leaflet also carried the photograph of a hand grenade. Abu Hamza also "celebrated" the attack on World Trade Tower. Abu Hamza, Bakri and the leaders of the HT praise the hijackers of 11 September. 

In January 2003 Scotland Yard raided the mosque and arrested seven men, including Abu Hamza. According to the police report weapons were found in the mosque. Mysteriously Abu Hamza was later released.

The police seized the mosque temporarily but the trustees found it a good opportunity to keep Abu Hamza out and locked it sine die on grounds of dereliction of the building caused by years of negligence. Since then the mosque remains closed but Hamza has not gone away. On each Friday he leads prayer outside the mosque forcing the road to be closed with full protection of the police besides masked men around him. 

Last Ramadan, Maulana Yusuf Motala, a widely respected a'lim and former rector of Darul U'loom of Bury, was detained for seven hours at Heathrow by the police which caused him to cancel his Umra trip. Such a known figure is Maulana Motala that the home office had to apologise for police's behaviour. Muslims cite his example and ask "why is it that an a'alim of Maulana Motala's fame was treated with such indignity but no such action is being taken against these two elements?."

On the other hand the Government is imposing more and more stricter laws for which Muslims are being blamed. For example a cover story, How Islam has killed multiculturalism in The Spectator (1 May 2004) Lord Riddle opines, "And soon we will succumb to the government's plans for a national identity card, much as it may stick in the craw. Be in no doubt that the speed with which the government has pressed ahead with the proposed ID card is a direct consequence of 9/11 and the perception of a new enemy. It will be an imposition upon all of us and … an infringement of our rights." 

From the days of being a marginalised community in the 1980s, British Muslims have come a long way. With two Muslims in House of Lords, two MPs in the House of Commons, various mayors and councillors around the country, they hold various high positions in governmental and non-governmental sectors. With an effective and influential body like the MCB today they have a voice. Their achievements were evident at Muslim News's annual Fourth Award of Excellence function which was attended by key figures from political parties and Government Departments and in which Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was supposed to be the chief guest who was held up in the late meeting at the House Commons and had to send a video message.

In the latest development Abu Hamza has appealed against Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision to revoke his nationality and deport him. His lawyer has applied for legal aid to fight his case which, if granted, will cost the British tax payer a hefty £10million and is likely to drag his case until 2015. During this time he and Omar Bakri will continue to remain active in misguiding the youths and cause maximum damage to the entire community and thus speed up the "dark age" for the British Muslims. «

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