UK Cleric: ‘Reclaim Islam From Terrorism’

LONDON – A leading Islamic scholar in Britain has asked for the Muslim community to come together to "reclaim Islam from terrorism."

He made his call after the terrorist bomb blasts in London Underground trains and on a bus July 7 that killed 55 people and injured about 700. The suicide bombings were carried out by a group of Muslim youth from around Leeds in the north of the country, according to police investigations.

The task now of reclaiming Islam from terrorism "has to be done by the Muslim community," Ghiyasuddin Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute in Britain told IPS in an interview. The Muslim Institute is a leading Islamic institution in Britain.

"They are the people who have to carry the banner of Islam," Siddiqui said. "And stamp out the extremism, fundamentalism, and lunacy that has taken control of Muslim youth."

Asked if there is unanimity within the Muslim community on this, Siddiqui said: "The pressures are such that people will recognize that their options are very, very limited. I think one of the mistakes that is being recognized that has been made here by the Muslim community was that the mosques were not equipped to welcome young people, young men and women, and deal with their issues, their problems."

This led to radicalization, he said. "When these young people started getting radicalized, the only thing they did was to ban them. That was the worst mistake they ever made. What happened was that they started organizing themselves outside the mosque structure and they were out of their control. And this is where they came in touch with demagogues who were able to brainwash them."

Most recruitment of Muslim youth by terrorist groups is happening outside of mosques, he said. "There are obviously a few exceptions," he said. "But I think the vast majority of mosques do not entertain these people."

Siddiqui acknowledged there are differences within the Muslim community. But decisions need to be taken by "the vast majority" of them, he said. "Because obviously Islam has not come just yesterday or the day before. It’s been around for centuries and centuries; there are traditions, there are books. What is happening is that these people [terrorists] are using the same text and claiming legitimacy. I think this has to be denied to these people."

That will have to be denied principally by the Muslim community and its leadership living in Britain, he said. "The scholars, the imams will have to do it. It is their responsibility, their duty."

But Western powers must accept their share of the blame, Siddiqui said. "I think Islam is about social justice, tolerance, and equality," he said. "But militant Islam, the madness that we have seen in recent years has its origins. It all started when the Wahhabi [strict orthodoxy within the Sunni sect advocating a return to early Islam] teachings and CIA and British intelligence services came together and created a new ideology to confront the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan."

Siddiqui said the applications of this version of Islam were worked out at the University of Nebraska in the United States. "It is this theology that by CIA’s influence and some of the influence of petrodollars has had a lot of influence all over the world, and in this country."

But the Muslim community in Britain has been taken aback by its hold over youth, Siddiqui said. "Until now we thought that these people living here are sensible enough to make a distinction that you live here and this cannot be the place where you exercise these kind of actions. But now the Muslim community has to discuss it, understand the role of this ideology and do everything that is possible to stamp it out of here."

Asked if the British government did something to provoke the kind of environment in which this terrorism has taken roots, Siddiqui said: "It’s very difficult to say one way or the other but what we do know with certainty is that a lot of holy warriors were trained, some in Scotland."

But after the July 7 bomb attacks in London, the British Muslim community faces hard days ahead, Siddiqui said.

"The incident is going to affect the trust between the wider community and the Muslim community," he said. "We have seen a young man who is a teacher, who is a student, who is a shop assistant, someone who is a neighbor [the suicide bombers in London]. Now all of a sudden you suddenly cannot trust somebody who they are living, or dealing with. Perhaps he could be tonight, tomorrow night, acting as a terrorist. So I think the problem of trust, it has been shaken and it will take a long time to rebuild this trust."

A lot will depend also on how the wider community in Britain sees Muslims. It must acknowledge "that after all there is no society where insane lunatics, militants, extremists, fundamentalists do not exist."

But the Muslim community must decide now whether "they contain these [terrorist] groups or decide that they are going to stay here for a longer period. These are the choices that they have."