This program isn’t perfect, but it is good to see Sacranie and Co. being asked some hard questions for a change. Now if only the American mainstream media would follow suit. “Programme transcript: What follows is a transcript of ‘A question of Leadership’, first broadcast Sunday 21 August 2005, 22:20 BST on BBC One,” with thanks to all who sent this in:
Unidentified speaker: It’s a great honour to kill these peopleÂ¿ Islam not a religion of just you speaking we got to people of action.
John Ware: Two British Muslims prepare to go on a suicide mission. They’re sent on their way to the strains of a song hailing them as heroes fighting for the homeland.
But it wasn’t their homeland. Their target was a seaside bar in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
3 civilians were killed and more than 50 injured.
The British bombers’ sole connection with Palestine was that they were Muslim.
Yet they were prepared to kill civilians for their Palestinian brothers overseas. Then came London: again the bombers were British born Muslims.
Again their target was civilians – but this time it was their fellow citizens.
Leaders of the Muslim communities were summoned to Downing Street by the Prime Minister who called on them to help root out what he termed this “evil ideology” of Islamist extremism.
Tony Blair, Prime Minister: We all accept and advocate a society of tolerance and respect for people from whatever race or religious background they come from.
John Ware: Sir Iqbal Sacranie, on the left, is generally presented as the Muslim community’s main representative. He certainly has the ear of government.
He’s the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. After the British bombing of the bar in Tel Aviv, Sir Iqbal said it hadn’t marked a growth in Islamist extremism here.
Now he does admit there is a problem.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: The Muslim community is determined to deal with this issue head on. And it will now come up with various pro active measures. That means we go into the community to address that issue.
John Ware: Extremism feeds off a conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the West are conspiring to undermine.
My journey through Muslim communities since the London bombings suggests their leaders have not acknowledged the extent to which these views are held in Britain.
TITLE: A QUESTION of LEADERSHIP
John Ware: Britain has around 2 million Muslims.
Muslim leaders have condemned utterly the bombings.
And yet this murderous rage grew from within their communities.
Some influential Muslims believe the time for a full and frank debate about where Islam is going here is long over due.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Muslim Institute: I think the British people may give us benefit of doubt once this time, but if this were to be repeated, then I think the Muslim position Â¿ future is very bleak. And knowing our community, the amount of fundamentalism and extremism that exists, I’m not quite sure that this will not happen again. ”
John Ware: Dr Siddiqui is not alone in believing that sectarian attitudes extend beyond the small number of extremists.
Others doubt the Muslim Council of Britain has grasped the scale of this problem.
Mehboob Kantharia, Founding Member, Muslim Council of Britain: A lot of them still live in a state of denial. It is my personal belief that because they are in this state of denial, they cannot become real, you know, sort of like, forthright, really forthright about wanting to do something about the kind of extremism that prevails.
John Ware: Mehboob Kantharia was a founding member of the Muslim Council of Britain; generally regarded as the moderate face of Islam speaking for the Muslim community.
On its website the MCB emphasises it’s working for better community relations and for the good of society as a whole.
It’s an umbrella for around 400 mosques, and other Islamic groups.
But Mr Kantharia says that within the MCB a distaste for western secular culture still exists.
Mehboob Kantharia: One of the most powerful strands, and many will tear me up and say, ‘sorry, you’ve got it completely wrong’, has been an anti-British, anti-Western stand. We are now British, therefore this is our home, this is our country, this country is not our enemy.
John Ware: Several MCB affiliates do have links to anti western ideologies from abroad.
The Deputy General Secretary of the MCB is Dr Abdul Bari.
He’s also Chairman of the East London Mosque which has maintained good relations with other local faith groups.
Last year a Â£10m new Islamic centre was opened.
The guests included Christian leaders. The Chief Rabbi and Prince Charles also sent goodwill messages.
The guest of honour was one of the most prominent clerics from Saudi Arabia – the most austere Islamic state in the world whose ideology is the polar opposite of secular Britain.
But London’s East End is home to many faiths and the Sheikh’s theme was tolerance.
Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais, Imam, Ka’ba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia: The history of Islam is the best testament to how different communities can live together in peace and harmony. Muslims must exemplify the true image of Islam in their interaction with other communities.
John Ware: Sheikh Sudais is a leading Imam from the great mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
He had one voice for his Western audience – another for his followers in Saudi. Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais: The worst … of the enemies of Islam are those… whom he… made monkeys and pigs, the aggressive Jews and oppressive Zionists and those that follow them: the callers of the trinity and the cross worshippersÂ¿ those influenced by the rottenness of their ideas, and the poison of their cultures the followers of secularism… How can we talk sweetly when the Hindus and the idol worshippers indulge in their overwhelming hatred against our brothers… in Muslim Kashmir…
John Ware: The East London mosque received $1m from the Saudis towards their new centre. The mosque’s links to Saudi go back many years.
The mosque’s Chairman Dr Bari remains to be convinced that his honoured guest Sheikh Sudais has repeatedly vilified other faiths.
John Ware: Do I take it that if you were satisfied he had said such things you would not have invited him over?
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, Chairman, East London Mosque, Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council Of Britain: Well of course if it was proved that he exactly said this thing that you mentioned then why do you invited people who would be saying like this?
John Ware: I mean, let me say what else he’s reported to have said, he said: ‘There should be no peace with the rats of the world.’ Again he refers to Jews as the scum of the human race, offspring of apes and pigs, and he has also referred to Christians as worshippers of the cross.’ You don’t see Christians in those terms?
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: I don’t see Christians in those terms.
John Ware: You don’t see Christians in those terms?
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: No.
John Ware: No. And idol worshipÂ¿ you don’t see Hindus as idol worshippers, do you ? I’m sure you don’t, do you? Do you?
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well… why are you bringing all this?
John Ware: You, er, I mean you do not regard Hindus as idol worshippers?
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well Hindu… you mean the definition? When it’s idol worshipper, different people worship God in different manners.
John Ware: Mmm.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Once again you are entering into the theological debate and Muslims worship one monotheistic God and many other communities may have different versions of God.
John Ware: No, I understand that.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: The Trinity may be one of them.
John Ware: I understand that.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: And it all depends how you use the word and explain the word.
John Ware: Sure, but this is harsh.. you wouldn’t… I mean no, I accept all that, but this is different, isn’t it. This is very harsh language; this in effect denounces other faiths, Hindus, Christians and Jews.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: Well denouncing any faith is not acceptable in Islam, that’s not the Prophetic teaching. We need to know the source of this and this is very dangerous thing, that character assassination of Muslim scholars and leaders are getting very widespread.
John Ware: I’m not trying to assassinate his character I’m simply trying to deal with the facts. That’s all I’m trying to do.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari: No, I know, you are mentioning… you are saying facts but we have a question whether these are facts.
John Ware: The facts are easily checkable – we found a selection of the Sheikh’s sermons on a Saudi website covering mosques in the holy cities of Medina and Mecca – with English translations.
Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Al-Sudais: Monkeys and pigs and worshippers of false Gods who are the Jews and the ZionistsÂ¿
John Ware: The $1m gift from the Saudis to the East London Mosque is but a drop in the ocean compared to the billions they’ve spent spreading their narrow form of Islam around the world.
Some of the Saudi millions have been spent on new translations of the Qur’an which are less tolerant of other faiths.
Take a look at this popular English version of the Qur’an not translated by the Saudis.
It translates this verse as saying: “Those who follow the Jewish (scriptures)Â¿ and the Christians.. any who believe in AllahÂ¿and work righteousness..” can go to paradise.
Now look at this more recent version of the Qur’an, by Saudi appointed translators.
The same verse suggests Jews and Christians would only go to paradise if they “believed in Allah Â¿and worked righteousness..”
Other recent Saudi translations of the Qur’an make the change to the past tense even more starkly.
One of the leading British experts on the Qur’an is Professor Neal Robinson.
He says this difference in translation may seem subtle, but today casts non Muslims in a completely different light.
Professor Neal Robinson, University Louvain, Belgium: The recent Saudi translation gives the impression that only Jews and Christians before the rise of Islam could be admitted to Paradise not Jews and Christians today who believe in God, look to the coming day of judgement and do goods works.
John Ware: What do you think of this?
Professor Neal Robinson: I think this is a regrettable narrowing. They’ve not changed the interpretation of the Qur’an, this was the prevalent view in the middle ages; just as mediaeval Christians believed that outside the church there was no salvation.”
John Ware: Muslims regard the Qur’an as infallible – because they believe the texts are the divine revelations from God.
Over the last 20 years, the Saudis have flooded the world with harsher interpretations of the Qur’an, cut price and often free.
What message has this missionary zeal reinforced to Muslims about other faiths?
Professor Neal Robinson: That a Muslim cannot be a genuine friend of a non-Muslim.
Professor Neal Robinson: Their whole ideology is one of Arab and Islamic supremacy and they have little room for other more liberal Arab interpretations of Islam and no room at all for West. The West is just dismissed as decadent and secular. They have no understanding of the way in which modern secular societies have carefully separated the domains of religion and state and kept certain areas of public life free of religious influence.”
John Ware: I’ve come to Oxford to meet a Muslim academic who’s lived here for most of the last 30 years. He believes imported ideologies have hindered the development of Islam in Britain.
He doesn’t believe Britain can have a Saudi Islam, a Pakistani Islam, or any other sort of Islam that isn’t indigenous to this country. That way lies an isolated, ghettoised society.
Dr Taj Hargey runs a centre that promotes what he calls “progressive inclusive Islam.”
He says there’s a virtual apartheid in parts of Britain – self imposed by those Muslims who regard non Muslims as Kaafir – in the sense that they are inferior.
John Ware: Have you heard Muslim leaders use the word Kaafir in private to you? I mean you’re a Muslim, would they use that word to you?
Dr Taj Hargey, Chairman, Muslim Education Centre Oxford : Yes, absolutely, I’ve heard it many, many a time.
John Ware: Because they don’t use it to non-Muslims.
Dr Taj Hargey: No, butÂ¿I’ve just mentioned that, we have a one vocabulary in private and we have another vocabulary for the public domain, and that’s why you don’t hear it because you’re the public domain.
John Ware: You’ve heard it in mosques yourself?
Dr Taj Hargey: Ad infinitum and ad nauseum, it’s there, it’s with us. We see it from the time you’re a child, you’re given this idea that those people they are Kaafir, they’re unbelievers. They are not equal to you, they are different to you. You are superior to them because you have the truth, they don’t have the truth. You will go to heaven, they will go to hell. So we have this from a very young age.
John Ware: Further evidence of Saudi influence is the Ahl-e-Hadith organisation, a major affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain. Based in Birmingham, and with 41 branches across Britain it is inspired by puritanical Saudi ideology.
One part of its website tells readers their fellow citizens are “Kuffaar”. “Be different from the Jews and Christians”
“Their ways are based on sick or deviant views concerning their societiesÂ¿”
Muslims are also warned that imitating the Kuffaar and attending “Christmas …..First of April lies, birthday parties..” may lead to “permanent abode in the Hell Fire”
The Secretary General of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie must perform a difficult juggling act.
The MCB is an umbrella group embracing many diverse strands of Islam. But should he also be providing a stronger lead?
John Ware: I’m quoting from Ali Hadith. As I say it’s quite an important affiliate of yours and just to give you one example from their website, they say of Jews and Christians: ‘Their ways are based on sick or deviant views’ and that ‘imitating the Kuffaar leads to a permanent abode in hellfire.’ That’s a ‘Them and Us’ culture, isn’t it, that’s a slippery slope.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain: It’s a view that they hold, it’s a view whichÂ¿
John Ware: Do you subscribe that view?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: I don’t subscribe to that. I’m not a member of Ahle Hadith but it’s a membership that we have, it’s diversity that exists in the community, having different views on life.
John Ware: Isn’t it a form of diversity that you should disown?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well we must accept the reality on the ground that the diversity that we have with the Muslim Community in the UK and as long as they subscribe to our constitution, which is very clear, which is on the website and it’s totally transparent in terms of its activities of a work which is through the teachings of the Quran and upholding the principles of Islam; then what they do outside the Council, there is no control that we have on them.
John Ware: Let’s talk turkey here, you said outside downing street you’re going to deal with this problem head on. I’m not suggesting they’re your views. But if you’re going to deal with this problem head on, don’t you need to start with organisations that hold Jews and Christians for a start in such contempt? I mean that’s the slippery slope. That’s the slippery slope that people who become extremists start to go down.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well you presumably have that knowledge, I don’t think that that is one clear avenue to bringing about the conclusion that we’re trying to get to. What I’m saying is that there are of course different views being held. We would nowÂ¿
John Ware: But this is an objectionable view.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: It may have well been objectionable view but the fact is it exists within the community.”
John Ware: While the MCB tolerates an affiliate that denounces other faiths, Iqbal Sacranie was famously intolerant when his own faith was insulted.
In 1989 Muslims burned copies of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses which ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed.
But while Muslims exercised their right to protest, they did not believe Rushdie had a right to free expression.
They demanded the government ban the book
Iqbal Sacranie was one of the joint protest leaders.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Attempting to insult the blessed prophet, peace be upon him, is the most serious crime in the eyes of Islamic law. The crime is considered as transgressing the limits and is worse than treason and is a capital offence.
John Ware: The Iranians had already passed the death sentence on Salman Rushdie whom they regarded as a Muslim.
Their Fatwa said every Muslim had a duty to execute it.
Mindful perhaps of British law, Iqbal Sacranie was reported as saying:
“Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him?” but he still expected Rushdie to be mentally tormented for the rest of his life.
John Ware: Today you still believe that if ‘Satanic Verses’ was published again, you would expect the government of the day to put pressure on the publishers to withdraw it?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well IÂ¿
John Ware: Would you?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: There is noÂ¿
John Ware: But would you?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: There is no law at the moment, sadly, that would enable me to pursue with a legal course of.. of seeking its withdrawal.
John Ware: If by ‘sadly’ – I take it you wish there was a law which would allow you to withdraw a book of this kind should it be published again. Is that right?
Sir Iqbal Sacranie: If the law that we would like to sort of see appear, a law does not prevent totally, it’s a very powerful message that goes out in type of what sort of society we have. We respect the freedom of expression but we expect freedom of expression to be exercised with responsibility.”
There is much more. Read it all.