The murder of Lee Rigby 
Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale both came from respectable, middle class professional families, both from Nigeria and both were converts to Islam, in 2003 and circa 2009 respectively. Much has been and will be written about the dramatic elements of their stories in which they have been associated with militant extremists, but little of value will be learnt from that period. Two things are of enduring importance, one is the means by which they turned from being vocal extremists to being murderous ones, but that is ground that will be thoroughly covered by both clinical analysis by crime professionals and in lugubrious feature articles by journalists with copy to fill.

The second, and in my view, more important element, is in understanding how two new converts to Islam, growing up in London, readily accept a path that takes them swiftly out of the mainstream and places them in a situation where they are hungry for the world-view of the militants, and hungry again to shed blood supposedly for causes which they have no obvious link to.

Michael Adebolajo was born in 1984, to Christian, Nigerian parents, social worker and NHS nurse-manager, living in Romford. He converted to Islam at 19 while at Greenwich University.

"Muslim communities in universities are very fluid affairs, with a continuous turnover of members and officers. University campuses provide an incredibly rich environment for factions to spawn and develop:
• New students are freed from family and peer group constraints.
• They have time to reflect and egos to establish.
• University prayer rooms need new imams nearly every year, naturally selected from the student body, and Islamic Society events need speakers and organisers.
• Differences between ethnicities, their practices and factions are brought into sharp relief by the cosmopolitan mixture of students.
• Activists are compelled to recruit again every year merely to ensure that their faction and their union budget survive.
• The events programme requires a stream of visiting speakers to address meetings on interesting and therefore controversial topics. Most speakers are unknown individuals, friends and fellow factionalists of the organiser.”
(Mehmood Naqshbandi, Shrivenham Paper No. 1, Aug 2006)(pdf)

There is no necessary reason to suppose that Greenwich University Islamic Society per se had any special interest in guiding the new convert - he would have relied on his own circle of friends. His studies were not very productive, and being in London, he would have had ample opportunity to mix with other students, Muslims, converts, from other London colleges or the local community. What he would definitely have experienced, and for me this is the most vital point, is his experience as a Muslim convert. While at college he would have been among the Bohemian and free-thinking milieu of students, many of them playing with ideas that certainly would have embraced militancy, fantasised heroics and world-challenging idealism. As a convert he would have had numbers of fellow converts and returnees, young people at the point in their lives when they feel bound to start committing themselves to something fervently, to make redress for their hitherto dissolute teenage years.

But wherever he went in the ordinary world of local mosques and local Muslim communities he would be an ignored stranger. In his home turf of Romford, there is one well-established masjid, Havering Islamic Cultural Centre on Waterloo Road since 2007. In 2000 the council rejected planning permission to use a former council premises they owned, as a masjid, through very vociferous local opposition and that 'an Islamic cultural centre "could attract vandalism"' (Romford Recorder Hornchurch Upminster, 03.11.00). They continued to hire Century Youth House up to 2007, for Friday salaah, so there was nowhere actually local and mainstream for Michael Adebolajo to go as a Muslim, except perhaps on Friday lunchtime. Such is the law of unintended consequences, that the local, essentially white-racist opposition to their own Muslim neighbours can be considered to have prevented Adebolajo from settling into mainstream Islam and have thus indirectly led to Rigby's murder. However I would not dwell too heavily on that point. Had Adebolajo gone along to Jumu'ah salaah, he would have sat among a few dozen Pakistanis and a few Bangladeshis, to listen to a khutbah (ritual Jumu'ah reading) recited swiftly in parrot-fashion, with probably no non-ritual wyaaz (non-ritual speech or sermon) and if there had been, it would have been in Punjabi-ised Urdu. If he had been befriended by anyone there, it would have been most likely a local shopkeeper or taxi driver.

If he had showed any inclination to enthuse about the religion in that gathering, the predominantly Tablighi Jama'at, Deobandi oriented organisers and activists of the locale, would have tried to take him under their wing and impressed on him the simple, reductionist formulae of their methods - five times daily salaah in the masjid, going out "in the path of Allah", i.e. spending two or three nights in a small group in some other masjid in a Tabligh party picking over odd passages from Maulana Zakariya's Tablighi Nisaab, and knocking on the doors of exclusively Asian, known Muslim families and encouraging them to come to the masjid to listen to one of their party repeat a 10 minute speech that has been unchanged in the hundred years since the Tablighi Jama'at formula was first proposed; thuswise completing the cycle in which anyone thus aroused would be invited themselves to "go out in the path of Allah".

However Adebolajo would never have had the slightest interest in Tablighi Jama'at; there are almost no converts to Islam who do have, in spite of it being the biggest and most active movement in UK masjids. Its extraordinarily limited formula does not equip its followers for tackling the diverse issues that a newcomer to Islam would raise, so it explicitly and often annoyingly ignores converts completely - the often-stated rejoinder to any plea to them to help a new Muslim or to try to persuade an interested non-Muslim towards Islam, is to say, "There's no value in bringing new people into Islam when the body of Muslims is still corrupt," by which they mean not practising in the precise manner that they practise.

The Havering Islamic Cultural Centre wasn't quite the only game in the village. There is also a rather peculiar entity on Lessington Avenue. In one form or another the "Essex Islamic Trust" has been pottering around Romford offering a rather idiosyncratic alternative view of Islam. Its website www.romfordmosque.co.uk states, "This is first Mosque in Havering and is totally and completely based on Taqwa (piety, “Fear God as He should be feared” The Holy Quran: Al-i-Imran 3:102) and follows the Shariah’s laws." There is nothing remotely sinister or extreme about this entity, it is merely one individual's attempt to offer up his own individual home-brew of Islam and cultivate a small following of supporters: Islam is a most accessible faith, and with the canonical sources open to all comers to make their own interpretations, there are numerous individuals who dream of carving out a place for themselves. Most other Muslims treat them with healthy scepticism, so the Lessington Avenue entity has little traction. On top of that, its organiser has had more practical problems getting established - run-ins with the Charity Commission and the council over the status of the property he uses, and having to move his activities from place to place around Romford, as well as attacks on the property itself. Romford seems to have a sorry history of local Islamophobia - this itself may have contributed to Adebolajo's sense of victimhood or a sense of championing the militants' cause. However the Essex Islamic Trust itself, even if in 2003 Adebolajo could have found it, would have nothing to offer other than the gripes of a singular individual about his own take on issues vexing Asian versions of Islam.

So, in Romford, there was almost nowhere for Michael Adebolajo to go as a newly converted Muslim, save for an Asian-style Jumu'ah salaah and possibly Asian-style Tablighi Jama'at, or a peculiar individual Asian idiosyncratic version of Islam with very obviously no following to back it up.

There are more fundamental difficulties Adebolajo would have faced. He is a convert, in a religion that at the community level in the UK is overwhelmingly dominated by the Asian sub-communities - Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Gujerati. He is from a Nigerian family. Converts to Islam in Britain attract helpful attention in only a limited way. If they hold a red passport and have economic standing, they have interest as the means of extending the foothold that a family with migratory ambitions have - suggestions of marriage to a cousin's family in Pakistan, the cynical machinations buried in a show of hand-wringing piety. But interest rarely extends any further - Bangladeshis are invariably only interested in their own community, witness the number of masjids with exclusively Bangladeshi management, very often in the same neighbourhood (and in a couple of cases literally next door) as slightly more diverse masjids often with the same religious ethos. Asian racism towards blacks, whether African or American-Caribbean, is notoriously endemic. Adebolajo having reputedly involved himself in local gang activity, would fit their worst stereotypes, as a convert in need of cultivation he would be regarded as an embarrassment to them.

Before his conversion, his family moved to Lincolnshire, an attempt to shed the influence of London street gangs. Had Adebolajo sought any Muslim company in Lincolnshire, he would have found only the same Pakistani and Bangladeshi mono-cultural Islam as Romford, in an even more parochial and alienating form, among people who would have been even more reluctant to draw him into their narrowly traditional practice.

As a Nigerian, he might have tried to find a home among the West African masjids particularly around Southwark, including explicitly Nigerian ones such as Nasrul-lahi-Il-Fathi Society of Nigeria, NASFAT in Bermondsey, or Muslim Association of Nigeria on the Old Kent Road. If he had, he would failed to recognise anything that matched the expectations of Islam that his college Muslim friends would have inculcated in him. These under a dozen masjids, mostly in Southwark and South London, have more in common in their ethos with African revivalist churches than the sobrietous masjids of mainstream Islam. They are happy, welcoming and enthusiastic places for sure, but with his West African Christian upbringing to refer to, he would have seen them as little different to what he had left behind, indeed he would very likely have perceived them as being hugely 'deviated' from the austere and dogmatic Islam of the Muslims he mixed with in college.

As an African, he may have expected to find common ground with the burgeoning Somali communities, and probably did, not in Romford but certainly in Greenwich, or among the Afro-Caribbean Muslims around South London in particular. But just as Asian Muslims would have kept him at arm's length, so he himself would find huge cultural obstacles between him and these. Regardless of Islam, Somalis have had a sorry time in their relations with London's Afro-Caribbean communities who have seen them as intruders, punctuated with numerous attacks and squabbles between them. Within Islam, other than the Brixton masjid at Gresham Road, Afro-Caribbean Muslims themselves are usually a sidelined minority in Asian-dominated and exclusively Asian-run masjids, so Adebolajo would have been a minority of one within another disparaged and distanced minority. In the last ten years the specifically Somali and Eritrean presence has grown so that there are now a couple of dozen masjids founded by these two communities, but these are young institutions, struggling just to get a presence for their own, never mind finding the ways and processes to help others outside ... Nigeria and Somalia are far from juxtaposed geographically; culturally they are worlds apart from each other. It is only our European-centric view that lumps them together in our minds in the vast and diverse continent of Africa.

In short, because of the cultural exclusiveness and parochialness of any of the mainstream masjids and Muslim communities he might have approached, there was never a hope that Michale Adebolajo could have bonded into any kind of mainstream Islam, not even the mainstream of the otherwise often challenging brands of Salafi-ism that he would have been introduced to. On the contrary, his desire as a convert, to make an impression, his zeal and determination to show his commitment, would have fed his frustrations with the complacent, racist and alien mainstream of Islam and driven him like so many other converts before him, to actively seek militancy and embrace it. In this way he would not only satisfy his own desire for status and influence, he would also have a powerful weapon to embarrass and undermine all those in the mainstream who despised and snubbed him. Just like the 11th September attacks, his motive was not only to hurt the non Muslim world, but to hurt Muslims that had made a comfortable settlement with the West, and ultimately in the chaos of the backlash he would cause, to give them reason to leave the West and 'return' to a Muslim world in which people such as he would be revered. To cause fear in people gives you a weapon and status way beyond your actual capacity to cause harm. Whatever the actual extent to which Omar Bakri Muhammad coached him, the keenness with which the latter claimed Adebolajo as one of his, and the way in which Adebolajo embraced the name of Abu Hamza, rather than perhaps the original Hamza himself, the honoured uncle of the Messenger of Allah (S), demonstrates his desire to bask in notoriety, fear and perception of power.

Michael Adebowale is a somewhat different person. His conversion to Islam is relatively recent, he lived in Greenwich rather than being a visitor to it, and he had very specific traumatic experiences prior to entering Islam. There is considerable information that suggests a degree of emotional disturbance, his testimony demonstrates far less clarity or rationality in his actions. Whatever the true state of his mind, and he was of course declared fit to stand trial, it would be rash to try and analyse the influences that drew him to partner Adebolajo's crime without a lot more clarity of his intentions that is currently not available.

Nevertheless both Adebolajo and Adebowale drew heavily on people they fell in with around Greenwich, its masjid in Plumstead, the university there and the neighbouring masjid on Lewisham High Street. Neither of these masids are 'extremist', both are well established, the former for several decades. Both are significant parts of the considerable Salafi influence on London's youth, and both have been at great pains to condemn Lee Rigby's murder and the ideas propagated by the two Michaels. I believe that there is nothing remotely insincere in what these masjids have done, and in the current state of affairs nothing else they could have done to prevent Lee Rigby's murder.

However there is some history here. I first visited Greenwich masjid in 1990, when the UK Salafi movement was still somewhat rarified. At that time the masjid was predominantly mainstream Deobandi, with a noticeable uncomfortable accommodation of a small Ahl-e-Hadith Asian community that drew on support from a mixture of people from various Arab backgrounds who lived in the area. Ahl-e-Hadith is a 19th century movement in India that adopted some of the ideas that were also behind Salafi-ism. Neither are of essence political movements, but both are direct challenges to the traditional sources of authority in orthodox Sunni Islam. Tensions in Greenwich masjid grew as the balance of power shifted in the 1990s, and during the last ten years any Deobandi, Tablighi Jama'at influence has withered away completely. Aside from the upsurge of Salafi-ism per se, inbound members of the Somali diaspora to Greenwich has undermined the stranglehold of the ethnic Asian control of a number of masjids including this one. In the process there has been pressure from below for change, culminating in a Charity Commission review that brought about termination of the trusteeships dating from 2005 and a series of elections with a change of management in 2013. While these machinations are a matter of public record, what they point to for those familiar with the tensions within this masjid, is recognition at grass roots level of the potential to exploit the instability of the masjid as an institution. It quickly becomes a place where a wide range of people seeking to recruit others to their various brands of Islam, involving themselves openly or surreptitiously with whoever they can find to share their stories with. This happens without anyone in charge being able to control or even identify what is happening. When the people in charge are themselves unable to enforce their authority, where that authority itself is not accepted, there is ample scope for extremist recruitment, without anyone being aware of it.

Lewisham masjid is a more recent establishment, and was basically founded as a Salafi institution, its imam having trained in Madinah University in the late 1980s under the heavy influence of Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz, the principle driver of the current Salafi movement. As such, Lewisham masjid has been a focal point of much Salafi activism dating back to the period in the 1990s when members of the nascent Salafi movement actively sought confrontation on religious issues with congregations of Deobandi and Bareilvi masjids. That period was turbulent and passed slowly; it left a legacy which still inhabits most masjids, of suspicion, distrust and antagonism between Salafi and other groups. Elements of Salafi theological methods were and still are adopted by extremist thinkers and are used to provide theological justifications for acts of political violence. While the managements of Salafi masjids strive to demonstrate their respectability and civility (with meritorious efforts - most Salafi masjids have far better records of good community relations and positive engagement than most Deobandi or Bareilvi ones), their reputations for antagonism towards the traditional orthodox Sunni practices continue to mark them out as places that are comfortable for other dissenters besides, including militant ones. Furthermore the absence of the ethnic cultural baggage of most Asian-run orthodox masjids and the accessibility of Salafi theology makes them very attractive to converts to Islam - nowadays most converts in the UK adopt Salafi practices. That combination, of a ready audience of converts and of an atmosphere of antipathy towards the mainstream, continues to attract militant activists. The problem masjid managements have is the same one that besets orthodox Deobandi and Bareilvi oriented masjids, the problem that this website continually raises: while all argument about the relative merits of different Muslim theological viewpoints continues to be nothing but polemical monologue, while Muslim preachers and practitioners treat other sects with utter contempt, it is impossible to have a genuine and informed discussion about such matters in which people and their differing beliefs are treated with mutual respect and attention to facts instead of diatribes. In other words, while managements and imams of Salafi masjids such as Lewisham Islamic Centre oversee an atmosphere of contempt towards alternative dissenting or orthodox beliefs and practices, all discussion of any different viewpoint takes place out of sight - that is true whether it is a healthy viewpoint or a militant one.

Thus it is easy for Lewisham Islamic Centre to declare, "At no point however, were these individuals members of our congregation. At no point did these individuals use our services or attend any of our classes. At no point did they have a personal relationship with anyone at the Centre and/or members of the mosque/management." - they will never find out anything different, because all dissent is hidden from them. Only when such places, along with all the other one and a half thousand autocratic, unaccountable, sectarian UK masjids, begin to accept and entertain Muslim religious diversity in a respectful manner will they be able to distinguish those remainder that continue to treat all of us with contempt, men such as Michael Adebolaje and Michael Adebowale. Only then will they recogise such people on their arrival in Islam and either make them secure in the Muslim mainstream, or as safe but opinionated dissenters whose voices moderate with age and wisdom.

If Salafi-oriented masjids receive far more antagonistic attention and unwarranted accusations of harbouring extremists than they deserve, they can look back a decade or two and see how the seeds for that were laid in their own frequently vicious and divisive antagonism towards the orthodox, particularly Deobandi and Bareilvi, masjids and communities. Their refusal to be respectful and tolerant to other Muslims is a legacy that will take huge acts of contrition to set right.

Meanwhile whatever the sect, the failure of the Muslim community to understand transparency and accountability, mutual respect and tolerance of diversity, its deep rooted racism among its own various ethnicities, and its total failure to bring converts into its bosom, means that the whole Muslim community, for all their denials, have to shoulder a significant part of the blame for Lee Rigby's murder, and the dreadful catalogue of other incidents of home-grown violence perpetrated by Muslim converts. Sadly there is no evidence whatsoever that such lessons are being learnt among UK masjids, their imams or their managements.

Comments


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Gender segregation advice U-turn 
Not only Gove but also Cameron now keen to stick one on Universities UK. "The [PM's] spokesman made clear that the PM wanted a ban on gender-segregated audiences on campus even where men and women voluntarily separated themselves. [... not sure that's quite how it was meant to sound, but never mind ...] He also stressed that the prime minister's views did not extend to places of worship such as mosques, synagogues or gurdwaras." (Or events run by religious organisations on campus that happen to start and end with acts of worship? in the customary place of worship, the hall booked out for every Friday Jumu'ah?... only asking!)

Time was, when I was a lad, that every feminist on campus would have been properly outraged at any intervention from on high that sought to undermine their right to a separate, independent women's caucus. Islam is not feminism, but Muslims could do worse than learn a thing or two from the women's movement, for example fighting for the right to dress as you please without being obliged to dress up as a sex object.

Has it struck any of these pontificating politicians that it might actually be women, and not only Muslim women, but especially Muslim women, who want the right to attend meetings without being messed around with? Or perhaps these politicians don't actually want conscientiously observing Muslim women on campus, or in the labour market? Maybe Gove and Cameron actually want Muslim women to stay at home and do the ironing.

Ever practical, here's a suggestion: three sections - one exclusively for women, one exclusively for men and one for those who wish to mix. Simple, and everyone's happy except for politicians looking to score a cheap point for a cause they don't really believe in, women's independence.

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Google Maps version 3 
MuslimsInBritain.org is currently transitioning to Google Maps version 3 and Google have now withdrawn version 2. Meanwhile there will be slight degradation of service compared with what you are used to. The map zoom is slower and the refresh of the view after zooming is also slower - it may take a few seconds longer for Google Maps to show you the masjid landmarks after you have panned or zoomed the map view.

Also whereas before, the Streetview picture homed in on the landmark, giving you a clear view of the Streetview of the masjid, this feature has changed and will be re-coded and meanwhile has been switched off. Instead however, you can now use the Google Yellow Man in the mini-map and drop him on the landmark to get the same result, but you have to do it yourself.

Please be patient while these elements are fixed, which they will be as soon as time allows. Please also note that unlike several sites that have copied the MuslimsInBritain.org website, we do not depend on the MuslimsInBritain.org website and its features to promote our own business or generate advertising revenue. This assures you of our complete independence but has the consequence that the Google Maps version 3 transition will be completed as our voluntary time allows it to be.

Update, January 2015
Code and content now updated to accommodate Google Maps version 3, and a vastly improved, full function "nearest mosques on my mobile" service as well - have a look at m.muslimsinbritain.org!

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK 
A ground-breaking, harrowing and challenging report into FGM was published yesterday at the House of Commons by the Royal Colleges of Midwifery, Nursing and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Unite union and Equality Now, Female genital mutilation/cutting: a statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change(pdf). It speaks for itself and I have nothing of value to add to it.

What I do take issue with, is the continued association of FGM with Islam and Muslims. FGM is categorically not a religious ritual for any religion, certainly not Islam. It is not prevalent in the Muslim world, it is prevalent in tropical Africa. Yet even the Guardian chooses to include a reference to Islam in its article, "FGM is carried out in Africa and the Middle East by Muslims and non-Muslims. It predates Islam and is not called for in the Qur'an although it mostly occurs in countries that became Islamic."

Correct, it is not called for in the Qur'an, the Qur'an has many things to say about those who are abusive to what Allah has created. No it does not occur "mostly in countries that became Islamic" whatever that is supposed to mean. You can see for yourself which countries, in the same newspaper's extract of statistics. Reading as a logician, the pathetic phrase "carried out ... by Muslims and non-Muslims" makes the reference to Muslims entirely, gratuitously, spurious ..... to trivialise, it includes the entire regional population of wombats, even those that are Jehovah's Witnesses.

The only explicit Islamic contribution, in 14 centuries, to FGM, is a hadith from the Messenger of Allah (S) advising an old lady of Madinah, that if she really must cut, cut little, and although it is in the collection of Abu Dawood, some Islamic references state it as 'daeef', weak in authenticity. (The most remarkable aspect of that is simply to emphasise just how wide-ranging and detailed is the scope of the historical record of the early years of Islam.)

But this blog is not simply another gripe about knee-jerk Islamophobia, I want to make clear that this kind of sloppy journalism is dangerous, putting people at risk. By dwelling on the tenuous link between Islam and FGM, journalists and scaremongerers draw attention away from the very large proportion of non-Muslim girls in the UK who are in jeopardy. The Guardian is read by numerous professionals and health practitioners among others, typically with an IQ in double figures at least, yet leads them to suppose that the primary criterion for assessing if a girl is at risk is whether or not her mother is wearing a headscarf. Gratuitous Islamophobia in the linking of FGM to Muslims and not to prevalent cultures, undermines the careful work of this report and thereby puts girls at risk of being overlooked.





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"Please change our masjid's 'Theme'" (or management, or both) 
From time to time I receive feedback from people anxious to make as clear as possible to me that they are authoritative representatives of the management committee of a masjid. They vary in tone from the conciliatory to the outraged, and they want me to change the Theme that I have attributed to their masjid, to one which is as bland and uninformative as possible, e.g. "All welcome" or "Sunni", or "Mixed". There is actually nothing I would rather do than be able to re-label any masjid "Inclusive" or some similar adhective - actually that is the very objective of this website.

But I am not doing this work in order to deceive or mislead people. Some feedback accuses me of causing fitna by stating that a particular masjid is "Deobandi", or "Salafi", or "Sufi-Bareilvi" etc. Let me make very clear, if you are responsible for running a masjid, and that masjid is not a private club with invited guests only, but is a service for the Muslim community and the public beyond, then it is absolutely my responsibility to use the information available to me to let people know as accurately as I can, what theme, flavour, atmosphere, practice, tradition, or whatever, your masjid propagates, whether or not they intend to visit it. Yet instead, you, responsible officer of your masjid's committee, are asking me to collude with you to hide that information from the public, to deceive and mislead, even when those facts are widely known in your local community. You probably believe that the fact that I have published that knowledge will somehow discourage people from attending your masjid. You may believe that the information embarasses your masjid. In either case, it is not for me to hide these things, it is very much for you to change them!

As I repeat over and again on the MuslimsInBritain.org website,

* almost all UK masjids are organised with closed, unaccountable managements and only a small number of people permitted to provide any kind of religious content, and that strictly in line with the masjid's theme.

* It is this that causes fitna (trouble, enmity).

* The fitna is profoundly exacerbated by imams of such masjids who use their privileged position to teach their congregations to be sceptical and hostile towards other practices, sometimes with outright takfir against them.

* Masjids sustain coteries of people who co-operate to preserve the status quo and ensure that no alternative practice gains a hearing in the masjid.

* Because of this intellectual lock-down, anyone who is unhappy with the way the masjid is run is driven to work outside the masjid's circle, even if he prays in that same masjid five times a day.

* The most frequently dissatisfied users of the masjid are converts such as myself, though we may be few in number.

* The second most frequently dissatisfied, are Muslim youth.

* Around any masjid with unaccountable management and inflexible, exclusive religious practice (i.e. every masjid in the UK) you will find discontented groups, mainly young, often including a convert, unhappy with the status quo.

* The groups range across the whole spectrum of different ideas of what it means to practice Islam.

* Most will be groups with very valuable contributions to make, if only you didn't keep blocking them out.

* But in numbers of cases will be some who are very interested in militant extremism.

* You, masjid management, imams, can't tell one from another - you see them all as hostile ...
... because they all challenge you and your absolute control of the masjid.

* That's why you shut them out and why you get the shock of your life when one of those groups drags your masjid into the headlines and you have to tell the press the unbelievable fact that you knew nothing about them.

* If you made space for alternative viewpoints in your masjid, you'd quickly see who were the decent Muslims trying to do something better than you.

* And the only ones who would be hiding their activities from you would be the ones you really need to worry about.

* It is you, masjid management committees, imam in your pocket, who create the conditions in which your own children and their convert friends get mixed up in bitter, hostile ideas that quickly turn to atrocious acts of violence against your own neighbours. At first they are driven out by your hostility to any new ideas they try to bring to your community. Then they learn to carry on out of your sight, just like all the other dissenting groups. Then when one of them is so far gone that he or she thinks the only act that will make its mark, shake you out of your complacency, 'wake up the Muslims', it will be too late to save the reputation of your masjid.

It is an easily demonstrated fact that most 'terrorism' cases in the UK involve one or two Muslim converts usually with a few born-Muslim 2nd/3rd generation, and that they do their business right under the noses of the masjid regulars without anyone in the privileged circle having the slightest clue what they are up to. The pages of this blog and the 'Political' pages of the MuslimsInBritain.org website explain how it happens.

So ... the penalty paid by locked down masjid management, ethnic/tribal exclusiveness and narrow religious 'themes' is a community that is destroying itself and the community around it. Occasionally, tragically, the consequences of masjid intransigence are literally a matter of life and death.

So, masjid manager, until you yourselves do away with your exclusive themes, learn that it is you who have to change your ways. You can no longer afford to block any request for masjid events other than those your best buddy the imam approves of. Imam, know that your smug, clever speeches that warn your congregation how this or that activity or ritual of this or that other sect brings its participants to the brink of hellfire, is insulting, offensive, and ignorant. The people you are insulting are sitting right in front of you in your Friday Jumu'ah. You are the source of fitna.
Muqtadi, know that while you make yourself comfortable among your coterie, in cahoots with your committee, backbiting against some individual that tries to introduce some people to some aspect of Islam that you reject, that it is you that is the source of fitna.

The fitna you all create, trustee, committee, imam, influential muqtadi, is the very thing that makes everyone in the community know that your masjid is the unassailable Bareilvi masjid, Deobandi masjid, Salafi masjid, ... You create the 'themes' I diligently record and publish. (Don't even get me started on the tribal, racial exclusive masjids!) You want me to hide, disguise, deny your efforts? No, I will not conspire with you.

If you genuinely want to promote the idea that your masjid is not rigidly themed, there is a huge amount you can do, and I will try to help. But be warned, I will be very sceptical of platitudes about how everyone is welcome in your masjid. (Imagine what kind of awful place it would be if that wasn't true!) Catholic churches, the British Humanist Association, even the EDL, can all make that claim, and with more justification than some masjids!

I will want to see demonstrable proof, in publicly accessible forms, of activities that occur regularly and frequently in your masjid, that clearly break down the barriers between any and all of the Muslim factions and ethnicities that live in your area. Such a list might include mix of the following:

Ta’alim from Maulana Zakariya’s (RA) Tablighi Nisab
Gusht in the manner of Tabligh Jama’at
Ghousia Kathm, Urs shareef, Gyarwee shareef or similar activities
Ta’alim from Kanz-ul Emaan of Ala Hazrat Ahmad Raza Khan (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah (RA)
Ta’alim from the work of Shaykh Nasruddin Al Albani
Jaloos and Maatm or Zanjeer zani commemorations in respect of Imam Hussain (RAA)
Urs Syedna Abdullah Fakhruddin RA in the fashion of Dawoodi Bohras
Muraqabah qalb dhikr of the Naqshbandis
Tafsir from Tefhim ul Qur'an of Abdul 'Ala Maudoodi(RA)

It might include the employment voluntary or paid, of imams in rotation, from each of the major madrassahs, especially those that carry the burden of notorious disdain for each other.

Yes that is quite a challenging list - including items that I myself would struggle with, but that is the point - you claim that your masjid is the community's masjid, that it is open to everyone, that you don't define yourselves by some narrow criterion that excludes all but a single instance from a list such as the above. So either be true to your claims and open up, or accept that you are sectarian as I have described you, with all the dangers I have highlighted.

I will want to see clear evidence that your imams and alims and amirs and committee members are actively propagating mutual respect towards other sects' beliefs and teachings, with open and honest discussion of the points you disagree with, without disrespectful and insulting insinuations about the quality of someone else's iman. Salafi, you know you can't see into the heart of another Muslim so how can you claim to judge the imaan of a Sufi. Sufi, you cannot claim that a Salafi who loves the Sunnah so much that he practices every hadeeth he finds, is not a greater ashiq than you.

When did you ever see one imam sharing a lecture with an imam from a rival sect? Never? Well now is the time to start!

You will need to construct clear codes of conduct, published, and very likely adorning the walls of your masjid: No more "No one is permitted to make any announcements etc except ..." Instead I want to see, "No one is permitted to use insulting or derogatory language about another Muslim's beliefs or practice. No one is permitted to deny any group or speaker the right to disseminate their material by speech, leaflet or formal event in this masjid. Any question of the Islamic basis of another's beliefs or practice must be conducted with the utmost regard for respect and tolerance of diversity, and must be based on mutually agreed definitions of what the differences actually are." (I would welcome suggestions for the kinds of rules that could be formulated to promote the required degree of mutual respect.)

All these examples of activities that transcend your dogmatically maintained, sectarian themes have to be real, with a proven and published track record, not just aspirations. Every masjid has aspirations of capturing the hearts of the Muslim neighbourhood, of course it does. That is why so many are named 'Central Mosque', 'Markazi Masjid', 'Jamiya Masjid' etc. even when they exist as an end of terrace house in the seediest corner of a backwater estate. The struggle against sectarianism will not be won by aspirations, only by you giving up your mimbar to share it with people you currently despise.

Now lets come on the the accountability bit. You want MuslimsInBritain.org to state that your management committee is not exclusively Pakistani? (or Bangladeshi, or Gujerati ...? ) Which country does your imam come from? Born in Britain? trained in Britain? Probably not. From the same country as you yourselves? Thought so! Why should that be, if not to maintain the ethnic self-serving exclusiveness of your masjid? How were you appointed to the committee? By election? Election by whom? Did you publish the date of your meeting? How did you decide who could vote? What does one have to do to become a member? What language do you conduct your affairs in?

Very occasionally I am pleased to note the diversity of a masjid's management committee, though inevitably disappointed that there appears to be not a single convert/revert among them, even less, any one from an indigenous origin. It is a matter of continued incredulity to me that, after 60 years of a substantial Muslim presence in Britain, and continual claims of many thousands of people within this country embracing Islam, practically every one of our one and a half thousand masjids is without even a single indigenous British committee member. One would have supposed that if Muslims were serious about their commitment to life in this country that all but the most parochial backwater would have most of the key posts and many of the imam-ates filled by just such people. The Muslim community's failure to even recognise this as a problem speaks volumes for the perception the non-Muslim community has of Muslims in Britain. It is uniform across the UK, with the exception of the peculiar Masjid al-Falah in Norwich and arguably also Brixton Masjid. However, if you are truly intent on achieving constructive diversity, I suggest that you set a firm aim to add an indigenous Muslim convert to your committee as being one of your public aims of the highest priority. Then we can talk seriously about integration in which everyone is welcome in your masjid.

So, if you want MuslimsInBritain.org's directory to record your theme as something like "Sunni" or "No specific theme" and your management to be recorded as "Diverse" then you know what to do. For my part I will be thrilled to make these changes to my database and publish them. Meanwhile the sectarian rot continues unchecked, because you, masjid committee, are too selfish to see the damage you have done.

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