Henry Jackson Society calls for the UK government to require mosques to reveal sources of overseas funding 
"Foreign funding for extremism in Britain primarily comes from Saudi Arabia, but the UK government should set up a public inquiry into all the funding sources from across the Gulf, a new report by the Henry Jackson Society has said." The Guardian, 5th July 2017.

This assertion by the Henry Jackson Society uses data appropriated from my biennial UK Mosque Statistics report to make claims that are pure speculative fiction. "The impact of this increased spending may well have been felt in Britain: in 2007, estimates put the number of mosques in Britain adhering to Salafism and Wahhabism at 68. Seven years later, the number of British mosques identified with Wahhabism had risen to 110."

Firstly the numbers: These are my counts of UK masjids with Salafi-oriented imams and managements. They are not 'militant' mosques in any definition and they are not in any way associated with any militancy, violence or criminal activity. Like all UK Salafis and most Salafis in that burgeoning movement, they are pietists who make very valid challenges to the complacent 'village Islam' of their own family elders with its absence of scholarship, perpertuation of superstition and total failure to explain itself to its own younger generations. The Salafi doctrinal analysis is that Islamic fiqh, practice of worship, has lost its connection with the Prophet (S) and his Companions (R). I disagree with that analysis, but I cannot dispute the validity of their motives in challenging stale, unaccountable and exclusive mosque management committees that year by year are further detached from the reality of Muslim life in the west.

Secondly, the funding: UK mosques are funded almost entirely from contributions sourced from the local neighbourhood. This is as true for marginal house conversions as it is for landmark projects. Only a very few of the 100-plus Salafi mosques are anything other than marginal developments, and even these are adaptations that have grown over several decades of incremental improvements. The typical funding profile of a UK masjid that has had any significant construction work done, adaptation or purpose-built, is 50%-plus of build costs paid for by small donations from the neighbourhood it serves, spread over 10 to 20 years, plus up to 45% paid for from a small number of wealthy businesses in that same neighbourhood, usually as gifts or 'karz-hasana' (religiously motivated loans, described virtuously in the Qur'an and to be repaid) and given only after the large volume, low value donations have been exhausted, plus perhaps 5% of build costs provided from systematic fund-raising drives around congregations of other mosques around the UK. This is just as true for Salafi-oriented mosques as it is for any of the others. And, like the majority of other UK mosques, the majority of Salafi ones are small, often temporary, house, shop or workshop conversions of marginal property at low cost and very limited budget. The nature of Salafi practice is such that they can budget lower than more orthodox Sunnis because they do not have the deferential attachment to a traditional regular imam who needs to be waged and housed, albeit at sub-continental rates.

There is almost never any funding of UK mosques from overseas. I was briefly fund-raising secretary of Croydon Mosque. My predecessor had secured a £30,000 gift from the Gulf as a contribution to its overall building spend of circa £1.5 million over 20 years. That gift was exceptional and was achieved through the notoriously radical, militant offices of Lord Wetherall, notable former Speaker and Tory MP for Croydon, on an official visit to the Gulf. When lesser persons approach any potential source of funds in the Arabian peninsula, the response is invariably begging belief at the risibility of the request: 'You have come from one of the wealthiest economies in the world, you are staying in a comfortable hotel (in Mecca, Madinah or wherever), for all UK Muslims' tribulations, you have a demonstrably higher level of education and economic well-being than most Muslims anywhere else in the world, and you expect us to donate money that you can perfectly well raise even in your own family!'

Yes Saudis and others do finance religious development programmes in many parts of the world, where there are large, poor communities of Muslims, and yes these projects do distort the allegiances of many of their beneficiaries. But the UK is not a case in point, and neither is anywhere else in any of the more advanced economies. Furthermore the Saudis do not have the human resources or at least people with sufficient inclination, to follow up on their infrastrusture projects with ideologically motivated imams and preachers. There are very few places outside of the Arab world where the imam of a mosque or other religious functionary is himself from the Middle East, least of all a Saudi. The growth of adherence to Saudi-influenced interpretations of Islamic practice are not through Saudi propagation, they are through non-Arab adulation and assimilation, and through deep dissatisfaction with the traditional and questionable alternatives. This dissatisfaction is spread through literature, but not literature from the Middle East, much of which is either poor quality and idiomaticly inapplicable, or very high quality standard works of classic scholars. Most of the critical Islamic literature actually comes from Britain and the USA! And it is paid for as modest 'vanity publishing' driven by local enthusiasts.

There are nine mosques in the UK that I know of that have had significant overseas funding: The previously-named 'Saddam Hussain Mosque' in Birmingham, on a whim of the eponymous donor in times when the UK had a very comfortable relationship with him; the Rabita in Goodge Street, London, which is explicitly the Saudis' Muslim World League office; Al Muntada in Fulham, which was very influential in cultivating Salafi-ism in London in the 1980s; Masjid at-Tawhid, the very personal project of Sohaib Hasan in Leyton; and the remainder being a scattering of mosques under the Al-Birr Foundation who, while nominally Salafi, are among the more liberal mosques in the UK. There is also King Fahad Academy in Ealing, whose issues and influences are well documented. All of these have substantial practical activities addressing and countering extremism and have done since they first realised that the challenges their Salafi adherents made against the Sunni mainstream, was making them targets of accusations of extremism. These accusations came and still come from intellectually lazy imams and management committees under threat to their complacent Indian sub-continental Islam, the Deobandis and especially the Bareilvis. The real problem is the delinquent failure of Bareilvi and Deobandi imams and scholars to provide an explanation of Islam that goes beyond what is required for a close-knit village in Sylhet, Mirpur or Surat.

What the Saudis have done, is open up Madinah University to numbers of enrollees to its Islamic Studies courses through the 1980s and 1990s. At minimal outlay by anyone, here they were taught the polemical Salafi doctrines of Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Nasruddin al Albani, themselves to a managed degree at odds with the Saudi establishment. For many of the students, especially from the UK, the tuition was largely second-hand and piecemeal, selected according to the excitement value of its divergence from Sunni orthodoxy. Second-hand because most of these students were notoriously poor performers and had little grasp of the Arabic lectures they attended. Nevertheless these returnees, graduating or often not, retain the kudos of having been "trained at Madinah University" and therefore highly influential among impressionable young Salafis and malcontents that had not made the trip. It is unfortunate, but the Saudi establishment has no means to regulate the claims of such British individuals.

So, if the UK Government has been reluctant to publish its findings over foreign funding of UK extremists, and, as I demonstrate above, there is zero-to-negligible funding channelled through UK Muslim institutions, what is the fuss about? In truth, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a very brittle structure. Its strength lies in an uneasy alliance in permanent tension between the decadent House of Saud and the peninsula's religious establishment. This alliance is rooted in the alliance between the polemical but orthodox Sunni scholar Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (the source of the intentionally derogatory term 'Wahhabi') and the peninsula's tribal warlord Muhammad ibn Saud. The alliance was rooted in their mutual hostility to Turkish Ottoman rule - the former because of its accretions of unislamic and decadent practices, the latter as a source of larcenous enrichment. Once political hegemony over the peninsula ceded to the Saudi tribe, in the 20th century, the political and military settlement required and gained religious legitimacy through the doctrinal alignment with the successors of ibn Abdul Wahhab's legacy. Religious legitimacy was essential because, of course, the territory includes Makkah and Madinah.

But not only is there a permanent tension between the theocracy and the monarchy, there are numerous schisms within both, and there are many peninsula families and tribes that would still challenge the legitimacy of the Saudi claims. Al Qaeda's clear goal was the overthrow of the Saudi regime. ISIS may have entrenched itself in Syria, but its ultimate fallback will be to disappear into Saudi Arabia and having demonstrated world-challenging capability once, its ultimate goal will also be to construct practical Islamic authority through usurpation of Makkah or Madinah. Once in place there, it will be extremely hard to challenge without world-shattering consequences. Meanwhile there is no shortage of disgruntled and often stupendously wealthy individuals who individually play off opposing peninsula factions, or create subtle or threatening embarrassments for the incumbent rulers, and thus strengthen their own positions in the increasingly likely eventuality of the fracturing of the House of Saud. Therewith would lie sources of terrorist funding, but it is not and doesn't need to be, a megabucks industry: the IRA Provos caused more carnage for longer, on a shoestring budget of US dollars. One thing it is not, is under the control of the Saudi state.

There are few political interests in the West that are served by undermining the Saudi state. Its contribution to a three-way balance of power between Israel, Iran and itself is crucial for all three countries and their allies to maintain their current political status quo. Of all the politically interested parties, the worst thing the UK could do for international stability would be to call out, not the Saudis' supposed funding of extremism, but the brittle weakness of the Saudi position, which would be exposed by any rigorous examination of Arabian peninsula terrorism funding. Political embarassment in an HMG official document on that scale could fundamentally undermine the status quo and ultimately give Al Qaeda, ISIS, or some as yet unknown entity, everything they desire together with open season on the Israelis and the Iranians alike. Is that really what the Henry Jackson Society wishes, or is their analysis as ignorant, lazy and stupid as reports such as the Guardian's seem to suggest?


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