There’s Omar Bakri Muhammad, the “Tottenham Ayatollah” who raged against the Spice Girls and other manifestations of decadent Britain (I’m sort of with him on that), now somewhere in Lebanon. And Abu Hamza, who’s finally stateside after years of making a valuable contribution to British life. What about Jamaican-born Abdullah el-Faisal – nothing like the zeal of a convert – who’s back in the West Indies after a long spell in London ranting and raving.
All of these characters became public faces in Britain in 2000s: like all extremists, amusing until they or their followers succeed. Abu Hamza radicalised the 7/7 bombers and el-Faisel one of the 9/11 plotters, as well as Richard Reid, who would not be such a figure of fun had he succeeded.
Now Abu Qatada is the last one left, the O’Toole to their Reed, Burton and Harris. I’ve written before about the philosophical arguments against allowing him to stay and the immigration problems he personifies; all that can be added is that it’s a shame that it’s taken so long for us to take these people seriously.
It’s also a shame that for many people they have become the face of Islam. The week before last I spent time with a group of British Muslims raising money for the Royal British Legion. The men belong to the Ahmadiyya, an Islamic reformist movement that began almost a century ago in British India. The Ahmadiyya had been raising money for British charities such as Save the Children and Barnardo’s for 30 years, but began selling poppies three years ago, and hope to top last year’s record of £20,000. The group follow “divine reformer” Hadhrat Ahmad, who was born in 1835 in what is now Pakistan and from 1889 began a mission to revive Islam. After his death some followers proclaimed Ahmad as the promised messiah (Imam Mahdi), which is where the group diverges from orthodox Islam.
The group have always been keen on promoting the positive side of Islam – many Londoners would recognise the slogan “love for all, hatred for none”, which occasionally appear on buses – but the 21st century has brought a new need for public relations.
When I spoke to Rafiq Hayat, National President of the community in Britain, he pointed out that it was the young people who came up with the idea of helping the British Legion. “The British forces have been coming to our youth festivals for many years, and our youth felt like they wanted to raise money.”
Born in Kenya, Hayat came to Britain in the late 1960s when the country agreed that Kenyan Asians would be granted British passports. “I believe we have to demonstrate loyalty, and poppies are a declaration of loyalty. When Queen Victoria had her Jubilee, our leader sent a gift and a message, praising her and the British, saying through her kindness India was flourishing. Our current head recently sent a gift to the Queen again with a message.”
The Ahmadiyyas argue that Islam has been distorted down the centuries. “We do not believe in the type of jihad the other Muslims believe in, we believe in the jihad of the pen. The bigger jihad is reforming yourself.” They also strongly hold that Islam should teach the value of questioning and argument, and with this emphasis the community in Pakistan came to be highly educated and, therefore, disproportionately influential in early Pakistani politics.
But they’ve been persecuted in Pakistan ever since President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was “sucked in by the mullahs”, had them declared non-Muslims. But they’ve also suffered at the hands of extremists in Britain, much of it to do with the last Government’s misguided attempts to cosy up to Muslim leaders, and they can’t understand why the British allow radical Islamists to proliferate here. If you feel angry when you see Qatada and his ilk at large, how do you think the Ahmadiyyas feel?
SOURCE: THE TELEGRAPH