Leeds, England: The generation of young British imams is under huge pressure to develop better ways of showing leadership in social and political issues. They are also facing death threats from IS extremists, according to the most senior imam at Leeds mosque, The Guardin reported.
Imam Qari Asim, the imam of Makkah Masjid in Leeds, told the Guardian news: “To them, ISIS, I am not any different to any other person in this cafe, or in a restaurant in Paris. For them, I am not a Muslim either.”
In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, Qari, 37, spent the week speaking to imams to make sense of what happened; attending vigils and talking to senior government ministers, while also consoling members of his congregation who fear an anti-Muslim backlash.
Earlier this week, Qari wrote an article in his local paper condemning ISIS, writing, “As a Muslim, a Briton and a human being, I will not stay silent on attacks on our societies in the name of my faith.”
Along with other imams, Qari also signed a string of letters from groups of Muslims denouncing the terror group. A letter by Muslims of Norwich, written by Imam Abdel-Samad Clarke, who had converted to Islam in the 1970s, condemned the militant group in the strongest of terms, writing: “This group has long been known to Muslims as Kharijites, literally ‘those who have gone out’ of the Muslim community. They are nihilists and do not represent the clear teachings of Islam at all.”
“They’ve hijacked our faith, they are using the terminology of our faith, and as a result I have to say it has nothing to do with our faith,” he said. But despite the condemnations of the attacks by British imams in the form of signed letters, sermons and social media posts often not picked up by wider British press – he said his peers were met with accusations that Muslim leaders are not doing enough to tackle extremism.
Another British imam, Abdullah Hasan, said the view that imams were not doing enough to condemn extremism was not fair. He said: “I was given death threats by ISIL sympathizers on TV. We are speaking out against extremists and we are hated by them.”
“Mosques are teaching good values, how to be good and proud British citizens while being committed to their faith,” he said. “The extremists see imams as being sellouts and not critical enough of the government’s foreign policy or the laws being passed down.”
Qari said: “I think the first thing to understand is that the imam’s role has changed over the years. Imams basically were there to lead the congregation in prayer traditionally, we didn’t have pastoral role as part of the imam training.
“Now we are expected firstly to have a pastoral role, and secondly to lead the community at a political and social level,” he said. “As a result we’re being unduly criticized, even though they are not trained and it’s not considered part of their role.”
On the other side, The sentiments echo a report published just before the Paris attacks, which found that six out of 10 Muslims in Britain surveyed had seen Islamophobia directed at someone else, up from four in 10 when the survey by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) was first conducted in 2010.
More than two-thirds of Muslims told the survey they heard anti-Islamic comments by politicians. Half of those surveyed thought politicians condoned Islamophobic acts, and nearly nine out of 10 thought discrimination was driven by the way Muslims are portrayed in media coverage.
In the last 10 years, the congregation has shifted, according to Qari, with a younger generation of British Muslims no longer in mosques, but online. He said, “Somehow we need to make our mosques more dynamic it’s just not about ritual prayers. It’s about community support.”
He said the young men joining Isis were not religious, not attending mainstream mosques, or going to study circles to learn about their faith. “In fact, we’ve learned some of the perpetrators smoked cannabis every day,” he said.
Calling Isis a death cult, Qari said the militant group was politicizing Islam for its own “political territorial goals”.
Qari said Isis was an issue for society as a whole and that stakeholders of power needed to include Muslims in the solution. “As people of faith we need to reach out to those people who are being lured by the terrorist organization who are traders of death, and we need to build castles of peace in people’s mind,” he said.