UK mosques can play a role in radicalisation
London - Amid increasing fears of radicalisation of young British Muslims, questions are being asked about the role mosques and Muslim organisations in the country are playing, or failing to play, to stop this dangerous phenomenon.
Estimates of British membership in the Islamic State (ISIS) range from 500-2,000, according to British Muslim Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood in November 2014.
But questions remain over how to counter this dangerous ideology that is increasingly gaining purchase among some segments of the British Muslim community, with many calling for tighter regulation of mosques.
Unlike most countries in the Arab world, mosques in the United Kingdom are largely unregulated, with a number of independent bodies such as the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the British Council of Muslims seeking, and competing, to fill that gap.
In other words, there is no across-the-board standard for who can call themselves an imam in Britain or what they can or cannot preach. While some applaud this pluralistic approach, others are concerned that it leaves the door open for the proliferation of extremist ideology.
This is also at odds with the situation in most Middle Eastern countries, where imams must be approved by the government. Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf, in charge of religious endowments, for example, in late 2013 banned clerics who had not graduated from al-Azhar from preaching in a bid to unify religious discourse in the country.
Although ISIS does most of its recruiting online, security experts say that an extremist, albeit non-violent, strain of political Islamist ideology is being perpetuated in some British mosques.
Prime Minister David Cameron said there were some among British Muslims who have “quietly condoned extremist ideology rather than confront it”.
“There are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices, giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims ‘you are part of this’,” Cameron told a security conference last month.
After initially becoming enamoured with non-violent radical views, a sub-section of disillusioned and isolated young Muslims become easy pickings for ISIS’s online recruiters. More than this, the sheer extremism and brutality of ISIS’s hard-line ideology, rhetoric and methodology has moved the goal posts in terms of the definition of “moderate” Islamic discourse.
As such, the UK government and British Muslim community must challenge and address non-violent extremist ideology as the gateway to terrorism. The government has taken legal action with a new “prevent duty”, which requires organisations such as schools, local authorities, prisons and police and health bodies to have “due regard to preventing people from being drawn into terrorism” as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
UK Security Minister John Hayes said: “We have seen all too starkly and tragically the dangers of radicalisation and the devastating impact it can have on individuals, families and communities. The new prevent duty is about protecting people from the poisonous and pernicious influence of extremist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism.”
British Muslim associations are working to combat ideological extremism as the underpinning for terrorism. The Minhaj-ul-Quran International organisation, which is very active within Britain’s prominent Pakistani community, launched a “counter-extremism curriculum” on June 23rd.
Speaking to The Arab Weekly, Minhaj ul-Quran founder and director Muhammad Tahir ul- Qadri said: “Non-violent extremism must be confronted as much as violent extremism. The issue must be to tackle extremism at the source.”
He called for an “absolute, explicit, categorical and unambiguous condemnation” of non-violent extremist ideology from all British mosques and Muslim associations.
Accounts of British ISIS recruits either tell of secular Muslims who suddenly become radicalised as a result of online preachers or devout Muslims who become disenchanted by what they are hearing from their local imam and look for answers elsewhere.
Radical groups such as Al-Muhajiroun, Hizb ut-Tahrir and others operate on the fringes of mainstream British Muslim society, possessing an alluring glamour for some young Muslims as a result of their outsider status. Hizb ut-Tahrir — banned in most Arab countries — is very active on a number of British university campuses, with many mosques across the United Kingdom welcoming members as visiting speakers. There are also questions being asked regarding a foreign-backed strain of Salafist ideology that is increasingly appearing in UK mosques.
Either way, the local mosque is being bypassed. At best, imams are guilty of failing to engage with local worshippers and steer them away from extremism; at worst they are laying the foundations for violent extremism further down the line.