Five leading British imams today launch an unprecedented attack on the self-proclaimed new caliphate describing its leaders as evil, corrupt, vicious cowboys and terrorists.
Their condemnation is the highest profile reaction so far from Muslim leaders in Britain to the self-styled Islamic state straddling parts of Iraq and Syria, which was declared during a bloody sectarian rampage across the Arab lands.
The imams were praised for their defiance of ISIS by Stephen Williams, the communities minister responsible for integration and race equality, who said: “I commend these courageous Muslim leaders on speaking out and standing up to intolerance and violence. This statement is to be wholeheartedly welcomed by everyone opposed to what Isis is doing in Syria and Iraq. It is vital that people of all faiths and all communities stand together in condemning ISIS and their extremist propaganda.”
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The imams have posted their attack on YouTube in a deliberate attempt to divert the attention of young British Muslims from extremist videos on the website which encourage them to become jihadis.
The Islamic leaders’ condemnation of the caliphate, praise for Britain’s tradition of tolerance and plea for young believers to stay away from the jihad, is the kind of bold stand which opinion formers have been urging senior moderate Muslims to make for many years.
The video has been organised by Imams Online, an information website for British Muslim clerics, which last week published a much milder open letter by 100 imams warning against travelling to Syria.
The new film is unflinching in its hostility to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the fighting force of extremist Sunnis which declared a caliphate, or Muslim state, after slaughtering Shia civilians and soldiers on its path through Iraq. It also makes clear that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the militia’s feared leader, is unqualified to have declared himself the new caliph, or worldwide leader, of Islam.
Hundreds of young Muslim Britons have travelled to Syria to join the civil war. ISIS has used footage of youths from Cardiff and Aberdeen to encourage other believers here to join up. Imams Online is co-ordinating a tough response to the propaganda to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan. The new video was timed to complement Friday prayers.
“As a Sunni Muslim I do not accept the khilafa (caliphate) of ISIS,” Maulana Shahi Raza, lead Imam of Grand Mosque of Leicester and a leading cleric, says in the film. “I consider Isis as a terrorist organisation and they are trying to create corruption and fitna [division] within the Muslim world.” He praises the unity between Muslims of different shades of opinion in Britain saying: “I am grateful to almighty God that Muslims in this country are united”.
Dr Abu Muntasir, chief executive of the influential group JIMAS, which has developed from a purist Salafi-style youth organisation into a moderate outward-looking body, urges fellow Muslims to stay away from Isis. “Brothers and sisters if I could tell you in one sentence about Isis I would say they are evil, they are corrupt, they are self-seeking, self-centred, vicious people. Don’t get mixed up with them, you don’t know who are behind them. Unity is of paramount importance and it should not be compromised under any circumstances.
Britain has so far avoided any sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shias apart from a single incident last year in the Edgware Road in London where a group of Sunnis went on a rampage.
Sheikh Sayed Ali Rivzi, a young leading light in a London-based scholarly organisation Majlis Ulama-e-Shia,said: “I think the best way to describe ISIS is that they’re cowboys. They don’t represent the religion, they’re not qualified to represent the religion. As the name suggests United Kingdom is Kingdom which is United under various colours, nationalities, cultures and creeds. I believe that in this country we are one united nation and we should promote that to other parts of the world.”
Ayatollah Dr Seyed Fazel Milani, a senior British Shia, said: “Isis is not justified. We condemn that. There are 10 conditions in the khilafa. In theology it is important that without them, or in the absence of one of them, the person is not qualified person for khilafa. None of these conditions exist in al-Baghdadi.”
The video was coordinated by Faith Associates, an organisation working with mosques across Britain whose chief executive Shaukat Warraich is editor of Imams Online. He said: “ This response from the clerics to come together specifically to publicly denounce extremist groups is unprecedented and is a clear indication that British Muslims are firmly set against the ideologies of hate and destruction propagated by jihadist groups such as ISIS.”
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The UK Times has the vid on their site (subscription required) in their own unsharable format. Frankly, I cannot be bothered to look for it on YouTube.