UK: The Interfaith Industry
Interfaith dialogue is a powerful industry in Britain. Many hundreds of groups receive many hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' funds to promote dialogue between groups of different faith. On the face of it, such initiatives appear to indicate progress and civilized discussion. But what sorts of groups are involved with the world of interfaith?
The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom
The largest umbrella group in Britain for interfaith initiatives is the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN). Founded in 1987, the IFN claims it works to "promote understanding and respect" between different faith groups.
The IFN has received millions of pounds of taxpayers' funds: 80% of the IFN's budget, in fact, is taxpayers' money. In 2011 alone, the Department for Communities and Local Government granted £373,990 to the IFN.
In July 2013, a delegate to an IFN meeting in Birmingham told the conference that he had heard a senior interfaith official claim that "Jews were a disease." The delegate then denounced a number of groups present at the conference for their collaboration with signatories to the Istanbul Declaration, a document that calls for attacks on British troops and Jewish communities.
The IFN's stated aims, then, are clearly at odds with the views held by some of its membership.
The IFN's executive committee includes Ayub Laher, who is part of the ultra-conservative Deobandi movement. Laher belongs to Jamiat Ulama-e-Britain (JuB), the representative body of Deobandi scholars in Britain, whose Pakistani partner, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, is "directly affiliated" to Pakistani Deobandi seminaries with close ties to the Taliban. The Pakistani group's leader, Fazlur Rehman, described in Pakistan as a "patron of jihad," has stated that his organization and the Ayub Laher's JuB "have a unanimity of thought and ideology."
From 2011-12, the IFN's co-chairman was Dr. Manazir Ahsan (although his term expired in July of this year, he remains a member of the IFN's executive committee), a leading British Muslim activist who helped to coordinate the riots in the UK against Salman Rushdie after the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses. Manazir Ahsan was, in addition, a founder of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, which organized book burnings and protests, and called for the book to be banned and Rushdie to be prosecuted.
Ahsan is also the Director of the Islamic Foundation. In 2003, The Times reported that two of the Foundation's trustees were on the UN sanctions list of people associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The Islamic Foundation is the leading publisher of books by Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Bangladeshi group Jamaat-e-Islami, which was responsible for acts of genocide during the 1971 war in Bangladesh. In his book, Islamic Law and Constitution, Maududi wrote that his ideal state would bear "a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states." Lord Carlile, in his government paper on preventing violent extremism, noted that Maududi was a key influence in the radicalization of young Muslims.
British taxpayers have questioned whether a leading British Islamist, such as Ahsan, involved in a campaign of violent rhetoric and aggressive censorship, is genuinely committed to the principle of dialogue; let alone whether or not he was a suitable choice for chairman of the largest taxpayer-funded interfaith group in the UK.
Jamiat Ulama-e-Brtiain [JuB]
The IFN's executive committee also includes Ayub Laher, who is part of the ultra-conservative Deobandi movement. Laher belongs to Jamiat Ulama-e-Britain (JuB), the representative body of Deobandi scholars in Britain, whose Pakistani partner, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, is "directly affiliated" to Pakistani Deobandi seminaries with close ties to the Taliban. The Pakistani group's leader, Fazlur Rehman, described in Pakistan as a "patron of jihad," has stated that his organization and the Ayub Laher's JuB "have a unanimity of thought and ideology."
Laher (along with former IFN co-chair Manazir Ahsan) is an inaugural member of the Muslim Council of Britain [MCB]. In 2002, and again in 2004, Laher represented the JuB on the MCB's Central Working Committee.
Sheikh Mohammad Ismail, general secretary of the JuB, claimed, in 2007, that the JuB was opposed to "any kind of political violence." He told The Times that, "You're trying to link us with terrorism. What about all those masonic and Zionist organizations? What about Palestine, what about Iraq? Where are those weapons of mass destruction? You never, ever talk about that."
The Joseph Interfaith Foundation
Interfaith groups within the IFN also collaborate with extreme Islamist groups. The Joseph Interfaith Foundation (JIF), for instance, was established in 2006 by Mehri Niknam, who was formerly Director of the Maimonides Foundation, another interfaith group. The JIF claims to be an "officially joint Muslim-Jewish interfaith organization that is committed to fostering engagement through a constructive and realistic dialogue between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Britain."
The JIF works closely, however, with Imam Abdul Qayyum, a member of "National Council of Imams and Rabbis" (a registered operating name of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation), and yet he is a signatory to the unambiguously anti-Semitic and pro-terror Istanbul Declaration, which regards "everyone standing with the Zionist entity, whether countries, institutions or individuals, as providing a substantial contribution to the crimes and brutality of this entity; the position towards him is the same as towards this usurping entity." The document further urges support for the violent destruction of the "Zionist Jewish occupiers."
A former trustee of the JIF is Lord Ahmed, who, in 2012, while a trustee, was suspended from the Labour Party after he claimed on Pakistani television that he was only jailed for dangerous driving in 2008 because of pressure on the courts from "Jews" who, he said, "own newspapers and TV channels." He also claimed that the judge in the 2008 case was appointed to his position after he helped a "Jewish colleague" of Tony Blair during an important case.
In 2005, Ahmed hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for Israel Shamir, also known as Jöran Jermas. Shamir's speech at the event included statements such as: "Jews indeed own, control and edit a big share of mass media, this mainstay of Imperial thinking. ... In the Middle East we have just one reason for wars, terror and trouble — and that is Jewish supremacy drive."
When the journalist Stephen Pollard contacted Ahmed for comment, Ahmed refused to condemn Shamir or, in fact, issue any statement at all. A year later, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation invited Ahmed to become a trustee of the charity.
Lord Sheikh, a Conservative Peer and another trustee of the JIF, has praised the Al-Muntada Al-Islami, a fundamentalist Wahhabi charity, at the events of which he is a "VIP speaker." In 2009, Sheikh led a delegation organized by the Palestinian Return Centre, a group identified by the Intelligence services as a lobbying organization for the Palestinian group Hamas, to meet with Syria's President Bashar Assad.
In May 2010, Lord Sheikh was the keynote speaker at a charity dinner for Interpal, a charity the leading official of which, Ibrahim Hewitt, openly supports Hamas and has called for the killing of homosexuals. In 2003, the United States government classified Interpal as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.
The JIF enjoys taxpayer funding. In 2009, it received £21,447 from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Fulbright Commission.
Partners with which the JIF "regularly cooperates" include:
East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre
Over the last six years the East London Mosque has received £2.9 million of public funds.
In 2008, Forward Thinking brought Tafazal Mohammad -- a "suspected terrorist sympathizer closely linked to the July 7 bombers" and formerly a trustee, along with 7/7 tube bomber, Mohammad Siddique Khan, of a "jihadist bookshop" -- to address a meeting in the British Parliament.
In 2012, the Jewish Chronicle reported that between 2008 and 2010, the Pears Foundation, one of the Jewish community's largest charitable trusts and interfaith funders, had granted £23,000 to Forward Thinking.
Islamic Cultural Centre & London Central Mosque
The Centre's director, Ahmad Al Dubayan, described as a "Saudi diplomat" is also a trustee of the King Fahad Academy (funded and managed by the Saudi government) which, in 2007, was revealed by a former employee to have taught pupils from textbooks that described Christians as "pigs" and Jews as "monkeys." Pupils were also asked to "mention some repugnant characteristics of Jews."
In 2008, a Channel 4 Dispatches program filmed preachers at the Centre calling upon Muslims to murder homosexuals and adulterers, declaring that Muslims who convert to another religion should also be slaughtered, and branding the behavior of other races as "vile."
In 2011, the JIF organized an exhibition at London Central Mosque's Islamic Cultural Centre, and invited as the keynote speaker Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmuhsin Al-Turki, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, a Saudi-based international organization that promotes a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and has provided financial support to a considerable number of terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Abu Sayyaf group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Jemaah Islamiyya and Al Qaeda.
According to the Anti-Defamation League in 2001, Al-Turki said that "the Jews' distortion of the book of Allah…is not a new matter—it is the natural disposition of the Jews who inherited this deception from their forefathers and their ancestors who perverted the Torah and Zaboor and the Bible…The new Hebrew translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur'an adds a new perfidy to the perfidies of the Jews."
Another important interfaith group, London Citizens, has also partnered with extremist groups. London Citizens is a group of self-appointed "community organizers," founded by Neil Jameson in association with the East London Mosque, and the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which itself is linked to Jamaat-e-Islami.
Jameson has said that he is "proud of the East London Mosque" and regards the Mosque and the IFE as "straightforward, sensible [and] excellent at developing and nurturing young people in proper behavior in a democracy." Jameson has also defended Hamas supporter Junaid Ahmed -- who happens to be a "youth coordinator" for the IFE as well as Deputy Chairman of London Citizens -- as someone who "neither promotes or condones terrorism, nor expresses support for any proscribed organization."
London Citizens' chapters comprise a number of extremist organizations, including:
Despite these connections, London Citizens continues to enjoy the support of leading Jewish rabbis and interfaith activists, and is "feted" by Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband. London Citizens has received thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money through local Government and police grants.
It is clear that a considerable number of Islamist groups involve themselves with interfaith dialogue in order to deflect attention from their extremist ideology. Interfaith provides such groups with political and moral legitimacy, as well as the possibility of taxpayer funding. How, then, does the network of interfaith groups respond when such information is uncovered?
In May 2013, a number of interfaith activists, from across the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, expressed their concern that, through their enthusiasm for interfaith dialogue, Jewish community bodies, politicians and interfaith groups were collaborating with extremist individuals and groups.
This group of interfaith activists sent a letter to the "Jewish community leadership" asking, "...whether Jewish interfaith representatives are talking to the 'right kind of Muslims'... The 'wrong kind of Muslims' are associated with the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami, expressed in the UK through institutions such as the Islamic Foundation (IF), Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and East London Mosque (ELM)."
By championing these Islamists as the "voice" of British Islam, the Inter Faith Network falsely legitimizes these extremist groups, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, to be sincerely representative of British Muslims. A 2007 survey revealed, however, that 94% of British Muslims do not believe that the Muslim Council of Britain represents their views.
Smaller religious sects have also found interfaith organizations to be hostile. In November 2012, over twenty different religious groups came to the House of Lords together with representatives of civil liberty groups and academic bodies to express concern about religious discrimination by the Inter Faith Network against minority religious groups like the Ahmadiyya and the Pagans. The meeting discussed a document published by the human rights law firm, Bindmans LLP, which found that "the Inter Faith Network is found to have practised discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and other law, in its membership policies against particular faith communities in Britain."
It seems that interfaith officials have excluded these smaller religious sects from interfaith initiatives in order to placate the larger Islamist groups within the Inter Faith Network. The Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, says it regards Ahmadiyya Muslims as heretics, and claims in a press release in 2010 that, "The Muslim Council of Britain's clear stand is Ahmadiyyas do not subscribe to the Muslim creed. This is the unanimous position of all Muslim schools of thoughts across the world."
Government officials have also been complicit in promoting such discrimination. In 2011, Warwick Hawkins, Head of Faith Communities Engagement for the Department of Communities and Local Government, expressed concern at a proposed series of interfaith events; he told one interfaith activist, "We note that the (Ahmadiyya) Baitul Futuh Mosque is shown as a partner for the first of the events. Has consideration been given to how this will affect the participation of mainstream Muslims?"
Freedom of Information requests, submitted by this author, asking the British Government to release copies of all the correspondence between Government departments and the Inter Faith Network, have so far been denied.
Interfaith has become part of Islamist groups' efforts to project soft power -- a way for the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami groups to promote politicized Islam as a real political force.
Leading interfaith activists such as Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg have defended working with extremist institutions by claiming: "We have to take risks to engage with each other. The Jewish community will be far weaker if we all shelter within a comfort zone labeled 'They all hate us out there'."
Officials from the Inter Faith Network, meanwhile, claim the IFN is not responsible for the extremism of its member bodies. Bob Fyffe and Vivian Wineman, the co-chairs of the IFN, have said: "If there are member bodies of IFN – or indeed any other bodies - which you and colleagues have evidence are linked to violent extremism, this is a serious matter which we trust you will bring to the attention of the police or the relevant Home Office officials."
But as the British Islamist preacher Haitham Al-Haddad has noted, not only is the role of Interfaith a deception, it is a deception that is crucial:
Unfortunately, honorable activities do not only attract those with honorable intentions. Over the next decade, religious extremists may, in all likelihood, continue to foster violence and hatred in Britain. Should Government really be in the business of promoting homophobes, anti-Semites and supporters of terror by continuing to fund, with taxpayers' money, interfaith networks so closely involved with the extremists themselves?
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