The British government, on June 26, banned Sheikh Mohammad Al Arifi from entering the United Kingdom, after reports in the British media linked the Saudi preacher to the radicalization of British youth now fighting for ISIS in Syria.
Arifi's sermons at the Al Manar Centre in Cardiff in particular, have been linked to the radicalization of three young British Muslims: brothers Nasser and Aseel Muthana and their friend, Reyaad Khan.
Saudi Islamist preacher Muhammad al-Arifi (right) at an iERA stall in London
This ban demonstrates the British government's growing acceptance that Islamist preachers actually do play an important role in driving Muslim youth toward terrorism.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, Mohammad Al Arifi denied the charges and voiced condemnation for those who incite Muslims to fight in Syria. His denial, however, was clearly at odds with his earlier declarations. In 2010, Arifi stated in a television broadcast that:
"There is no doubt that a person whom Allah enables to sacrifice his soul, and to fight for the sake of Allah, has been graced with a great honor.
"Devotion to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls and to sever limbs for the sake of Allah and in defense of His religion, is, undoubtedly, an honor for the believer.
"The Koranic verses that deal with fighting the infidels and conquering their countries say that they should convert to Islam, pay the jizya poll tax, or be killed. If the Muslims had implemented this, we would not have reached the humiliation in which we find ourselves today."
In a statement to the media, the British Home Office said: "The UK Government makes no apologies for refusing people access to the UK if we believe they represent a threat to our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values."
Barak Albayaty, a trustee of the Al Manar Centre, has claimed that the Muthana brothers chose to fight with ISIS not because they were radicalized by speakers visiting the mosque, but "by the internet."
Mohammad Al Arifi was not, nevertheless, the only extremist preacher to give sermons at the Al Manar Centre. Now that the government appears to have accepted that Arifi's presence in Britain serves to radicalize young Muslims, will it also focus on other extreme preachers already in Britain?
Haitham Al Haddad, for instance, is an Islamist preacher who describes Jews as "apes and pigs" and "enemies of God," quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and speaks of a "conflict" between Muslim and Jews. Haddad has spoken at the Al Manar Centre on at least four occasions, two of which took place in 2014. Haddad's written work has also been promoted on the Al Manar Centre's Facebook page. Ali Hammuda, an Islamist preacher at Al Manar, describes Haddad as the "beloved Sheikh Haitham."
Abu Usamah ad-Dhahabi, who has spoken at the Al Manar Centre, calls for the killing of apostates. He has said: "If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that's my freedom of speech, isn't it?" Dhahabi, according to a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion, also "advocates holy war in an Islamic state; preaches hatred against non-Muslims; that apostasy and homosexuality are punishable by death; and that women are inferior to men."
In addition, Muhammad Mustafa Al Muqri, the former spiritual leader of Gama'a Al Islamiyya, the Egyptian affiliate of Al Qaeda, was also invited to speak at Al Manar. One Islamic discussion forum refers to Al Muqri as being, at one point, the Imam of the Centre.
Ahmed Muthana, the father of the Muthana brothers fighting for ISIS in Syria, told the Daily Telegraph that his sons were "brainwashed" after they began attending the Al Manar Centre. He claimed visiting clerics put ideas in the heads of his boys.
The Telegraph further reported that a source close to the Yemeni community in Cardiff said, "These boys were groomed (at Al Manar) – obviously not to the stage to go, but so that they are satisfied that what they go to do is right. It all comes from the same school of thought. ... The teaching [at Al Manar] helped the people recruiting. ... once they're groomed, all it takes is someone to say come and I'll take you."
The Muthana brothers were not radicalized by just one visit from Muhammad Al Arifi. Their decision to wage jihad in Syria was, according to The Telegraph, the result of regular seminars and talks by the extremist preachers listed here.
All these preachers share one thing in common: they are favorites of the two leading government-subsidized Salafi charities in Britain: the Al Muntada Al Islami Trust (also known as the West London Cultural Centre) and the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), both of which are funded by the taxpayer through a "tax-back" scheme named Gift Aid, in which charities can claim the 20% basic rate tax back on every pound donated.
Mohammad Al Arifi has repeatedly spoken at Al Muntada's annual conference, "Month of Mercy;" Haitham Al Haddad was the former Imam of the Al Muntada mosque and still speaks at the charity's conferences, and Muhammad Al Muqri has taught weekly lessons at the Al Muntada Mosque.
The Al Muntada Trust claims to provide charitable aid across the world. It also runs two schools in the UK. Every year, the Al Muntada Trust runs a conference named "Month of Mercy," which features some of the most outspoken preachers of this kind from across Europe and the Middle East. Nigerian media has accused Al Muntada of direct links to Nigeria's Al-Qaeda affiliate, the terrorist organization Boko Haram.
Boko Haram recently made headlines after kidnapping 276 schoolgirls and murdering up to 300 people. Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human rights lawyer, told US Congress that "Boko Haram's funding has been traced to … [the] Al Muntada Trust." Moreover, according to the Jamestown Foundation, Al Muntada is "associated with the official Saudi state charitable and da'wa institutions, the Muslim World League (MWL), World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. All these groups are alleged by American and international investigators to be terror-financing bodies."
Meanwhile, the other Al Manar speaker, Abu Usamah ad-Dhahabi, is an Imam in Birmingham at the Green Lane Mosque, which jointly organizes courses with the iERA. The Al Manar Centre itself, in fact, frequently runs courses with the iERA, and has provided a platform for iERA staff on multiple occasions.
The iERA is an extreme Islamist "da'wah" [proselytization] group, which tours hate preachers around Britain. Three iERA speakers have been banned from entering Britain: Bilal Philips, described by the U.S. an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Zakir Naik, banned from the UK for saying that "every Muslim should be a terrorist," and Hussein Yee, who openly preaches hatred against Jews, and claims that Jews in America were "happy" when the Twin Towers fell.
Both the Al Muntada Trust and the iERA have worked together in the past to organize a conference featuring extremist preachers, with the support of groups such as the World Association of Muslim Youth, a Saudi youth organization that US government agencies and officials claim has funded terrorism in places such as Bosnia and Israel, and which publishes and distributes anti-Shia and anti-Semitic publications.
Some of these conferences have also included British parliamentarians, such as Jeremy Corbyn MP. Stephen Timms MP, another example, is a former Treasury Minister who has spoken at Al Muntada fundraising events, alongside shadow Justice Minister Andrew Slaughter MP, Conservative Peer Lord Sheikh, and former deputy mayor of London, Richard Barnes.
That these Salafi groups are providing the preachers at institutions where young British Muslims are radicalized should not be ignored. Although most of these extremist preachers are residents of Britain and therefore cannot be banned from the country, there are other steps the British government could take, such as -- with Al Manar Centre, Al Muntada and the iERA -- granting greater statutory powers that would allow the Charity Commission to strip the organizations of their charitable status.
The failure of the British government to take proactive steps to counter these Islamist ambitions, especially when they are couched as charitable endeavors, looks set to produce many more Muthana brothers -- some who will die on the battlefields in Syria and Iraq, and others who will return to Britain to wreak havoc there.