The anniversary of 9/11 each year brings with it sorrow for the many who lost loved ones and a time of reflection for many others. For journalists, it seems to have become almost a ritual in some quarters to use it as an opportunity to run alarmist headlines regarding the so called ‘Islamist threat’.
The Times, which has done its fair share of Muslim bashing over the years, headlined its Friday September 7 paper with an alarming, blatantly misleading and absolutely perplexing story which must give rise to concern from all British Muslims.
The supposed expose on how Deobandi scholars and in particular one man, Shaykh Riadh ul Haq, has managed to gain control of 600 of the 1,350 mosques in Britain , is absolutely baseless.
The game being played out here is clear. This ritual has been followed through before, and media ‘policing’ in this way has led to mistrust and suspicion of many other Islamic groups, thoughts and ideologies, including the Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat al-Islamia, Tablighis, Salafis to name but a few. In 2004, The Times even managed to headline of “Islamic colleges in Britain linked to terrorists”. And now the Deobandis are in the spotlight.
The Deobandis represent a significant part of the Muslim population in Britain . They form a mainstream ideology, and they do not preach hatred or isolationism. Yet with a few unsubstantiated quotes, placed in a different context, we have the picture of a hate infested religious doctrine, and this is outrageous and unacceptable. Surely the work of those wishing to create separation and division where there is none, and put up barriers carved out of myths and perverse distortions.
The fact is, many quotes attributed to Shaykh Riyadh ul Haq were made by him with direct reference to the Qur’an or the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. One would not be hard pressed to find similar, if not more severe verses from the Bible talking of death to infidels, and isolation from non-believers amongst others. Yet similar scrutiny is not heaped on preachers of other religions who refer to these to their congregations.
Moving away from the baseless propaganda against the Deobandis, Shaykh Riyadh ul Haq has been propped up as the head of ‘600 mosques’, while in reality he does not even hold the post of Imam of a single mosque in the country. This is a far cry from becoming a “spiritual leader” of the Deobandis in Britain , and the assertion that there is or has ever been a spiritual leader of this sort is in itself ludicrous.
Islam does not have the equivalence of a Pope and the only real leadership level that exists in mosques is the position of Imam. It is also ironic that Shaykh Riyadh ul Haq, the so called champion of the separatist movement, resides in Leicester , and has done so for most of his life. With his alleged great influence over the masses of Muslims, one would imagine that Leicester would as a result be far from Britain ‘s most ethnically harmonious city, yet that is exactly what it has been to now.
One can speculate on the agenda for this attack against the Deobandis and Shaykh Riyadh ul Haq in particular, but the lack of credibility of this headline story is clear to Britain ‘s Muslims. It is time for such irresponsible and hate filled journalism to stop and be replaced with stories that are based on at least some truths. Such journalism relies on fear and unawareness of the masses in order to be taken seriously. It is time for Muslims to put forward the facts and not hide indoors while such hate-mongering against them is allowed to freely exist.
Ismail Patel, Chair Friends of Al-Aqsa