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Friday, March 25, 2016

Bigotry in the UK

I visit the northern English city of Bradford often, famous for its redundant textile mills and a large Pakistani diaspora which settled here thanks to the mills. These mills offered employment to the many thousands of Kashmiri, Potoharis and Bengalis who flocked here in the 60s and 70s.

A shocking haircut!

Now Bradford is a bustling town which has a lot to offer. Curries, Asian clothing, cheap motor repairs and all the desi groceries you can imagine...and religious bigotry.

A few months ago, expecting a quick haircut, I stepped into a barbershop on Great Horton Road. This road is famous for its fine Pakistani restaurants and sweet shops. Two young men  were busy clipping away on the heads of their customers. While waiting for my turn, I looked around to find something to read. The local newspaper, a magazine, or a special treat; maybe an Urdu language digest that can be found in these establishments often. While scanning the table top, I spotted something familiar. It was the picture of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. It was on a pamphlet entitled 'Beware, the impostor of Qadian'.

As an Ahmadi Muslim, the sight of this pamphlet and its wording sickened me to the core. I looked at the young kids who ran the shop and considered my options. They look like your typical British Pakistani kids. Slingy jeans, wacky hair cuts and facial hair which seemed like drawn on with a fine pencil, listening to loud music of the urban variety. Not your madrassah qualified maulvis by any stretch of imagination.

Should I ask them why they are displaying such materials in a place of business? Should I threaten them with a report to the police? Or should I just ask them why they felt it necessary to share their religious bigotries to their customers? Was it left by someone? If yes, why did they not remove it?

I didn't do any of that. I just got up and left. As a visitor to the city, I thought that the more meaningful course of action would be to make my acquaintances in Bradford aware of this and recommend reporting this to the police.

A similar incidence happened in London. In my local Pakistani grocery shop someone had placed similar literature. They were promptly challenged by an Ahmadi and the shop owner after learning that most of the local Ahmadis shopped there, wisely removed the offensive materials. His excuse was that someone had placed them there without his knowledge.

Do all homegrown terrorists start as armchair takfiris?

A few years back, an anti-radicalization police representative called upon our local Ahmadi community. He inform us that the police are a bit concerned about the clandestine activities of a local salafist group who are publishing hate materials on a website against other communities, Ahmadis being one of them. He thought that these groups represent the final steps before they engage in real terrorist activities like going to the training camps run by al-Qaeda. These were pre-ISIS/Daesh days when Al-Qaeda was the main recruiter of terrorists from the western world.

The war on terror had its repercussions on the domestic front in the West as well. When suicide bombers of Pakistani origin blew themselves up on London's tubes and buses, the British government found itself in a tricky situation. Curbing the activities of clerics qualified in Pakistani or South African seminaries was impossible due to political sensitivities.

The 'Luton' incidence.

An example of this was seen in 2014 in Luton, another town with a large Pakistani population of mainly Barelvi variety. When the local Ahmadiyya Muslim community decided to take out newspaper adverts to mark 125 years since the establishment of the Ahmadiyya Caliphate, the newspaper offices were visited by a delegation of local clerics who forced the paper to publish an apology in their next edition for referring to Ahmadis as Muslims. This was such a ridiculous situation that it was picked up by the national press and media. The resulting controversy further reinforced the public perception about Muslims being intolerant and a constant source of problems for the British society.

Luton's Ahmadis then tried to organize an event, a peace conference to clear the air. The local labour member of Parliament excused himself from the event, even though the elections were looming and he could do with a few votes. But he had the votes from the majority of non-Ahmadi Muslims so he found it more convenient to ignore the invitation. Politics indeed is a fickle affair.

I also wrote about this controversy in my blog here.

Halal life in a Haram society:

London's mayoral hopeful for the Labour Party is Sadiq Khan. He is also a senior labour leader and a member of parliament. He has a good chance of winning the elections. His constituency is also the home of a well known Deobandi mosque, Tooting Islamic Center. One of its Imams, Suliman Gani is a well known supporter of Sadiq Khan, a campaigner for the Guantanamo detainees and more importantly an anti-Ahmadiyya campaigner in the city. Tooting and the surrounding areas have a large Ahmadi Muslim presence. They have built the largest mosque in Western Europe in Morden not far from Tooting.

Back in 2010, Imam Gani headed a campaign to boycott a shop which was owned by Ahmadis. He declared the meat sold in the shop might not be halal (despite the fact the shops' supplier dealt with halal meat only).

There have also been more serious incidents in the same area, including literature containing the fatwa of death for Ahmadis and physical assault on someone who was merely suspected of being an Ahmadi.

Such attitudes can only be explained as a collective psychoses of religious bigotry which does not reconcile with the eagerness of such people to live in a non-Muslim society. Such extremes and contradictions eventually result in turning many second generation immigrants into extremists - Some of whom may travel to join Daesh, Al-Shabab or Al-Qaeda.

The visiting ulema and peers:

Many of my elders have confirmed this observation about the clerics. It is that Ahmadiyya Islam was a biggest threat to the livelihood of Maulvis (clerics) in the subcontinent, so anti-Ahmadiyya agitations became their new business. And ironically, it is destined to remain their livelihood as long as Ahmadiyyat keeps flourishing.

United kingdom has been a destination for mainly poorly educated, rural class of Muslims from Pakistan. They had to import their religious teachers and scholars from back home - a trend which continues to date. In comparison, countries like Canada and Australia who have invited the skilled migrants from around the Muslim world have a large number of clerics who speak English as their first language.

Sadly, the clerics who have made UK their home, or visit annually for the benefit of their followers spread across the UK, also bring with them the bigotries that have been their bread and butter back home. If anything, the business of the 'protection of the finality of Prophethood' has been a lucrative activity for the Pakistani and Bangladeshi clerics. They have successfully applied the same business model in this country. Several ethnic religious TV channels regularly spew hatred against the Ahmadis using premium rate phone lines and frequent charity appeals. All of them have been reprimanded or fined by the UK's regulators for hate speech and defamation. They tone down their language after a slap to the wrist, but make sure that their audience get the message of takfir of Ahmadis loud and clear. And in return, they earn brownie points for protecting the faith and fill their coffers with revenue from the charity donations.

It is ironic that the same freedom of speech which is denied to Ahmadis in Pakistan is utilized fully by the clerics in the UK to persecute them.

One outlet, the Barelvi oriented Ahle-sunnat organization boasts of holding 35 Khatme Nabuwwat conferences in the UK to date. A Bangali Deobandi mosque in Bradford has held 19 so far.

The largest conglomerate of Islamic organizations in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain has also issued statemetns to the national media to stress that Ahmadis are not Muslims. This organization has many prominent supporters among the British politicians, and has in its ranks a Knight of the British Empire (Sir Iqbal Sacranie) who served as its secretary general.

Khatm-e-Nabuwwat Academy in London. Yes. It looks like a shop.
In addition to these, the resident Khatm-en-Nabuwwat coordinator in Lodnon is Maulana Sohail Bawa, who has strong links to the Pakistan based Alami-Majlis-e-Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (AMTKN), an organization which has never hidden its ideological affiliation to the banned ASWJ and Sipah-e-Sahaba outfits. These are Bawa has made a career out of anti-Ahmadi polemics in the UK and travels to other western countries to speak at mosques regularly.

Another celebrity cleric, much in demand these days, is Allam Tahirul Qadri. With many tall claims of having destroyed Ahmadi doctrines in public debates and converting thousands of Ahmadis to Islam, the Allama has spoken at various Khatm-e-Nabuwwat conferences in the UK in recent years. His speeches are carefully worded so as not to distort his already questionable credentials with the British authorities.

Multan and Karachi based leadership of the AMTKN pay occasional visits to the UK in their bid to chase the Qadiani's out of every country of the world. Most of their efforts although, are to collect funds for one charitable cause or the other. The main selling point - to protect the oft-attacked, the most vulnerable and the most fundamental - Finality of the Prophethood.
You probably have heard of Mumtaz Qadri, a Pakistani policeman who murdered the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer because he was deemed a blasphemer by the clergy. Qadri handed himself to the police and was lauded as a hero by many. A true believer and a real soldier of Islam, a 'ghazi'. After his execution by hanging, millions mourned his death. Some clerics in the UK also took to the airways and openly declared their disgust at the exectuion. I could understand if they were arguing against the idea of death penalty, but that wasn't the case. They were preaching to their audience that blasphemy is a crime punishable by death and Qadri was just doing his religious duty.

The unlikeliest of allies - The far-right white folk and the brown immigrants:

English defense league is/was a far-right movement of mainly English hooligans who have been active in recent years all across the country. They organize marches and rallies and most importantly, they are not known for their intellectual prowess. They usually hold threatening protests if a new mosque is being planned or built in any area. UKIP, another anti-immigrant party facilitates the opposition to such mosques through political means. It is very common that if a mosque is being refused permission in an area, it is due to underlying tensions caused by such right wing activism.

A story made headlines in the local British papers a few years ago. Wallsall council, under pressure from the local residents refused the building of an Ahmadi Mosque. I assumed that it must have been pressure from the right wing groups and xenophobic residents. Until I saw a picture of the local residents smiling for the cameras after the decision was announced. All of them were Pakistani Muslims.
EDL, after learning of their protest, decided to cancel their plans to descend on this town to show their disgust.

Ahmadis in Scunthorpe, Yorkshire also want to build a mosque, but a number of complaints were raised by the locals. All of them were Muslims of Pakistani origins. Some of them even turned up to protest against it. The local council was wise enough to spot the real agenda behind the anti-mosque campaign and approved the plans.
Scunthorpe Mosque being opposed by a group of 'Muslims'

Walsall Ahmadis, like Scunthorpe Ahmadis, eventually got their mosque plans approved. Currently there is an investigation going on by the local police on a brick attack on the newly built mosque.
Could it be a racist neo-Nazi?
Could it be a Muslim kid who knows Ahmadis to be disgusting kafirs worthy of such violence and more? It is anybody's guess.

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