From Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain To: Imams, Ulema, Chairs & Secretaries of Mosques, Islamic Organisations and Institutions Dear Respected Colleague As salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullah The last few weeks and days have been fraught with tragedies and dangers. I am sure you are fully aware of the serious concerns expressed by the Prime Minister and the Police Authorities about the high probability of an imminent terrorist outrage in the UK. I have no doubt that as a leader in the community you are already discharging your Islamic duty in helping to preserve the peace of the nation as well as protecting the community against falling into any trap or provocation. Following the criminal terrorist attack on the Madrid trains, and despite our immediate, public and unequivocal condemnation of those atrocities some, however, continue to associate Islam with terrorism by using such misleading terms as ‘Islamic terrorist’. The words of the Qur’an are clear: “He who killed any person, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”(5:32) We therefore urge you to take the following actions: To provide the correct Islamic guidance to the community, especially to our youth as to our obligation to maintain the peace and security of our country To observe the utmost vigilance against any mischievous or criminal elements from infiltrating the community and provoking any unlawful activity To liaise with the local Police and give them the fullest cooperation in dealing with any criminal activity including terrorist threat “Help one another to virtue and God-consciousness and do not help one other to sin and transgression.” (5:2) To proactively engage with the media in order to refute any misconception about Islam and the Muslim community To develop active contacts with other faith communities and civic organisations in order to help maintain social peace and good community relations. In the event of any tragic incident taking place, give the fullest cooperation to the Police and other concerned authorities. Lastly, but most importantly, seek Allah’s help and support and pray for His guidance and protection all the time. We also urge you to convey the above message in your Friday sermon and bring awareness to our community of our duties and obligations in combating any threat to peace and stability. By doing so, insha’Allah it will help to dispel the misrepresentation. There is no need however to be daunted or intimidated by any Islamophobic propaganda and we should continue with our daily lives – normally and in accordance with the tenets of Islam. All of us as Muslims will have been appalled to see some of the headlines in today’s newspapers (for example ‘Islamic Bomb Plot Foiled’ – Daily Telegraph; ‘The Truck Bombers of Suburbia’, The Times 2004). This kind of sensationalised reporting has done immense damage to British Muslims as well as to community relations and we assure you that the MCB’s Media Committee will be taking this matter up urgently with the editors concerned. You will no doubt recall that in November 2002 the police made high-profile arrests of six Muslims accused of plotting to release cyanide gas into London’s Underground system. Yet nearly 18 months later, none of the men have been charged with any crime, let alone being convicted of terrorist activity. There are other examples of incidents that have received prominent media attention only for the individuals to be subsequently released without any charges brought against them. The impact of such ordeals on the persons concerned and their families is unbearable. Therefore we urge against hasty pronouncements of guilt. The Muslim Council of Britain is planning to organise a number of events and meetings of which we shall keep you duly informed. “O believers, be patient and let your patience never be exhausted. Stand firm in your faith and fear Allah, so that you may triumph.” (3:200) May Allah protect and guide us. Yours sincerely, Iqbal AKM Sacranie Secretary General The Muslim Council of Britain
The US justice department has filed a complaint on behalf of a Muslim girl who was twice sent home from school for wearing a headscarf. The education authorities said the hijab breached the dress code of the school in Oklahoma. But the justice department says it amounts to religious discrimination. The case of 11-year-old Nashala Hearn follows rows in France and elsewhere about whether the school is a suitable place for religious symbols.
There is a political debate within Britain’s Muslim youth – and it is getting louder in the wake of continued scrutiny of their communities and faith. It is taking many forms and the outcome is uncertain. What is clear is that it is not just about how their world changed following the September 11 attacks – it’s about what it is to be British and Muslim, and disaffection with their place in society.
LONDON, March 21 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – British universities are helping intelligence agencies listen to Muslim and foreign students’ phone calls and intercept e-mails, another proof that the world has become a different place for Muslims after September 11 attacks, a British newspaper report uncovered on Sunday, March 21. The report revealed by the Sunday Telegraph said that most of the country’s universities co-operate with the Special Branch, Britain’s police unit concerned with national security, and the domestic counter-intelligence agency MI5 in the surveillance, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Sunday, March 21. Unnamed security sources and university officials admitted that the scheme was set up after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. “Since September 11, we are co-operating with the security services in a much deeper way than before. We take it very seriously,” one senior university official said. Red Flag An official connected to British and American security declared that details of students’ telephone numbers, email and home addresses are being passed by universities to the police, MI5 and the Foreign Office, the AFP said. A particularly close eye is kept on students from so-called “red flag” countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Syria. “They are helping the security services look at students from the red flag countries. It’s pretty well known that it’s happening,” said the official who also has links to a leading university. “With all the forms students fill in it is not difficult to get their mobile phone numbers or emails, or find out what kind of activities they are doing or where they hang out.” The paper added that MI5 and MI6 have also used academics to recruit British students. Criticism The declaration interrogated criticism for the British policies as considered a violation of the students’ human rights. Ian Gibson, the Labour chairman of the Commons science and technology committee, said that his committee had heard evidence that foreign students were being spied on, something he considered against the principle of freedom in academia, the Telegraph said. “I think there will be a number of universities that are doing this,” Gibson said. “It goes absolutely against the principle of freedom in academia and allowing people to associate with whom they like or think what they like,” he added. Chris Weavers, a vice-president of the National Union of Students, criticized the security assumption that individuals from certain countries might form risk. “I think there needs to be very strong justification for any such surveillance. Just assuming that any individual from a certain country might be a risk is utterly unrealistic,” Weavers said. However, he admitted: “We’ve seen many people from the United Kingdom who have been involved in terrorists attacks.” Meanwhile, the paper clarified that it is illegal for the police or security service to intercept directly e-mails or telephone calls without a warrant or permission from the Home Secretary. Both, however, are exempt from the Data Protection Act. On the other hand, Robert Key, the MP for Salisbury and a Conservative member of the select committee, welcomed the surveillance. “Given the current security situation I wouldn’t be against it as long as the Government was in complete control of the situation,” Key said. Now, Scotland Yard Special Branch officers monitor e-mails and mobile telephones and universities are expected to pass on suspicious meetings, activities or absences. Several students are believed to have been ordered to leave Britain as a result of such monitoring under the pretext they had links to extremist groups. Since September 11, the international student community in both the U.S. and Britain has greatly changed. On a press release on 22 February, 2002 obtained by IslamOnline.net, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced the HR 3077 bill which is currently awaiting a vote by the U.S. Senate which would endanger freedom in academia. The bill proposes amendments to parts of the Higher Education Act of 1965 dealing with international studies programs at universities nationwide. One of the prime changes to the legislation includes establishing a federal advisory board, which would oversee all of these international studies programs.
Belgian police raided 20 houses in Antwerp, Brussels and Tongres and arrested a number of men suspected of links with Islamic extremist terror groups, the federal prosecutor’s office has confirmed. The men are all suspected of having links with an organisation called the Moroccan Islamic Combatants’ Group (MICG) In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said there was “serious evidence” that north Africans linked to the MICG had received paramilitary training in camps in Afghanistan and were now living in Belgium, several of them with no official residence papers.
Though Islam is woven into the fabric of the country’s history, Moroccans and other Arabs living there today are struggling to find their place in society as well as their role in the Muslim world. Mustafa Bougrine is a Moroccan who has lived in Spain for 19 years. He’s married to a Spanish woman and runs a restaurant. He fears that a new feeling of Islamophobia may be growing in the Spanish population. “When people hear the word ‘Islam’, they think about Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi, but that’s not Islam,” he says. “I’m against every form of fanaticism, suicide bombers and everything that is referred to as ‘jihad’. Muslims here in Spain believe in democracy and peaceful coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims.” Change is definitely brewing among Madrid’s Muslims. The city’s Lavapies neighborhood (see related link below), where many immigrants live and the suspected culprits of the March 11 terrorist attacks ran a telephone shop, has practically come to a standstill. The mosque on the M30 highway beltway is the largest in Madrid. But these days it’s conspicuously empty. Before last Thursday’s terrorist attacks on the city, as many as 1,000 would come at a single time to pray here. Now it’s difficult to find more than 50 people who have come here to pray in the direction of Mecca. Many Muslims are staying home and out of the public eye as Spanish investigators shift their focus from Basque separatists toward the attack’s suspected Moroccan culprits. Spanish newspapers are reporting sources alleging links between Thursday’s terrorist attacks and bombings in Casablanca last May that also killed dozens of Spaniards. The developments have sent shockwaves through Spain’s Muslim community, which is struggling to establish its own identity in a staunchly Catholic country. An influx of economic refugees Close to 600,000 Muslims live in Spain, with the majority originating from northern Africa’s Maghreb countries, mostly Morocco which is located just kilometers across the Straight of Gibraltar. Islam is not a new religion in Spain. No other European country has as many traces of the religion in its history. For several hundred years, right up till the end of the 15th century, Islam was a dominant presence on the Iberian Peninsula. Most of those living here today came during the 1980s. Their numbers grew in the 1990s as they took jobs in Spain’s growing agricultural, construction, hospitality and service industry. They are the silent majority of Spain’s Muslims. Many of the dominant voices heard in Spain are those of Spanish Islam converts or leaders of Islamic cultural centers financed by the Saudi Arabian government — groups that play a prominent role in negotiating the rights and duties of Muslims within the Spanish state. Finding their place But for most Moroccans, eking out a living is the most important aspect of daily life. Through countless grassroots associations, Moroccans in Spain are fighting for their economic survival as well as the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods. Muhammad Chouirdi works for the Association of Moroccan Workers and Immigrants. He finds alarming the miserable circumstances under which his fellow countrymen are forced to fulfill their religious obligations. Strapped for cash, the temptation to take money from other Arab groups is tempting, but the political dangers are considerable. Moroccan Muslim leaders like Chouidiri are also wary of other branches of Islam, which they fear are being accepted uncritically by Moroccan immigrants. “We suspect that small Moroccan living-room mosques on the outskirts of Madrid are already receiving Saudi Arabian money,” Chouirdi explains. “By doing so, Saudi Arabia is trying to spread its form of Islam and practices — primarily Wahhabi Muslim. The probelm is that Moroccan immigrants have a low level of education and there’s a danger that they will not recognize the danger of these religious practices. For them, practicing Islam means praying give times a day and following many rules. What we get from the outside world — in this case from Saudi Arabia — is accepted with out critical discussion.” Islam from Saudi Arabia, with its fundamentalist characteristics, has spread in Spain in recent years. All the big representative mosques in Spain were built with Saudi money. And frequently the Saudis have also sent imams who interpret the Quran according to the Wahhabis. Wahhabism rejects all modernity, any dialogue between religions, any opening up to other cultures. The breeding ground for last week’s attacks could have been here. For both the culprits in the Casablanca bombing in 2003 and the alleged perpetrators of the Madrid attacks belong to terrorist groups that have been influenced by Wahhabi ideologists. A religious border Now people are asking themselves how a minority in the Muslim community could have become susceptible to Islamist propaganda. The disparities between Spain’s Catholic and Muslim societies could provide some clues. A look at Ceuta, one of the two Spanish cities on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, is revealing. Ceuta is the gateway to Europe. The border between Africa and Europe, between Islamic Morocco and Catholic Spain, is here. Half of Ceuta’s 72,000 residents are Christian, while the other half are Muslim, mainly of Moroccan origin. The chairman of Islamic Community of Ceuta, Abselam Hamadi, says that many Muslims still feel like second-class citizens, that they don’t have the same opportunities Christians have. “Only few Muslims get jobs in Ceuta’s state administration. The response is always the same: professional qualifications lacking. That’s not the truth, of course. But if more Muslims were accepted, there would be more Muslims than Christians in the administration one day, and that scares the Christians.” The fact is, Ceuta’s Muslim residents have dramatically lower standards of living and levels of education than Christian residents. They mainly live in the El Principe district, a poor, entirely Muslim neighborhood right on the border to Morocco, where integration doesn’t exist. Young Muslims born in Spain to Moroccan parents live here. They don’t feel Moroccan, but they aren’t fully accepted by Spanish society either. Many fear the promises of the “real Islamic message” may be received with open arms in communities like Ceuta, creating the kind of dangerous backdrop that could breed future terrorism.
Spain’s prime minister-elect has insisted that he will pull troops out of Iraq unless the UN takes charge despite criticism from two US officials. Earlier, the most senior Republican in the US Congress, Dennis Hastert, accused the Spanish people of appeasing terrorists. And top US military official Gen Richard Myers, said that this was not a conflict where neutrality was an option. The remarks came after Spain’s Socialist party won a shock victory in Sunday’s elections.
WASHINGTON, D.C., CAIR) – A delegation of American Muslim leaders met today with the Spanish ambassador in Washington, D.C., to offer condolences for the more than 200 people killed in last week’s terror attacks on the Madrid train system. The delegation, organized by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), expressed the American Islamic community’s condemnation of the bombings and told Ambassador Javier Ruperez that Muslims grieve for all those who died. Ambassador Ruperez said Spain is going through a “very difficult time,” and compared the attacks to those carried out in the United States on September 11, 2001. He said the people killed in the train bombings were of 11 different nationalities. “An apparent goal of the terrorists is to divide the world along religious and national lines,” said CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, who took part in today’s meeting. “The most appropriate response to these vicious attacks is to strengthen and expand relations between people of all faiths and cultural origins.” Meeting participants included the head of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations (CCMO), representing more than 50 Islamic centers, mosques and Islamic organizations in the greater Washington metro area. “We join with all other American Muslims in both condemning the bombings and offering condolences to Ambassador Ruperez and the families of the victims,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, member of the executive council of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation also sent a letter of condolence to Ambassador Ruperez. CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has 26 regional offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada.
Spanish police are reported to have identified six Moroccans who they believe carried out the Madrid bomb attacks that have killed 201 people. Five of the suspects are still at large but one is in custody, the Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes security sources as saying. The man, named as Jamal Zougam, is reported to have been identified by people who survived Thursday’s blasts. Mr Zougam was arrested on Saturday with two other Moroccans and two Indians. The number killed in the attacks has risen with the death of a 45-year woman. The figure is one short of the 202 people killed in Bali in October 2002 when a nightclub was bombed. Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the 13km (8 miles) Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants Security sources told El Pais that the six Moroccans might have formed only part of the group behind the attacks and that militants from other countries might also have been involved. An interior ministry spokesman Juan de Dios Colmenero told the Associated Press that he could not confirm the reports in El Pais. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Madrid says the investigation is still in its infancy but there are already suspicions that the blasts could be linked to the leading Islamic militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is wanted by the United States for a series of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. Meanwhile, police in the Basque city of San Sebastian have arrested an Algerian man who in January allegedly threatened to massacre people in Madrid, but initial reports suggest he is not a prime suspect. Solidarity The focus is falling increasingly on Morocco; Moroccan security officials are helping Spanish police. The BBC’s Pascale Harter in Tangier says there is great anger among Moroccans as the Spanish investigation seems to be leading back to their country. A state-organised demonstration is due to take place in Tangier later on Tuesday, which is expected to be well attended. People want a chance to express their solidarity with Spain, our correspondent says, especially after the funerals of a 13-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man from Tangier who were killed by the blasts. As Spaniards also continue to bury their dead, a memorial service is to take place in Madrid’s cathedral on Tuesday evening at 1900 GMT. Officials have also announced that a state funeral for the victims will be held in Mardrid on 24 March. The Spanish people are also continuing to digest Sunday’s shock election result that saw the Popular Party turfed out of office. The Socialists, who won the biggest bloc of seats, are now trying to form a coalition with smaller parties to form a government. ‘Al-Qaeda links’ Survivors of the attacks are reported to have identified Mr Zougam from photographs but police sources have said they are treating the witnesses’ statements with caution. One of the allegations against 30-year-old Mr Zougam is that he has links with the Salafia Jihadia group, held responsible for attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca last May that killed 45 people. He is also said to have connections with Imad Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, the alleged leader of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, who is awaiting trial in Spain on charges of taking part in the 11 September plot. Mr Zougam was detained with Mohamed Bekkali, 31, and Mohamed Chaoui, 34, all from Morocco. Two Indians, named as Vinay Kohly and Suresh Kumar, were also arrested. These five men were arrested in connection with a mobile phone which was found inside a bag containing explosives that failed to go off. Investigators believe mobile phones were used to detonate 10 bombs hidden in backpacks on the four trains which were targeted. Formal charges have not yet been presented.
By Dominic Bailey Muslims in Spain are worried. Exactly who was behind the Madrid train bombings is still not certain but three of the five being questioned are Moroccan, one of whom is reported to be linked to attacks in Casablanca last year. There is a large Moroccan immigrant community in Spain and many fear reprisals against their families, businesses and places of worship. Islamic leaders in Spain were quick to denounce the 11 March Madrid attacks, even though the finger of blame was initially pointed at Basque separatists Eta. At least eight Muslims were among the 200 people killed and more than 40 among the hundreds of injured. But talk of al-Qaeda links has again muddied the perception of Islam and made ordinary Muslims feel insecure in the land they have happily made their home. Rumours of repercussions The white stone and marble Cultural Islamic Centre and mosque stands out against the backdrop of high-rise flats along the M-30 motorway out of Madrid. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill Inside it is a cool oasis of serenity that echoes with the imam’s call to prayer. But the number of prayer times has been reduced and entrance to regular visitors is restricted. The centre’s secretary, Mohamad Saleh, says the safety precautions are necessary. “We are worried about the repercussions that there may be against Muslims,” he said. After 11 September eggs were thrown at the mosque and some Muslims were sacked from their jobs simply because of their religion. There are already reports of abuse on the street, Arab businesses having windows broken and rumours of demonstrations outside the mosque being planned. Moorish memories “We felt for the victims, the same as everyone, this sort of desperate terrorism affects all areas,” said Mr Saleh. “But people shouldn’t punish a religion or country because of who commits a crime. If a Christian kills, are all Christians blamed? Are the Basques blamed if ETA attack? Moroccans in Spain Moroccans are the largest immigrant group in Spain In 2003 there were 333,000, 20% of all legal immigrants The number of illegal immigrants is unknown Thousands cross the eight-mile Straits of Gibraltar every year on rafts or small boats In 2003 24,146 people were repatriated to Morocco Many work as cleaners, farm labourers or building workers Polls show that Moroccans are Spain’s least-liked immigrants “These people are terrorists and terrorists are criminals wherever they are from. “They cannot have real faith or know God. For a Muslim to kill a person unjustly is to kill everyone. There is no justification to kill.” A banner reading “No to terrorism. Solidarity and condolences to the victims and their families” hangs under the arch of the centre’s entrance. There are about 500,000 Muslims in Madrid and on Fridays between 1,500 and 2,000 faithful pray at the mosque. Most are from Morocco, Algeria and other Arab states. Spain has a long, if bloody, history with its Arab neighbours to the south. Many Arabic dishes, words and architecture survive in modern Spain, remnants from the Moorish conquest of the peninsula which ended in 1492. ‘Good people’ But now, many immigrants who have made the country their second home don’t feel safe. A 46-year-old Algerian, who would not give his name, said there had been threats and people were afraid. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life.” “I feel one of the people here and feel for them but I don’t like the way they now look at us in the street,” he said. “A friend of my wife’s came home pale and frightened the other day after a group of kids threatened her, shouting ‘Dirty disgusting Moors’.” But he said the Spanish were genuinely good people and hopefully would move on with their lives. Moroccan immigrant Rabii, 26, playing draughts with bits of cardboard outside the mosque, said it still had to be proved that al-Qaeda was to blame. “The people coming over here are not here for jihad, they are coming here to find a better future. But now we can’t go to the mosque and they are stopping us praying.” A greater concern for him was that the difficult task of finding a job would be made harder after the attacks. After the pain, peace Businessman Ahmed Jbari, 53, from Tangiers, says the adverse reactions are down to ignorance. “Here in Madrid there is a mix of everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians – it is like a big family and we all have our way of life. “But people who break the windows should be blamed, not others. Here 29 pay for what one has done.” Moroccan street-seller Abdellate Fechaaui, 30, was among the hundreds of Muslims who joined the march of millions against terrorism after the Madrid attacks. Abdellate and his colleagues had one message for the Spanish people and the bombers: “We are with the Spanish people and are feeling the same pain as everyone. We want peace.”