6 common misconceptions about Salafi Muslims in the West

Salafism, often referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, is widely regarded as a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that fuels Jihadism and subjugates women. Some even lump ISIS and Salafism together—casting suspicion upon the thousands of Muslims who identify as Salafi in the West. After gaining unprecedented access to Salafi women’s groups in London, I discovered the realities behind the myths. Discover the six most common misconceptions about Salafi Muslims in the West below:

Misconception #1: They’re all foreigners

Salafism is often—rightly—associated with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it was this country’s immense oil wealth that enabled it to spread its ‘Wahhabi’ brand of Salafism abroad from the 1970s onward. But we should not deduce from this that Salafism in the West is essentially an ‘Eastern’ or ‘Gulf’ phenomenon.

Groups that identify as Salafi in Britain are dominated not by Saudi migrants—whose numbers are actually very small—but by young people who were born here or who arrived at an early age. These include second- and third-generation Muslims—particularly South Asians—but above all, young Somalis and Afro-Caribbean converts.

 

Misconception #2: They support Jihadism and shari’a for the West

While aspects of their purist creed are shared by Jihadi groups, most—probably the vast majority of—Salafis in Europe are explicitly against terrorism. Not only that, but they tend to oppose all formal political forms of organisation, such as political parties and campaign groups. Although they believe that the shari’a is the best system, they do not seek to impose it on non-Muslim countries.

 

Misconception #3: They secretly support Jihadism and shari’a while publicly claiming to respect the law of the land

During nearly two-and-a-half years of fieldwork with Salafi groups, I never witnessed any explicit or implicit support for Jihadism, or calls for shari’a for the United Kingdom. I only ever witnessed condemnation of the former, and express prescriptions to obey the law of the land. While it is, of course, possible that Salafis moderate their speech in front of researchers, it would become almost impossible to keep this up after a few months of regular interaction. That’s why long-term participant research is so valuable.

Misconception #4: They are brainwashed

‘Brainwashing’ is typically understood as a coercive process that renders an individual powerless to choose an alternative course of action.  Although five decades of research on New Religious Movements have yielded no empirical evidence for the so-called ‘brainwashing thesis’, it is nonetheless often regarded as the primary reason why people become ‘Islamic extremists’.

I found no evidence of so-called brainwashing. On the contrary, I found that the Salafi conversion process was largely intellectual, rather than based on social or other pressures.

Misconception #5: They are the uneducated ‘drop-outs’ of society

Some argue that, while Salafis are not brainwashed, they are the downtrodden, alienated ‘drop-outs’ of society, whose lack of education makes them ill-equipped to make sensible, rational decisions about their lives.

My impression as a researcher was that these women are at least as likely as the general UK population to pursue higher education. Most of my interviewees had already started or finished university, and just one had no plans for further education. Most were also keen to launch or pursue existing careers.

Misconception #6: Salafi women are forced to wear niqabs (face veils)

Coerced veiling undoubtedly occurs in many societies, but I could not find a single case among the Salafi women I interviewed in Britain. I did, however, encounter many cases where women’s families tried to force them—sometimes threatening violence—to discard their veils and gowns, which they saw as ‘extremist’ or ‘the culture of the Arabs’. A few young women confessed to having actually concealed their niqab-wearing from relatives, wearing the veil only when at a safe distance from the family home.

VICTORIA WHITE: Britain didn’t mistake Ireland for the IRA. Don’t confuse Islam with IS

Where would we be now if British prime ministers had conflated Irishness with terrorism, asks Victoria White. I might be just a south-county Dublin housewife, but I know more about stopping terrorism than Francois Hollande. I know you can’t defeat terrorists with military might. No matter what war drums you beat, no matter what arms you deploy, you can’t beat terrorists if there is an underlying injustice, some popular support and murderous fanaticism.

I grew up watching The Troubles from over the fence of the border, and reading a history of constant agitation against the world’s most powerful empire. Great Britain could not defeat piddling little Ireland, because of the underlying injustice, some popular support and terrorists with murderous intent. Whenever Britain attempted to crack the nut of Irish nationalism with a hammer, it missed and whacked itself in the leg. Think of the ‘terrible beauty’. Think of Bloody Sunday. Every time the empire put itself on a war-footing with Ireland, nationalism gained in strength. Look at the response to IRA atrocities — such as the Birmingham pub bombings, which killed 21 people — and compare them with France’s response to ISIS.

Imagine if the UK had gone in and bombed IRA bases, about which they must have had good intelligence. Imagine if some of those were in the Republic. Imagine, in other words, if open war-fare had been official between our two countries. Where would we be now? How many more innocent people would have been killed, simply because they were out enjoying life? Where would we be now if British prime ministers had conflated Irishness with terrorism, as David Cameron is conflating Islam with terrorism?

He says you can’t deny “any connection between Islam and the terrorists”, but you don’t need to state the connection, because it isn’t relevant. Terrorism is not an extremist version of Islam, any more than the IRA is an extreme version of being Irish.

Our terrorism was treated differently to ISIS less because it was on a much smaller scale and more because we are next-door neighbours. We know each other. We can look each other in the eyes. That makes dehumanising harder on both sides. If the UK had entered into open warfare with the IRA, she would have had to murder her own people, and people who look and sound just like her own people. But Syria is far away. The people speak a different language and they mostly have a different religion. The deaths of Syrians don’t seem like the deaths of real people.

That’s why Hollande can seek to win popular approval in France by launching murderous air strikes against Syria, which seem about as well-planned as a hurt child’s kick in the schoolyard. That’s why David Cameron can pose as a strong man in the British parliament, saying he will “personally build the case for RAF strikes against Syria.”

The ‘defeat’ of Al Quaeda in Iraq spawned ISIS in Syria, helped by the experience of prisoners from the American Bucca Prison in Iraq: “Bucca was a factory”, an ISIS fighter told The Guardian. “It made us all. It built our ideology.” That is no surprise to anyone who remembers the name ‘Long Kesh’.

How could the Americans have been so stupid as to think their illegal invasion of Iraq could bring stability — even their brand of stability — to the region? There was hardly an Irish person who believed that.

I want to hear the Irish voice appealing to the world powers to step back from war and concentrate on finding this political solution. I want to hear Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan, stating unambiguously that no Irish airport will be used by any foreign power launching futile military strikes in Syria, which will only succeed in forcing thousands more Syrians to knock desperately on our doors. This is a horribly historic moment and Ireland can’t stay silent but must speak up, loudly, bravely, forcibly, constructively, for peace.

ISIS Is ‘Failing’ And Becoming ‘Increasingly Desperate’, According To British Imams In Haqiqah Magazine

ISIS is becoming “increasingly desperate” and is failing in its mission to create a Khilafah for Muslims, as thousands of Syrians shun the terrorist group to seek refuge in ‘the West’, leading British Imams have said. The group, also known as ISIL and IS, is “losing” as Muslim civilians flee in their thousands and defectors abandon the terrorist orgainsation.

Contributions from British Imams in Thursday’s edition of Haqiqah magazine will explore why Muslims are fleeing Syria, rather than join the “welcoming arms” of ISIS. The magazine’s editorial highlights that both Muslim and non-Muslim ‘Westerners’ have raised millions of pounds for medical supplies, food, accommodation and clothing for those displaced from Syria.

Haqiqah states: “Now ISIS in their desperation are telling Syrians that they are committing a ‘major sin’ in Islam if they seek protection in the West. According to Daesh [ISIS], this makes thousands of Muslim refugees who are fleeing unspeakable oppression from Daesh, other groups and Assad ‘apostates’.”

Shaukat Warraich, editor-in-chief of Haqiqah, said: “Daesh is failing on multiple fronts, it is becoming increasingly desperate. The mass exodus of refugees has exposed their false claim of having established a ‘Caliphate’ for Muslims in the region.”

Angered by images of refugees fleeing the horrors of the terrorist group, Imams in Britain have written in the digital edition to emphasis their rejection of ISIS. Mr Warraich, added: “A global message needs to go out from every corner of the world rejecting Daesh.”

Shaykha Safia Shahid, contributing author of Haqiqah, said: “Through Haqiqah, British Imams and scholars, will make clear that Islam does not permit the killing of thousands of people, sexual abuse, and the destruction of mosques, churches and other religious monuments. Today, Imams from across Britain have come together to send a clear message. Daesh has no claim and legitimacy to the beautiful and compassionate teachings of Islam; we can see its web of lies unraveling.”

80% of Dutch people lack any contact with Muslims

The vast majority of the Dutch population don’t or scarcely ever have any contact with Muslims or are even open to the possibility. This was shown in a random survey among more than a thousand Dutch respondents commissioned by the EO, the Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting Station. 80 percent don’t or hardly ever have contact with Muslims. Of this percentage only 5 percent is said to be open to a the possibility of meeting Muslims.

The research was executed right after the rise of the terror group IS last summer. More than half of the respondents expressed that their view of Islam became more negative. 60 percent felt threatened, 20 percent of which felt personally threatened. The research didn’t show a differentiation between non-believers and churchgoers. Both are equally negative about Islam.

Dutch Jihadi Bride: victim or suspect?

Yilmaz, 26, was one of the most high-profile Europeans to become a jihadi, travelling to Syria to live in the Islamic State and fight on behalf of the extremists. He gloried in the teenage fantasy of war – posting a series of Instagram photos of himself pouting at the camera on a motorbike, amid bombed-out buildings in his combat fatigues, AK47 slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. Miss Petalo was a recent convert to Islam, who fell in love with Yilmaz after seeing him on television, picturing him as a Robin Hood figure.

Last week their story took a remarkable twist when it was revealed that Miss Petalo had in fact returned to her hometown – after her mother travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border to bring the 19-year-old home from the jihadist-held city of Raqqa. The pair arrived back in the Netherlands on Wednesday, said Annemarie Kemp, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office. Clad in a niqqab, with only her eyes showing, the teenager – who has changed her name to Aicha – was photographed being driven through the town on her way to custody.

“Upon her arrival, Aicha was detained at once on suspicion of crimes threatening state security,” said Ms Kemp.

Miss Petalo is being held in a police cell – the prosecutor, Roger Bos, ruled on Friday that she should be detained for questioning for three more days. Mrs Verbert, 49, an administrator for BP, argued that her daughter’s flight to Syria was little more than teenage infatuation. On Monday the court will decide whether to press charges.

The police are now trying to get to the bottom of what Mrs Verbert’s daughter was really up to there. “We don’t know what she did over there, what her role was. Did she just stay at the home of the man she married there?” he said.

“Is she a victim or a suspect? Maybe she’s both.”

 

Two British citizens killed fighting for the Islamic State

Two British citizens are understood to have been killed fighting for Islamic State in Syria. Abu Abdullah al Habashi, 21, and Abu Dharda, 20, both from London, are reported to have died in the Syrian border town of Kobani.

Al Habashi is believed to have made comments supporting Isis on social media and appeared in at least two propaganda videos posted online by the extremist group. He grew up in north London in a British-Eritrean family, and converted to Islam when he was 16. His family tried to convince him to return to Britain but he had said he was happy in the Middle East and there was no going back. Dharda, who is from a British-Somali background and grew up in west London, is understood to have travelled to Syria in December 2013 via Turkey.

About 27 Britons are understood to have lost their lives after joining the jihadists.

‘Let jihadists go to Syria to fight’

Dutch fighters in Aleppo warn that preventing Muslims from going to Syria or Iraq increases changes of attacks in the Netherlands, like what have happened in Canada. Experts still believe it’s better to withdraw passports and to prevent further radicalisation.

“You don’t want hundreds of angry potential jihadists in your back yard,” says one of the fighters in Aleppo. They label military and police as legitimate targets for an attack.

Terrorism-researcher De Graaf thinks that if you let these fighters go and they come back, they’ll be more trained and determined. According to Dick Schoof (Dutch National Coordinator Terrorism Prevention) withdrawing passports is a way of preventing them to go into the next phase of radicalisation.

‘I was one of those radical guys, IS laid it’s eyes on’ [Opinion by Celal Altunas]

IS recruits youth and promised them paradise when they offer themselves for the caliphate. Would I’ve been younger, I would have believed them. I used to be a radical guy, without understanding/respect for unbelievers and other religions. No criticism on Islam or the prophet was acceptable. Islam was the only thing I hold on to.

Not only islamists have become radicalized, but the Western society too. Nobody is born radical. We learn norms and values through socialisation and our culture. We are like hardware and radicalised youth are infected with a virus – it’s too late for them mostly. But we can help the ‘doubtful’ ones.

We can take away factors that can lead to radicalisation: negative education advise, discrimination in the labour market, ethnic profiling, judicial inequality and the harsh polarizing discourse in politics and media. The caliphate seems to be the alternative for youth that is not good in sports, school or at work.

Some Muslim youth may feel caught in between Western society and their own cultural (Islamic) society. This makes them prone to recruiters. Is it really surprising that these youth becomes radicalised and even commits crimes?

I understand their feelings of powerlessness. I felt that way. But my parents kept talking to me, which helped me to open up to my cultural ‘inner’world and the western ‘outside’ world.

Demonstrations against the IS, violence between Kurds, Turks and Chechen and the Islamic law

In several Austrian cities Kurds have demonstrated against the violence of the IS and for an international intervention to save their countrymen in Kobane. During some of the mentioned demonstrations people were seriously injured (for example in Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg). According to Austrian newspapers Muslims with Chechen or Turkish origin were attacking Kurds; however, there are also reports, which are accusing Kurds for acting violently against Chechens or Turks.

At the same time the Austrian government tries to stop such developments by redesigning the Islamic law. However, the leader of the Austrian Muslim community, Fuat Sanac, criticizes the efforts of the government; according to him the government is not interested in a dialog with Muslims, it rather wants to control the Muslim community.

Beside the Kurdish demonstrations, members of the green party have demonstrated in front of the Turkish embassy in Vienna. They accuse the Turkish state to not do enough to save the Kurds in Kobane; and to not do enough to fight the IS.

‘Islamic State’ is a slur on our faith, say leading Muslims

A coalition of imams and organisations representing British Muslims call on David Cameron and others to stop using phrase which they say gives credibility to a terrorist organisation. They argue that the prime minister and media should stop legitimising the terror group rampaging through Syria and Iraq by describing it as Islamic State. Use of the jihadis’ preferred title, they argue, gives credibility to the Sunni militants and slurs the Islamic faith.

Signatories to a letter to David Cameron, including Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, admit that UK Muslims need to do more to dissuade their young men from being misled into taking part in the group’s “hatred and poison”. “We shall take every opportunity to continue to say clearly and loudly ‘not in our name’ and ‘not for our faith,’ ” they write. In a letter seen by the Observer, the signatories add: “We believe that it would send a powerful message in Britain and around the world if you would join us, as our prime minister, in leading a national debate to seek a suitable alternative way to refer to this group and further challenge its legitimacy and influence.”