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.

Why I went undercover to investigate female Islamic State supporters

When three Bethnal Green schoolgirls left the UK to join ISIS earlier this year, I was appalled. They had lived and gone to school just over a mile away from where I was brought up and, like so many others, I found it incomprehensible that modern British girls would be attracted to a belief system that states that women are completely inferior and subservient to men; existing only to serve Jihad fighters as wives.

My friend Aisha (cover name), was also deeply affected by what she was seeing.

Also a journalist, she too couldn’t comprehend how and why young people – many with the same backgrounds as ourselves – could not only reject their own families, but also the British values like secularism and democracy that they had grown up with and allowed them to practice their faith and exercise their right to free speech so freely and openly. To make sense of it, we began to research the Channel 4 documentary which caused shock-waves last week. Aisha went undercover to investigate.

Through patience, dedication and commitment, we slowly gained the trust of a key group of women. By hiding our identities in the ‘virtual’ world of twitter we would reach out to them, liking their statuses and tweets, sharing, re-tweeting and creating a sort of ‘girly’ friendship bond. Soon enough, we gained the respect of Umm L, Umm Usmaan and Umm Saalihah as well as others in the concentric circles of the fifth column female disseminators living right here. Aisha painstakingly bided her time over a number of months. It requires immense patience to create a relationship with the women who trust almost no-one and publicly call out those who they think are spies or journalists. Aisha was wary of asking too many questions; gaining their confidence by answering all the questions they had regarding her.

After helping them leaflet at an ‘Islamic roadshow’ in Lewisham, Aisha was invited to their study circles. Captured just weeks before the attacks in Paris, her undercover footage shows some of the leading female Islamic State sympathisers who, in weekly two-hour lectures, use racially abusive language to describe Jews and Israelis and urge young Muslim women to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

After 12 months infiltrating these groups, I have learnt that the threat from these women and their role in the jihadi war has been severely underestimated.

These seemingly well-integrated women – one was a careers advisor – are charming, persuasive and convincing. Groups like ISIS understand this and are capitalising on their pulling power. The ‘softening up’ effect of these messages on women is important to recognise. Women glorifying jihad to not just other young girls, but also to their very small children is particularly worrying.

I truly believe ISIS want to split the world into two camps; ‘us versus them’ and engender the kind of hatred that resulted in the vicious verbal attack on a young British Muslim woman, Ruhi Rehman last week on the Metro in Newcastle.

After Paris, Isis must have known hate crimes against Muslims were going to rise; it’s what they were counting on – the rejection and vilification of Muslims.

If people turn on each other now, that will be a victory for them. More than ever, we need to stick together which is why I was so heartened to hear how the passengers on that Newcastle train came to Ruhi’s rescue. That, for me, demonstrates British values of liberty and tolerance at their best. Surely that ideology is our best defence against terror.

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.”

‘I Am an American’ Says Man Who Tried to Join Islamic State

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A Georgia man who wrote he was “ready for jihad” before buying a one-way ticket overseas to try joining the Islamic State group was sentenced to federal prison Tuesday after he sobbed to the judge, “I am an American.”

Leon Nathan Davis III of Augusta was sentenced to 15 years, the maximum punishment allowed. A pale, bearded man with a Southern accent, the 38-year-old Davis pleaded guilty in May to seeking to help a known terrorist organization.

“I love my country and I am an American,” Davis said through loud sobs. “This is the best country in the world and it deserves better.”

Imams try to ‘reclaim the internet’ with Haqiqah magazine

Haqiqah – “the truth” or “the reality” – is a new online magazine launched with the aim of “reclaiming the internet” from extremists. It has been created by British Muslim scholars who say they want to do more to educate young people about the reality of extremist movements. They say it is a direct response to the threat of radicalisation from groups such as Islamic State.

IS extremists have widely used social media to spread their message.

More than 100 imams gathered in London for the launch of the magazine, which has been started by the website Imams Online. ‘We will eventually drown out the violent voices’ says Shaukat Warraich, Chief editor, Imamsonline.com.

“Someone has to reclaim that territory from ISIS, and that can only be imams: religious leaders who guide and nourish their community,” according to Qari Asim, senior editor at imamsonline.com. “But now that we live in a digital mobile world, some young people are not coming to the mosque so we must reach out to them – and this is the Muslims’ contribution to combat radicalisation on the net,” he said. He termed the magazine a call to all Muslims to “log on, get informed, and share the magazine with all your friends and family online”.

British Islamic State fighter ‘calls for Muslims to kill Theresa May’

A British Islamic State fighter has called on Muslims in the UK to “hunt down” and “kill” Theresa May in a Lee Rigby-style terrorist attack. The militant, who is thought to have fled to Syria while on bail, said the Home Secretary must be run over, tied to the back of a car and dragged through the streets of London.

The chilling threats have been posted on Twitter by Abu Abdullah Britani – believed to be Abu Rahin Aziz, a former credit control operator from Luton.

The 32-year-old, who has links to hate preacher Anjem Choudary, had been handed a 36-week jail sentence for stabbing a football fan in London. Messages on the Britani account also call for other politicians to be targeted, adding that they will be easy to find because they will be out campaigning for the General Election. Britani has even posted some of the newly-leaked names and address of American soldiers. The tweets follow Mrs May’s plea for law-abiding Britons to expose extremists in their communities.

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.

Portsmouth: how did one English city produce six young fighters for Isis?

Portsmouth’s Jami Mosque and Islamic Centre was attended by the “al-Britaini Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys”, also known as the Pompey Lads. The group of six flew to Turkey in October last year and ended up fighting for the Islamic State (Isis). One is now in a British jail, four of them are dead – one confirmed killed on Tuesday and another is with the Isis offensive on the Syrian town of Kobani, where the remaining member of the group is presumed to still be fighting.The issue of why the lads are a product of Portsmouth is a topic of heated discussion within the city.

Here, 57% of children live in income-deprived families: the average estimated household income is £430 per week compared with the British average of £670.
The Bangladeshi community is singled out as enduring particular hardship with more than half of all households headed by a Pakistani or Bangladeshi experiencing poverty. In addition, a recent survey named Portsmouth as among the most stressful places to live.

One resident, retired restaurateur Muhammed Badruz Zaman, 78, who arrived in the city from Sylhet in Bangladesh, never thought he would witness the day that young Bangladeshis would voluntarily leave the UK to fight in the Middle East. He says: “It seems totally crazy, their brains have been washed to leave this safe city, and for what?”
Another man stated: “There’s not that much to do around here, they probably wanted excitement. Whatever they were after, it was nothing to do with Islam,”

But the equation that economic hardship and alienation equals radicalisation is not straightforward. Some of the Pompey six had reasonable jobs, after all. Other city residents believe that the animosity experienced by Muslim youths from the port’s far-right fraternity could have driven some to Syria.

Yet some say it has nothing to do with Portsmouth. Instead they point out how they are radicalised online, often through Isis’s skilled use of social media. “It happens in their bedrooms, no one can reach them,” says Thakur, mimicking manic typing on the bonnet of a parked car. “Anyway boys will be boys, some will always want a fight,” he adds.

‘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.”

Orthodox Salafi Imams, British Muslim Activists, Organisations and the youth speak out against the Islamic State

#notinmyname Campaign, YouTube
#notinmyname Campaign, YouTube

British Muslim scholars, activists and the community speak out against ISIS. Scholars from the Orthodox Salafi school of Islamic thought have made a direct video appeal to release Alan Henning, warning the killing would directly oppose Islamic laws.

Furthermore, activists led by Britain’s Active Change charity are spreading peace online, using the same social media platforms that the terrorists are using to propagate hate. They have created and popularised a twitter hashtag “#notinmyname”. The young people are openly lambasting the Islamic State, for “hiding behind a false Islam.” The Muslim Council of Britain also roundly condemned the Islamic State’s actions and called for Henning’s release.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community have also spoken out against IS. Their president stated that the “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, under the guidance of our Caliph, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, categorically reject extremists wherever they may be, whatever their cause.”

However, some Muslims – as noted by the Guardian article – are questioning whether or not Muslims need to apologise and speak out against IS. The article argues that it makes no sense for Muslims to apologise for crimes they played no part in. Muslims are as disgusted by them as any civilised person is.