MARSEILLE, France (AFP) – In a major broadside, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin rejected a senior government minister’s idea of using state funds to build mosques and train Islamic religious leaders. Chirac obliquely accused his arch rival – Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to seek his job in the 2007 presidential election – of trying to “open up a new and pointless debate in France on topics that enjoy consensus.” Raffarin said for the government to get mixed up in religion in any way would undermine the very foundations of the French republic, which is based on a strict separation of church and state.
PARIS: France’s Finance Minister, a presidential hopeful, says mosques need state funding and it is time to modernise a century-old law banning financing for religious groups, newspapers report. Nicolas Sarkozy, in a new book that hit the shelves yesterday, says extremism is festering in underground mosques and Islamic groups do not have money to build houses of worship, according to excerpts published in French newspapers. “What is dangerous is not minarets, but caves and garages that keep clandestine religious groups hidden,” he says in the book, The Republic, Religions, Hope, Le Monde newspaper reported. Unlike Jewish and Christian groups with a history in France, Islam is relatively new here and needs a helping hand, he says.
The head of an association of Moroccan migrant workers has said that Spain needs a council to oversee mosques and Muslim clerics as a solution to combat “extremists.”
A number of mosques across the UK have appealed to worshippers at Friday prayers to co-operate with the police in the fight against terrorism. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) urged imams to make the appeal but some are thought to be angry their religion has been linked with terrorism. Meanwhile, police are questioning a ninth man following anti-terror raids in the South East. Tony Blair welcomed the appeal and said new anti-terror laws could be drawn up. At Regent’s Park Mosque, the largest in the country, spokesman Abdesselam Daoud said although the MCB’s letter would not be read out in full, its sentiments and concerns would be reflected in the day’s sermon. “It’s not practical to read a letter to a large audience but the sermon will focus on concerns of brotherhood and security of the community,” he said. But as several thousand prayer-goers left the London mosque, fringe radical group Al Muhajiroun staged a protest and burning of the union flag. The overwhelming majority ignored the protest, while some of the prayer-goers shouted abuse at the radicals. Others complained that the media at the scene were hyping the situation. During his Downing Street briefing to press on Thursday, Mr Blair indicated identity cards would be brought in soon and further anti-terrorist legislation was being drawn up. The MCB drew up a letter to mosques in the wake of the Madrid bombings, although news of its unprecedented step came at the same time as the raids in the South East, which led to the seizure of half a ton of fertiliser used in bombings. Police have until Saturday to question the first eight men – thought to be Britons of Pakistani descent – arrested over an alleged bomb plot. The latest man to be arrested was a 27-year-old Briton held in Crawley, West Sussex – the fourth in the town. He was held on Thursday evening on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. A man has also been detained by police in Canada in connection with alleged terrorist offences in London, although police have not indicated whether the arrest is linked to the British raids. Mohammed Momin Khawaja is due to appear via video link before a court in Ottawa on Friday. ‘Major crisis’ The Muslim Council of Britain said there had been an “overwhelmingly positive” reaction to its calls for mosques to help in the fight against terror. And it dismissed the comments of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a cleric who on Thursday said the MCB was being unfair and advised Muslims not to co-operate. MCB general secretary Iqbal Sacranie said: “The message that is going out is not in any way associating mosques with terrorism.” Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “Mosques are an important institution in the country. “The imams and chairmen and secretaries are playing a very important role in society. “We are facing a major crisis in the country and world over. We have to exercise our duty, an Islamic duty, which is to convey the message to the community that they have responsibilities as well.” As well as Friday’s sermons, booklets are being printed that will remind Muslims of their obligation to help safeguard Britain’s security.
By Stephen Bates Mosques UK council calls for ‘Correct guidance’ Muslim community leaders yesterday issued their strongest assertion of opposition to terrorism, calling on mosques to issue “correct Islamic guidance” to followers, in an attempt to head off criticisms that they have failed to condemn violence sufficiently firmly in the past. A two-page statement was sent out by the Muslim Council of Britain, representing 400 organisations, calling on imams to reinforce the message of peace at Friday’s prayer meetings at 1,000 mosques across the country.
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
Hundreds of French Muslims held Saturday, March 6, a silent demonstration protesting two arson attacks on mosques in southeastern France a day earlier. The first fire in the city of Seynod engulfed an entire 800-square meter prayer hall, the pulpit and the library, French Le Monde daily reported. The second seriously damaged the heating system of a mosque in the city of Annecy before fire fighters got the situation under control. Security sources said the arson attacks were likely plotted by right-wing extremists, who harbor hatred towards the Muslim community in France . There were no immediate claims of responsibility.