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British Imams Speak Out Against Islamic State


There have been fatwas, videos, open letters, Twitter campaigns. Muslims in the United States and Europe have been speaking out against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. In the U.K. over the weekend, after ISIS released a video of the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning, there was widespread condemnation from British Muslim leaders. Condemnation from people like Shaukat Warraich, who edits a website called imamsonline.com.


SHAUKAT WARRAICH: The Muslim community is uniting, is speaking with one voice.

SIEGEL: Also appearing on the website Imam Ghulam Rasool.


GHULAM RASOOL: This act is a criminal act and a gross act of terrorism and evil.

SIEGEL: And Ustadh Ashfag Sadiq, the secretary of the mosque in the town of Barking.


USTADH ASHFAG SADIQ: And you're not doing this in my name. You're not doing it in the name of my Islam. Your Islam I don't recognize. It's not Islam.

SIEGEL: Well, we're going to hear now from an imam from the British city of Leeds. His name is Qari Mohammed Asim and he's joining us now. Welcome to the program.

QARI MOHAMMED ASIM: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: It's not a new thing for British Muslims to condemn ISIS but has the killing of Alan Henning in some way changed or ramped up the situation?

ASIM: That's right. Alan Henning was an aide worker, a humanitarian. And we Muslims are united in considering Alan Henning a friend because he went thousands of miles away from his home, went to Syria with a Muslim convoy, to help the Muslims in Syria. And it beggars belief that ISIS, ISIL, have actually stooped so low that they have killed, brutally murdered, a humanitarian.

SIEGEL: It has been said, by people in Britain, that the number of British Muslim men who've gone off to fight for ISIS is almost as large as the number of young Muslim men in the British Army. Is part of the motivation for them going to Syria not just the attraction that they have found in the situation there but there's something pushing them out of England? Is it a measure of alienation from British society that these young men are going over?

ASIM: There is an issue of alienation as well and we British citizens need to consider that. What are the reasons that sometimes young people do feel alienated in their own society, in their own homeland? And that could be due to unemployment. That could be due to economic reasons, could be due to not feeling part of society. But whatever the motive might be, imams are very clear on this issue that alienation should never lead to any kind of violence.

SIEGEL: Do you and other British you imams find yourselves facing opposition from imams funded from the Gulf States, perhaps, where solipsism, a much more militant approach to Islam, is popular and is essentially official national dogma? Are they sending out different messages and incorrect messages to young Muslims?

ASIM: See, potentially, what's happening in the Middle East, and the messages of those imams, should really apply to their circumstances because we don't know their circumstances. The militant Islam does not have a place in Europe because the circumstances are very different and as a result, Muslims - British Muslims - should not consider any kind of implementation of any version of militant Islam.

SIEGEL: But you say that, and at the same time, there are many immigrants from those very countries throughout Europe. And there are all different kinds of mosques. So one can seek out a mosque with people who would preach as you would and seek out a mosque where the imam will talk up jihadist the Middle East for them, you know. How do you control that? How do you combat that?

ASIM: That's a challenge that we, as a society, has to overcome. It's not just a British Muslim issue. If anyone is inciting hatred, if anyone is inciting violence, that's a criminal offense. That's it. That's against the law of the country. Now, Islam says that we have to abide by the law of the country and when, unfortunately, a tragic incident does take place, the rest of the community or society thinks that actually the whole of the Muslim community has committed it. And as a result, Muslims do feel offended. Muslims are deeply affected when people think that actually it's the whole community that's involved or their faith is involved in causing violence in the world.

SIEGEL: Imam Qari Mohammed Asim, thank you very much for talking with us.

ASIM: Great, Robert, good to speak to you.

SIEGEL: Imam is the head of the Makkah mosque. That's in the city of Leeds in England. He's one of a number of British Muslim imams who have spoken out against the deeds of ISIS. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.