The attacks on London, Part Three: Conflict within Islam

FEAR ON THE STREETS 'Bombings have definitely divided the community'

"This is what is said by a storyteller, not by a scholar. Those storytellers should not have a place. They are dividing society," he says. When he finishes, he is exhausted.

The families listening to Dr El Banna have gathered for a three-day event called Living Islam run by the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB). Set in the middle of rural Lincolnshire, far away from any of the large Muslim communities of Birmingham, London or Bradford, in some ways it feels a little detached. But alongside the kids' bouncy castles, archery and horse-riding are the talks on identity and workshops on theological issues. Tariq Ramadan, the controversial Swiss Islamic philosopher, is attending.

Malik - he doesn't give me his second name - tells me that this event "is the real face of Islam". The 36-year-old father of two from Glasgow tells me: "The Muslim community can be spiritually strong but tolerant towards everybody. It can work for justice, peace and for the community's betterment. But it should work not just for Muslims but for the whole of humanity."

Lurking in the ISB's youth wing, however, is an entirely different message. On a website for Young Muslims, or YM, are articles on jihad and calls for the boycotting of the kafir.

Also listed on their website, which caters for 11- to 18-year-olds, is an article entitled "Imam Hassan Al Banna on Jihad". It is the third article from the top.

"Jihad, beloved brother, is a powerful, invigorating yearning for Islam's might and glory, an intense, overwhelming desire for Islam's golden days, its strength and its pride, which makes you cry when looking at the weakness of Muslims today and the humiliating tragedies crushing them to death painfully everywhere," it reads. "Jihad, beloved brother, is: to turn your back on those who turn their back on their Faith, and to boycott those who openly wage war against Allah and His Messenger, so you should not have any dealings, or socialising or relationships of any kind.

"Jihad, beloved brother, is: to be a soldier for Allah, devoting your very soul and everything you own to Him; and when the might of Islam is under threat, its pride is blemished, and the bugle calls for Muslims to rise and restore to Islam its power and glory, you should be the first to answer the call, the first to join the ranks for Jihad (fighting): 'Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their wealth; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise).'"

Further to this are anti-integration articles on atheism and secularism, and listed under the current affairs section are just two articles: "Zionism: a Black Historical Record" and "Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist".

Clearly there is a contradiction between having the same organisation delivering two very different visions of Islam. So what is going on? Nadeem Malik, one of the vice presidents of ISB, explains that he hasn't seen the material on the website himself but ISB doesn't shirk from responsibility. "Young Muslims is the youth wing. Anything that is there is within the remit of ISB. I'm not going to pretend otherwise and I'm not going to justify anything that's on there," he says. "But if it is on there it's a very small part of a much bigger structure that is very much against those views." But he says within ISB that view has come about only after a long debate.

Young Muslims and ISB were merged in 1994 but since then there has been a series of long and lengthy debates that has created this contradiction in views within the organisation. In many ways it is indicative of what is happening within Britain's Muslim organisations and communities across the country.

At the heart of these debates is how British Muslims interpret the Koran. The most problematic sticking point is whether the Koran is seen as a literal document or whether there is room to see the Koran as part of a historical context.

These differences have created tensions between Muslim groups who believe in an integrationist agenda and that more vocal minority who are fundamentally opposed to Muslims living within a non-Muslim structure of law, justice and education.

For an example, take the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Though its membership is in large part made up of the professional classes - managers, academics, doctors and the like - it interprets the teachings of the Koran in a literal fashion. So while Hizb ut-Tahrir does not disagree with the process of voting, casting your vote when it is part of a political system which is dominated by non-believers or kafir is seen as religiously outlawed, or haram.

Following from this, during the recent general election, Hizb ut-Tahrir told Muslims across the country not to vote, as it was forbidden by God. This may seem crazy, but the group is thought to have a membership of 2,000 to 3,000 people. And their invocation of Islam to justify a policy of anti-integration is a powerful message, especially when left unchallenged.

Zeyno Baran, director of international security and energy programs at the Nixon Center, a US think tank, says that that the West hasn't taken these non-violent radical groups seriously enough. "The West can no longer ignore the deadly impact of Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology, which provides very simple answers to complex problems and reaches millions of Muslims through cyberspace, the distribution of leaflets, and secret teaching centres," explains Ms Baran.

"Europe will only survive as Europe if it can assimilate Muslims, but what Hizb ut-Tahrir is teaching is not assimilation and it could be really dangerous for the future of Europe."

She see Hizb ut-Tahrir as part of a "conveyor belt of terrorism" and should not be left out of the security debate. "It is time to name the war correctly: this is a war of ideologies, and terrorist acts are the tip of the iceberg."

Ariel Cohen from the Heritage Foundation agrees that the focus shouldn't just be on violent Islamist groups. He says that violence is just a strategy. What is important is that jihadist groups and non-violent Islamist groups share the same ideas. "[These ideas] are inimical to democracy and human rights and women's rights and that is the lie of Hizb ut-Tahrir," he says. "Its goals are totalitarian and the debate about violence comes at the exclusion of other things. Hizb ut-Tahrir is indoctrinating tens of thousands of Muslims, enabling the creation of an environment for armed struggle." Mr Cohen says an example of this is how Al-Muhajiroun, a violent Islamist group based in the UK, uses the same ideological literature as Hizb ut-Tahrir, a non-violent one. It becomes easier for members to switch from a non-violent group to a violent group without having to change their fundamental beliefs.

So if these groups are so dangerous and divisive to Muslim communities and society at large, why haven't more mainstream Muslim groups acted against them decisively? Naseem Malik tells me that whereas before mainstream organisations wouldn't have criticised these groups directly, things are rapidly changing. "Within ISB there was that idea that you just say what you believe and don't necessarily go around condemning others."

He explains that this partly fits in with being English, where people don't necessarily make too much of a fuss, but he also says that shying away from direct criticism derives from a tradition in Islam.

"Within Islam there is a reluctance to publicly condemn people. Historically we have an imbalance of [lack of criticism], where on the one hand you've got to speak out for what's right but on the other hand you don't want to offend people," he says.

Naseem Malik believes that 7 July was a definite wake-up call and the decision to criticise directly was made only a few days before. "I think some people felt uncomfortable even after 9/11 but after 7 July we unanimously thought we've got to do this now. We have to fight back and come out for justice even if that means naming and shaming organisational groups."

At the same time, people within ISB tell me that they don't really understand how to get their voice heard. Their part-time media officer seemed to be surprised that a newspaper might be interested in what they had to say.

Stalin once said: "Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don't allow our enemies to have guns, so why should we allow them to have ideas?" If we are to tackle what has been happening, we have to acknowledge that ideas can be as dangerous as any bomb.

Mohammed Riaz, of the Leeds Islamic Centre:

These bombers were young and angry about certain things in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they are also out of control and there is nothing any of us can do to keep them in check because they do not listen to us. The police have to give us more support and help us find a way to bring hot-headed youths under control.

Natalie Rushton, 24, from Small Heath, Birmingham, has a five-month-old daughter, Dais:

The world seems to have gone mad in the last few weeks and I don't like the fact that anybody carrying large bags is somebody I look at with suspicion. It has affected race relations but it shouldn't. You can blame a whole section of society for the actions of a few.

Nick Perren, 43, of Southgate:

The bombings have divided the community. People are wary of foreigners, not just Muslims. I notice the divisions among the young, with the different groups all hanging around with those of the same nationality. I can't see the terrorists are going to achieve anything by it. Religion is supposed to be peaceful.

Aziz Hussein, 34, runs a fish and chip shop in Tooting:

I am a Muslim but I'm British as well and I do not like to be stigmatised. London has a diverse mix of people and faiths and it should stay that way, but people who don't have a right to be here shouldn't be. We should know who we let in and who we give money to.

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories