Vigilante patrols by a handful of fundamentalist Muslim men in East London targeting women, gays and public drinkers have sparked a committed fight-back over the past week from locals and imams, who say the groups are abhorrent.
Videos of the patrols, which showed young men hounding people for behaviour that they deemed “unIslamic”, caused widespread anger when they were placed online. But locals say the patrols have failed to spark the kind of inter-communal animosity they were hoping to achieve with their attacks.
Shaikh Shams Ad Duha, a young British imam who runs the Ebrahim College in Whitechapel, was one of those leading the charge against the fundamentalists, issuing a stinging critique of the vigilante groups.
In a sermon at East London Mosque, which was placed on YouTube and has already garnered 20,000 views in less than a week, Shaikh Shams railed against the men in the video for being “complete bigots” who were contravening Islamic law, not enforcing it.
The sermon is significant because it tackles the vigilante group’s actions from an Islamic perspective.
“When things like this happen Muslims tend to privately voice their opposition,” he said. “But nobody wants to address this perspective from an Islamic or Sharia point of view to simply articulate that this is actually wrong Islamically.”
The Shaikh, whose background is the comparatively orthodox Tablighi Jamaat movement, went on to explain how, even in Islamic countries, Muslims are not permitted to damage “the wine and pork stocks” of a non-Muslim, according to key scholars from Hanafi school of Islamic law.
“Islam was celebrated for allowing [non-Muslim] people who lived in an Islamic state to live according to their principles, their religion, their Sharia,” he said, later adding: “This is in the Muslim lands, in the time of the Caliphate. And we saw this video where, in the streets of Tower Hamlets, in the streets of England. Enough said right?”
In comments underneath the YouTube video the sermon won praise from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “I’m not a Muslim,” wrote Andy Harely. “But I have to say that this outstanding sermon has done a lot to create a better understanding.”
Another Muslim commentor wrote: “We can only apologise to our non-Muslim brothers and sisters for what these idiotic people have done.” Fiyaz Mughal from Faith Matters, a conflict resolution charity which works in the area, said he had in fact been “given hope” by the response to the videos because the chorus of opposition from Muslim leaders was so “quick and unanimous” while the media response recognised that the vigilante groups were an unpleasant minority.
“I think it’s something of a turning point because this could have turned into something much worse,” he said. “Local leaders weren’t afraid to tackle the problem head on while the press did a pretty responsible job of recognising that these guys are such a minority.”
Police have arrested two men and on Thursday released a picture of a man who was subjected to a homophobic attack by the gang in one of the videos. The Independent understands locals in Tower Hamlets are helping police with their enquiries in attempting to identify the members of groups which are most likely behind the vigilante patrols.