'How I learnt to love Muslims and hate non-believers'

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The Independent Online

Abdul Muhid can vividly recall the moment at primary school when he realised he was different from his classmates. Aged just eight, he was deeply affected by the harrowing images of the Gulf war on television in 1990 and 1991.

Abdul Muhid can vividly recall the moment at primary school when he realised he was different from his classmates. Aged just eight, he was deeply affected by the harrowing images of the Gulf war on television in 1990 and 1991.

"It was one of the turning points of my life. I saw people who believed what I believed, being killed. I drew a poster in class which said 'Stop the war' and I remember the teacher telling me not to get involved in politics because it was a dirty business. But I felt really strongly, and every other Muslim at school felt the same. I became aware of how to love Muslims and hate non-Muslims for the disbelief they carry."

He was drawn to a fraternity of older boys at his local mosque in Stoke Newington, north London. "They knew of their Islamic responsibility and condemned the attacks. We learnt from the imams that this was an attack on Islam." By the time Mr Muhid, now 21 and a British-born Bangladeshi from east London, had joined Kingsland secondary school in Dalston, he sensed antipathy from non-Muslim pupils.

"The hatred towards Islam was more apparent. I had joked with my non-Muslim classmates before but now I found their jokes included insults to Islam, about men wearing tea-cosies or tea towels on their heads. As the hatred grew with the conflicts around the world against Muslims, the comments about 'our boys and our war' made me think who they were referring to when they said 'our boys'."

At 16, Mr Muhid found himself becoming more focused on Islam. "My past was awakened with the second Gulf war and I joined Al Muhajiroun. It was not anger that made me join but I knew my obligation and I knew we needed to be a team in Islam. I made Islam my priority. From then on, I started studying it at home and in study circles at the mosque."

With 10 GCSEs and three A levels, Mr Muhid began a degree course in economics at London Metropolitan University in 2000. He passed the first-year exams, but discussed the course with teachers at the sharia (Islamic law) school in Tottenham, north London. He left university and enrolled at the school. "The main principle of economics in this country is the belief that there are not enough resources for everyone's needs. But Islam says there are enough resources for everyone's needs, though not enough for their greed. I could not study a subject for three years if its foundation were rotten, because it would bear only rotten fruit."

He has since been arrested and released without charge for obstruction in demonstra-tions but that has not deterred him. He said the vigilante atmosphere in which anti-terror laws have targeted Muslims in Britain has made many feel unwelcome. The pressure was on before 11 September but then the focus was on trying to be one big global village, so as a Muslim, you could not be anything different. After 11 September, that was blown to bits. Now it has become, 'Either you are with us or with the terrorist'. It makes no difference any more, the label of terrorist or fundamentalist or extremist. If extremist means someone who is against the present law and order of Great Britain, then I am an extremist.

"Muslims are being asked to answer, 'Are you with us or are you with them?'. The British Government is pushing me to make a choice. No one has defined what 'us' means. Does it stand for George Bush and his military aggression?"

Mousa Admani, a chaplain and imam who counsels Muslim teenagers, said: "A total and exclusive identification with one religious group is dangerous. At five, a boy could be sent for lessons in Islam, where he is given the message that he should not associate with non-Muslims. He gets layers and layers of messages and by the time he is 16 or 17, he has alienated himself from society." Such youths, he added, many from affluent backgrounds, co-exist in mainstream society while secretly harbouring hatred of it.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said the indiscriminate arrest and detention of young Asian men had helped to "alienate, marginalise and criminalise" Muslim communities.

Mr Muhid said that Tony Blair's war against terror was stoking dissent and increasing the membership of Islamic groups such as Al Mujahiroun. "The British government's drive on Islamaphobia is doing us a favour."