A group of Sunni imams are to make the first-ever visit by British Muslim religious leaders to see first hand the front line in the fight against Isis.
The imams, representing mosques across the country, will travel to Iraq on Tuesday for an eight-day fact-finding mission. They are expected to visit parts of the country previously under Isis control as well as meeting victims of the group, including from the Yazidi community.
The hope is that the visit will help to counter Isis propaganda in this country by highlighting the Sunni resistance to Isis in Iraq and relaying back first-hand accounts of life under the extremists.
If successful, the plan is to then bring Iraqi Sunni imams to the UK, to talk in mosques about the reality of life in Isis-controlled areas and to “deglamorise” the group and its appeal to young British Muslims.
The trip is being paid for in part by trustees of the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala which Isis attempted to blow up earlier this year. The rest of the funding is coming from the Muslim community in the UK. Mustafa Field, an Iraqi-born community organiser who has helped to arrange the trip, said the group would travel to Samarra and Tikrit as well as Baghdad. Tikrit was previously under Isis occupation while Samarra was for a long time at the front line between the Iraqi army and Isis.
“This is about empowering credible Muslim leaders in Britain to see for themselves what has been going on in Iraq,” Mr Field said.
“The plan is to meet not just those people who have lived under Isis rule but also other Sunni imams who are involved in the campaign against Daesh [Isis].
“We want to take those stories back to the UK so that Muslims can hear first hand what is going on and hopefully counter some of the myths that have been built up over the years.
“Daesh propaganda is dangerous and this is a British Muslim-led response to challenge their ideas.
“The imams will meet key Shia and Sunni figures and both those fighting Daesh and those who have been impacted.”
Some in the British Muslim community have become frustrated at the apparent inability of religious and community leaders to counter Isis social media propaganda that has been very effective in some sections of the community.
There is also frustration at the failure of government de-radicalisation programmes to engage effectively with the community and a sense they are “targeting” Muslims rather than working with them.
The hope is that such community-led programmes as this will be more effective at countering the Isis narrative than more conventional media, which is often distrusted and seen as Western propaganda.
Sheikh Muhammad Umar ibn Ramadhan, chairman of Ramadhan Foundation, Burton on Trent, is one of those taking part in the visit. He said they also wanted to show “solidarity” with Iraqis.
“Our visit to Iraq is to show unity and solidarity to our brothers and sisters who are fighting against the terrorist Daesh. Our message is clear: Daesh is the enemy of Islam and all Muslims be it Sunni or Shia,” he said.
Professor Pir Syed Ahmad Hussain Tirmidhi Shah Sahib, president of the charity Markazi Jamat Ahle Sunnat UK in Halifax, added: “We will be visiting the various cities and towns recently taken by the Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilisation Forces from Daesh, to gain first-hand experiences of the atrocities.
“Daesh, Isis or any other terrorist organisation is a clear enemy of all humanity. We must expose their lies to defeat this evil.”
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