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U.K.: RFE/RL Interviews British Islamic Leader Zaki Badawi

22 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Russian Service recently spoke with British Muslim leader Zaki Badawi, who is renowned for his interest in Islamic theology and law and as a representative and advocate of Muslims in Britain. He talked about what the Muslim community is doing to ensure that the moderate voice of Islam is heard, the role of the mosque, and reaching young Muslims. [For a biography of Zaki Badawi, click here --> /featuresarticle/2005/07/49a0f0bc-0bc5-41fc-a78f-64387754b26d.html .]

RFE/RL: What is the Muslim community doing so that the moderate and true voice of Islam would be heard?

Zaki Badawi: We decided that we have to deal with the issue as a group, as a community, together. In other words, all the Muslim organizations, we met together and we decided on a plan. The plan is as follows: To look at the roots of the issue, the roots of the problems. The roots are not in the mosques and not in the misunderstanding of Islam only. This is one area. Because most of the people are of the view that the mosques are propagating extremist views and so on. This happens in some mosques, but very few indeed.

But my problem and the problem with the imams is not that they are communicating extremist views; they are not communicating at all. Many of them do not speak English; and the ones that don't speak English, never speak to the young. So there is a gap between the young and their own faith and enter into this extremist groups who are acting underground, meeting these young [people], filling them with anger and inciting them to commit acts of aggression and acts of terrorism. So what we want to do -- what we are not planning to do -- is to have a group of people who will be trained by us, and I am going to confer large numbers of imams or those who are political thinkers, lecturers, and so on, and we talk to them to deal with the issues that are troubling the young. To deal with them not just in Islamic terms, religious terms -- "Islam does not allow this; Islam does not permit that" -- because they will not listen to that.
"The mosque is one of the areas but not the main area of discussion, and the imams are not the main element or the main factor in creating a state of anger. They are going to be a sufficient element if they only speak about religion; you have to deal with the issues as I suggested: politically, ethically, socially and religiously."

We want to deal with issues politically; we want to deal with the issues socially, ethically, and then religiously. In other words, what we want to say to them is:

"We want to discuss with you why you are doing this. There is a political agenda. Are you serving that political agenda by your act? Now, the idea for us Muslims -- if you want to gain any help at all, we have to recruit or gain the sympathy of public opinion in the West generally, in Britain and America and elsewhere. A lot of people are sympathetic to us, but your actions will negate that political position, in fact it will do a lot of disservice to your cause. So from the political angle you are not doing yourselves or your cause any good at all.

"Now for the ethical part. The ethical part is that you are hurting people who never hurt you. Why should you go and kill people who are traveling peacefully to work or going home? These are innocent people. So this simply is not acceptable. Now we come to the social aspect. Your action is going to alienate the community; it will alienate the Muslim minority from the wider community. And furthermore, the treatment of our communities. The British government has been extremely protective of our community, once this happened, all our institutions were given police protection and any aggression against Muslims is immediately treated with sufficient punishment to keep the Muslims safe, keep them from being objects of aggression."

Then we come to religious and we say: "Look, all of this is fine, but let me explain the argument of religion to you. The Koran is very clear: You should not punish innocent people for the crimes of others. Now if you believe that other people committed a crime against your community, against you, against religion, why punish people who have not done so? Islam does not allow this at all. So your act is denounced, it is not acceptable socially, politically, ethically, and finally, religiously."

If we debate with them on this issue, we can convince them and I am sure we will win the arguments.

RFE/RL: You said that you've decided that you should go to those young kids directly, not through the mosques. Why is that, because there is no unanimous attitude in the mosques? Why?

Zaki Badawi:Look, to concentrate on the mosques is to concentrate on the wrong area. They have other organizations, they have youth organizations, they have meetings to discuss issues, not necessarily connected to the mosque at all. So I want to go into these areas. The mosque is one of the areas but not the main area of discussion, and the imams are not the main element or the main factor in creating a state of anger. They are going to be a sufficient element if they only speak about religion; you have to deal with the issues as I suggested: politically, ethically, socially and religiously.

RFE/RL: I am not British, I am not from Britain. Please accept this question as a glance of an outsider. The whole world knows about London mosques because of Abu Hamza.

Zaki Badawi:Yes, but Hamza, if I may tell you, is not an imam. Abu Hamza took the mosque by force. He was not an imam; he was an electrician who made claims and the people called him a cleric. This is nonsense. He never, ever received any training as an imam. Abu Hamza was full of rhetoric; but frankly I don't think that his group, I mean so far we haven't a group connected with Abu Hamza. The ones that committed the crime were coming from the north, and nobody [had] heard of them. They were just ordinary boys; they played cricket and moved around, and nobody suspected them. So the ones who make a lot of hot air, we know them and the police can track down all the people who listen to their lectures; they can take their pictures and supervise them. The difficulty comes from the people who are not visible. This is the danger and what we want as a Muslim community is to get to these invisible people and to try to show their followers that they are following the wrong guy and the wrong guidance and the stupid, stupid people who really are bent on criminal activities.

RFE/RL:But how united is the Muslim British clergy in condemning the terrorist attack [on 21 July]?

Zaki Badawi:Oh unanimous, unanimous. Not one single voice was in any way supporting what happened. Not one. We met with all the groups and there is a unanimity about this among the Muslim community.

RFE/RL:In terms of propagating your stand, your point of view how could the government of Great Britain help?

Zaki Badawi:Well, I hope in the future we are to start with this ourselves. We have to deal with the issue as a community; this is our responsibility to start with. But at the same time, if the British government would help us, we'd probably need some funding later; and also we ourselves are cooperating with the authorities because we have a group, the Security of Muslims Committee, which really meets regularly with the police to receive information from the authorities and to give them information as well. So we are cooperating at this level, at the security level. But I think the authorities can give us much more voice on the radio and on television to address our people and, as I said, to argue all the questions -- from every angle, not just to hear us say, "Come and make a fatwa that this is haram, this is not allowed, Islam is a peaceful religion." This is now mantra that will not convince anybody.

See also:

Who's Fighting The Real War Against Islam?