Monday 26 September 2016

Imams split over fears Irish Muslims are being radicalised in mosques

Irish Muslim leaders were united in condemning the Paris atrocities - but deep divisions lie beneath, writes Maeve Sheehan

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

Flowers on the beach at the scene of the massacre in Sousse, Tunisia
Flowers on the beach at the scene of the massacre in Sousse, Tunisia

After the massacre of holidaymakers, including three Irish citizens, on a Tunisian beach last June, the Dublin Imam, Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri, invited Muslims to march against the "so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isil)".

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Dr al-Qadri, who is Imam at the al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown and founder of the Muslim Peace and Integration Council, organised the march under the banner, 'Not in My Name' to show opposition to the "murderous campaign" carried out by the so-called Islamic State. "This is not our Islam," the poster declared.

The march took place on O'Connell Street in July 26. There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims living in Ireland, some say 75,000. According to newspaper reports at the time, only 50 showed up for the march.

Dr al-Qadri reckoned the numbers fluctuated between around 200 and 300. "Why were there only 200?" he asked, in an interview with the Sunday Independent this weekend.

There were three reasons, he said. There was a short lead-in time between announcing the march and when it was to take place.

The weather on the day was "terrible". The third thing, he said, was that the biggest mosque in Ireland, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh, and the oldest mosque in Dublin, the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, did not take part. Dr al-Qadri also had also some difficulties in distributing posters advertising the march and said he was contacted afterwards by people who told him they hadn't known it was taking place.

"A lot of people only found out about the march [afterwards]," he said.

According to Dr Ali Selim, the spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, and who is also general secretary of the Irish Council of Imams, it was simply this: protests are not their way of doing things.

Everyone is "free to choose" how they express condemnation, he said: "Our way of condemnation is through issuing press releases and appearing in various media outlets. This is how we express our condemnation."

Given the diversity of Muslim faiths, differences of opinion are not unusual amongst the leaders of Ireland's Islamic communities. It is now the fastest-growing religious group in Ireland, which brings its own political challenges for its leaders. Last week, Muslim leaders were united in their condemnation of the Paris massacres and of Isil, and moved to disassociate Islam and Muslims from these "heinous" and "horrendous" attacks.

The Irish Council of Imams, Clonskeagh mosque and the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), which operates from Clonskeagh, all issued statements, as did a group of 17 smaller mosques.

The Isil atrocities and the security crisis that has exploded across Europe has also exposed the divergent views amongst Muslim leaders in Ireland on whether the fanatical extremism could take hold here: does it exist, are young Irish Muslims at risk of being radicalised, and how should the Muslim community respond?

There are 54 Muslim organisations in Ireland, mostly Sunni. The Shi'ite minority worship at a mosque in Milltown in Dublin. There are other sects, such as Ahmadiyya Muslims who are centred in Galway under an Irish Imam, Ibrahim Noonan.

The United States take on Islam in Ireland was revealed in leaked diplomatic cables famously published on WikiLeaks in 2011. The cables were dispatched from the then American Ambassador to Ireland, James Kenny, in 2006, when Washington wanted to evaluate Islam across Europe.

According to the Americans, there were three voices on Islam Shaheed Satardien, in Ireland: conservatives with "potential radical elements"; integrationists; and the "Pro US minority" Shi'a Muslims led by Imam, Dr Ali al-Saleh.

"From within the Muslim community, however, only a few voices calling for integration can be heard," said the cable. It said the "loudest of these voices" was Shaheed Satardien, an Imam without a mosque, and it also named Shayke Dr Umar al-Qadri.

They told the embassy's political officials that "getting out a positive message on integration is difficult because the conservative Muslims control Islam in Ireland."

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland - known as the Clonskeagh mosque - was the dominant player, the biggest, the best funded, and the one the Irish Government and media turned to first for a voice on Islam. Many say that is still the case.

In recent years, with the rise of fanatical extremism that drives Isil, the differences between imams have centred on whether Irish Muslim youth are at risk of extremism, and what they are being taught in mosques.

One of the most vocal imams has been Dr al-Qadri, a Sunni Muslim leader, who earlier this year launched a website aimed at preventing the radicalisation of young people.

In the past, he has criticised the Irish Council of Imams, the theological body he co-founded, for not discussing extremism at its meetings. He has challenged other Muslim leaders, by calling for more rigorous Islamic teaching and less tolerance of extremism in mosques, warning that youths are at risk of being radicalised on social media. The Shi'a Imam, Dr Ali al-Saleh suggested last year that Isil terrorists are already here.

"Members of Isil live here, they are active at the level of small circles, giving lectures, talking to the youth ... This is a problem. We've said that from the beginning, now we have it. We didn't tackle it from the beginning. It is a duty of us, the imam, to talk openly against those things," he said in an interview.

Imam Ibrahim Noonan, who is the leader of the Ahmadiyya community, told a conference in August that radical Muslim extremism was a problem in Ireland, which had started more than a decade ago.

"I know imams here who will talk about peace, but they do hold very extremist views and they will not share that with the media," he told the Irish Times. "All these imams have to choose either the path of peace in totality or walk off with their twisted version of Islam."

At the march in July, Dr al-Qadri said that one of his peace council members was physically assaulted by another Muslim, while distributing flyers at a mosque for the march against Isil last July. "Some three individuals said: 'We are Isis, are you going to protest against us?" he said.

Only a week before the Paris attacks, Dr al-Qadri said on RTE radio that Muslim children are being taught "hatred of other communities" and that Irish mosques were not conducting proper checks when hiring teachers for their schools.

Although he didn't know of any Irish Muslims who left Ireland to join Isil, he quoted the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, who said between 20 and 30 Irish people had travelled to the areas where Isil is now active in recent years.

They were not necessarily in Isil but taking up arms on behalf of rebels against regimes during the Arab uprising.

According to Dr al-Qadri, they were "radicalised" nonethe less, and either had or would return to Ireland.

Some of the established Muslim organisations in Ireland disagree.

The Muslim Association of Ireland told the Sunday Independent in August that it knows of "no support" here for what it called a "criminal group" that represented neither Islam nor Muslims.

"I am not concerned that young Irish Muslims are being induced to join this group through social media," said Salim Muftah, a director of the organisation.

The spokesman for Ireland's biggest mosque in Clonskeagh, also dismissed such fears.

According to Dr Ali Selim, who also lectures at Trinity College, extremism simply won't take hold here.

"My opinion about this is again, Ireland does not give a platform for the existence of any radical thinking. That is very simple," he told the Sunday Independent this weekend. Radical thinking only flourishes in "an environment where ills can be identified and the main players of these ills can be identified".

"We don't have that environment here," he says, which does not "help the selling of radicalism."

"It is a fatal mistake to link our situation here to other countries, where Muslims have been pushed to live in the ghetto, who have been denied an education," he said.

As for disputes within the Muslim community, Dr Selim insists there are none.

The American diplomatic cables leaked on WikiLeaks are "100pc wrong", he said. "All of us here, we all have the same thinking. We are all along the same lines," he added.

"The bottom line is we all condemn radicalism. We could apply different means to the way we express our condemnation, but each means helps to achieve one and the same goal."

Sunday Independent

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