Monday 20 May 2019

Muslim leaders split over planned IS protest march

Community are divided on whether they should attend anti-terror demonstration in the capital

DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: Dr Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, pictured, is behind the peace march but Dr Ali Salem said he is not aware of the event
DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: Dr Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, pictured, is behind the peace march but Dr Ali Salem said he is not aware of the event
Dr Ali Salem said he is not aware of the peace march
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Differences have emerged in the Muslim community over plans for a protest march against Islamic State terrorism later this month.

While the Irish Muslim Imam behind the planned "not in our name" march has claimed that the Muslim leadership is not vocal enough in denouncing extremism, a representative of the biggest Mosque in Ireland has questioned whether a mass public demonstration is appropriate.

The demonstration, the first of its kind in Ireland, will take place on July 26 in Dublin's O'Connell Street under the umbrella of the Muslim Peace and Integration Council, as communities in Meath and Athlone mourn the murders of Lorna Carty and Lawrence and Martina Hayes by an Islamic State gunman in the Tunisian beach massacre.

The march was the brainchild of Dr Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, who is Imam at the Al-Mustafa mosque in Blanchardstown. He was so concerned about the rise of extremism that he set up a Peace and Integration Council with other Imams two months ago, promoting tolerance and plurality.

While Dr Al-Qadri intends the march to be a show of unity by Muslims against the Islamic extremists, not everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Dr Al-Qadri talked about the dangers of the "radicalisation" of young Muslims, particularly through social media, and about the importance of speaking out against terrorism.

He is at odds with the Irish Council of Imams, an umbrella organisation for all Islamic organisations in Ireland, claiming that while many issues pertinent to Muslims are discussed by the council, Islamic extremism has not been one of them.

Over at Ireland's biggest mosque, the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dr Ali Salem believes there is no "extremism" in Ireland, and questioned whether mass public protests are the correct forum for condemning the so-called Islamic State.

Neither Dr Umar Al-Qadri nor Dr Salem actually knew of any Irish Muslim who has joined Islamic State. But in another point of difference, Dr Al-Qadri regards the risks as real.

"I do not know anyone who has joined Islamic State but I have spoken to a few individuals that have expressed their wish to join Isil," he said. In the end, they didn't travel.

But his message about extremism is one of vigilance.

"There is no such thing as radicalisation taking place in Ireland in mosques," he states.

But he adds: "If the Imam of a mosque does not at all speak against Islamic State, against Al Qaeda, doesn't speak against terrorism, there is a problem. The second thing is that not only speaking [out], at the Friday ceremonies, it is very important people are educated about that, that this is absolutely not Islamic and we condemn it. Certain mosques do not do that, it is as simple as that.

"I am a founding member but absolutely unhappy and displeased. What is the council doing? There are so many things going on in our community. Also, the thing the council should be discussing - extremism, radicalisation, Islamophobia - it's not happening," he said.

"This is why I had to take the initiative and with 25 other community leaders from Dublin, from Cork, from Longford, from Athlone, from Belfast - together we had to join and I had to found the Muslim Peace and Integration Council with them. So we now have 25 people."

The Peace and Integration Council includes the prevention of extremism and dispelling "misconceptions" about Islam among its principles.

But the protest has yet to get the backing of the Muslim leaders in Ireland's biggest mosque in Clonskeagh. Dr Ali Salem, theologian at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Ireland, said that the centre was not aware of the march, and would "need to get more information" before deciding to join it.

"For us here, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI), it had never been consulted with us, we have never been asked. If the biggest Islamic organisation is not aware of it, what does it mean?" he asked.

According to Dr Ali Salem, it is not a serious issue in Ireland anyhow. "Radicalisation" of Muslims just won't take off in Ireland because, thanks to its neutrality and history, it doesn't have "the right environment" to allow extremism to flourish. "It can't happen," he said.

The ICCI has condemned Islamic State atrocities in print, on websites, before their congregations, on the radio and television, he said: "What more do you want?"

Sunday Independent

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