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The Muslim Council of Wales was recently contacted in relation to a news story published by the Daily Mail regarding a young Imam in Cardiff. We investigated the story, and found that the Daily Mail’s article was misleading and did not reflect the teachings of the Imam, Ali Hammuda, in question. Subsequently, many other Welsh Imams and scholars contacted us expressing their concern. The following public letter, signed jointly by many Imams and scholars, represents our unified voice on the issue.

We, the undersigned, have a commitment towards working for the common good in Wales for those from all backgrounds. Towards this end, we have worked to build relationships between mosques, civic institutions and the government, believing a united Wales can help foster a society in which all forms of extremism and violence are rejected.

We, the Imams of all mosques in Wales condemn all forms of extremism and reaffirm our strong commitment to work together with all members of our communities, civic society and the Welsh Government to counter extremism and building a cohesive, unified and progressive Welsh society.

We are concerned by a recent Daily Mail article accusing a young Imam, Ali Hammuda, of promoting “sex slaves”. Not only is this slanderous and untrue, as Ali Hammuda has himself clarified clearly and unequivocally, it undermines mosques as spaces where counter-narratives to extremism can be delivered. All our mosques are open to all members of the society, and all Imams can be approached for any scholarly and academic discourse and understanding of Islam and its values. The journalist’s covert recordings were wholly unnecessary, as we are happy for anyone to attend.

One of our affiliates, the Al-Manar Centre of Glynrhoddna Street, has come under intense scrutiny since Nasser and Aseel Muthanna and Reyaad Khan were discovered to have joined the so-called Islamic State in summer 2014. Naturally, this news was a shock for all Muslims in Wales. The three individuals worshipped at a number of mosques in Cardiff, including the Al-Manar Centre. Some journalists considered this as enough evidence to incriminate Al-Manar as a centre of radicalisation, despite the mosque being a vocal and committed partner in both countering the ideology of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (Da’esh), and the social factors that lead to radicalisation.Moreover, it was in fact staff atAl-ManarMosque who first alerted the authorities with concerns about the three boys’ disappearance.

The leaflet, “What Islam Really Says,” produced and launched by the community-led Cardiff Prevent Stakeholders Group, is another example of an anti-radicalisation project which the Al-Manar Centre, along with the MCW and Imams from all Cardiff mosques, were involved in. The leaflet is aimed at young Muslims, challenging the messages of violent extremists.

This scrutiny of Al-Manar has continued sadly, with the Daily Mail and others insinuating that Shaykh Ali Hammuda is a “radical,” and even a persona non grata within Wales. This accusation is bizarre and certainly unfounded. He is a well respected young knowledgeable Imam. His vocal position against not only religious extremism but also political extremism, racism and bigotry is well known, recognised, and respected by those within the Welsh Muslim community and by all mosques.

Countering extremism requires all partners in society to work together, not just Muslim communities and mosques, but equally the government, statutory partners and indeed the media. Vital to neutralising the message of extremism is having the safe space to discuss sensitive issues which extremists exploit to bolster their message. These safe spaces must exist in mosques, schools, Universities and all institutions.

All mosques and Muslim institutions in Wales are committed to teaching morals and values of the Islamic tradition, compassion, forgiveness, the sacredness of all human life, and the equality and personhood of every individual, male and female. The work of Imams and religious leaders is to bring these values and teachings to the world.

We all affirm our rejection of extremism, which seeks political change through violence legitimised through a pseudo-religious rhetoric. All mosques, Muslim institutions and religious leaders are involved in protecting young Muslims from extremist influences.However,extremism is a social and political problem, not a ‘Muslim’ problem, and we extend our hand to the government and other partners to work with us in tackling this cancer.

The Muslim Council of Wales and its affiliates reaffirm their commitment to building a Welsh society free of hatred, based on respect, tolerance and proud of its diversity.

Qari Ghulam Nabi Saheb                                Masjid e Bilal

Mufti Taher Saheb                                           Masjid Uthman

Mufti Bilal Saheb                                              Masjid e Abu Bakar

Mufti Suhayl Khawer Saheb                           Masjid e Bilal

Shaykh Daoud Salaman                                  South Wales Islamic Centre

Hafiz Muhammed Siddique                             Masjid e Abu Bakar

Molana Mushtaq Khan                                    Dar ul-Isra

Shaykh Yaqoub Kutkut                                   Dar ul-Isra

Dr Munir Ashi                                                   Dar ul-Isra

Molana Mohammed Abid Chishti                   Alnoor Mosque Newport

Dr Muzaffar Jilani                                             Imaan Islamic Society Berea Mosque

Dr Mustafa Baig                                               Abrahamic Faith

Molana Haider Zaman                                      Madni Masjid

Qari Ferozuddin Saheb                                   Madni Masjid

Shaykh Abdelati Fergani                                 Al-Manar/ Al-Ikhlaas

Shaykh Morad Eladnany                                  Taqwa Mosque Newport

Molana Arif Saheb                                            Barry Masjid

Imam Kamal Idrisy                                           HMP Cardiff Prison

Mohammed Afzal                                             Madina Mosque

Shaykh Barak Al Bayaty                                  Al-Manar Centre

Hafiz Ahtisham Ali                                           Masjid Umar

Molana Tariq Zaman                                        Masjid Uthman

Mohammed Saqib                                            Dar ul-Isra

Molana Qasim Ali                                             Masjid e Umar

Dr M Gaber ElSharoud                                    MAB Wales

Dr Baba M Gana                                               West Wales Islamic Centre

Mohammed Abdullah                                      West Wales Islamic Centre

Mrs Amina Shabaan                                        Cardiff University

Ali Akbar JP                                                      Shah Jalal Mosque

Mufti Javed Kachhalia                                     Swansea Mosque

Abdur Rehman Mujahid                                  Alnoor Mosque Newport

Arshid Rahman                                                 Jamia Mosque Newport

Saleem Bidat                                                     Iqra Trust Newport

Molana Ashraf Ali                                            Port Talbot Mosque

Dr Meraj Hasan MBE                                       Ihsaan Social Support Association

Abdul Azim Ahmed                                          Muslim Youth Wales (MY Wales)

Saleem Kidwai OBE                                         Muslim Council of Wales

 

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Sunday 7th February is national mosque open day. Mosques across the UK are opening their doors in an attempt to build bridges between neighbours. Below are a list of participating mosques, please do drop by!

Al-Manar Centre, 2-4 Glynrhondda Street, Cardiff, CF24 4AN (11am – 5.30pm)

Bangor Islamic Centre, 61 High Street, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 1NR

Berea Masjid, Berra Cottages, Blaina, NP13 3AD (11am – 5.30pm)

Darul Isra, Wyvernne Road, Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4BG (11am – 5.30pm)

Jamia mosque, 183-186 Commercial Road, Newport, NP20 2GW (11am – 5.30pm)

Shah Jalal Mosque and Islamic Centre, Crwys Road (on the bridge), Cathays Cardiff, CF24 4NJ (12pm – 5pm)

Swansea Mosque Islamic and Community Centre, 14-15 St Helen’s Rd, Swansea SA1 4AW (2pm – 5pm)

Swansea University Mosque, Building 6, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP (11am – 5.30pm)

Wrexham Islamic Cultural Centre, 6 Grosvenor Road, Wrexham, LL11 1DN (11am – 3pm)

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Muslim Council of Wales leader, Sahar al-Faifi, responds to a number of points raised in a recent WalesOnline article: –

“My name is Sahar al-Faifi. I’m the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales. I’m also the Chair of MEND Wales, and I recently organised a dinner in Cardiff called “Wales Challenges Islamophobia”.

The event was intended to raise the profile of the increasing Islamophobia in Britain – something I unfortunately have been victim to first-hand. As a Muslim woman who wears the face veil, barely a week goes past in which I am not subject to some form of abuse on the street or on the way to work. Muslim women are often the first victim of on the street abuse, as various studies have demonstrated, and it is unsurprising that the majority of the team that put together and hosted the event were other Muslim women. We worked from the beginning of the event to delivery, and I myself chaired the event.

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The team who organised the event with speaker Abu Eesa.

We were honoured to host Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM. His gesture of standing shoulder to shoulder with Muslims in combatting prejudice and bigotry was warmly welcomed by me, the Muslim Council of Wales and the other attendees of the event.

Following the event, an article was posted on Wales Online by a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate, Shazia Awan. I felt it important to clarify some of the statements made within the article, both in terms of the event I organised, and also the claims she made more generally. I do this in good will, and following an attempt to speak to her directly about the concerns she raised.

Absence of Women on the Top Tables

Speaking of the event, Shazia wrote “it didn’t seem representative to me; not a woman in sight on the top tables and championed by the Muslim Council of Wales.”

This is absolutely untrue. I chaired the event, and the top tables were full of women – I know because I made sure they were well represented and given the best seats in the house.

This lie is upsetting as it erased me, my contribution to the event, and the other women who attended. I hope Shazia apologises for this complete untruth.

As anyone who attends the Muslim Council of Wales interfaith dinners will know – our tables always are diverse, with men and women present. We recently hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in a historic gathering in October 2015, and invited Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis in February 2015.

It is a shame Shazia feel’s the Muslim Council of Wales is unrepresentative. We are a broad based umbrella body. Our affiliates include the majority of mosques, Muslim organisations and societies in Wales, from both Sunni and Shi’i backgrounds, and from all the different schools within Islam.

As we work with organisations, rather than individuals, it is not possible to represent everyone. But we do represent the interests and views of the majority of Muslim organisations, mosques and groups in Wales to the best of our ability.

If Shazia has any suggestions on how we can improve our structures of representation, I welcome conversation on the topic.

On Hosting Abu Eesa Niamatullah

Shazia wrote: “The speaker who made me walk out was Salafi preacher Abu Eesa Niamatullah whose 45-minute speech I listened to and who, in my view, should never have been given a public platform.”

The reason for her objection to Abu Eesa’s presence at the event was a statement he made several years ago about women in the workplace, specifically, his opinion that women should avoid working. Clearly the event in question was not one in which he was advocating that view, I myself am a geneticist and in full-time employment. As for Abu Eesa, when asked about his statement from several years ago, he clarified “it is permissible and allowed for Muslim women to work,” he said. “In Islamic law it is permissible and I retract that (earlier) statement I made completely.”

Although not stated explicitly, the article also seems to criticise Abu Eesa for being “Salafi”, described as “a fundamentalist and ultra conservative approach to Islam”. Salafi mosques, Imams and scholars have been vital partners in working with the Muslim Council of Wales (and indeed other bodies) in countering violent extremism, and advocating positive messages about engaging with wider society. I think it is unfair to imply that simply being Salafi is a problem.

Furthermore, the presence of Abu Easa at the event was made clear from the outset, his name was put in all publicity materials and it was no secret that he was to be one of the speakers at the event, I am surprised that Shazia did not know before the event, and felt the need to walk out during his talk – which was short, and completely unrelated to the issue of women working.

On MCW and extremism

Implicit in the article was the criticism that the Muslim Council of Wales do not take extremism seriously. We consider tackling violent extremism as one of our most important duties and we expend considerable energy towards this goal.

We have been active members of civil society groups such as the Cardiff Prevent Stakeholder Group, and worked with partners across all institutions to combat extremism.

We have facilitated Imams and religious scholars to tackle the theological messages of groups like Isis, through Friday sermons, leaflets, posters and online videos. We’ve also hosted courses to help develop young leaders who can counter extremist messages.

We have invested in training for Imams and Muslim scholars in Chaplaincy training, so they have the pastoral skills to reach and communicate with young Muslims as we believe youth support work is one of the vital tools to countering radicalisation.

We have developed projects also aimed at reducing the appeal of extremism, such as our prison chaplaincy project New Leaf, and our youth leadership programme, iLEAD.

In February 2016, we are hosting a conference aimed at exploring radicalisation with our national partner, the Muslim Council of Britain.

There is still much more that can be done of course, and we invite everyone to help us in carrying out this important work.

I hope this clarifies our position on a number of issues raised in Shazia’s article.”

Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales, issues the following statement: –

“The most recent attacks in Paris are an affront to humanity. We mourn the deaths and offer our thoughts and prayers to the families who have lost their loved ones.

The deaths in Paris follow terror attacks in Beirut and Baghdad.

This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves ‘Islamic State’ but there is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil.

Muslims globally, and here in Wales, reject the so called Islamic States’ political aspirations in Syria and Iraq, and we reject their attempt to justify their violence through religion.

The Muslim Council of Wales extends its hand of friendship to all those in France who are suffering. Paris, Beirut and Baghdad will be in our prayers.”

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