An encounter with radical Islam

Last Friday, I was on the panel at City Circle, an impressive discussion group of young professional Muslims. The subject was Muslim representation and the programme I made for Channel 4, Who Represents Muslims, screened on Channel 4 on Friday 14 July.

Also on the panel with me were Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Yahya Birt, from the Islamic Foundation and Madeleine Bunting the new director of Demos.

The discussion between Sir Iqbal and myself grew heated and I lost my temper with the Islamist knight on several occasions (Bunting intervened to suggest we should all be much nicer to each other). I was particularly irritated by Sir Iqbal’s response when I asked him what meetings he had had with the victims of 7/7 (I should have said survivors). At this point he said that he himself was a victim of 7/7: an astonishing display of arrogance and insensitivity.

Challenged by Bunting, he reiterated his comments at the height of the Rushdie affair that death was too good for the author of the Satantic Verses. (His actual words were: “Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him … his mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.”) He then went on to express his support for Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, a series of brutal “sharia-inspired” laws introduced by the former dictator General Zia al-Huq. Under the laws women must have four witnesses to prove a charge of rape or face a charge of adultery herself. Sacranie argued that it was not for those in the West to say that such laws were wrong if they were accepted by the people of the country where they were imposed. He refused to be drawn on whether the sentence of stoning was one he approved of in such cases.

However, he did confirm that the Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party, which has been accused of human rights abuses in Pakistan and Bangladesh was represented in Britain by the UK Islamic Mission, an affiliate of the MCB.

Sacranie's credentials as an apologist for the more unpleasant aspects of political Islam were confirmed for me that night. But the links of his Bangladeshi successor, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, to Jamaat politics may be more direct. He is president of East London Mosque, a focus for Jamaat-i-Islami sympathisers in Britain. The mosque and the London Muslim Centre, which adjoins it, have regularly played host to Delwar Hossein Sayeedi, the hell-fire Bangladeshi MP, whose abortive fund-raising visit to Britain caused such a stir earlier this month.