Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom
In Britain, the largest umbrella group for interfaith initiatives is the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN). Founded in 1987, the IFN’s members include “representative bodies from the Baha’i; Buddhist; Christian; Hindu; Jain; Jewish; Muslim; Sikh; and Zoroastrian communities; national and local inter faith bodies; and academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter faith issues.”
The IFN has received millions of pounds of taxpayers’ funds. 80% of the IFN’s budget is taxpayers’ money. In 2011 alone, the Department for Communities and Local Government granted £373,990 to the IFN. The IFN claims it works to “promote understanding and respect” between different faith groups.
In July 2013, however, a delegate to an IFN conference in Birmingham told the other delegates that he had heard a senior IFN official claim that “Jews were a disease”. The delegate also denounced a number of IFN member bodies for their collaboration with signatories to the Istanbul Declaration, a document calling for attacks on British troops and Jewish communities.
The IFN’s stated aims, however, are clearly at odds with the views held by some of its membership.
From 2011-12, the IFN’s co-chairman was Dr Manazir Ahsan (although his term expired in July 2013, he remains a member of the IFN’s executive committee), a leading British Islamist who helped to coordinate the riots in the UK against Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses. Manazir Ahsan was a founder of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, which organised book burnings and protests, and called for the book to be banned and Rushdie to be prosecuted.
Iqbal Sacranie, another representative of the United Kingdom Action Committee on Islamic Affairs and a colleague of Ahsan, declared, “Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him [Rushdie]. His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.” Sacranie is also involved with the Inter Faith Network, and has contributed to its reports.
Further, after Ayatollah Khomeini called for the murder of the Indian author, Ahsan expressed support for this position, saying that Khomeini “has expressed the Islamic legal point of view,” and “we hope other Islamic governments will confirm this.” Ahsan has added, “That Rushdie is an apostate and has blasphemed against Islam by abusing the Prophet in The Satanic Verses has not only been maintained by Iran but also by more than 40 member states of the organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).”
Attempting to allay concerns that British protestors were closely collaborating with the Iranian regime, Ahsan added, “We accept we are living in a non-Muslim country and we have not issued the fatwa. If we wanted to kill him we could have done it.”
British taxpayers are right to question whether a leading British Islamist involved in a campaign of violent rhetoric and aggressive censorship is genuinely committed to the principle of dialogue; let alone whether or not he was a suitable choice for chairman of the largest taxpayer-funded interfaith group in the UK.
Ahsan is also the Director of the Islamic Foundation, which is the leading publisher of books by Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Bangladeshi group Jamaat-e-Islami, which was responsible for acts of genocide during the 1971 war in Bangladesh. Lord Carlile, in his government paper on preventing violent extremism, noted that Mawdudi was a key influence in the radicalisation of young Muslims. In his book, Islamic Law and Constitution, Maududi wrote that his ideal state would bear “a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states.”
In 2003, The Times reported that two of the Islamic Foundation’s trustees were on the UN sanctions list of people associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Sughra Ahmed, another executive committee member of the IFN, was also previously a research fellow at the Islamic Foundation. Ahmed is presently connected to the Islamic Society of Britain. According to the former Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in the West, Kamal el-Helbawy, the Islamic Society of Britain was established by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The IFN’s executive committee also includes Ayub Laher, who is part of the ultra-conservative Deobandi movement. Laher belongs to Jamiat Ulama-e-Britain (JuB), the representative body of Deobandi scholars in Britain, whose Pakistani branch, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, is “directly affiliated” to Pakistani Deobandi seminaries with close ties to the Taliban. The Pakistani group’s leader, Fazlur Rehman, described in Pakistan as a “patron of jihad”, has stated that his organisation and the Ayub Laher’s JuB “have a unanimity of thought and ideology.”
Laher (along with former IFN co-chair Manazir Ahsan) is an inaugural member of the Muslim Council of Britain. In 2002, and again in 2004, Laher represented the JuB on the MCB’s Central Working Committee.
Sheikh Mohammad Ismail, general secretary of the JuB, claimed, in 2007, that the JuB was opposed to “any kind of political violence”, telling The Times that, “You’re trying to link us with terrorism. What about all those masonic and Zionist organisations? What about Palestine, what about Iraq? Where are those weapons of mass destruction? You never, ever talk about that.”
Before their recent elections, the IFN’s executive committee also included Abduljalil Sajid, a Brighton-based Imam. Sajid is an advisor to the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Islamist-run member of the IFN. As mentioned above, in 2009, the British Government cut ties with the Muslim Council of Britain after its secretary general, Daud Abdullah, became a signatory to the Istanbul Declaration, which called for attacks on British troops and Jewish communities. The British Government has acknowledged that the Muslim Council of Britain is controlled by the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami movement, writing in a recent report that, “The JI helped to create and subsequently dominate the leadership of the MCB.”
In 2006, Abduljalil Sajid voiced support for the Sheikh Taj Din al-Hilali, after Hilali claimed rape victims were to blame for their own sexual assault. Hilali has also called for jihad against Israel, supported suicide bombing, denied the Holocaust, glorified the 9/11 attacks, and in 1988 told Muslim students at Sydney University that Jews use “sex and abominable acts of buggery, espionage, treason and economic hoarding to control the world”. Despite Hilali’s long history of extremist statements, IFN committee member Sajid, immediately following Hilali’s castigation of rape victims, stated: “I respect his views. His intentions are noble in order to make morality and modesty part of our overall society.”
Another member group of the IFN is the UK branch of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu ultra-nationalist group, which for several years provided the Hindu Co-Chair of the Inter Faith Network, Girdari Lal Bhan. According to Human Rights Watch, the Indian VHP was one of the organisations “directly responsible” in 2002 for carrying out large-scale anti-Muslim violence, in which thousands were killed. In addition, the BBC reports that “preliminary police reports name local leaders of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad in attacks that left nearly 100 Muslims dead.” In 2007, Anil Patel, a VHP official in India, told one Indian newspaper that, “Our war cry was ‘Lock the door from outside and burn the Muslims from the inside.’” The VHP has carried out scores of attacks on Christians in India, including murders, rapes and the destruction of dozens of churches.
In 2012, the Inter Faith Network refused membership to the first pagan organisation to be recognised as a religion by the Charity Commission. The IFN, it appears, maintains a list of ‘approved’ religions: it grants membership to Bahá’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian bodies. Other religious bodies, it appears, have been deemed not the right sort of religion.
In November 2012, over twenty different religious groups came together at the House of Lords together with representatives of Liberty, INFORM and other academic bodies to express concern about religious discrimination against minority religious groups, such as the Ahmadiyya. The meeting discussed a document published by human rights law firm, Bindmans LLP, which found that “the Inter Faith Network is found to have practised discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, contrary to the Equality Act 2010 and other law, in its membership policies against particular faith communities in Britain.”
In response to criticism, the IFN’s executive committee published a statement in support of the discriminatory policy:
“The primary ground on which an inter faith organisation, such as IFN, may, within this context, define its parameters of membership is according to the ‘purpose of the organisation’. If an organisation, the purpose of which is to ‘foster or maintain good relations between persons of different religions or beliefs’, concludes that that work could be seriously affected by the acceptance into membership of a particular organisation (or individual) … a decision not to accept that membership application would be consistent with the relevant provisions in Schedule 23 [Equality Act 2010]. An example of this might be a decision by an inter faith organisation not to accept a membership application from a particular faith organisation if the admission to membership of that organisation could have the effect of leading to representative bodies of major faith communities withdrawing from membership of that inter faith organisation.”
To sum: it is acceptable to discriminate against a minority in order to protect the influence of the majority. For many anti-racist campaigners, such logic sits uncomfortably.
It is not just Pagans who face discrimination. Interfaith officials have rejected smaller Muslim groups because of a manifest fear that the presence of certain sects will upset the existing Islamist-dominated Islamic groups. Ahmaddiya Muslims are particularly reviled by radical Islamists, who regard the smaller sect as heretical.
The Muslim Council of Britain, a key member body of the IFN, issued a press release in October 2010, stating that: “The MCB’s clear stand is Qadianis/Ahmadiyyas do not subscribe to the Muslim creed. This is the unanimous position of all Muslim schools of thoughts across the world.”
Harriet Crabtree, Director of the IFN, has done nothing to challenge this view. In an email sent to one interfaith activist in 2012, Crabtree stated, “The membership policy of IFN, and its engagement with traditions other than the nine at that time (and presently) in membership, was necessarily affected by the degree to which some of the faith communities in membership of it were able or willing to be in formal engagement with these other groups. That is a simple statement of fact.”
The Inter Faith Network is, in truth, feeding the same interfaith intolerance practised by Islamist leaders such as Yusuf Al Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood – who, according to Qatari media, recently refused to participate in an interfaith conference in Doha because he would not share a platform with a Jew.
In July 2013, after a delegate at the IFN’s national meeting in Birmingham told the conference that he had heard a senior IFN official claim that “Jews were a disease”, and also condemned the Joseph Interfaith Foundation for its collaboration with signatories to the Istanbul Declaration, Mehri Niknam denied that Qayyum was a signatory to the document and condemned the comments as slanderous, to strong applause from other IFN members. Despite Niknam’s denials, Qayyum’s name is listed on the original Arabic document.
Three months after the meeting, the minutes for the meeting have not yet been released. Following the previous year’s conference, at which the IFN was accused of discriminating against Pagan groups, delegates were later told that the entire recording of the meeting had been lost because the recording system had failed.
IFN officials have refused to discuss the problem of extremists’ abuse of interfaith initiatives with concerned interfaith advocates — Crabtree claims that, “IFN has neither the legal role, nor the investigative expertise to take on exploration of the basis of allegations about international (or domestic) activities which are deemed by some as ‘extremist’.”
For references and further information, see the full Interfaith Industry report