Tag Archives: Prison

Asim Qureshi – On Helping the Oppressors

Before Hannah Arendt coined the banality of evil in her study on the Eichmann case, there was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

During his detention his prison guard approached him. He asked Imam Ahmad if the hadith regarding those who assist the oppressors was authentic? Imam Ahmad replied in the affirmative and then was asked by the guard if he was one of those who helped the oppressors? This was ibn Hanbal’s response:

“No. The aides of the oppressors are those that comb your hair, and wash your clothes, and prepare your meals, and buy and sell from you. As for you, then you are one of the oppressors themselves!” [1]

Whenever you hear about individuals saying they are ‘just doing their job’ or that they are ‘trying to make a change from within’ – we should always ask questions about how the actions they take perpetrate injustices against others. Complicity is not always an active process, sometimes even well meaning behaviour can result in harm to others.

[1] ‘Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad’, by Ibn al-Jawzi, p. 397


Source CoolnessofHind: Muslim Prison Chaplains and the Neoconservative Attack on Islam


A couple of years ago, I noted that the substantive content in the campaign of attacks against Shaykh Haytham al-Haddad designed to smear him as “extremist” were in fact normative Islamic beliefs which cut across the theological spectrum. Shaykh al-Haddad was the proxy for the attack on Islam.

Since then, David Cameron himself has interfered with religion, attacking Islamic beliefs and practices, promoting deformists as the face of Islam, all the while employing doublespeak and urging the Muslim minority to shun the “conspiracy theories” that Islam is under attack. Looking from the colonialist, Eurocentric lens, all manner of denigration has been hurled at Islam, as “mutual tolerance” and “respect” is simultaneously preached to the Muslim community.

Neoconservative assumptions about Islam as an intrinsic threat to the “Judeo-Christian civilisation” is driving this dangerous discourse.  Whilst it is true that Islam offers a unique paradigm which has endured for over a millennium as the modern project and accompanying imposition of the nation state crumbles across the Middle East in the less than a century, the claim that an essentially paradigmatic difference poses a threat to the people living in the West is fallacious.  Indeed, how can a Muslim both call people to Islam and at the same time threaten the same people with destruction?

Despite this fundamentally flawed piece of logic, the anti-Muslim Michael Gove continues to pursue his vendetta against Islam based on the doctrine of pre-emption, which underpins the academically baseless conveyor-belt theory of radicalisation.  Moving along various groups, from Sufis, “Wahhabis”, “Islamists”/Muslim Brotherhood and eventually terrorists, the idea as that the earlier a state can interfere and shape the beliefs of Muslims on this linear, contiguous path, the earlier a terrorist attack can be thwarted.

No longer are al-Muhajiroun the proxy for neoconservative mind control.  We have also moved on from “Islamist extremists” – the code word for Islam in general. The desideratum this year is, as Maajid Nawaz has previously made clear, the “tackling” of normative Islam “head on”.

Discriminatory Dave and Malicious Mike

In announcing prison reform, David Cameron typically spoke of dealing with extremism, and, as expected, singled out Islam and the associated “warped view of the world”.  It is Islam in the context of extremism and radicalisation for which reason, Cameron informs us, “Michael Gove has commissioned a review of this issue”.

Gove, who has previously been an advisor to Quilliam, is clearly the man for the job (as stated by Quilliam themselves). It is unsurprising therefore, to see sprouting forth from this love affair Quilliam “theologian” Usama Hasan in the Times. Hasan uses the medium “Deobandi Islam” – Muslims who follow the Hanafi School of jurisprudence – to cast Islam itself as a cause of radicalisation (see further below). Whilst it easy for some to fall into a sectarian binary and nod out of mindless tribalism, I would like to draw attention to the aspects which are being categorised as increasing propensity towards radicalisation and ultimately (and fallaciously) terrorism.

The Times and Daily Mail reports buttressing Cameron’s proposals identified the Islamic rulings of sex separation and the prohibition of music – a majority view in Islamic jurisprudence – as those which “challenge British values and encourage radical thinking”. In other words, religious practices are extremist. These practices, unlike the treatment of the orthodox Jewish faith, are being constructed with the bricks and mortar of security as encouraging a path towards terrorism.

The Times article had the following quote, cementing the notion that the problem is Islam itself, as opposed to its semantic alter ego, “Islamism”:

A senior Whitehall official said: “It is of great concern that the majority of Muslim chaplains in prisons propagate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic scripture which is contrary to British values and human rights. Such imams are unlikely to aid the deradicalisation of Islamists in prisons and could potentially even make them more firm in their beliefs.”

Would any “Whitehall official” dare say that prison chaplains Rabbi Shmuel Arkush who is Lubavitch and describes some of his prisoners as “people who are aspiring to be Orthodox”, and Rabbi Michael Binstock who is also orthodox, are of “great concern” because they propagate a fundamentalist interpretation of Jewish scripture which undoubtedly runs contrary to “British values and human rights”? That they could potentially make Zionists among the Jewish prison population firmer in their desire to establish a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinian life?  Indeed, what runs counter to the secular liberal model of governance and human rights is state interference with religion and coercive creation of a state-approved faith.  It smacks of Hitler’s attempt to control Christians with the establishment of the National Reich Church, which coercively made Christianity compliant with German socialism. Today, Islam is being forced to comply with an extreme neoconservative aberration of liberalism.

The “Deoband Islam” Proxy

Gove’s brown approvers padded out the assault using Usama Hasan with a quote only visible in the Times piece:

“The Deobandi movement is generally anti-western and anti-integration in its spirit . . . Imams in the prison system have to be more progressive and open-minded in terms of being supportive of modern, multicultural and cosmopolitan Britain.”

Clearly, Hasan’s view – and by extension the neoconservative view – of Muslims is to assimilate them into an eviscerated “Islam” of the Quilliam Foundation.

Yahya Birt in his informative analysis of the prison reform proposals has already brought attention to the fact that Quilliam made the same claims in its 2009 report on prisons. He also brought to light a research study which found the contributions of the Imams were in fact positive and productive.

Barbara Daly Metcalf, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, explaining the pragmatic dynamic of the Deoband movement, has written,

“What is perhaps most striking about the Deoband-type movements is the extent to which politics is an empty “box,” filled expediently and pragmatically depending on what seems to work best in any given situation.”

A further point to note is that the broad category of “anti-Western” attitude is being used by Hasan as a precursor for “extremism”.  Where neocons are involved, anti-Western will no doubt refer to anti-neocon policies.  Metcalf provides a nuanced perspective on the general perception of Muslim concerns:

“…anger may well be very specific, for example directed at American intervention abroad and not at American “freedom” or “values” in general. Moreover, Islamic movements like the ones discussed here may have many goals and offer a range of social, moral, and spiritual satisfactions that are positive and not merely a reactionary rejection of modernity or “the West.” Quite simply, these movements may, in the end, have much less to do with “us” than is often thought.”

Quilliam, however, was born for a specific purpose.  And when an agenda to deconstruct and then destroy Islam is on the table alongside wads of cash, the likes of Hasan are on hand to provide the necessary sound-bites to appease the upper-middle class, pay-walled, Times-reading elite.


Other Sufi communities have seen a similar attack in the hyperbole of Shari’ah courts. This is against a backdrop which sees Muslim arbitration services already being discriminatorily investigated under the “integration” premise, i.e. the “conditions for radicalisation”.  A crown court judge, Shamim Qureshi, was the subject of a Daily Mail smear piece last month for being granted permission by judicial authorities to act as the presiding judge at the “controversial” Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT). The paper then went on to describe Hijaz College’s head, Shaykh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi who set up MAT, as “hardline”, before stating that he led the protest against Charlie Hebdo. Completing the misleading picture was an embedding video of him saying “we are extreme in our values” (he actually says this in the context of the love of the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him). The Shaykh is neither “Salafist” nor “Islamist”, but of Sufi background.

Once regarded as the solution to “extremism”, Sufi, traditional orthodox Islamic groups are now being hung by the noose gripped by neoconservatives and their aiders and abettors in the Quilliam Foundation.

ISB and Ahtsham Ali

In fact, even those with deformist tendencies have not been spared.   Positively portrayed for his decontructionist views by the Times in the past, Ahtsham Ali, whose rhetoric I have analysed before, was the subject of both aforementioned Daily Mail and Times articles.  Despite being the former head of the deformist Islamic Society of Britain, which has defended the disgraced Usama Hasan’s deconstruction of Islam and signed his “fatwas”, Hasan had no qualms slating the “advice” of the Muslim adviser to the National Offender Management Service. Will ISB now condemn Hasan’s sectarian, colonialist games? Or will they continue attempting to prove its pseudo-Quilliam worth before a people of hate at the expense of the Muslim minority?

Neocon Subversion

The gradualism advocated by the likes of Leo Strauss means that neocon subversion of governmental organs has been occurring for a while.  In the past, the Department for Education has been the subject of a neocon coup. Ofsted was similarly compromised. Guantanamo Bay-supporter William Shawcross took charge of the Charity Commission despite his clear bias, and was controversially re-appointed again months ahead of the end of his tenure.

Michael Gove’s neoconservative lackey Peter Clarke was commissioned to officially marginalise Muslims of Birmingham for their faith in 2014. Clarke was also on the board of the Charity Commission, which has since been disproportionately targeting Muslim charities. Last year, Peter Clarke and Shawcross were listed as attendees of the pro-Israel Herziliya conference of neocons, apartheid-supporters and anti-Muslim bigots.

Muslims have been in the crosshairs of all these government organs.

Gove has now brought in Peter Clarke as Chief Inspector of Prisons. In November 2015, Clarke stated that Gove had phoned him to draw his attention to the upcoming vacancy of chief inspector of prisons.

If the Trojan Hoax fiasco is anything to go by, Muslims will be the subject of a purge based on their orthodox religious beliefs once more.

The Scruton Test of Secularism and Hypocrisy

At this point, it is important to highlight the hypocrisy of secularism as exemplified by neocons. The British neoconservative thinker and philosopher – or as neocons see it, the philosopher behind the neocon statesmen – Roger Scruton is the intellectual reference for the likes of the bigoted Douglas Murray. In a revealing interview with Murray, Scruton, thoroughly articulating a civilizational clash thesis, says,

“I think that our society has gone terribly wrong because people have not been confronting the great issues — the loss of the Christian faith, the inability to confront Islam…”

In a condescending discussion about Islam, Scruton highlights the “problems” that Muslims, due to their Islam, have in terms of European secular compatibility.  Scruton lists some of the things which Muslims must jettison or believe in in order to conform to ontologically Christian “Western values”.  Among them he notes,

“[we need to look at], are people who don’t have the faith free to occupy positions in the government or positions in society which bring the best rewards, that I think is much more important for our vision of secular government than any formal democratic procedures”.

Clearly, as neocons deploy their counter-Islamic, counter-entryism strategy, move along the Muslim “conveyor belt” categorising Muslims as a whole as potential terrorists and picking off various Islamic groups from public service jobs on the basis of their religious beliefs, the “most important” aspect of the secular government is being shredded to pieces as it struggles to maintain its “indifference to religion” (in the words of Scruton) and not discriminate against Islam and Muslims.

Concluding Remarks

The position of Muslims in society has rapidly become one of explicit, demeaning marginalisation. Muslim must begin to set aside their differences, assert the positive message of Islam and deal with a far greater threat to Islam and broader societythat is neoconservatism.  Now is the time to turn towards the timeless guidance of the Qur’an which straightens our sails in a storm of suppression and provides the spiritual strength to withstand the riptide of extreme secularism.

“And when My servants ask You (O Muhammad) about Me, then indeed I am near, I answer the invocation of the supplicant when he asks of Me. So let them hear My call, and believe in Me, so that they may be guided.” (Qur’an 2:186)

“And those whom you call upon other than Him (Allah) are unable to help you, nor can they help themselves.” (Qur’an 7:197)

“A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe. A Mu’min (true believer) is one in whom all mankind has a sanctuary for life and property.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bukhari/Muslim)

Playing the sectarian card: Britain’s Ministry of Justice is unfairly targeting Muslim prison chaplains

Following story taken from CoolnessofHind which has to be one of favourite blogs out there right now dealing with the PREVENT / anti-Islam agenda facing the Muslims of the UK.

One of the more bizarre aspects of all this to come from the report is that the prison Imams, mostly coming from a Deobandi background preach the virtues of social segregation between genders as is the Orthodox Islamic position but that this is some sort of new evil and one of the most dastardly crimes against the creed of secular-liberalism that is out there.

But where are these prison Imams preaching? Prisons… and prisons are segregated along gender lines for very good reasons.


Source: Playing the sectarian card: Britain’s Ministry of Justice is unfairly targeting Muslim prison chaplains

Yesterday, news came of a soon-to-be-released Ministry of Justice (MOJ) report, which will argue that Muslim chaplains are part of the problem of radicalisation in UK prisons. Given that the government has trailed the report in the Sunday Times (“Most jail imams teach anti-western values”, 07/02/2016, p.7) and the Mail on Sunday (“Majority of prison imams are ‘teaching anti-western’ values that promote gender segregation, study claims”, 07/02/2016) and played the sectarian card, it is a highly premeditated political intervention. Pointing fingers at chaplains of the Deobandi Sunni persuasion, who are said to make up 140 of 200 Muslim prison chaplains, a senior Whitehall official is quoted as saying that, “It is of great concern that the majority of Muslim chaplains in prisons propagate a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic scripture which is contrary to British values and human rights. Such imams are unlikely to aid the deradicalisation of Islamists in prisons and could potentially even make them more firm in their beliefs.” And in his major speech on prison reform today, the Prime Minister promised that he was prepared to make major changes if necessary on the basis of the recommendations of the MOJ report. The appointment of Peter Clarke as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons this month, Scotland Yard’s former head of counter-terrorism whom the government has previously deployed as a counter-extremism troubleshooter in the education and the charity sectors, signals the MOJ’s intent to construe prisons in the same light: as a hotbed of “extremist entryism”, with the potential to look at Muslim inmates without terrorism offences and Muslim chaplains in the same light as convicted terrorist offenders.

The Quilliam Foundation has stepped in to support the MOJ in identifying Deobandi prison chaplains as a particular problem. Usama Hasan, a senior researcher there, is reported by the Sunday Times as saying that “[t]he Deobandi movement is generally anti-western and anti-integration in its spirit … Imams in the prison system have to be more progressive and open-minded in terms of being supportive of modern, multicultural and cosmopolitan Britain.” The Foundation has prior form in this regard: its 2009 report on prisons, Unlocking Al-Qaeda, made essentially the same claims about Deobandi prison chaplains (pp. 33, 42, 101) and recommended a reduction in their numbers (p.108).

Reading between the lines, it seems as if Ahtesham Ali, the current Muslim Advisor to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), is being set up as the fall guy for appointing many of these Deobandi chaplains. A damage limitation exercise on behalf of Ali is already under way to argue that he is neither an extremist nor of a particular sectarian persuasion by anonymous sources quoted in the Sunday Times. That is all very well, but what about some damage limitation on behalf of these Muslim chaplains who have rendered a great deal of public service in prisons for many years? Who is going to speak up for them?

It is naïve to expect fair play and even-handedness, or a reliance on evidence or the measured conclusions of academic research, especially where the incumbent minister, Michael Gove, is concerned. The news reporting and, one must surmise, the forthcoming MOJ report rely on the fallacious idea that the Deoband school is stuck in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, in the context of its original anti-colonial foundations (ignoring massive transformations since, both in the Subcontinent and the diaspora). It also seems to have discounted the findings of the three-year AHRC/ESRC ‘Religion and Society’ research study on Muslim chaplaincy in Britain (2008–2011) carried out by the University of Cardiff. That study acknowledged the conservative orientation of Deobandi chaplains but also found that pastoral practice in the challenging prison environment and working within a multi-faith chaplaincy team had a transformative effect:

Muslim chaplains working across most sectors learn new attitudes from their experiences. While they often tend to start with normative, didactic approaches that are directed towards their co-religionists, their experiences of working with all kinds of people in a multi-faith environment seem to inculcate within them attitudes of empathy, person-centredness, equality, broad-mindedness, openness, approachability, supportiveness, tolerance, non-judgementalism, non-directedness, compassion, patience and humility. (Gilliat-Ray, Ali and Pattison,Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy, p.175)

The Cardiff team also found that, when called to do so, Muslim chaplains provided genuine pastoral care for non-Muslim inmates. Furthermore, the study established that Muslim chaplains’ pastoral training and experience was having an impact on the mosque imamate in Britain, giving more profile and credence to the pastoral dimension in serving local communities. It also argued that the preponderance of Deobandi seminarians among Muslim prison chaplains was largely due to the huge investment in imam training that this denomination has made in Britain, more so than any other Sunni or Shia group.

Another factor that the Cardiff research team did not mention was that, after 7/7, the government wanted Muslim prison chaplains to have theological training as part of the professionalization of the sector and for them to possess the wherewithal to tackle the arguments of violent extremists. Again, this policy shift favoured Deobandi applicants who already had the necessary qualifications to hand. That said, the main formal role of Muslim chaplains remains pastoral and aimed at the spiritual welfare of the general Muslim prison population, yet they have made informal efforts to tackle extremist ideas within this primary remit, and have facilitated greater cultural awareness and understanding of prison staff about mainstream Muslim beliefs in the context of radicalisation (Gilliat-Ray et al, p.110). Overall, however, they have not been formally involved in theological deradicalisation efforts aimed at inmates with terrorist offences, for which outside specialists have been brought in with the collaboration of the authorities (HM Prison Service, Muslim Prisoners’ Experiences, 2010, p.35, Para 7.12).

For all those who agree that Muslim prison chaplaincy in Britain has been a growing and largely successful sector over the last two decades with a solid track record of public service and professional development, now is the time to make your voices heard. There is genuine fear that the government is now going to smear this sector as “extremist Muslim entryism”. Is the government going to brush aside all this dedicated public service and experience and start getting rid of people on the basis of lazy and pernicious sectarian labels? Where is the due process? Where is the expectation that professionals should be treated in a meritocratic way on the basis of their individual performances?

From my sources, I am hearing that many Muslim prison chaplains are feeling resigned to losing their jobs, and that, as public servants, they have no right to speak out if Mr Gove — who is ultimately their boss — is going to sack them. How terrible it is that even high-achieving Muslim professionals feel so isolated and demoralised that they cannot defend themselves against such baseless smears? And more importantly where will that leave the pastoral and spiritual care of Muslim inmates who sadly now make up 12% of the prison population? It is hard not to see this as anything other than institutional Islamophobia being sanctioned at the highest level, which could have really damaging and deleterious effects. Now is the time to speak up and set the record straight.

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