What follows is a summary of some of Islam and Islam-related issues in Britain during April 2015, categorized into four broad themes: 1) Islamic extremism; 2) British multiculturalism; 3) Muslim integration; and 4) Muslims and the British general elections.
1. Islamic Extremism and Syria-Related Threats
British police believe that about 600 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq since the conflict began in early 2011. About half of those are believed to have returned to the UK.
On April 1, police in Turkey detained nine British nationals from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, who were allegedly seeking to join the Islamic State in Syria. The nine — five adults and four children, including a one-year-old baby — were arrested in the Turkish city of Hatay.
One of those arrested was Waheed Ahmed, a student of politics at Manchester University. His father Shakil, a Labour Party councilor in Rochdale, said he thought his son was doing an internship in Birmingham. He said:
"It's a total mystery to me why he's there, as I was under the impression he was on a work placement in Birmingham. My son is a good Muslim and his loyalties belong to Britain, so I don't understand what he's doing there. If I thought for a second that he was in danger of being radicalized I would have reported him to the authorities."
Also on April 1, Erol Incedal, 27, a British national of Turkish origin, was jailed for 42 months for possessing a bomb-making manual. His friend, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, 26, a British national of Algerian origin, who admitted to having the same manual, was given three years. Both men had been to the Syrian-Turkish border and mixed with jihadists, who taught them about weaponry and explosives.
Meanwhile, it emerged that the father of one of the three teenagers from Brent, northwest London, who were arrested in Turkey in March on suspicion of trying to join the Islamic State in Syria, works for the British Ministry of Defense. The father, who may have had access to the names and addresses of British military personnel at home and overseas, was placed on "compassionate leave."
On April 2, Yahya Rashid, of Willesden, also in northwest London, was charged with "engaging in conduct in preparation for committing an act of terrorism, and engaging in conduct with the intention of assisting others to commit acts of terrorism, between November 2014 and March 2015." Rashid, 19, was arrested at Luton Airport after arriving on a flight from Istanbul. The Middlesex University electronics student was allegedly returning from Syria after travelling there via Morocco and Turkey.
On April 3, six Muslims were arrested at the Port of Dover in Kent on suspicion of attempting to leave England to join the Islamic State. The Crown Prosecution Service said that three of the individuals were found in the back of a truck in an apparent attempt to smuggle themselves out of Britain. They were charged with "preparing acts of terrorism."
On April 5, Abase Hussen, the father of runaway British jihadi schoolgirl Amira Hussen, conceded that his daughter may have become radicalized after he took her to an extremist rally organized by the banned Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun, run by Anjem Choudary, the British-born Muslim hate preacher.
Amira, 15, was one of three girls from Bethnal Green Academy in East London who flew to Turkey in February to become "jihadi brides" in Syria. During a hearing at the Home Affairs Select Committee in March, Abase blamed British authorities for failing to stop his daughter from running off to Syria. Asked by Chairman Keith Vaz if Amira had been exposed to any extremism, Hussen replied: "Not at all. Nothing." The police eventually issued an apology.
Abase, however, changed his story after a video emerged which unmasked him as an Islamic radical who had marched at an Islamist hate rally alongside Choudary and Michael Adebolajo, the killer of Lee Rigby. Abase, originally from Ethiopia, said he had come to Britain in 1999 "for democracy, for the freedom, for a better life for children, so they could learn English."
On April 8, Alaa Abdullah Esayed of South London admitted to posting 45,600 tweets in support of the Islamic State in just one year. The tweets included pictures of dead bodies and encouraged children to arm themselves with weapons. Esayed's tweets also included a poem, "Mother of the Martyr," which advises parents on how to teach children about jihad. Esayed, 22, faces up to 14 years in prison for encouraging terrorism and disseminating terrorist publications.
On April 9, the families of two teenage boys from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who are believed to have traveled to join the Islamic State, said that they were "in a state of profound shock" and deeply worried about the safety of their "ordinary Yorkshire lads." The 17-year-old boys, Hassan Munshi and Talha Asmal, are believed to have gone to Syria after heading to Turkey on March 31. The boys reportedly told their relatives that they were going on a school trip, but instead used the Easter holidays as a "window of opportunity" to flee Britain.
On April 20, a 14-year-old schoolboy from Blackburn, Lancashire, became Britain's youngest terror suspect. He was arrested in connection with an Islamic State-inspired terror plot in Melbourne, Australia. Police said messages found on his computer and mobile phone indicated a plan to attack the centenary celebrations of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli during the First World War. (Anzac Day — April 25 — marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.)
Also on April 20, police in Turkey arrested a British couple and their four young children on suspicion of seeking to travel to a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State. Asif Malik, his wife Sara, and the four children — aged between 11 months and 7 years — were detained at a hotel in Ankara. Turkish officials said the family had crossed into Turkey from Greece on April 16 and that they had been detained after a tip-off from the British police.
On April 24, Hassan Munir of Bradford was jailed for 18 months for posting links to Dabiq, an Islamic State propaganda magazine, on his Facebook page. The court heard that Munir, 27, had ignored repeated warnings by Facebook and by police after he posted jihadist material, including items about beheadings. The judge said magazine posed a serious danger because it incited people to take up arms for the Islamic State.
On April 27, Mohammed Kahar of Sunderland was arrested after being caught disseminating extremist material, including documents such as "The Explosive Course," "44 Ways To Serve And Participate In Jihad," "The Book Of Jihad," and "This Is The Province Of Allah." Kahar, 37, was also accused of plotting Syria-related terrorism acts, supporting a proscribed organization and financing terrorism — in all, 10 offenses stretching back 18 months.
On April 28, an 18-year-old jihadist, Kazi Jawad Islam, was convicted of "terror grooming" for trying to "brainwash" his friend, Harry Thomas, "a vulnerable young man with learning difficulties," into attacking British soldiers with a meat cleaver.
The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales (aka Old Bailey) was told that Kazi Islam — allegedly inspired by the beheading of serviceman Lee Rigby in 2013 — befriended the then-19-year-old Thomas in October 2013 after meeting him at college. The court heard how Islam also "ruthlessly exploited" his autistic friend into preparing to make a bomb.
In an interview with the Guardian, Nazir Afzal, Britain's leading Muslim prosecutor, warned that more British children are at risk of "jihadimania" than previously thought because they see Islamic terrorists as "pop idols." He said:
"The boys want to be like them and the girls want to be with them. That's what they used to say about the Beatles and more recently One Direction and Justin Bieber. The propaganda the terrorists put out is akin to marketing, and too many of our teenagers are falling for the image.
"They see their own lives as poor by comparison, and don't realize they are being used. The extremists treat them in a similar way to sexual groomers — they manipulate them, distance them from their friends and families, and then take them.
"Each one of them, if they go to Syria, is going to be more radicalised when they come back. And if they don't go, they become a problem — a ticking time bomb — waiting to happen."
2. British Multiculturalism
In April, officials at the Lostwithiel School in Cornwall publicly humiliated nearly a dozen pupils between the ages of eight and 11 whose parents had refused to allow them to participate in a school trip to a mosque in Exeter. Some parents said they were concerned about the safety of their children, while others said they were opposed to the teaching of Islam in school. But school officials forced the non-compliant pupils individually to give an explanation in the student assembly.
On April 5, Victoria Wasteney, 38, a Christian healthcare worker, launched an appeal against an employment tribunal that found she had "bullied" a Muslim colleague by praying for her and inviting her to church. Wasteney was suspended from her job as a senior occupational therapist at the John Howard Centre, a mental health facility in east London, after her colleague, Enya Nawaz, 25, accused her of trying to convert her to Christianity. Wasteney's lawyers say that the tribunal broke the law by restricting her freedom of conscience and religion, which is enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
On April 8, the Guardian reported that there has been a 60% increase in child sexual abuse reported to the police over the past four years, according to official figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request that make public for the first time the scale of the problem in England and Wales.
The number of offenses of child sexual abuse reported to the police soared from 5,557 cases in 2011 to 8,892 in 2014. At the same time, the number of arrests for child sexual abuse offenses in England and Wales fell from 3,511 in 2011 to 3,208 — a drop of 9%.
The biggest increase in reported cases in a single police force over the past four years took place in South Yorkshire. The force saw an increase of 577% in cases from 74 in 2011 to 501 in 2014, apparently reflecting the exposure of the Muslim sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham.
On April 14, the president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Lord Neuberger, said in a speech that Muslim women should be allowed to wear veils in court. He added that in order to show fairness to those involved in trials, judges must have "an understanding of different cultural and social habits." He said:
"Well known examples include how some religions consider it inappropriate to take the oath, how some people consider it rude to look other people in the eye, how some women find it inappropriate to appear in public with their face uncovered, and how some people deem it inappropriate to confront others or to be confronted — for instance with an outright denial."
Neuberger's comments came after a judge upheld a ruling allowing Rebekah Dawson, a 22-year-old convert to Islam, to stand trial wearing a niqab, a veil that only leaves the eyes visible.
On April 15, Newsweek magazine reported that the "extreme views of a 'racist, homophobe and anti-Semite' who supports killing non-Muslims and 'stoning adulterers' are being made available to prison imams and prisoners throughout England and Wales, with the blessing of [prison] authorities."
The magazine interviewed Haras Rafiq, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank, who warned that British prisons have become "incubators for Islamic extremism" because inmates are being allowed to read the works of controversial South Asian cleric Abul Ala Maududi. Rafiq described Maududi, who died in 1979, as the "grandfather of Islamism."
Newsweek discovered that hundreds of copies of Maududi's analyses of the Koran were distributed in March at a training event for prison imams and chaplains held at the prison service college in Rugby. The books came from the Markfield Institute for Higher Education, part of the Islamic Foundation, a UK-based organization that is "inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood."
On April 22, the Daily Mail published excerpts of a new book, Girl for Sale, which describes the shocking ordeal of Lara McDonnell, who became the victim of a Muslim paedophile gang when she was only 13 years old. She wrote:
"Mohammed was selling me for £250 to paedophiles from all over the country. They came in, sat down and started touching me. If I recoiled, Mohammed would feed me more crack so I could close my eyes and drift away. I was a husk, dead on the inside.
"Sometimes, I would be passed from one pervert to another. In Oxford, many of my abusers were of Asian origin; [in London] these men were Mediterranean, black or Arab.
"Then, at the start of 2012 [some five years after the abuse began], Thames Valley Police asked to see me. They had been conducting a long-overdue investigation into sexual exploitation of young girls and wanted a chat. I told them everything, and by the end of March, Mohammed and his gang were in custody. Unbeknown to me, five other girls were telling police the same story.
"Mohammed's defense was laughable: he claimed I'd forced him to take drugs and have sex with me. His barrister, a woman, implied I was a racist because all the defendants were Muslim.
"Because the defendants were Muslim, the case had opened sensitive issues about race and religion. My view is clear: they behaved that way because of differences in how they viewed women."
On April 25, the Telegraph reported that British taxpayers are paying the monthly rent for Hani al-Sibai, the Islamist preacher who "mentored" Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John, the Islamic State executioner). Al-Sibai, 54, a father of five, lives in a £1 million home in Hammersmith, a district in West London. According to the Telegraph:
"The public purse has also paid for a number of legal actions brought by al-Sibai against the British government in his battle to prevent his deportation to Egypt and also attempts to have his name removed from terror sanctions lists.
"From his home, al-Sibai, also known as Hani Youssef, runs an effective al-Qaeda propaganda machine that includes the al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies. In recent months he has used various Internet sites to praise bin Laden and glorify al-Qaeda for waging war against 'the Crusader-Zionists.'"
Also in April, the Reverend David Robertson, who will soon take over as Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, wrote a hard-hitting essay on the Christian Today website in which he argued that "fear of Islamophobia is blinding many of our politicians to the threat we face from Islam." Robertson wrote:
"Christianity is the bedrock and foundation of our secular society. Islam is different. Islam has no doctrine of separation of the spiritual from the political. Islam is, and has always been, a political movement. There can be no such thing as secular Islam. In the Islamic view the world is divided into two houses, Darus Salma, the house of Islam, and Darul Har, the house of war. The former is the actual area controlled by Islam, full political and religious control; the latter is those areas of the world still unsubdued by Islam. Islam means 'submission,' not peace."
"I recently attended a Monday night meeting at a mosque in my city. ... I was impressed by what I observed. There were 150 mostly young men on a Monday night at a prayer meeting. This was not Friday prayers. This was only one of five mosques in the city. And there was a community, social and political aspect which was very impressive. But I was also depressed. Because I knew that there was no church in the city that would have 150 men coming to pray. Because I knew that there was no political or social organization in the city that could come remotely near matching what I observed. And this in a city where only 2 per cent of the population are Muslim. Imagine what power they can hold in a town or city where 25 per cent are Muslim?
"It's not so much the numbers — government is not done by opinion poll. It's the organization, social cohesion, wealth and internal discipline that brings the political power; if you want it. And Islam does. A survey was released this week which shows that in the UK as a whole Islam will be 11 per cent of the population within a couple of decades."
3. Muslim Integration
On April 8, the Leicester Crown Court jailed Jafar Adeli, an Afghan asylum seeker, for 27 months after he admitted to attempting to meet "Amy," an underage girl, after grooming her online. Adeli, 32, who is married, arranged to meet the girl after engaging in sexual conversations online and sending an indecent image of himself. But he was duped by a paedophile vigilante group called Letzgo Hunting. "Amy" was in fact a vigilante named John who was pretending to be a young girl.
Adeli, who has filed an appeal to remain in Britain, was placed on a ten-year sexual offenses prevention order. Judge Philip Head said: "It was your intention to have full sexual activity with someone you believed to be 14 and something you know to be a crime in this country. You were grooming this person for sexual activity."
On April 10, Abukar Jimale, a 46-year-old father of four who sought asylum in the UK after fleeing war-torn Somalia, walked free after sexually assaulting a female passenger as he drove her across Bristol in his taxi. Although Jimale was found guilty of sexual assault and causing a person to engage in sexual activity without her consent, he had his two-year sentence suspended. The defending counsel said that Jimale, who left Somalia in 2001 because he was being persecuted, was a hard-working father who had lost his job and good name as a result of the offenses.
On April 13, Mohammed Khubaib, a Pakistani-born father of five, was convicted of grooming girls as young as 12 with food, cash, cigarettes and alcohol. The 43-year-old married businessman, who lived in Peterborough with his wife and children, befriended girls in his restaurant and then "hooked" them with alcohol — normally vodka — in an attempt to make them "compliant" to sexual advances.
After a trial at the Old Bailey, Khubaib was found guilty of forcing a 14-year-old girl to perform a sex act on him and nine counts of trafficking for sexual exploitation involving girls aged from 12 to 15 between November 2010 and January 2013.
On April 14, Mohammed Ali Sultan, 28, of Wellington, Telford, was sentenced to five years in prison after having been found guilty of two counts of rape and one count of attempted rape. The sentence is in addition to a seven-year sentence after he pled guilty to two counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of controlling child prostitution in 2012.
On April 22, four Muslim men were charged with sex crimes against children in Rochdale. Hadi Jamel, 33, of Rochdale, Abid Khan, 38, of Liverpool, Mohammed Zahid, 54, of Rochdale, and Raja Abid Khan, 38, of Rochdale, were each been charged with one count of sexual activity with a child. The charges relate to alleged offenses against one girl who was under 16 at the time.
The charges are the latest to be brought following Operation Doublet, a probe by the Major Incident Team of the Greater Manchester Police into allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale. In March 2015, ten men were charged with sex offenses alleged to have been committed against the girl and six others.
On April 23, Britain's Electoral Court found Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, guilty of election fraud and ordered him to vacate his post immediately. The Bangladesh-born Rahman and his supporters were found to have used religious intimidation through local imams, vote-rigging and wrongly branding his Labour rival as a racist to secure his re-election for a second term on May 24, 2014.
Rahman, who has been banned from seeking office again, was also found to have allocated local grants to buy votes. He was ordered to pay immediate costs of £250,000 ($390,000) from a bill expected to reach £1 million.
On April 23, the Birmingham Crown Court sentenced Imran Uddin, 25, a student at the University of Birmingham, to four months in jail for hacking into the university computer system to improve his grades. Uddin used keyboard spying devices to steal staff passwords and then increased his grades on five exams. Uddin is believed to be the first ever British student to be jailed for cheating.
On April 23, a jury at Chester Crown Court heard how Masood Mansouri, 33, from Saltney, Flintshire allegedly kidnapped and raped a 20-year-old woman, from Mochdre, near Colwyn Bay, after pretending to be a taxi driver to a woman trying to hail a cab. Five days later, the woman took a fatal overdose, the court heard. Mansouri denied all the charges.
On April 28, Aftab Ahmed, 44, of Winchcombe Place, Heaton, was charged with threatening to behead David Robinson-Young, a candidate for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in Newcastle East.
4. Muslims and the British General Elections
On April 4, the Telegraph reported that a front group for Muslim extremists boasted that it would act as "kingmaker" in the May 7 general election, and that it was "negotiating with the Tory and Labour leadership" to secure its demands.
According to the paper, Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) built links with both parties after claiming to promote "democratic engagement" by Muslims. However, it was actually "a façade to win political access and influence for individuals holding extreme, bigoted and anti-democratic views."
During a MEND event on April 3, a man named Abu Eesa Niamatullah, who has called British people "animals," demanded that women should not work, attacked democracy and said that "the Creator is the one who should decide what the laws should be."
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband, the Labour Party's candidate for prime minister, vowed to ban "Islamophobia" if he emerged victorious in the elections. In an interview with The Muslim News, Miliband said:
"We are going to make it [Islamophobia] an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people's records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime.
"We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country."
The move — which one observer called "utterly frightening" because of its implications for free speech in Britain — was widely viewed as part of an effort by Miliband to pander to Muslim voters.
Previously, Home Secretary Theresa May pledged that if the Conservatives win the elections, every police force in England and Wales would be required to record anti-Muslim hate crimes as a separate category, as is already the case with anti-Semitic crimes.
In Derby, Gulzabeen Afsar, a Muslim candidate for the town council, sparked outrage after she referred to Ed Miliband as "the Jew," in comments made in Arabic.
Meanwhile, the British-born Islamist Anjem Choudary actively discouraged Muslims from voting. In a stream of Twitter messages using the #StayMuslimDontVote hashtag, Choudary argued that voting is a "sin" against Islam because Allah is "the only legislator." He has also said that Muslims who vote or run for public office are "apostates."
Other British Islamists followed Choudary's lead. Bright yellow posters claiming that democracy "violates the right of Allah" were spotted in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, and Leicester, as part of a grassroots campaign called #DontVote4ManMadeLaw.
One such poster stated:
"Democracy is a system whereby man violates the right of Allah and decides what is permissible or impermissible for mankind, based solely on their whims and desires.
"Islam is the only real, working solution for the UK. It is a comprehensive system of governance where the laws of Allah are implemented and justice is observed."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.