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The congregation in the Birmingham Central Mosque
Strain on UK Muslim community

The West's war against terrorism has brought attention to the Muslim community in the UK. Over the last month, Panorama has taken a snapshot of one community of worshippers and the influences upon it over an intensely sensitive period.

The Birmingham Central Mosque is the largest in the city with the second biggest Muslim population in the UK.

Following the September 11th attacks, the community's religious leader, the Head Imam, responded to some of the comments made by George Bush and Tony Blair. He found terms such as "crusade" and "Islamic fundamentalists" offensive.

He told a congregation of 2,500, "They should try to understand the causes of this tragedy, they should try to understand the feelings of common Muslims."

Dr Naseem
Dr Naseem: War on Afghanistan is unjust
Dr Naseem, the lay chairman of the mosque, also preached. He argued that a trial of Osama Bin Laden would be just, but a war on Afghanistan would be no more justified than Hitler invading Europe.

He said, "This kind of one sided belief was not acceptable in civilised community then, it should not be acceptable now, we condemn it wholeheartedly."

One elder from the committee of the mosque said, "We have no objection in America seeking justice but revenge - no."

27th September

In London Tony Blair met some leaders of the UK Muslim community, seeking to reassure them.

He said, "Let me underline also very forcibly to you our fight is not with Islam or indeed with the people of Afghanistan. Our fight is with those who planned these terrible atrocities and those who harbour them. Islam is a peace loving tolerant religion."

The Imam was not impressed with No. 10's diplomacy. He preached to his congregation the message that politicians could not be trusted.

He told Panorama, "I would say to Tony Blair and his advisors that before you even think of persuading Muslims globally that this is not a war against Islam and Muslims, he needs to convince the Muslims of this country first, and I believe that he has failed miserably in doing so."

The lay chairman of the mosque, Dr Naseem, spoke to reporter Vivian White on 29th September about the situation in general.

He said, "I think there is a deep rooted, subconscious hatred of Islam, that surfaces up in the time of stress."

October 11th

George W Bush
George Bush: USA is a friend of Muslims
George Bush spoke to the World as military action began.

He said, "The United States is a friend to the Afghan people and we are a friend to the almost billion worldwide who practice the Islamic faith. The United States is an enemy of those who aid terrorists and of the barbaric criminals who profane a great religion by committing murder in its name."

Dr. Naseem said, "I prayed and would have expected the voices of reason and restraint would have won, but apparently they did not. The voices of revenge and war do seem to have carried the day."

The Imam preached to the congregation of the Birmingham Central Mosque on October 12th.

He said, "Blair has failed to convince the Muslims of this country let alone the Muslims of the world that he is not against Islam and Muslims. Some people may consider this to be harsh offensive and undiplomatic, but it is hardly as harsh and as offensive as the bombs falling on our fellow Muslims in countries all over the world."

There are nearly two million Muslim believers in the UK. Their loyalties have come under considerable public scrutiny since the attacks on the USA.

Panorama is not suggesting that the snapshot of the Birmingham Central Mosque represents the views of other Muslims who do not regularly attend the mosque.

The opinion polls say that a majority of the UK population back the war. Last week the Muslim Council of Great Britain voiced its concerns about the war and Panorama did not hear support for it at the Birmingham Central Mosque.

See also:

08 Oct 01 | Education
Head reassures Muslim pupils

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