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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Response to MCB complaints
The following is a substantive response by Panorama editor Mike Robinson to complaints made by the Muslim Council of Britain regarding "A Question of Leadership", broadcast 21 August 2005, sent to Inayat Bunglawala, Media Secretary for the MCB.

This is a substantive response to your letters of complaint of 11 August, 20 August, 23 August, 14 September and your revision of 16 September, addressed to me about our programme "A Question of Leadership", transmitted on 21 August 2005. As was explained to you in my letter of 26 August, because of the absence of members of the Panorama team on annual leave, it was not possible to respond fully to your subsequent letters until after their return on 19 September.

The programme, "A Question of Leadership", was a film which reflected the debate within the Muslim community in Britain about the leadership that the MCB offers. The questions in the programme about the MCB's leadership came from members of the Muslim community, and from very many Muslims who did not appear in the final film but who were spoken to during the course of our research.

Even before transmission you made a number of very serious allegations of bad faith about our journalism. You continued these allegations after the film was broadcast. You have said we were "dishonest"; that the editing was "mischievous"; that we had a "fast and loose approach to facts"; that the research was "poor" and that we had "deliberately garbled" our interviews with Muslims who were critical of the MCB leadership. These allegations strike at the heart of the integrity of Panorama's journalists and the BBC's editorial ethics, and they are about as grave a complaint as it is possible to make.

That was why, in my holding letter to you of 26 August, I urged that you "take due care with the facts", because a preliminary investigation undertaken by me showed that your allegations did not withstand scrutiny.

In particular I asked you to withdraw your serious allegation, that Panorama had "deliberately garbled" interviews. Detailed conversations that we held with the interviewees who were critical of the MCB, both before and after transmission of the programme, and the evidence on screen of the lengthy interviews with MCB leaders and supporters, show that this was without foundation.

You have not withdrawn this allegation. You have continued to send letters making further allegations about the integrity of Panorama journalists and to publish them on your website without waiting for a full response. I trust that you will be as willing to publish our response in full as you have been to publicise your complaints. My reply to you is being published on Panorama's website (www.bbc.co.uk/panorama ), and the BBC complaints website.

I have now looked at all your allegations of bad faith and your complaints, and I have been through each one of them in considerable detail with the programme team. This letter will deal with your complaints in the order in which you made them, starting with your letter of 23 August, which includes the complaints contained in your two previous letters.

MCB "in denial"

Under the heading "Dishonest Omissions" you complain that:

a) "The programme portrayed the MCB as being 'in denial' about extremism. The MCB makes no claims about perfection and we do have many shortcomings. However, it was deeply unfair of the Panorama team not to make mention of the MCB's efforts to help promote the common good by sending a letter following the Madrid bombings to every Islamic organisation and mosque in the country urging vigilance against the terror threat and cooperation with the police. In addition, in September 2004, the MCB printed 500,000 copies of a Pocket Guide on Rights and Responsibilities. This contained a section on 'Vigilance and the Terror Threat' in which we prominently printed the Anti-Terror Hotline Number. Why was this not mentioned, is it because it would have undermined the 'denial' case that John Ware was trying to build?"

Panorama response

The programme was about sectarianism and other attitudes which can fuel extremism. Two key questions which the Panorama team's extensive research generated were: whether the leaders of the MCB acknowledge the extent to which these ideas are present inside the Muslim communities in Britain, and the degree to which the MCB feels it should discharge a leadership function in addressing these issues. The relevant passage in the script is:

"Extremism feeds off a conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the West are conspiring to undermine. My journey through Muslim communities since the London bombings suggests their leaders have not acknowledged the extent to which these views are held in Britain."

I trust you are not suggesting that the programme portrayed the MCB as denying the existence of extremism. One of the first clips showed Sir Iqbal Sacranie stating outside 10 Downing Street that it was now important for the Muslim community to deal with extremism. He said: "The Muslim community is determined to deal with this issue head-on".

The programme team was well aware of the leaflets and letter you mention. Neither addresses the issues and questions which we raised in the programme. They address the possibility of a terrorist attack in Britain. Our programme at no point suggested that the MCB was not aware of such a threat. Therefore, to suggest that by not mentioning the leaflets the programme was "dishonest" is without foundation.

I note that your letter to mosques and organisations after the Madrid bombs gave some direction to Imams concerning the content of their sermons - although Sir Iqbal Sacranie didn't accept that was part of the MCB's leadership responsibility when asked by John Ware about some of the sermons given in the Leeds Grand Mosque. These sermons alleged there was a "deliberate" conspiracy between Christians and Jews to undermine Islam: "... the treatment of Muslim prisoners on Guantanamo Bay... Iraq... Afghanistan... the Zionist prisons in Palestine. All this is the result of a poisoned culture and... is deliberate."; they spoke of a "vicious Zionist-Crusader attack, godless and full of hatred on this Ummah"; and: "We know the reason behind the United States attack on the Muslim World... we have come to see only... their plotting to decrease the faith."

As John Ware said, whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, there is no evidence to show that what was driving the Prime Minister was a determination to "decrease" the Islamic faith.

You have claimed that the programme maligned certain organisations affiliated to the MCB, even though the programme highlighted their sermons, documents and conduct which were sectarian or which demonised other faiths and races, and which were likely to foment division. Such views were either advocated by these affiliates or appeared to be tolerated by them.

You have also publicly accused us of being engaged in a "Witch-hunt against British Muslims." I simply cannot accept that highlighting sectarian and racist language amounts to persecution.

You have expressed scepticism that Sheikh Al Sudais, who was an honoured guest at the East London Mosque where the MCB's Deputy General Secretary is Chairman, had previously said in Mecca that Jews were "monkeys and pigs", "rats of the world" and the "offspring of apes and pigs"; that Christians were "cross worshippers... those influenced by the rottenness of their ideas and the poison of their cultures the followers of secularism", and that Hindus were "idol worshippers." I can assure you that he did. His sermons are available from a Saudi website covering mosques in the holy cities of Medina and Mecca and the translation we used was verified by BBC Monitoring, a fluent Arab speaker on our production team, and a translator outside the BBC.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Dr Yacub Zaki

You also complain that:

"Sir Iqbal Sacranie was questioned in the programme in detail about statements attributed to some of our affiliates. By contrast Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (of the Muslim Parliament) was approvingly quoted in the programme several times and was not questioned in the programme at all about the far more controversial statement about bombing No 10 Downing Street made by his deputy Dr Yaqub Zaki which appeared in the national newspapers on the very morning of the Panorama programme. Why was this? "

Panorama response

I am surprised that you have raised this question when you already know the answer. Panorama had no knowledge whatever of the statement attributed to one of Dr Siddiqui's colleagues in the Muslim Parliament until less than five hours before transmission. As soon as John Ware received your e-mail about this, he immediately rang Dr Siddiqui, who was in Pakistan.

John then e-mailed you to tell you that Dr Siddiqui had already roundly and publicly condemned Dr Zaki's comments, and that they simply reinforced his own view, expressed to Panorama, that extremism was deep-seated and needed to be addressed.

In any event, the Panorama film focused on the MCB and some of its affiliates. Moreover, the programme introduced Dr Siddiqui in the following terms:

"A decade ago he [Dr Siddiqui] believed that Islam and politics should be fused. Now he thinks the only way Muslims will join the mainstream is if that link is broken."

I cannot see the relevance of your point about the Muslim Parliament. As you are no doubt aware, it no longer campaigns for a separate parliament and concentrates largely on civil liberties issues and aspects of life within the Muslim community such as forced marriages.

Mawlana Mawdudi

Under the heading "Dishonest Presentation" you complain that the programme:

a) "Presented a quotation of Mawlana Mawdudi as saying that an Islamic state - which his party Jamaat-i-Islami continues to campaign for - bears: "... a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states..." The purpose of Panorama quoting this line seems to us clearly to try and create a certain negative impression in the minds of its viewers about the MCB affiliate, the Islamic Foundation, whose Chairman, Professor Khurshid Ahmad, is a prominent member of the Jamaat-i-Islami party.

It is well known that it is possible through mischievous editing to choose carefully selected lines from the writings of just about any author which will then make it appear to suggest he is saying the polar opposite of his actual words. This task is made all the more easier if viewers are shown the writings of a foreign author who was writing in a rather different time and place. What is less well known is that programmes such as the BBC's Panorama would indulge in this kind of manifestly dishonest practice. Compare the above quotation that Ware provided his viewers with the actual full quotation from Mawdudi's book, Islamic Law and Constitution:

"Considered from this aspect the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states. But you will find later on that, despite its all-inclusiveness, it is something vastly and basically different from the totalitarian and authoritarian states. Individual liberty is not suppressed under it nor is there any trace of dictatorship in it. It presents the middle course and embodies the best that the human society has ever evolved" (Islamic Law and Constitution, Chapter on The Political Theory of Islam, 9th edition, Lahore, 1986, p146). In the full quotation, it is evident that Mawdudi was actually saying something quite different from what the carefully selected quote that Panorama used, said."

Panorama response

As the programme script makes clear, the Islamic Foundation considers Mawdudi's work to be " fully relevant to the concerns of our day".

I have looked carefully at this matter and in challenging the Foundation's claim, I do not believe the programme misrepresented Mawdudi's position. You claim to have provided the "the full quotation". You have not. The complete paragraph in which this quote appears reads thus:

"A state of this sort cannot evidently restrict the scope of its activities. Its approach is universal and all-embracing. Its sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life. It seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programmes of social reform. In such a state, no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private. Considered from this perspective the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states. But you will find later on that, despite its all inclusiveness it is something vastly and basically different from the totalitarian and authoritarian states. Individual liberty is not suppressed under it nor is there any trace of dictatorship in it. It presents the middle course and embodies the best that the human society has ever evolved. The excellent balance and moderation that characterise the Islamic system of government and the precise distinctions made in it between right and wrong elicit from all men of honesty and intelligence the admiration and the admission that such a balanced system could not have been framed by anyone but the Omniscient and All-Wise God."

What the programme script actually said was this: "In Mawdudi's Islamic state, private and public life would be inseparable. In this respect [my emphasis] it would bear '... a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states...'"

Given that Mawdudi writes that the Islamic state "seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programmes of social reform", the applicability of the reference to "a kind of resemblance to Fascist and Communist states" is clear.

The commentary in the film limited the application of this Mawdudi quote to precisely the same limits as he did in writing the above paragraph, namely: in respect of making private and public life inseparable.

We did this because the Panorama team adjudged the first part of Mawdudi's commentary to be a description of how he wanted his Islamic state to appear and reported it as such: "[An Islamic State] seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programmes of social reform. In such a state, no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private. Considered from this perspective the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states".

The next few lines we considered to be a claim about the nature of his Islamic state:

"... something vastly and basically different from the totalitarian and authoritarian states. Individual liberty is not suppressed under it nor is there any trace of dictatorship in it. It presents the middle course and embodies the best that the human society has ever evolved."

This claim was one that the production team and I considered as flying in the face of known facts about Mawdudi's own values. The team's further reading of Mawdudi in research for the programme, revealed that whilst in theory he would have allowed non-Muslims to practice their faith, in practice he was, as an expert on Mawdudi, Richard Bonney Professor of Modern History at University of Leicester, has noted, "no pluralist, rejecting the idea that two or more systems of belief and government could co-exist harmoniously within the same state." Mawdudi himself explained that there would be two types of citizenship in his Utopian Islamic state: Muslims and "Zimmis" [Non Muslims.] Provided "Zimmis" were "loyal and obedient to the Islamic state" their property, lives and freedom to worship would be protected. However they would not be "eligible for... employment... for key posts." Only Muslims could have that privilege "so that the basic policy of this ideological state remains in conformity with the fundamentals of Islam" [pp145,144 'Islamic Law and Constitution', 1955 ed.].

Of course no such discrimination in respect of faiths applies in Britain. Prominent commentators have concurred that in Mawdudi's Islamic state non-Muslims would have second class status.

Moreover, apart from the right to life itself, as Bonney also notes, perhaps the most important human right is the right to freedom of belief, which itself implies the freedom to change one's religion. "Not so for Mawdudi" says Bonney. It seems that in Mawdudi's eyes, Muslims who did wish to change their belief would be guilty of apostasy and executed. As the programme team's research showed, Mawdudi's views on apostasy appear to have been sanitised for Western consumption. As Bonney reports, Mawdudi has been accused of "dishonesty on the question of freedom of belief. In his pamphlet Human Rights in Islam, which was first published in the UK in 1976, Mawdudi directed his arguments towards a western audience and made no mention of the doctrine of apostasy. Instead he concentrated on the Qur'anic injunction that there should be no coercion in matters of faith (Q.2:56)." Mawdudi is reported to have declared in Pakistan that apostasy was punishable by death, whereas here he has made no mention of this. Bonney also quotes Ishtiaq Ahmed [Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Stockholm University] as concluding that Mawdudi emerges as "an ideologue of state might and an opponent of human freedom and equality."


Regarding your affiliate, Ahl-e-Hadith, you say:

b) "The Panorama team questioned Sir Iqbal Sacranie about a statement made on a website of the MCB affiliate Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith.

"[John Ware:] I'm quoting from Ahl-e-Hadith. As I say it's quite an important affiliate of yours and just to give you one example from their website, they say of Jews and Christians: 'Their ways are based on sick or deviant views' and that 'imitating the Kuffaar leads to a permanent abode in hellfire.' That's a 'Them and Us' culture, isn't it, that's a slippery slope."

In fact, this quote appears to have been taken from an article by an American author Muhammad al-Jibaly which appeared on the 'Downloadables' section of Ahl-e-Hadith website. It is not from an actual Ahl-e-Hadith publication. Would it not have been more honest to have clearly pointed this out to your viewers? Or would this have undermined the case that Ware was trying to build."

Panorama response

The document in question is one of few documents on the Ahl-e-Hadith website offering advice and information. It was in the 'Articles' section of the 'Downloads' menu, accessible from the homepage. The main headline at the top of both the 'Articles' page and the document itself is: MARKAZI JAMIAT AHLE HADITH UK. Below this appears the headline and the name of the author, Dr Mohammed Al-Jibaly: Eid Celebrations - Differing from the Unbelievers. There was nothing on the page to indicate that Dr Al-Jibaly does not work for, or is not part of, Ahl-e-Hadith. There is nothing in the 'Articles' page, nor in the document itself, which indicates that it is not the work of Ahl-e-Hadith or its representatives, members or agents. There is no disclaimer. Indeed, Ahl-e-Hadith chose that article for their website to make it available as part of Islamic instruction. Since the transmission of the programme, I note that this page has been removed from the Ahl-e-Hadith website.

Dr Taj Hargey

You appear to suggest that one of Panorama's four Muslim interviewees, Dr Taj Hargey, has no status worthy of inclusion in our programme and you cast aspersions on his integrity.

You say:

"... it should be noted, that almost all of us in the Muslim Council of Britain had never previously heard of Dr Taj Hargey. However, we did find the following item on the internet: http://www.macopinion.com/columns/intelligence/01/11/21/ . We wonder whether the Panorama team investigated this allegation before they decided to present Dr Hargey as an 'influential Muslim'?"

Panorama response

Your link to a gossip site on the internet fails to address any of the issues raised in the programme. The relevance of this matter is certainly unclear to me, as I expect it may be to others.

Dr Hargey is the Chairman of the Muslim Education Centre, Oxford. He informs us that Sir Iqbal Sacranie was invited to MECO's annual conference in Oxford in about May of this year. The keynote speaker at the conference was Sir Ian Blair of the Metropolitan Police. Dr Hargey tells us that Sir Iqbal phoned and spoke to Dr Hargey to convey his apologies for being unable to attend the event. On one of the days we filmed with Dr Hargey, he was hosting an MECO seminar at which Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK was to be the main speaker.

You also complain that:

c) "Dr Hargey was quoted as saying the MCB is mainly composed of 'Indo-Pakistanis'. The Census of 2001 showed that of the 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, around 68% of them had their origins in the Indian subcontinent. As a body which seeks to bring together British Muslims, it is therefore inevitable that the MCB will mainly consist of people who are 'Indo-Pakistanis', yet Ware allowed Dr Taj Hargey's remark to go unchallenged."

Panorama response

The relevant section of the programme script is as follows:

"The Islamic Foundation was a key player in the creation of the Muslim Council of Britain in 1997. We have spoken to a number of influential Muslims, including some on the MCB, who believe ideology from Pakistan still exerts an undue influence in the MCB."

Then Dr Hargey says:

"The Muslim Council of Britain is mainly composed... of Indo-Pakistanis. They have a very narrow, in my view a conservative view of Islam. They toe the line generally of what conservative groups in places like Pakistan preach, and here in Pakistan we have the ascendancy of a group known as Jamaat-i-Islami who are quite rigid and quite inflexible, and to a large extent the MCB replicates the ideology of Pakistan and other places in the subcontinent. "

Dr Hargey's preamble, that the MCB "is mainly composed of Indo-Pakistanis" seems non-contentious. It was simply a statement of fact. It is important to look at the context in which this appeared in the programme. It is clear from the previous minute or two of the film that the focus of the argument at this point was upon the influence of the Jamaat-i-Islami ideology within the MCB, and the extent to which the leadership addresses Muslim issues within the British context. Dr Hargey then adds that:

"They have a very narrow, in my view a conservative view of Islam. They toe the line generally of what conservative groups in places like Pakistan preach, and here in Pakistan we have the ascendancy of a group known as Jamaat-i-Islami who are quite rigid and quite inflexible, and to a large extent the MCB replicates the ideology of Pakistan and other places in the subcontinent. "

Dr Hargey makes clear that these observations are opinion only - hence "... in my view". Panorama's research demonstrated it's a view shared by others, including some who have an inside knowledge of the MCB. For example, Mehboob Kantharia a former member of the MCB's policy making group, the Central Working Committee, also told us that in his view such ideology, from Mawdudi and the Jamaat-i-Islami is prevalent within the MCB leadership.

Shabina Begum/Jilbab

Regarding the jilbab you say:

d) "Dr Taj Hargey was quoted as saying that the jilbab has: "no validity in Islam whatsoever... There is no religious verse, there is no Qur'anic ayah, there is nothing in the Qur'an that says you must wear the jilbab."

Dr Hargey's assertion that there is nothing in the Qur'an about the jilbab is quite simply wrong. We would refer Dr Hargey to Surat al Ahzab (al Qur'an 33:59) where the Arabic word 'jalabib' (plural of jilbab) clearly occurs in connection with the recommended dress for the Prophet's wives and 'nisaa al mu'mineen' (believing women). It was unacceptable of John Ware's Panorama team to have let Dr Hargey's assertion once again go unchallenged."

Panorama response

Not for the first time you criticise the film for something that it did not say. Dr Hargey did not state that "there is nothing in the Qur'an about the jilbab". He stated that the Qur'an did not require women to wear the jilbab. In the programme he said:

"Jilbab is a cultural phenomenon. It is not a religious thing. There is no religious verse, there is no Qur'anic ayah, there is nothing in the Qur'an that says you must wear the jilbab."

Dr Hargey did not say in the film that the jilbab has "no validity is Islam whatsoever". It may have been there in the version of the script available at the press screening three days before transmission, but as that copy of the script made clear at the top - "Please check against transmission". These words were not included in the film at his request, on the grounds that, though in his view accurate, they were contentious and could possibly distract from the point he wished to make, namely that nothing in the Qur'an requires the wearing of the clothing today known as the jilbab.

You complain that Dr Hargey's views were not challenged in the programme. This misses the point. The issue of the jilbab was presented in the script as a debate within Muslim communities:

"The case has provoked much heated debate, especially within Muslim communities."

The programme carried footage of Shabina Begum herself, in which she stated her case. The commentary says:

"This is Shabina Begum. She took her school to court demanding the right to wear this robe that flows down to the ankles. It's called a Jilbab. Shabina claimed it was her religious right to wear this loose fitting robe."

Then Shabina Begum is shown saying:

"As a young woman growing up in then post-9/11 Britain I have witnessed a great deal of bigotry from the media, politicians, legal officials; this bigotry resulted from my choice to wear a piece of cloth, not out of force but out of my faith and belief in Islam."

Your further complaint, that it was unfair of the programme to fail to mention that Cherie Booth QC represented Shabina Begum in court, is not in any way relevant to the issues and questions about the jilbab.

Once again your actual complaint does not withstand scrutiny. Moreover, your own position appears inconsistent.

Dr Hargey was making it clear there is no Qur'anic imperative to wear the jilbab, which is consistent with the MCB's formal advice to schools in similar cases, as has been pointed out to us by viewers since the programme was broadcast. Viewers have pointed us to advice given to Denbigh High School prior to the Begum case (see para 29 Begum v Denbigh High School [2005] EWHC 1389 (Admin)). It appears that the MCB has supported uniform not dissimilar to standards laid down by Denbigh High School until Shabina Begum brought her case. This information is as follows:

"On 30 September Mr Shahid Akmal, Chairman of the Comparative Religion Centre in Harrow wrote to Mr Moore [assistant headteacher of Denbigh High], enclosing advice from the Muslim Council of Britain (my emphasis) setting out the dress code for women in Islam. This included:-

(i) there is no recommended style

(ii) modesty needs to be observed at all times

(iii) trousers with long tops/shirts for school wear are absolutely fine

(iv) a Muslim school girl's uniform does not have to be flowing or of such length that there will be a risk of tripping over and causing an accident. Mr Akmal wrote:- "In summary, the dress code prescribed by your school for Muslim females as per your 'School Uniform Requirements' leaflet is in accordance with the tenets of Islam."

It seems that the MCB has considered the uniform requirements at Denbigh High School to be sufficient to meet the requirements of modesty mentioned in the Qur'an.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and the Muslim Parliament

Under the heading "Dishonest Description" you complain that:

a) "One voice in the programme quoted approvingly was Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui... the programme did not inform viewers that he was also head of the Muslim Parliament in addition to being Director of the Muslim Institute."

Panorama response

Dr Siddiqui appeared in his capacity as Director of the The Muslim Institute, a think-tank. The reason he was so captioned was because to have captioned him as the Muslim Parliament would have been confusing, in as much as that organisation today bears little resemblance in size or ideology to its original, more widely-publicised form.

According to its own website, the Muslim Parliament no longer campaigns for a separate parliament; it is no longer funded by the Iranians and is a fraction of its original size. There was no intention to mislead viewers and we judge that we did not do so.

Make-up of British Muslim Community

You say that:

b) "John Ware did not supply any evidence to show that 'most' Muslims in the UK follow the 'Sufi stream' or that they believe that Islam is only 'personal and spiritual' and should not influence their political beliefs."

Panorama response

Again you criticise John Ware for something that he did not say. Nowhere did John Ware say that "Islam... should not influence their political beliefs." What he actually said was:

"Muslims here follow the Sufi stream - like most in Britain. They do not politicise their faith; theirs is personal and spiritual."

You emphasise that all religions encourage adherents to let their beliefs inform their politics. This seems to me to be self-evident and a non sequitur, since we did not suggest otherwise. The programme did not contend that religious beliefs should not inform a person's political stance. The film made a different point, which was that some Muslim groups politicise their faith by fusing politics and religion such that faith is turned into a kind of political manifesto. This is completely different from allowing one's beliefs to guide one's politics.

Secular Country

You state that:

d) "Ware's statement that the UK is a 'secular' country is not entirely true."

Panorama response

I think you are missing the broad point that was being made. The programme examined whether the MCB was failing to acknowledge the extent to which British society separates religion and politics, and operate with an accepted and fundamental recognition of the distinction between sacred and secular. The production team considered that Britain's modern political culture is a secular one - it does not elevate religious beliefs to the level of a party or group manifesto, nor does it accept that religious demands have the status of political imperatives. This political culture sits within a broadly secular culture in 21st century Britain.


You complain that:

e) "John Ware's commentary states that "Sufis only follow a 'personal and spiritual' Islam" is another common misconception and shows insufficient research on Ware's part. Muslims who follow the 'sufi way' as well as others are both in the same Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) coalition party as the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan. This is the same Jamaat-i-Islami that Ware attempts to portray as extremists. The primary anti-colonial jihadist movements of the 19th century were all sufi inspired. For example Imam Shamil in Daghestan belonged to the famous Naqshbandi order Umar al Mukhtar in Libya to the Sanusi order Amir Abdul Qadir in Algeria to the Qadiri order and so on."

Panorama response

Once again you misquote and mischaracterise what John Ware actually said in the programme. He did not say "Sufis only follow a personal and spiritual Islam". The word "only" did not appear in the sentence which actually was:

"They do not politicize their faith: theirs is personal and spiritual".

The programme's reporting on the degree of Sufi influence among Muslims and mosques in Britain, was based on a series of conversations with acknowledged experts on Islamic movements in the UK. These included leading researchers from both academia and within the community. The balance of informed opinion was that aspects of Sufi practice and ideas have heavily influenced the major traditional Islamic movements from the Indian subcontinent, for example the Berelwi movement, which are the most widely followed by UK mosques.

Nothing in our report precludes the idea that followers of Sufi teachings, or indeed any other Muslims motivated by the values of their faith, might be strongly involved in political processes either today or in the colonial past. Rather, our suggestion was that one point of difference between traditional mosques in Britain such as the one we visited in Birmingham, and other movements like Jamaat-i-Islami, is that followers of Sufi teachings "do not politicise their faith" in the sense that I have explained above, in the section about the make-up of the British Muslim population.


You complain about John Ware's commentary:

f) "Ware stated in the programme that: "One overt sign of separateness is that of Muslim women covering themselves". Why is the wearing of the hijab or jilbab regarded as a sign of 'separateness?' Does the Panorama team believe the Sikh turban or the Jewish yarmulke (skullcap) also constitute 'signs of separateness?"

Panorama response

The programme was about Muslims and the MCB, though of course we accept there are other symbols within multicultural Britain which can denote separateness to varying degrees.

Bias and Israel/Palestine Conflict

You complain that:

a) "John Ware's programme made a pretence of being impartial and nowhere was this more clearly exposed than in the section about the Israel/Palestine conflict. It is worth quoting Ware in full: [Ware] "The Israel Palestine conflict is over land and holy sites. It's a rallying cry for young martyrs in the global ummah. Islamist groups like Hamas have used terrorist tactics" against Israel because they want to destroy it. Israeli military operations targeting the Islamists have also caused many civilian deaths." Ware tried to sound balanced to the unsuspecting viewer. Yet we would not have known from listening to Ware that it is the Israelis who for decades now have been illegally occupying Palestinian lands in defiance of numerous UN resolutions¿we were told by Ware that Hamas use 'terrorist tactics' against Israel but were not told about terrorist methods used by Israel against Palestinians."

Panorama response

This film was not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not the place to explore in detail its complexity, and in any event it is extensively reported on the BBC. As I have made clear to you before, I reject the slur that the programme was driven by a "pro-Israeli agenda".

The MCB says the targeting of civilians is unacceptable. I understand that you yourself have recently stated: "There should be 'universal' acceptance that to use violence against innocent people to change the policies of the UK government, or any other for that matter, is completely unacceptable and a perversion of Islamic teachings." [IslamOnline, Live Dialogue Sept 12 2005]. I assume that by 'any other' you also include the government of Israel? There is no dispute at all that Hamas has targeted hundreds of Israeli civilians in buses and bars and the like.

Yet, you yourself have referred to Hamas as "an authentic Islamic movement - a source of comfort for Muslims all over the world"; and when in 2001 the Home Secretary added Hamas to a list of banned Islamist groups you complained that he was "making no distinction between legitimate resistance and terrorist groups."

Also, in his interview with John Ware, Sir Iqbal Sacranie suggested that Hamas were freedom fighters, comparing Shaykh Yasin - who supported and instigated suicide bombings against civilians - with Gandhi, even though Ghandi was totally opposed to such tactics.

Therefore, by questioning Sir Iqbal on inconsistencies like these in the MCB's position on suicide bombings, John Ware was pursuing a wholly legitimate issue. That is journalistic inquiry. It is not holding an agenda.

To underline the absence of an agenda, in his interviews with both Sir Iqbal Sacranie and Dr Azzam Tamimi, John made it quite clear that the issue of targeting civilians in Israel was separate from the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shaykh Yasin

You state that:

c) "When describing the assassination of the quadriplegic Hamas leader and Islamic scholar Shaykh Ahmad Yasin by Israel, Ware referred to it simply as an 'Israeli missile strike'. Ware gave no indication of the imbalance in power between the two sides and the disproportion in the numbers of casualties where since the year 2000 four Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli."

Panorama response

When describing the assassination of the Hamas leader by Israel, the commentary did not, as you claim, refer to it simply as an 'Israeli missile strike'. The commentary made clear that the Hamas leader was killed in the street along with members of his family. It went as follows:

"An Israeli missile strike on Shaykh Yasin killed him in the street, his son, his bodyguards and five civilians."

Thus it was made clear that Israel too has killed civilians, and has used deadly force in civilian areas.

You further complain that:

d) "Ware made a big fuss of Sir Iqbal Sacranie having attended a memorial meeting for Shaykh Ahmad Yasin and asked Sir Iqbal: "You did not have to go to that memorial service in the central mosque¿you could have chosen not to go." Would Ware make a similar fuss about British Jewish leaders who have repeatedly met the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who was found by Israel's own Kahane commission of being 'indirectly responsible' for the massacre of over two thousand Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps? Somehow we doubt it."

It would be wrong to make assumptions about John Ware's interviews. As a journalist he has a reputation for persisting with uncomfortable questions about any subject of legitimate journalistic inquiry. As a programme, Panorama is committed to investigating the truth without fear or favour.

You may not be aware that in the Panorama edition of 17 June 2001, 'The Accused', we investigated the whole question of Mr Sharon's role in these atrocities. Although there are serious questions to be raised about Mr Sharon's role in the events at Sabra and Shatila, it is also important to note the differences between his position, as the elected head of a democratic government and the subject of a judicial inquiry, and that of Shaykh Yasin.

Free Speech

You complain that:

e) "Ware evidently approves of the secular democracy we live in and the freedom of speech we enjoy. He castigated Sir Iqbal Sacranie for his opposition to Rushdie's blasphemous book 'The Satanic Verses'. However when it came to British Muslims expressing their opinions freely Ware suddenly became a lot more censorious and demanded that Imams not declare the war on terror as a war on Islam."

Panorama response

The questions here were about the view the MCB has of its leadership responsibilities. As you show in the letter you sent out to mosques and Imams after the Madrid bombings, the MCB accepts that it can have a leadership role to play in guiding members of the Muslim community. In that letter you ask Imams to follow your advice: "We urge you to convey the above message in your Friday sermon."

The questions which arise out of the sermons at the Leeds Grand Mosque, in which the Imam declared the conflict in Iraq to be a war launched to undermine Islam, are about how the MCB chooses to discharge that leadership responsibility. The issue was not whether free speech is good or bad, though we fairly made the point that Sir Iqbal's role in the Satanic Verses protests indicated that he was not a defender of the principle of completely free speech, but rather someone who has shown a desire to ban statements which he considers blaspheme Islam.

Further Complaints

In your letters of 14 and 16 September you say that "additional facts have come to light" which you wish me to address.

Mehboob Khantaria

First of all I note the revision to your original complaint. You wrote to me on 14 September saying that,

"We have looked at our records and cannot find any mention of Mr Kantharia being an actual member of the CWC".

By the letter of 16 September you had accepted his membership of the MCB's main policy-making body, the Central Working Committee, at least from 2002-2004. Your complaint on this matter now reads as follows:

d) "Mehboob Kantharia was described in the John Ware programme as being both a 'founding member' of the MCB and a member of its Central Working Committee 1997-2004. We have looked at our records and can only find him listed as being a member of the CWC from 2002 2004. Please could you explain where you obtained the information that Mr Kantharia was a CWC member for the period 1997-2002? I did call Mr Kantharia to ask him about this but he declined to name the exact period in which he was a member of the CWC and stated that I was merely being 'pedantic'. I hope you recognize that this is an important issue to clarify especially as Mr Kantharia seemed to be central to the 'denial' case that John Ware was trying to build."

Panorama response

The Panorama programme reported Mr Kantharia's position in good faith. The matter of Mr Kantharia's bone fides has been confirmed by Yusuf Bhailok, Sir Iqbal Sacranie 's predecessor as Secretary General of the MCB. He confirms what Mr Kantharia told us in the first place, namely that he was a) an MCB founder member; b) he was first a nominated member of the CWC; c) he was then elected to the CWC and held that position until May 2004. I might add that Mr Bhailok says he cannot understand why you should be making an issue out of this because there will be a record of Mr Kantharia's positions on file in the MCB's head office.

Mr Kantharia has described to us his response to you as being somewhat different. He says he told you - not for the first time - that your complaints against the BBC were becoming an "obsession" and that you should cease "this pedantry." Mr Kantharia has also told us that he has had to put up with personal abuse from other organisations notably MPAC [Muslim Public Affairs Committee]. He also tells us he has been urged to withdraw his comments to Panorama by Sir Iqbal Sacranie himself. He has declined to do this and stands by what he said in the programme.

Holocaust Memorial Day

On this you complain that:

"In the segment about the Holocaust Memorial Day John Ware questioned why the MCB only included mention of Muslim countries in its explanation of why the day should be made more 'inclusive'. When Sir Iqbal Sacranie clearly stated that genocide in non-Muslim countries such as Rwanda had indeed been mentioned in our correspondence with the Home Office, Mr Ware said scathingly in a voiceover:

John Ware: It's true - the MCB did cite Rwanda - but only after the story broke accusing them of boycotting Holocaust Memorial day.

This is demonstrably untrue. We are attaching to this complaint a letter we wrote to the Home Office on 2nd December 1999 when the idea of a Holocaust Memorial Day was first mooted, clearly citing Rwanda as an example of why the title of the memorial day needed to be less narrow. Here is an extract from that letter:

The Muslim Council of Britain suggests that following the Holocaust a number of similar tragedies have befallen humanity. The killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo come immediately to mind. It is no coincidence, we feel, that in recent times Muslims have become the victims of genocide in Europe. (MCB Letter to the Home Office, 2nd December 1999)"

Panorama response

Your quote from our script is selective. The full clip runs:

"It's true - the MCB did cite Rwanda - but only after the story broke accusing them of boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. When the MCB published their letter to the Home Office it mentioned by name only Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir."

This reports accurately the sequence of events in January 2005 when the MCB chose to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day for the fifth year running, based on the documents the MCB published on your own website. The sequence was as follows:

a) On 23 January 2005 the Sunday Times reported that "British Muslims are to boycott this week's commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz because they claim it is not racially inclusive and does not commemorate the victims of the Palestinian conflict."

b) Later that day you released the MCB's letter to the Home Office explaining that the MCB would be prepared to attend if the Memorial Day did not "exclude or ignore other ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world, notably, in the occupied Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Kashmir etc." There was no mention of Rwanda.

c) Rwanda was only mentioned by Sir Iqbal Sacranie in response to the Sunday Times story and in an MCB press release responding to the Sunday Times on 24 January. This again listed Muslim countries, Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir but now added: "and also recent mass killings and genocide on (sic) Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda."

Your reference to this earlier letter, which to our knowledge had not been published previously, misses the point. In the 1999 letter Rwanda was simply included in Sir Iqbal's response to the Government canvassing the views of faith groups about the idea of establishing a Holocaust Remembrance Day. Rwanda was not cited as a reason by the MCB for boycotting the event two years later - nor was it until, as we accurately reported, the boycott was challenged in January 2005 by the Sunday Times.

Second, and more pertinently, as John Ware made clear, the purpose of including Holocaust Memorial Day, was to examine Sir Iqbal's claim that making the event more "inclusive" was a matter of "principle" - not of politics. John clearly established this at the outset of the section in the film:

"The MCB argues that because their faith dictates their private and public conduct, they act out of principle - not out of opportunism, like some politicians."

During the period of research for the programme, the team learned much about the background to the MCB's declared position on this year's Holocaust Memorial Day. This research informed the presentation of this issue in the film.

John Ware learned that Imam Sajid, a member the MCB Central Working Committee had argued unsuccessfully in January 2005 to end the boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day by sending a representative. John was also told that one of the MCB's major affiliates, the Muslim Association of Britain (which, as you know, is closely aligned in its thinking with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, of which Hamas is an important part) not only opposed the Imam's initiative but also proposed that the MCB should cease all further contacts with UK Jewish organisations because of the Israel-Palestine conflict. John was told that an MCB working group was established to try to resolve the issue and that this was chaired by the MCB's assistant Secretary General Daud Abdullah, who is also a senior researcher at the Palestinian Return Centre, London. However, John was told that this working group made no attempt to do this either then or at any time prior to transmission of our programme.

For the production team, it was clear from this and other information, that the driving force for the continued boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2005 was the Palestinian issue. It is also clear that Palestine has been the driving force since its inaugural gathering in January 2001. Your press release of 26 January 2001 cites Palestine as the first of two reasons for the MCB's "inability to attend":

"1. Firstly, it totally excludes and ignores the ongoing genocide and violation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.

2. It includes the controversial question of alleged Armenian genocide as well as the so-called gay genocide."

Again, there is no mention of Rwanda or for that matter any other conflict in which non-Muslims were victims. Instead, the reasons here cited are confined exclusively to the commemoration of Muslim victims of what you believe qualifies as genocide in Palestine and Kashmir, whilst at the same time giving little or no credence to the idea that other Muslims, namely Turks, were responsible for genocide in 1915, or that homosexuals were singled out for mass murder by the Nazis.

Finally, you may not be aware, but I understand that the Rwandan genocide has been commemorated at Holocaust Memorial Day on every occasion since the inaugural event in 2001, along with other crimes against humanity including the suffering of Bosnian Muslims. In 2004 the theme of the whole event was remembrance "From the Holocaust to Rwanda". Educational information about the Rwandan genocide is still available to schools from the Holocaust Memorial Day website. This material was put together from the Department of Education and Skills.

Shaykh Yasin Memorial Service and Sir Iqbal Sacranie

You say:

c) "John Ware claimed that Sir Iqbal Sacranie had in 2004 attended a memorial service at the Central Mosque in London for Shaykh Yasin the assassinated leader of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance movement Hamas. Sir Iqbal attends many events in honour of leading Muslim figures however we can find no mention in our records of him having attended a memorial service for Shaykh Ahmad Yasin. Please could the Panorama team clarify where they obtained this information from?"

Panorama response

Again I find it hard to believe you do not know the answer to this question, and I say this for the following reasons:

i) In John Ware's interview with Sir Iqbal Sacranie recorded for this programme Sir Iqbal's exact words are: "No, no, hold on, I attended the memorial day bearing in mind the respect I had for the bigger... of what he had been fighting for..." Is Sir Iqbal himself now saying that he did not in fact attend this event?

ii) A press release from one of the MCB's main affiliates - the Muslim Association of Britain - dated 23 March 2004, and headlined "Hundreds turn out to offer condolences and pay tribute to Shaykh Ahmad Yasin" continues: "Speakers in the first session were Mr Iqbal Sacranie - Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain..."

iii) The press release then says that "On [sic] his address, the MCB's Secretary General Iqbal Sacranie conveyed to the relatives of Shaykh Yasin and the Palestinian people deepest condolences of the British Muslims community. He said that the "assassination of the Shaykh Ahmad Yasin was a callous reminder of the reality of state sponsored terror. Mr Sacranie called for the restoration of the usurped rights of the Palestinian people and the rule of international law in the region."

iv) A prominent Muslim who was also at the memorial service has told us that he saw and heard Sir Iqbal speak there.


In concluding, you say the programme was "maliciously motivated... a shoddy and Islamophobic piece of work which will contribute to furthering distrust and divisions in our society." This does not withstand scrutiny. As I have set out, I have found there to be no truth in your claims that this programme was dishonestly presented, maliciously motivated or Islamophobic. These are extremely serious allegations to make in the face of so much evidence to the contrary; they are simply not true.

I ask you and Sir Iqbal Sacranie to withdraw these false and malicious accusations. I would also ask Sir Iqbal to withdraw his statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 13 September that Panorama was "... so poorly researched and with so much factually incorrect information." I have copied this letter to them.

Panorama made absolutely clear that its focus was on sectarian statements coming from some Muslim organisations. There was nothing in the film which criticised Muslims as a community or Islam as a religion. In my view the MCB's unfair and unjustified characterisation of the programme as "Islamophobic" is a grotesque distortion of the film.

The programme's purpose was to reflect, inform and generate debate in the Muslim community and the wider population, about the nature and direction of the leadership of British Muslims. In the light of the London bombings this is a debate which many Muslims, to whom we spoke, believe is long overdue. They raised important questions about all the issues to which we drew attention. As this debate goes forward I very much hope that you will desist from unwarranted and wildly inaccurate attacks on the honesty of our journalism and the good faith of the Panorama team.

Yours sincerely

Mike Robinson
BBC Panorama

A Question of Leadership
21 Aug 05 |  Panorama



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