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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 23:15 GMT
'My allegiance is to Allah'
British Muslims
Tony Blair is fighting for the hearts and minds of British Muslims
Barnie Choudhury

No-one should be surprised by reports that young Muslim men from Britain have died in Afghanistan.

We only have the word of Al-Muhajiroun in Pakistan, who are regarded as fundamentalists, that this is the case.


You should die for the cause of Allah

Young Muslim
The lack of independent confirmation is an important distinction for the families of those who are believed to have died.

Luton is not known as a hotbed of Muslim fundamentalism or breeding ground for soldiers of Islam.

Taleban rumours

The news of the men's deaths reached the town last Thursday, spreading quickly although details were unclear at first.

Soon they heard rumours that the men had been killed while fighting for the Taleban.

"Shaheed", who represents al-Muhajiroun in Luton, does not conform to the stereotype of a strapping man dressed in robes, wearing a headscarf or turban with a long black beard.

Muslims
Some Muslims believe the war aims are shifting
Instead, he looks like any other young man in Britain but he did know one of the men believed to be dead.

He said: "I am deeply shocked. I saw him three, four, weeks ago and he did not mention to me that he was going to Afghanistan."

Shaheed insists the dead man was not a member of any Muslim organisation and to his knowledge was not interested in jihad or holy war.

"Whenever he smiles you can see the sun smiling. He's a very calm brother and he knows that if he were to discuss it with me or anyone else then he knows that the answer would be that we believe in intellectual struggle in Britain."

Fellow Muslims

Despite talking in the present tense, Shaheed says the man has become a martyr.

He says Islam looks in that way upon anyone who has given up his life for his fellow Muslims.

Many people condemn the atrocities in America but feel the bombing of Afghanistan is an attack on Islam.


I don't think there are many people who are embarking on these journeys to fight Western forces in Afghanistan

Akbar Dad Khan
It is no surprise that elsewhere in Luton jihad is on the minds of some young Muslims.

A group of 20 men, aged between 18 and 23, had just returned from their final prayers.

Although their opinions are not representative of all Muslims, they would frighten most of us.

One said: "Whenever Muslims are under attack I will always fight for them and I will always give my life and want to give my life.

"I envy all the Muslims who have died for my Muslims brothers around the world. I envy them that I could not be in the same situation."

Radical groups

Another 18-year-old was resolute in his beliefs, saying: "You should die for the cause of Allah.

"And that's what they had their intention to fight for Islam and they did and they will get their rewards in heaven."


I'm a Muslim who happens to live in Britain ... so this idea of me being disloyal to the Queen or government, this ain't applicable

Young Muslim
These young men assure me that they are not members of any radical groups.

They do not see themselves as supporting terrorism. They see themselves as fighting for their religious freedom.

Other young men, they say, feel the same way, putting religion above country and seeing jihad as a just cause.

"I'm a Muslim who happens to live in Britain," said one teenager, "I could be anywhere. So this idea of me being disloyal to the Queen or government, this ain't applicable.

Anti-racist group

"My allegiance is to Allah and the religion he brought down, Islam. "

But Akbar Dad Khan, who has just published a book about imams and runs an anti-racist group, Building Bridges, is not convinced that large numbers are going out to join the war.

He says: "I don't think there are many people who are embarking on these journeys to fight Western forces in Afghanistan."

But there is deep-seated anger. Anger that Muslims have condemned the atrocities in America but no one listened to their pleas not to bomb innocent people in Afghanistan.

The government, he warns, is losing support because it is continually changing the reasons for bombing Afghanistan.

Blair's address

"The first issue was Bin Laden, then Taleban became an issue, then al-Qaeda became an issue, and now we're talking of indefinitely staying there.

"So it's being seen by Muslims in this country and elsewhere that this is a war against Islam," he says.

On Tuesday, Tony Blair will address Muslims in the UK.

He has already urged British people to keep their nerves and emphasised the conflict will take both time and patience.

But Mr Blair risks losing the hearts and minds of Muslims who really want to support him.


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See also:

28 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair urges patience over war on terror
26 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair outlines UK troop decision
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