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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 12:37 GMT
Muslim protests against war grow

Thousands of Muslims have gathered at the UK's most important mosque on one of the holiest days in their religious calendar to protest against the prospect of war in Iraq.

Up to 4,000 men and women gathered hourly at London's central mosque in Regent's Park to hear sermons against military action in Iraq.

Whether we like it or not there are some crazy people out there who may be tempted to try and do something wrong or against the law

Dr Azzam Tamimi
The prayers came as Muslims around the world celebrated Eid ul-Adha, the festival marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj.

The mosque's trustees are ambassadors from Muslim nations and it attracts worshippers from all communities in the capital, making it a focus of Muslim opinion in the UK.

As similar prayers against war were held throughout the UK, Scotland Yard warned that Eid could be hijacked by al Qaeda to mount a terrorist attack.

National campaign

Dr Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain (Mab) said the public sermons were a key part of the national anti-war campaign.

Mab is one of the joint organisers of Saturday's anti-war march in London.

Dr Tamimi said: "The government knows the public oppose war. Muslims feel frustrated. Ministers sound like they are a tape recording saying the same things over and over."

THE HAJJ
One of 'five pillars' of Islam
Annual pilgrimage to Mecca
End marked with festival throughout Muslim world
Dr Tamimi said some Iraqi exiles would support war as a means of removing Saddam Hussein but the majority of Muslims felt conflict would destabilise the region and cause untold suffering.

He said Muslims were fearful of the consequences of war but believed they stood with the majority of British people.

"What is also frustrating for many (British Muslims) is that Blair and Bush are telling Iraq to comply with UN resolutions yet nothing is being done to deal with Israel over Palestine or the Kashmir problem," he said.

The five prayer sessions saw a steady stream of worshippers coming and going. Outside there were a number of Iraqi women collecting money for charity.

One woman, who did not wish to be named, said her family opposed war, even if it would remove Saddam Hussein.

She said: "There has been so much suffering already, how can another war solve that?

"More Iraqis will flee here. But they will not be welcomed by a government which has caused the situation. I hope the British people understand this."

Fears of extremism

Dr Tamimi predicted thousands would join Saturday's national march in London or smaller protests across the country.

EID TERROR LINK FEAR
This seems to be a very irresponsible spin on a problem which concerns everybody - we want the police to exercise due care in their briefing

Iqbal Sacranie, Muslim Council of Britain
But he said the communities must also act to prevent extremists hijacking the agenda.

He said: "Whether we like it or not there are some crazy people out there who may be tempted to try and do something wrong or against the law.

"We must do everything we can to try and prevent this otherwise it will be Muslims who will suffer the backlash.

"My advice to young Muslims is that we must always keep trying to change the position of the government thought legitimate political means.

"Even if you are frustrated, any violation of the law will be harmful to all of us."

Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain has protested against Scotland Yard's statement linking Eid with terror plots.

"This seems to be a very irresponsible spin on a problem which concerns everybody," said Mr Sacranie.

"We therefore want the police to exercise due care and common sense in their briefing about terrorism or threats. "The message of Eid-ul-Adha is on the other hand in the unity, security and dignity of mankind."


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