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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 12:26 GMT
Muslim opposition to war remains strong
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Muslim Association of Britain posters at February's anti-war demonstration
Muslim protests: Thousands demonstrated in February
Muslim opposition in the UK to the war against Iraq remains strong, with many Arabic speakers turning to Middle East channels rather than rely on the western media.

One of the main anti-war groups, the Muslim Association of Britain, is emailing supporters recommending Arabic news channel Al Jazeera, claiming the British media has "failed miserably" to report civilian deaths.

Anecdotal reports suggest mosque attendances may be rising in cities where Friday prayers are focusing on calls for peace.

However, there are no reports of a significant racist backlash against the Muslim communities, unlike in the days following September 11.

Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim News, said: "What we are hearing is a lot of people don't necessarily trust what they are hearing from the western media.

Prayers at Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral: Joint prayers last Friday
"Those who speak Arabic are getting a lot more from the Arabic media."

Mr Versi said some Arabic speakers believed there were clear distinctions between the western media and the Middle Eastern channels, available on satellite television in the UK.

"There are many issues coming up. People are asking why doesn't the western media show the same pictures of casualties seen on Al Jazeera?"

While the US may complain about the parading of its prisoners of war on Iraqi television, said Mr Versi, some of his readers had drawn a comparison with pictures of captured Iraqi soldiers pictured in the desert on CNN.

Mosques busy

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, chair of the Muslim Council of Britain's mosques committee, said Imams leading prayers around the country would continue to focus on calls for peace.

None should see the conflict as one between faiths or the Christian West versus the Muslim East
Churches Together/Muslim Council of Britain

Last Friday, mosques witnessed Muslims joining in a Salat-ul-Haja, or prayer of urgent need. Similar prayers are expected this week.

"The communities feel this war is wrong, immoral and illegal," said Sheikh Mogra.

"As more and more news of casualties comes through, people will be more and more saddened."

Sheikh Mogra, based in Leicester, said he had received reports of Muslims being singled out for abuse - though nothing yet on a scale suggesting a trend.

He added that Muslims' fears of standing alone had been eased by continuing cross-community opposition to the war and, crucially, inter-faith links.

Political voice

Last Friday saw Muslims and Christians publicly praying together in key cities with large Muslim populations.

"It's not just the Christian church but leaders of all faiths are working together," said Sheikh Mogra.

"In Leicester and other areas there is a real feeling of solidarity."

Politically, there are indications of continuing resignations by Muslims from the Labour party - and an increasingly willingness of young Muslims to make their voice heard.

I hope...people come to accept whatever decisions...I and my colleagues...make
Jack Straw

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has faced protests in his Blackburn constituency where 26,000 Muslims comprise a quarter of the population, the third largest British Muslim community.

In London, Labour MP Oona King recently escaped a deselection attempt in Bethnal Green and Bow. The constituency lies at the heart of Tower Hamlets, the area with the largest Muslims population in the UK.

Shareefa Choudhury of the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (Fair), said Muslims, particularly the young, had spoken out in greater numbers than at any other time.

"This is having a wider impact on the integration of British Muslims," she said.

"Simply by being part of the process of protesting, they are changing things for themselves and how people see them."

But Ms Choudhury also warned against blanket criticism of western media.

"We think the coverage has been quite fair so far from the point of view of reporting when things have gone wrong.

"Crucially, there has not been any misportrayal of Islam and Muslims specific to the war which would concern us."

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Comments so far:

I am an Chaldean American [an Iraqi-Christian community], both of my parents were born and raised in the village of Talquif, Baghdad. When I see the media of America filtering the news and not showing the full picture, it makes me sad. I dont know what to believe, the American media or the Iraqi media. The American media is not lying to its people, but they're not telling the full truth.
Jessica Rabban, USA

The coverage has mainly focused on POW's and strategic plans and it's almost like the media is trying to move people away from the brutal bombings. I feel that there is a great divide being created between the East and the West and the younger generations today are definitely not afraid to speak up.
Shahd Al-Azzawi, UK

I think the British press should concentrate on reporting what is good for the british people and not shooting ourselves in the foot in highligthing suffering of the enemy.
G Clarkson, England

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