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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 03:49 GMT 04:49 UK
Minister backs new Muslim group
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

A mosque in Leeds
Sufi Muslims say they do not follow 'politicised' Islam
The government has backed a new body for Muslims which says not enough has been done to tackle extremism.

Politicians from the main parties welcomed the launch of the Sufi Muslim Council at Westminster in London.

The group's leaders say that it represents a silent majority frustrated with slow progress since the London bombings in July last year.

The move is being seen as a direct challenge to the leadership of Muslim communities in the UK.

The new organisation seeks to represent Sufi Muslims, a form of Islam which claims to cut across nationalities and ethnicities by focusing on purity of thought and deed.

Its leaders say this approach differs from a politicised presentation of Islam that presents Muslims as separate to other people, something considered to be a key element in radicalisation and extremism.

It is one of two major groups to have emerged since the London bombings offering different views to the dominant Muslim Council of Britain.

The prime minister and others have on many occasions rightly called for moderate Muslims to stand up and be counted
Haras Rafiq Sufi Muslim Council

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for communities, attended the launch, saying that her department welcomed the new body saying she wanted to work with a broad range of groups.

"We need to always ask ourselves whether we are working with the right groups in the right way," she said.

"Organisations such as the Sufi Muslim Council are an important part of that work ... I welcome the council's core principles condemning terrorism in all its forms and its partnership approach to taking forward joint initiatives and activities."

Radicalisation

Crucially, the Westminster launch also included Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians, along with Anglicans and members of the Jewish community.

MUSLIM VOICES
I believe in unity - you should have one voice for the community
Zuber Banglawala, Leicester

Haras Rafiq, co-founder of the council, said the SMC had already formed a partnership with the British Muslim Forum (BMF), an organisation emerging as the representative of 300 mosques in the Midlands and northern England.

The BMF was recently at the centre of a deal that brought competing Muslim bodies together to develop a watchdog for standards in mosques.

'Silent majority'

Mr Rafiq said: "The prime minister and others have on many occasions rightly called for moderate Muslims to stand up and be counted.

WHAT IS SUFISM?
Aspect, not sect of Islam
Mystical tradition, similar to other faiths
Tradition of literature and philsophy

"In response to this call, and following extensive consultations within the Muslim community, we have decided to establish the Sufi Muslim Council."

He added: "Sufis count among the vast silent majority of Britain's two million strong Muslim community.

"Up to now they have lacked an externally visible voice and the intent of forming this council is to provide just such a strong voice."

Mr Rafiq said the council would immediately seek to build alliances both inside and outside of the community "to combat the evil political ideology" caused by a vacuum of leadership.

He said: "There is an urgent need for the British Muslim community to engage in an internal debate to isolate the ideologies who falsely claim to represent Islam, to develop a strong field of moderate, intellectually astute, forward-thinking leaders and scholars who can promote the moderate values of civic society, engagement and diversity which characterize classical Islam."

'Groundwork needed'

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) remains the largest community body in the UK, saying its dealings with ministers speak on behalf of hundreds of affiliated groups.

But some Muslim figures, particularly among younger people in the large communities outside of London, believe that the MCB has not done enough to both combat extremism or to help tackle critical issues such as education and deprivation.

But Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that he doubted a new body could be launched with a press release and some political support in Parliament.

"The key factor is the support in the wider Muslim community," said Mr Bunglawala. "When we launched the MCB in 1997, it was only after three years of groundwork and careful consultations. The Muslim community is extremely diverse and we have worked hard to reflect that diversity, rather than seeking to represent just one strand of opinion.

"It's true that the MCB has had its critics, particularly the Board of Deputies of British Jews. But that is because we do not hide the concern of Muslims [over Israel and the Palestinians].

"The signals from the SMC talk of a so-called politicised Islam - well young Muslims are living an Islam which is quest for justice."




SEE ALSO
UK needs integration, says study
07 Jul 06 |  Leicestershire
Heed 7 July lessons - Muslim MP
04 Jul 06 |  UK Politics

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