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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 16:54 GMT
Sparkhill Muslims 'live in peace'
By Jenny Percival
BBC News, Sparkhill

The shutters are down at the Islamic bookshop, Maktabah, one of 12 addresses raided by police in Birmingham.

Maktabah bookshop
Shutters are down at the Maktabah bookshop

Uniformed police, two police vans and a cordon keep people away from the shop, forcing them off the pavement on to the busy Stratford Road.

Officers made eight arrests in the city earlier and a ninth person was picked up later on a nearby motorway.

Squeezed between a pub and a beauty salon, which have also shut for the day, the Maktabah bookshop has hit the headlines before.

It was founded by Moazzam Begg, who was detained by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on suspicion of terrorism before being released. He was arrested there by British police under anti-terror laws in 2000.

Mr Begg no longer owns the shop and the new owners have denied any links to Osama Bin Laden or al-Qaeda.

We were born here, this is our country and we don't want anything bad to happen to it
Muslim woman

The three young women in the sari shop nearby feel as British as the fish and chips they are devouring for lunch.

But they know that not everyone in the Muslim community in Sparkhill feels the same way.

"We were born here, this is our country and we don't want anything bad to happen to it," one of them says.

"We're also Muslim and our religion says nothing about becoming a terrorist but some young men have nothing to do and might be tempted to do silly things."

The women are friendly but do not want to be named and are worried about saying too much.

"To be honest, no-one wants to talk because what you say could be seen as against Islam," says the older of the three.

'Extreme views'

A 26-year-old Muslim travel agent, who grew up in Sparkhill, said that most of the mosques in the area were moderate.

But he said that religious leaders from the Middle East and Pakistan were playing on anti-war sentiment in the community to try to teach an extreme form of Islam.

"These imams are targeting young unemployed people. They're highly educated and from abroad - the Middle East and Pakistan.

"Most Muslims were not for the war in Iraq so this has fuelled things, making it easier for them to teach extreme views. They're not views I agree with but the young are an easy target."

Muslim woman
The arrests have drawn a mixed reaction from local Muslims
Sparkhill is about two miles from Birmingham city centre. Along its bustling main artery, the Stratford Road, sari, Halal food and religious shops jostle for people's attention alongside balti houses and fast food restaurants.

Several shops advertise a public meeting organised by the anti-war group Respect. Another urges Muslim women to attend a meeting organised by the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir on "How to present Islam to non-Muslims to build community relations".

Good community relations are on the mind of Abdul Vannat, who runs a home furnishings business.

"I'm shocked by these arrests," he says. "This is a vibrant area, a lot of religious groups live here - mostly Muslims. We all live in harmony, there are no problems."

Mr Vannat, who is treasurer of the Stratford Road Business Association, said the police cordons had snarled up traffic - making it difficult for people to go shopping - while the arrests could give outsiders a bad impression of the area.

"The traffic is horrendous, it's affecting people's livelihoods. We're shocked by the arrests, it's going to generate negative publicity in the media."




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