‘A Question of Leadership’: MCB letter to Ofcom

Here is the text of the Muslim Council of Britain’s letter of complaint to Ofcom in response to the Panorama programme “A Question of Leadership”:

Dishonest Omissions

1. The programme portrayed the MCB as being ‘in denial’ about extremism. The MCB makes no claims about perfection and we do have many shortcomings. However, it was deeply unfair of the Panorama team not to make mention of the MCB’s efforts to help promote the common good by sending a written emergency appeal – following the Madrid bombings – to every Islamic organisation and mosque in the country urging vigilance against the terror threat and cooperation with the police. In addition, in September 2004, the MCB printed 500,000 copies of a Pocket Guide on Rights and Responsibilities. This contained a section on ‘Vigilance and the Terror Threat’ in which we prominently printed the Anti-Terror Hotline Number.

The inclusion of the above information would have refuted the “denial” portrayed by John Ware. Accordingly, the omission of such information in our view breaches paragraphs 5.7, 5.11, 7.1 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

2. Sir Iqbal Sacranie was questioned in the programme in detail about statements attributed to some of our affiliates. By contrast, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (of the Muslim Parliament) was approvingly quoted in the programme several times and was not questioned in the programme at all about the far more controversial statement about bombing No 10 Downing Street made by his deputy Dr Yaqub Zaki which appeared in the national newspapers on the very morning of the Panorama programme.

The omission of such information in our view further breaches paragraphs 5.7, 7.1 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

Dishonest Presentation

1. The Panorama programme presented a quotation of Mawlana Mawdudi as saying that an Islamic state – which his party Jamaat-I-Islami continues to campaign for – bears: “…a kind of resemblance to the fascist and communist states…”

The purpose of Panorama quoting this line seems to us clearly to try and create a certain negative impression in the minds of its viewers about the MCB affiliate, the Islamic Foundation, whose Chairman, Professor Khurshid Ahmad, is a prominent member of the Jamaat-I-Islami party. It is well known that it is possible through mischievous editing to choose carefully selected lines from the writings of just about any author which will then make it appear to suggest he is saying the polar opposite of his actual words. This task is made all the more easier if viewers are shown the writings of a foreign author who was writing in a rather different time and place.

The entire paragraph of the text from which Mawlana Mawdudi was quoted reads as follows:

Considered from this aspect the Islamic State bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states. But you will find later on that, despite its all inclusiveness, it is something vastly and basically different from the totalitarian and authoritarian states. Individual liberty is not suppressed under it nor is there any trace of dictatorship in it. It presents the middle course and embodies the best that the human society has ever evolved. (Islamic Law and Constitution, Chapter on The Political Theory of Islam, 9th edition, Lahore, 1986, p146)

In the full quotation, it is evident that Mawdudi was actually saying something quite different to what the carefully selected quote that Panorama used. The intentional misquoting of Mawlana Mawdudi in our view breaches paragraph 5.1, 5.7, 7.1, 7.9 and 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code.

2. The Panorama team questioned Sir Iqbal Sacranie about a statement made on a website of the MCB affiliate Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith:

[John Ware:] I’m quoting from Ali Hadith. As I say it’s quite an important affiliate of yours and just to give you one example from their website, they say of Jews and Christians: ‘Their ways are based on sick or deviant views’ and that ‘imitating the Kuffaar leads to a permanent abode in hellfire.’ That’s a ‘Them and Us’ culture, isn’t it, that’s a slippery slope.

In fact, this quote appears to have been taken from an article written by an AmericanLebanese author, Muhammad al-Jibaly, which appeared on the ‘Downloadable’ section of the Ahl-e-Hadith website. It is not from an actual Ahl-e-Hadith publication.

Would it not have been more honest to have clearly pointed this out to the Panorama viewers? Or would this have undermined the case that Ware was trying to build?

The misrepresentation in our view is a breach of paragraphs 5.7, 5.11, 7.9, 7.1 of the Broadcasting Code. The non-participation of the organisation Markazi Jamiat Ahl-eHadith and the misrepresentation of its views is a further breach of paragraph 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code.

3. Another voice approvingly quoted by Panorama was Dr Taj Hargey who was described as the Chairman of the Muslim Education Centre, Oxford. He was quoted as saying the MCB is, in a manner that is problematic, mainly composed of “Indo-Pakistanis”. The Census of 2001 showed that of the 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, around 68% of them had their origins in the Indian subcontinent. As a body which seeks to bring together British Muslims, it is therefore inevitable that the MCB will consist of people who are “Indo-Pakistanis” – yet Ware allowed Dr Taj Hargey’s remark to go unchallenged. John Ware paraphrases Taj Hargey that “MCB [has an] ideology from Pakistan [that] still exerts an undue influence in the MCB.” This could not be further from the truth, and the MCB was not given a chance to respond. Although the MCB does mainly consist of “IndoPakistanis” it is a very diverse body with (amongst others) Arabs, Africans, Anglo-Saxons, Turks, Bosnians, Caribbeans, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Albanians.

Such a misrepresentation of facts is in our view a breach of paragraphs 5.7 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

4. Concerning the Shabina Begum case, Dr Taj Hargey was quoted as saying that the jilbab (long women’s garment) has “no validity in Islam whatsoever…there is no religious verse, there is no Qur’anic ayah, there is nothing in the Qur’an that says you must wear the jilbab.” Dr Hargey’s assertion that there is nothing in the Qur’an about the jilbab is quite simply wrong. We would refer Dr Hargey to Surat al-Ahzab of the Qur’an (33:59) where the Arabic word ‘jalabib’ (plural of jilbab) clearly occurs in connection with the recommended dress for the Prophet’s wives and ‘nisaa al-mu’mineen’ (believing women). It was unacceptable of John Ware’s Panorama team to have let Dr Hargey’s assertion once again go unchallenged.

What adds to the unfairness is that Ware did not mention that the Barrister who defended Shabina Begum’s right to wear the jilbab was none other than Cherie Blair, the wife of the Prime Minister. Was this not mentioned because it would have undermined Ware’s argument that the jilbab is a manifestation of ‘political Islam’? Finally, many other schools in Britain do allow the wearing of the jilbab by Muslim schoolgirls without it causing any problems whatsoever, yet Ware, once again, did not mention this. This omission would have left the unsuspecting viewer to believe that it was Shabina who was behaving intransigently, instead of Denbigh High School, which made the headlines precisely because it refused to allow Shabina Begum to exercise her rights.

Such misrepresentation is in our view a further breach of paragraphs 5.7 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

5. In addition, it should be noted, that almost all of us in the Muslim Council of Britain had never previously heard of Dr Taj Hargey. However, we did find the following item on the internet: http://www.macopinion.com/columns/intelligence/01/11/21/ .

We wonder whether the Panorama team investigated this allegation before they decided to present Dr Hargey as an ‘influential Muslim’? Such a failure to mention this matter is in our view a further breach of paragraphs 5.7 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

The MCB believes that Dr Hargey’s ill-informed contributions to the programme were only reflective of the Panorama team’s own poor research and fast and loose approach to the facts.

Dishonest Description

1. One voice quoted approvingly in Ware’s documentary was Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui who was described in the programme as the ‘Director of the Muslim Institute’. We were told on the programme that “a decade ago he believed Islam and politics should be fused. Now he thinks the only way Muslims will join the mainstream is if that link is broken.” John Ware did not inform his viewers that Dr Siddiqui is also the head of the ‘Muslim Parliament’ Such information would have undermined Dr Siddiqui’s argument about Islam and politics not being “fused”. Such a failure to mention this matter is in our view a further breach of paragraphs 5.7 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

2. Ware spoke appreciatively of those Muslims who do not allow their faith to influence their political outlook. He went to a mosque in Birmingham and said that ‘Muslims here follow the Sufi stream, like most in Britain. They do not politicise their faith, theirs is personal and spiritual.’

It is indeed true that many Muslims admire Sufi teachings. However, Ware does not provide any evidence to show that ‘most’ Muslims in the UK follow the ‘sufi stream’ or that they believe that Islam is only ‘personal and spiritual’ and should not influence their political beliefs. Furthermore, the idea that Sufis only follow a ‘personal and spiritual’ Islam is another common misconception and shows insufficient research on Ware’s part. Muslims who follow the ‘sufi way’ as well as others are both in the same Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) coalition party as the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan. This is the same Jamaat-iIslami that Ware attempts to portray as extremists. The primary anti-colonial jihadist movements of the 19th and 20 th century were all sufi-inspired. For example, Imam Shamil in Daghestan belonged to the famous Naqshbandi order, Umar al-Mukhtar in Libya to the Sanusi order, Amir AbdulQadir in Algeria to the Qadiri order and so on.

Such misrepresentations are in our view breaches of paragraphs 5.1, 5.7, 5.11, 7.1 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

3. In addition, Ware’s statement that the UK is a ‘secular’ country is not entirely true. There are members of the Christian clergy in the House of Lords and Britain has an established Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury regularly comments on social, economic and major political events. Christian values and teachings have been a major influence behind the Welfare state, the NHS, etc. Ruth Kelly, the cabinet minister, has made no bones of her commitment to Opus Dei, remarking, “I am a practicing Catholic. Clearly I have strong personal principles. I would have to abide by them in my political career if they are strong personal principles.” (The Guardian, 17th December 2004).

Similarly, the conception of Christianity articulated by George Bush very obviously informs his political beliefs and actions. The Pope often meets with world leaders and comments on world affairs. It is therefore strange that when Muslims seek to be guided in their social and political beliefs and actions by their faith, Ware describes this in the programme as ‘playing politics with religion in a secular country’. Such misrepresentations are in our view breaches of paragraphs 5.1, 5.7, 5.11, 7.1 and 7.9 of the Broadcasting Code.

4. Ware stated in the programme that: ‘One overt sign of separateness is that of Muslim women covering themselves.’ Why is the wearing of the hijab or jilbab regarded as a ‘sign of separateness’? Does Panorama believe the Sikh turban or the Jewish yarmulka (skullcap) are also ‘overt signs of separateness’? Such views clearly demonstrate the polemical nature of the programme, with little regard to fact and analysis.

Biased Account of Israel/Palestine Conflict

5. John Ware’s programme made a pretence of being impartial and nowhere was this more clearly exposed than in the section about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is worth quoting Ware in full:

[Ware] The Israel-Palestine conflict is over land and holy sites. It’s a rallying cry for young martyrs in the global ummah. Islamist groups like Hamas have used terrorist tactics against Israel because they want to destroy it. Israeli military operations targeting the Islamists have also caused many civilian deaths.

Ware tried to sound balanced to the unsuspecting viewer. Yet we would not have known from listening to Ware that it is the Israelis who for decades now have been illegally occupying Palestinian lands in defiance of numerous UN resolutions. We were told by Ware that Hamas use ‘terrorist tactics’ against Israel but were not told about terrorist methods used by Israel against Palestinians. When describing the assassination of the quadriplegic Hamas leader and Islamic scholar Shaykh Ahmad Yasin by Israel, Ware referred to it simply as an ‘Israeli missile strike’. It was however condemned by the European Union and the United Nations as “a violation of international law”, Ware gave no indication of the imbalance in power between the two sides and the disproportionality in the numbers of casualties where since the year 2000, four Palestinians have been killed for every Israeli.

Such bias in our view violates paragraphs 5.1, 5.7 and 5.11 of the Broadcasting Code.

6. Ware evidently approves of the secular democracy we live in and the freedom of speech we enjoy. He castigated Sir Iqbal Sacranie for his opposition to Rushdie’s blasphemous book ‘The Satanic Verses’. However, when it came to British Muslims expressing their opinions freely Ware suddenly became a lot more censorious and demanded that Imams not declare the war on terror as a war on Islam:

[Ware to Sir Iqbal]: Isn’t it important for you as the leader of the Muslim community in Britain to put the Imam of the Leeds mosque right when he says that the war in Iraq is about plotting to decrease the faith of Islam?

Such bias clearly demonstrates that John Ware had a particular polemic that he failed to disclose to the audience. Such failure to disclose his position in our view breaches paragraph 5.8 of the Broadcasting Code.


We believe our observations above about John Ware’s Panorama documentary clearly show that the programme was maliciously motivated and we call upon Ofcom to investigate the above breaches of the Broadcasting Code. In some cases, the breaches are very clear, and the failure of the Panorama team to acknowledge or correct such mistakes is a further breach of paragraph 5.2 of the Broadcasting Code.

Yours faithfully,

Inayat Bunglawala, Secretary, Media Committee, The Muslim Council of Britain

CC: Mike Robinson Editor, BBC Panorama Room 1118, 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TS