Observer accusations ‘preposterous’ says Iqbal Sacranie

Top Muslim group denies extremist roots

Reuters, 14 August 2005

Britain’s leading Muslim lobby group, thrown into the spotlight by last month’s bombings in London, rejected an accusation on Sunday that its roots lay in extremist politics in Pakistan. Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said the allegation, made in the Observer newspaper, was “absolutely preposterous”.

“I can’t believe that anyone who knows anything about the MCB could take that statement seriously,” he told Reuters. In a lengthy report on the MCB, the Observer alleged the council’s leadership and some of its 400 diverse affiliates had “links with conservative Islamist movements in the Moslem world” and “the extremist politics of Pakistan”. It said the links were particularly strong with Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s leading mainstream Islamist party.

The MCB has come under close scrutiny since July 7, when four British Muslims – three of them ethnic Pakistanis – blew themselves up on London’s transport system, killing 52 people. The Observer singled out two MCB affiliate organisations – the Islamic Foundation and Jamiat Ahli-Hadith – for criticism, describing the latter as “an extremist sect”. The Islamic Foundation is an educational institution based in central England while Jamiat Ahli-Hadith is a religious group based in Birmingham.

Sacranie defended both groups, saying the MCB was proud to have them as affiliates. Neither of them was involved with extremist politics, he said. He said the MCB was a loose organisation and that the views of the council’s leadership did not always concur with those of its affiliates.

The London bombings sent shock waves through the country’s 1.6 million Muslims and the MCB is working closely with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government to address what some see as a crisis in the Islamic community. Some young Muslims say the MCB is out of touch and too traditional, while some radicals say it is nothing more than a puppet of the government.

Sacranie said the MCB had written a letter to the BBC last week, accusing the state broadcaster of pursuing a pro-Israeli agenda in a documentary due to be aired next weekend.In the letter, the MCB said the BBC had approached it to ask for interviews with Muslims as part of a documentary for the broadcaster’s flagship Panorama” programme.

The MCB agreed but said it was then surprised when the “Panorama” reporters asked almost exclusively about Israel. “It appears that the ‘Panorama’ team is more interested in furthering a pro-Israeli agenda than assessing the work of Moslem organisations in the UK,” MCB media secretary Inayat Bunglawala wrote in the letter to BBC director-general Mark Thompson.

“The BBC should not allow itself to be used by the highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make political capital out of the July 7 atrocities in London.” The BBC said it was confident the programme would be fair and impartial.