COVENTRY, England (AFP) – “Follow the Prophet Mohammed, don’t follow bin Laden!” That was the message from an anti-terrorism summer camp led by a top scholar which attracted hundreds of young Muslims in Britain this week.
Al-Hidayah (The Guidance) was led by Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who earlier this year issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against terrorism.
His message to the roughly 1,300 people attending the three-day event on a university campus in Coventry, was clear — terrorism is anti-Islamic.
And it was welcomed by members of the British Muslim community, which has been in the spotlight since the July 7, 2005 suicide attacks on London’s public transport system killed 52 innocent people, plus the four young British Muslim extremists who blew themselves up.
“The thing he said about terrorism is a big thing to say,” Anam Nazir, a young woman who attended the event, told AFP.
“I’m from Pakistan and I have never seen any scholar say things like that in the media because they’re too scared… he’s brave.”
The event, which ended Monday, cost some 200 pounds per person to attend, including accommodation.
On the agenda were lectures about issues faced by Muslims living in the West such as terrorism, suicide bombing and integration as well as music and sports, plus prayers in the room which is usually the students’ disco.
But for many attendees, one highlight was the opening speech by Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Canadian-based founder of moderate Islamic NGO Minhaj-ul-Quran International, during which he spoke out against Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Afterwards, Tahir-ul-Qadri said Islam states that followers can only voice disagreements with laws in a peaceful manner, and that it was a religion that preached integration.
According to Islamic law “these countries that protect your life and your wealth and your honour… are peaceful countries so you’re not allowed to become terrorists against these countries and these societies,” he said.
“This is the commandment of the Holy Prophet and Islam and Allah, to be integrated in the society where you’re living.”
The event was covered widely in the British media, much of which more usually depicts Islamic preachers as extremists like hook-handed Abu Hamza al-Masri rather than as moderates.
Hamza, the former imam of a London mosque, is serving a seven-year jail term for inciting followers to murder non-believers.
The European Court of Human Rights recently blocked his extradition to the United States, where he is facing terror charges.
Naseem, a young man attending the event who runs a hairdressing business, said the summer camp would help him to explain the true nature of Islam to the customers from all backgrounds who he serves.
“I believe (Tahir-ul-Qadri’s) challenge to radicalisation, terrorism is very good — terrorism is a danger towards mankind,” he told AFP.
“I run a barber shop, I get all sorts of people from different walks (of life), I can give the true view of what Islam says”.