Dispatches: same old, same old

The Channel 4 Dispatches programme last night returned to its theme of sending a reporter undercover to gather information on what’s being taught in mosque study circles and being peddled in mosque bookshops. The programme focussed entirely on the Regent’s Park mosque in London (or Islamic Cultural Centre, to give it its proper name), where it found that the bookshop, run by Darussalaam, which is known for publishing religious texts emanating from Saudi Arabia, was selling offensive DVDs including some from some Australian guy called “Shaikh Faiz”, who talked of killing kaafirs with much enthusiasm, and that the women’s study circle was telling women that they should not befriend non-Muslims or take British citizenship. This was, however, pretty much the head and front of the mosque’s offending, as far as could be told in this programme.

Let me start off by saying that I do think it inappropriate that the bookshop in a well-known mosque like Regent’s Park is run by a sectarian outfit, but this fact was not really dwelt on in The Return, nor was the fact that the old bookshop, which consisted of a few book stalls in the foyer, although it did not exactly sell books from across the religious spectrum, was not as Wahhabi-oriented as Darussalam is. Regent’s Park is not the “most important” mosque in the country, but for anyone who wants to make contact with Muslims, it is often the first stop. It is what many mosques call themselves: an “Islamic centre”, and its bookshop should not be contracted out to a sectarian publishing company, whether or not they were the highest bidder (although it could be that charity law made this necessary; non-profit organisations are not allowed to make decisions regarding contracts based solely on ethics, but must choose the best deal).

However, much of the material they found turned out not to be offensive, but merely dislikeable to their intended audience. Extracts were shown from a video of Khalid Yasin defending the practice of Shari’ah law as found in Saudi Arabia, which hardly counts as fostering extremism or separatism, and it is hardly news that some Muslims (and even perhaps others) favour these kinds of punishments. Given that the west has not come up with serious solutions to serious crime, other than ever-longer prison terms for acts which might lead to crime, such as carrying a knife, and that in parts of Khalid Yasin’s home country, teenagers have been jailed for life without parole for playing bit parts in crimes which led to a fatality, and yet gang-based crime is out of control in major cities in both countries, I can understand why anyone would defend a method of punishment which acts as an obvious deterrent. As for “Shaikh Faiz”, who is he? I have not come across him online in several years of browsing Muslim websites, forums and blogs. The extracts from his lectures shown on Undercover Mosque would easily turn many Muslims’ stomachs.

A female teacher was shown telling women that they should not travel long distances without a chaperone, which is nothing new - it has been appearing in religious textbooks associated with many schools of thought within Islam for centuries. In strict Muslim communities, women simply do not travel unaccompanied for distances of more than about 50 miles from their home town. There may be some difference of opinion on the subject today, because that distance could at one time only be done in three days, while today it can be done in less than an hour, but this ruling is widely taught and adhered to, and as unpalatable as it may be to some non-Muslim viewers (who would have been the vast majority, as Muslims would have been breaking their fast when it went out at 8pm last night), I fail to see why this was included in the programme as it in no way fosters extremism or separatism.

The programme brought in various purported Muslim experts, who included Musa Admani, the imam at London Metropolitan University, Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the director of the so-called Muslim Institute, Mai Yamani (daughter of Shaikh Yamani), and two other hijabless Saudi women. The critique seemed to consist of “Wahhabi this, Wahhabi that”, and the emphasis was that these were “Saudi teachings” being promoted by the “Saudi religious establishment”. Conspicuously absent was Abdul-Hakim Murad, who contributed to the last programme; I am not sure whether he was contacted for this programme, but he received a substantial amount of criticism for participating in the last one. However, the teachings about Shari’ah criminal law and women travelling have nothing to do with Wahhabism at all.

The female interviewees did a fairly good job of puncturing the ludicrous Saudi claim that there was no “Saudi religious establishment”. However, the inclusion of Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, a figure with no credibility in the Muslim community, gives away the malicious intent behind this documentary. How on earth can anyone be taken seriously when they have been running a “parliament” for several years without having any elections? Why has his organisations’ record as an Iranian mouthpiece during the Rushdie affair been forgotten, not to mention the fact that those he attacks now - the Wahhabis - are an enemy of those he is well-known for supporting - the Iranians? Their record on women’s rights is not far removed from Saudi Arabia’s, and the only terrorism by a religious Muslim government (as opposed to a secular Arab state or by a mere group) on British soil has been linked to Iran. He is no longer questioned on any of this, but allowed to use his organisations as a basis for his own self-promotion.

This programme looks like another attempt to find more incriminating material than they actually found, and the emphasis on one speaker’s defence of Saudi criminal law and a female speaker telling women not to travel without a chaperone suggests that they really did not find much. The fact that the offending videos from the last programme are still on sale suggests that Muslims in general, and particularly those who ran the bookshop, did not consider the points raised in it worth addressing; they regarded it as a hatchet job brought about by spying and then cutting and pasting the footage gained from spying. This time round, they took the spying beyond the mosque and into the female teacher’s personal home. If they do indeed preach disassociation from non-Muslims but do not advocate violence, that only puts them in the same category of religious groups as the Haredi Jews of north London, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Plymouth Brethren, all of whom hold themselves apart from wider society to a greater or lesser extent and regard themselves as an élite above everyone else; these Muslims are actually less isolationist than those groups anyway.

In light of the fact that the company behind Undercover Mosque was threatened with prosecution for their earlier programme, it does seem that this was a vindictive attempt to hold Muslims up to ridicule, the time of its airing being further evidence of this. They apparently found very little genuinely offensive material, and much which they merely disagreed with and expected their audience to disagree with as well; if the point is that such material should not be taught in mosques, or presumably other religious institutions, that is an argument against freedom of religion and freedom of speech. There is a case to be made about Wahhabi penetration in this country and the trouble it caused in mosques and on university campuses, but why would non-Muslims care about what could be dismissed as a bunch of Muslims disagreeing on minute matters of theology? So, they had to resort to playing up threats and whatever they could hold up to mockery. Even more so than the original, this programme was almost entirely without substance.

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  • Umm Ahmed

    I totally agree with you on this one and so do others that I have spoken to .This programme had no credibility none of those books had extremist content .

  • Undercove Mosque: The Return refers several times to Colin Cook, a teacher (only after being sacked for misconduct from the King Fahd school in Acton) claimed that the books the children are taught from are racist, and that the school itself is promoting Wahhabism. This was claimed in the papers filed with an employment tribunal by Mr. Cook who earned £35,000 a year at the Academy.

    It is of course worth wondering why Mr Cook didn’t feel the need to raise this issue before he was sacked. Mr. Cook, 57, who taught English at the school for 19 years until he was dismissed in December 2006, claimed £100,000 compensation for unfair dismissal.

    Similarly, viewers would have been better served if they were told which political spectrum Mr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqi and Mr. Musa Admani come from to make clear if these two have reasons to tread on Salafis’ corns. This would have proved helpful to establish why these two have cultivated long-term difference with other ‘brands’ competing for support and following within the contested constituency of Muslims in Britain.

    Perhaps you will not find any Irish channel asking some Orange Order ideologues to go undercover looking in to the credentials of a Catholic church.

    But things are different for viewers in England, where Hardcash Productions engages some disgruntled elements to settle scores with their ideological opponents and competitors on primetime over Channel 4.

  • anonymous

    Bro. Yusuf, what is your opinion of what Abdul-Hakim Murad did in the previous “Dispatches” program?

  • t

    So, what the programme revealed is not offensive to muslims but standard muslim doctrine. As you say, it’s still dislikeable to non-muslims though.

    I didn’t know that killing real or alleged apostates, adulterers, witches or homosexuals- parts of the practice of Shari’ah law as found in Saudi Arabia- discouraged crimes with knives; indeed, given the prominence of Somalis and Bangladeshis in gang culture in London the two may be correlated. In fact, in some muslim countries- such as Saudi Arabia- it looks rather as though the gangs with knoves are in charge.

  • leila

    Are you implying that the two hijabless Saudi women are less credible and knowledgeable to speak of Islam?

  • Old Pickler

    if the point is that such material should not be taught in mosques, or presumably other religious institutions, that is an argument against freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

    Oh yes, that freedom of religion and freedom of speech that Islam values so highly. Ask any apostate, or any Christian living in a Muslim country.

    Stuff about the punishments and the draconian, backward laws about women’s travel may not shock Muslims - of course it is mainstream Islamic teaching. But they do shock - and should - non-Muslims - who grew up in a country where women are equal before the law.

  • Older Pickler

    In the UK there is over 10 women raped a night in almost every section of the Thames Valley area - and these are the reported rapes, who knows about those happening unreported. Advertisements, music and movies and fashion is doing nothing short of belittling the female to just her body and outer apperance, degrading her to a sex object - used to sell products, cars and make money. Women are “equal” hey, at what cost… soon the difference between man and woman may be unnoticeable in the West, such is the push for this so called equality. Perhaps we should wait for the arrival of mixed public bathrooms and WCs because “hey men and woman are bloody equal”.

    What the West should be commended for is finally bringing a trace of fairness to the female gender following centuries of complete and utter degradation - Islam was giving women rights, protection, honour and ability to vote 1,400+ years ago. The West started off on a good note but without any Divine guidence to refer matters to what has resulted here is extremity and now women have become public property and through popular media/entertainment/media they are made to think that this is what they should want and like.

    Islam has a lot to teach the West - but naturally those who hate Islam are concentrating on projecting an image so “evil” that the common folks find it difficult to learn about Islam impartially. Exactly what this documentary sought out to do - more damage against Islam.


    David Henshaw’s (flawed/skewed) production undercover mosque; released, coincidentally, on the first day of Ramadan: produced vehement heat but dim light. Moslems should refrain from bellyaching tirades against the Islamophobic media— Take the jew on! Ask the Saudi government to fund Hardcash to scrutinise media ownership in this country. They could start with jew Michael Winogradsky (Grade) boss of Channel 4, or his predecessor kosher Jeremy Issacs. Hardcash can interview the senior gentile production staff—IF THEY CAN FIND ANY! Give the Star of David programme a realistic name, ‘The Jewbiquitous Media’ or whatever; release it on the first day of Yom Kippur. Then the goyim will see, if the jew really believes in free speech. The Maleski convention would make it compulsory for EVERY jewish media broadcaster to wear a Star of David identity badge, and to inform the goyim of who they really are!