It would be most pertinent to state in the very outset that the presence of Muslims in the UK dates back more than one hundred years and has deep roots in British history. However, there is little awareness amongst today’s population that Muslims are not foreigners in British society. They influenced the growth of Britain and contributed to the country’s growth and reconstruction of after World War II.
As of mid-2010, the official total of the resident population in the UK was estimated to be 62.03 million of which 2.9 million were Muslims – an equivalent of 4.6% of the whole UK population.
According to the Pew Research Foundation, Britain has the third largest Muslim community in Europe, after Germany (4.1 million) and France (4.7 million) and there are more Muslims in Britain than there are in Lebanon.
The majority of today’s UK Muslims are from Indian Subcontinent (Pakistan 43%; India 9%; Bangladesh 17%). Nearly 12% are recent converts White “Other” ethnic groups, and 4% had one white parent.
Although the majority of Muslims in Britain share a common religious identity, their faith is shaped by their ethnic or national origin. But, the second and third generation of young Muslims, unlike the majority of their parents, aimed to interpret Islam as relevant to their lives outside of the home and ethno-religious enclave, with an emphasis on being British Muslim. Such an approach, however, collided with the true beliefs of first-generation Muslims and preachers who had identified Islam “as a perfect system that should not be expected to adapt to changing situations; it is the situations that must adapt to Islam”.
Where did the trouble start? It started with the view that the Islamic community is “living in the land of the infidel” and this view continues to be stressed by radicals and it resulted in creating a gap between the societies. Another cause of trouble are the Islamic laws that create confusion amongst the young British Muslim population, who finds it difficult to relate to their parents and elders.
With the rise of population of British Muslims, the number of mosques and madrassas (seminaries) arose too. Majority of the mosques are ‘Sunni’ but there are others too such as Deobandi, Bareilvi, Salafi, and Shia.
It is estimated that there are over 2000 Islamic schools in Britain, attended by more than 250,000 Muslim children for Quran lessons. Those with extreme views have promoted fundamentalism, taught children religious apartheid and ant-British views and glorification of Sharia laws.
Four stages of radicalisation have been usually identified as pre-radicalisation stage, self-identification stage, indoctrination stage and jihadization stage. To achieve all this, radical parties started cropping up. One of these is called Hizb al-Tahrir, which was established in London in 1986 by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was deported from Saudi Arabia. He left HT in 1996 to establish a more radical organisation, Al-Muhajiroun (the emigrants) because of differences in policy and methods of action.
Here enters Anjem Choudary over the stage of Al-Muhajiroun. Al-Mukajiroun was the leading group in the UK that supported an extreme interpretation of Islam that advocated Sharia law for Muslim lands and, ultimately, an inevitable conflict with western liberal democracy.
It had various guises, franchises and brand names that were progressively banned under terrorism legislation in the wake of 2005 London bombings. Anjem Choudary, the key disciple of Omar Bakri Mohammed – the Syrian founder of Al-Muhajiroun, took over the organisation when the latter fled the UK following the London bombings.
Anjem Choudary, born in Ilford on 18 January 1967, is the son of Pakistan origin parents. He was educated at Mulgrave Primary School in Woolwich. Later, he joined University of Southampton as a medical student but failed in his first-year exam. Here he was known as Andy – an abbreviated form of Anjem. Afterwards he joined law at Guildford and found work at a legal firm and completed his legal qualifications to become a lawyer.
He came to limelight on November 7, 1999, when Sunday Telegraph published a report identifying Anjem Choudary as a key figure in recruiting and training young Muslims using weapons at secret places in the UK. The purpose of these training was creating cadres that may go abroad and fight Osama bin Laden’s specified places in the world.
Al-Muhajiroun once again hit the headlines for a conference which described the hijackers behind the September 11 attacks of 2001 as the “Magnificent 19”. He never hesitated speaking against Christianity and posted a sermon on an Islamic website. He said: “Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. Protect your paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas.”
Even before 9/11, the UK government had investigated expelling Bakri, and later in 2003 the headquarters of Al-Muhajiroun and home of Bakri and Choudary were raided by the police. The next year Al-Muhajiroun was banned and Bakri, sensing danger after 7 July 2005 London bombings, secretly left the UK. Choudary then announced the launching of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, the successor organisation of Al-Muhajiroun. He went on announcing new organisations successively as the previous were banned. His next one was Al Ghurabaaa, but John Reid, the Home Secretary banned this one too.
At this, Choudary flew into a rage and said: “The easy option when one is losing an argument is to ban the opposition voice… We [Al Ghurabaa] are not a military organisation; we have only been vociferous in our views – views concerning everything from the government’s foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan to the host of draconian laws, which they’ve introduced against us in this country.”
In November 2008, Choudary organised a meeting of the then recently formed Islam4UK, which, according to its website, was “established by sincere Muslims as a platform to propagate the supreme Islamic ideology within the United Kingdom as a divine alternative to man-made law, and to convince the British public about the superiority of Islam… thereby changing public opinion in favour of Islam in order to transfer the authority and power to the Muslims in order to implement the Sharee’ah (here in Britain).
Choudary was found guilty of inviting support for Islamic State for Iraq and Levant. He was convicted alongside Mohamed Rahman, 33, in connection with speeches posted on YouTube. In September 2016, he was jailed for five years and six months. At the time he was jailed, Choudary was linked with 15 terror plots dating back approximately 20 years.
David Videcette, a former detective who investigated the 7 July 2005 London attacks, said: “Every plot I ever researched – someone in it was linked to Choudary.”
Choudary was released from Belmarsh prison last month on 19 October 2018 after serving half of his sentence. Up to 25 measures to control him have been prepared.
Anjem Choudary has been described as a “hardened dangerous terrorist” and someone who has had a “huge influence in Islamist extremism in this country” by former Met Police terror chief Richard Walton.
It is said, quoting counter terrorism sources, that Anjem Choudary refused to take part in deradicalization courses or exercises while serving the custodial part of his sentence. He spent most of his time at HMP Frankland, County Durham, where he became the first inmate to be held in a separation unit, designed for the most high-risk terrorism offenders who are capable of radicalising others.
Anjem Choudary never organised terrorist attacks. However, the role he played in radicalising others is the real danger. When his followers bought into the idea that West was victimising Muslims, then they themselves choose how to carry out violence.
He is the one who creates conditions of hostility, without ever picking up arms himself.