|In his first newspaper interview since being elected, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari suggests this country should adopt more Islamic ways. Alice Thomson meets the new leader of Britain's Muslims Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari was returning from Paris on the Eurostar when he heard the news that a 23-year-old east London Muslim had been shot in a terrorism raid.
Dr Bari: Probably the country's most influential Muslim voice
"I was stunned," he says. "I am chairman of the east London mosque and I come from Bangladesh - I know the families in the area well. The children may squabble in the playground and there are occasional drugs - but not terrorists. "After 9/11 and 7/7, this area prided itself on being mature. We don't rant and rave."
The day after Mohammed Abul Kahar, 23, and his brother Abul Koyair, 20, were arrested, Dr Bari was voted the new leader of the Muslim Council of Britain. Afterwards he went straight to Forest Gate, where the raid had taken place, and set up a make-shift office in a sari shop. He was shocked by what he heard. "Two hundred and fifty policemen seemed too much - and why did the police need a five-mile exclusion zone for the raid? There was a sense that the police had completely over-reacted and huge frustration because there was so much misinformation," he says.
In the aftermath, the media carried stories saying that the brothers' parents had gone on a pre-booked holiday to Mauritius (some said Bangladesh); a couple of papers also published a photograph apparently showing a third brother standing next to a man wearing a fake bomb at a demonstration. "First, we were told one brother shot another, then that the policeman's glove was too thick," Dr Bari says. "There were so many stories against the two young men. It is untrue that their parents went off on holiday and the man involved in the Danish cartoon protests was only a half-brother they barely knew.
"On the face of it, these guys are innocent. I have talked to people who know them in the Bangladeshi community. The family said they were good boys."
MIM:Note that Muslim police posterboy Superintendant Desai concurred at the press conference where he did not mention the criminal record of the brothers and undered teh police investigtion where he said:
As we sit talking in the mosque in Whitechapel Road in east London, Dr Bari grows thoughtful. "If I had been a policeman, maybe I would see it differently. But that is part of the problem. We need 3,000 more Muslim policemen in London to restore trust".
ttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5075618.stm 'Lessons to learn'
Police Chief Supt Dizaei said the police's version of events needed to be heard but he told BBC Radio 4 Today's programme: "Clearly there are lessons to be learned.
"Anyone who heard the young lads talk about their experience will be moved. But I think one has to err on the side of caution and wait and see what the investigation unfolds."
MIM:Note that: At the same time, government officials said both suspects had "extensive criminal records". According to a well-placed source, Kahar has convictions for theft, robbery, burglary and possession of a prohibited weapon, namely involving a "noxious, liquid gas", said to be CS spray. Koyair was said to have convictions for burglary, two thefts and possession of a Stanley knife. Both men had spent time in youth offender institutes http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,19364737-2703,00.html
MIM:Note that Bari's estimate is 1,000 times more then that of the chief of police Ian Blair and that:
Some white male recruits are waiting for more than three years to join the force as ethnic minority and women applicants are prioritized.
MIM:6/24/2005 7:00:00 AM GM
More Muslim police officers are needed in London to reflect the city's population, Metropolitan Police chief Sir Ian Blair said.
Sir Ian said that there were about 300 officers in the Muslim Police Association but noted that he wanted "as many as I can get".
He also tried to defend the rise in the stop and search of Muslims, claiming that it was less than 10 times per day of London's 700,000 Muslims.
MIM:More ironically still one of the arrested brothers with a rap sheet who was released and subsequently rearrested on child pornography charges. At a press conference he said that he had applied to join the police, and made the inadvertently hilarious statement that he and his family 'don't trust polices (sic) anymore".
ABUL KOYAIR ON THE POLICE :
Actually me myself, I applied to be a police officer, a community police officer, recently.
They gave me a confirmation letter, which I received from them.
My family was behind me in what I wanted to do, and now I think all their views has changed.
They don't want me to be associated anywhere near police. I feel that my mum, my dad they don't trust polices anymore.
MIM: A month after the interview saying the UK needed 3,000 Muslim police in London (who would be trained to use guns) Bari told journalists that there were 2 million Muslims in Britain who might turn to terrrorism.
Britain will face have to deal with up to two million Islamic terrorists unless there is an end to 'demonising' of Muslims, the leader of the most influential Muslim organisation has said.
Treating all Muslims as if they were terrorists will encourage large numbers to become terrorists, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari said.
Dr Bari, a 52-year-old science teacher and author of several books on Islam in Britain, became arguably the most influential Muslim voice in the country after taking over from Sir Iqbal Sacranie this week. Every five minutes he takes calls: from the media, Downing Street, the police, mosques. They all want to know his response to the protests against the shooting. His aim, he says, will be to encourage Britain to adopt more Muslim ways, as well as to encourage Muslims to be good British citizens. He thinks that non-Muslim Britons would benefit from having arranged marriages and espousing stronger family values; they would also do well to stop drinking and gambling and to follow many of the teachings of Islam. But, first, he must calm the tensions between Muslims and the rest of Britain. "Muslims are frightened now," he says. "Many are still poor, under-educated and unemployed and they are finding life increasingly difficult. It is a nightmare, particularly for the young. "There has been a 300 per cent rise in stop-and-search of the Asian community and a 600 per cent rise in race- hate crimes against Muslims. The young are rebelling. They become de-motivated; some turn to drugs, others become more religious." An increased interest in religion does not, however, turn them into extremists and terrorists, he says. "Our religion teaches us to be good neighbours and friends. Any group or religion has one or two people who are bad. But now we are all seen as the enemy. "7/7 was committed by idiots and the devout were against the man who dressed up as a suicide bomber to protest at those cartoons. These people are not true Muslims. Overwhelmingly, our community is made up of sane, sensible street cleaners, teachers, nurses and bus drivers. This idea that we are all fanatics is ludicrous." But would he not agree that many in Britain see Muslim fundamentalism as the biggest threat of the next few years? "Extremism is a threat, but on all sides: Christian, Muslim, Jewish," he says. "It is objectionable when people talk about Islamic terrorists; those who terrorise people are not being Islamic in any way." Dr Bari wants to promote the activities of the 800 mosques in the country and to work with the imams. "They do a tremendous job; but, in Britain, they are seen as nasty men with claw hooks. This is rubbish. Abu Hamza was a nightclub bouncer - he is not a religious man." As the new secretary general, he wants to encourage Muslims to help Britain to become a better place. "We want to help fight hooliganism, drugs and broken families; we want the British to become better neighbours. Muslims can give and teach Britain so much: looking after the elderly, enduring marriages, respect, strong faith, no alcohol." But instead of integrating, do not some Muslims insist on imposing their values? For example, the schoolgirl in Luton who demanded to wear the jilbab left some feeling threatened. "We supported her right to wear what she wanted," Dr Bari says. "It was wrong for her to lose out on an education just because of her dress. As Muslims, we are far more shocked by pupils' short skirts, but we don't complain. That is another thing the British could learn: modesty is very attractive." What does he like about Britain? "The education system is superb, compared to Bangladesh. Children are allowed to think. I had four children born here and they have been taught to be broad-minded. The British are also very enterprising. The East has wisdom and tradition; Britain has dynamism. Then there is your pluralism. Over 100 languages are spoken in Tower Hamlets alone. And, finally, there is your tolerance. We may have graffiti and bottles thrown at Muslims but, after 9/11, no Muslims were killed. For all its faults, we do feel grateful to this country." One reason he settled here, he says, was that we make such wonderful cheese. "I came here from Bangladesh in 1978 to do my air force training. I loved the food in the officers' mess - all those cheeses I had never tasted, the yoghurts. I adored fish and chips." He also likes British dress: "I feel comfortable in shirts and suits." His father was a farmer with a little land just outside the capital, Dhaka; his elder brother and mother both died when he was young. "I joined the air force because I was good at school, so I wasn't going to be a farmer. A few years after my training in Britain I realised I was a better academic than a pilot. I got a scholarship to do a PhD in physics at King's College London. I taught in Haringey - that was tough. But I liked it here: the cool weather, the easy nature of the British. This is my home." Dr Bari has also warmed to football: "My children love it. When England play, we always fly the flag." All Muslims here, he believes, must learn English. "It is a vital skill. At my home, we speak Bangla but my children speak English fluently." However, he does not think that Muslims should adopt too many British practices; Britain should espouse many more Muslim traditions, he says. "Arranged marriages are a good idea. These are not forced on children but it is a way of parents helping to guide their children to make the right choices. In youth, you are very emotional; you just go on instinct. Elders can look at compatibility, background, intentions. It is a wonderful system. "I had an arranged marriage. My daughter is 22 and we will help her to choose a man. But it will be a choice made by all of us. It would be a good thing for British society to take on board. Traditionally, you had far more of this; now, it is all done on impulse." British schoolchildren, of course, might not take that kindly to their parents interfering: "There are so many broken marriages here, so much divorce, and it causes terrible social issues. "I work with children with behavioural difficulties, with one-parent families, broken families. If only parents had helped to guide their children to choose partners they could spend their whole lives with." He warms to his theme. "Pre-marital sex is wrong, cohabitation is wrong; by the time you get married, you are bored. There is no mystery. Muslim marriages tend to be more successful, more of a partnership. "And gambling is terrible here. All physical and mental effort should go into earning money, working for it. I think that Muslims can help the British here." He admits that non-Muslims are unlikely ever to forswear alcohol but says: "Britain would definitely be better off without it. Alcohol addiction is worse than drugs - it destroys families." Yesterday the Church of England produced two prayers for the football World Cup but Dr Bari wishes that it would take more of a moral lead.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury should give guidance; he should be promoting moral issues."
The Prince of Wales gets more marks: "He needs to be a multi-faith monarch but he is a hero to the Muslim community. He is always trying to include us."
Dr Bari also thinks that there should be more faith schools and that British children should be encouraged to attend Muslim establishments.
"We are taking the blame for the events of the past few years, but we should be saying, 'Look at what is good about our culture. Come to our schools. They are better: they have more discipline, more respect, better exam results, children work hard, there are fewer mini-skirts, there is less bad behaviour, the teachers can get on with their jobs.' "We could have Christians, Jews and Muslims. We would teach all religions, as well as British values. We could really help. "Muslims are batting for Britain. We are telling other Muslim countries, 'Do business with us' and we made a huge effort to encourage Muslim countries to back us for the Olympics."
By now it is 7pm and Dr Bari must go to pray. As he leaves, he says:
"We really are doing our bit for Britain. We are flying the flag. But the British should be embracing the Muslim community rather than condemning it."