We'll defend freedom in Harrow

Ever since our successful demonstration against al-Muhajiroun (under the name of Islam4UK) on the 31 October which turned into a celebration of democracy and freedom, we have been inundated with calls and emails from Muslims and non-Muslims alike who have expressed their appreciation at our efforts to uphold democratic values and those of freedom and liberty in the face of extremism and bigotry. These are the values which are supposed to underpin our society and foster community cohesion.

Upon finding out that a campaign group called Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) was planning a protest on 13 December outside Harrow mosque over its extension, similar to another one held by the English Defence League on 11 September 2009, British Muslims for Secular Democracy felt it necessary to open up a dialogue with SIOE to try and deter them from going ahead with their plans to protest outside a place of worship. In this regard I wrote a letter to the SIOE spokesperson Stephen Gash who happened to be present at the anti-Islam4UK demonstration at Piccadilly Circus, and with whom some of our supporters had an interesting exchange of ideas about the role of Islam as a religion in the UK and SIOE's viewpoint. In my letter a sincere attempt has been made to convey to SIOE our deep-seated concerns about the perception of SIOE's aims and in particular the methods they employ to highlight their concerns. They are alienating an increasing number of British Muslims who are otherwise equally concerned about the rise of political Islam and are appalled at religious extremism within their own communities.

We are confused about SIOE's choice of venue for the protest, since Harrow as a borough is deemed to have harmonious community relations and any protest outside a place of worship is in principle hugely distasteful. The point we put to SIOE is that just because Muslims attend certain mosques out of convenience this does not mean that they subscribe to the views of the mosque committees and management who might have extremist or hardline sympathies, which, in any case, does not appear to be the case with Harrow Central Mosque. Representatives from the mosque joined our protest against al Muhajiroun and their leading members wholeheartedly support the merits of secular democracy alongside BMSD.

It has become apparent since the 31 October demo any attempts to curtail the religious freedom and human rights of the citizens of this country will be met with stiff resistance by pro-democracy groups like ours. Whether such attempts are made by the likes of Anjem Choudary who daydreams of implementing his own version of sharia in this country, or the SIOE campaign which aims to restrict Muslims' right to practice their religion, each campaign will be matched by enthusiastic democrats who have decided not to sit on the sidelines anymore and will come out to peacefully defend the fundamental rights of the people of Britain. However, at the same time, BMSD strongly advises all Muslims to exercise extreme caution and not to patronise any religious institutions, be they mosques or madrasas, which spread hatred or promote mental and physical segregation from mainstream society. Unfortunately there are a few such Muslim institutions whose activities and that of those affiliated to them have given ammunition to the groups including SIOE and the English Defence League.

We sincerely hope that on this occasion SIOE will call off its protest and respond in kind by opening a formal channel of communication with us and other like-minded pro-democracy groups in order to address the issue of religious extremism and the rise of the far right, both of which are threatening community cohesion in this country. If they persist in their endeavours, BMSD would have no choice but to counter SIOE's protest with one of our own, one in favour of democratic rights and religious freedom.

Source: Shaaz Mahboob / Comment is free