Spotlight is on most radical clerics

FOR Omar Mohammed bin Bakri, the revolution which will reshape the world in an Islamic vision will begin in London. Born in 1958 in Syria, the father of seven lives in Tottenham where he receives about £300 a week in benefits.

Formerly a stalwart of the controversial Finsbury Park Mosque in the north of the city, Bakri now has the role of an itinerant preacher, addressing various small radical groups of Muslims.

For Bakri, heaven on earth will see the world united under a single Islamic government, the Caliphate, with those not following the faith relegated to the status of protected minorities.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

London is estimated to be home to 60% of the UK's 1.7 million Muslims and is regarded by many in the Islamic world as almost their de facto world capital.

Amid Arab cafes, halal restaurants, Islamic bookshops and some of the world's most lavish and best-attended mosques, clerics can debate theology and practise with a freedom which would be unthinkable in much of the Muslim world.

In an effort to build national unity, many Muslim countries have cracked down on anything but the nationally approved version of the faith. Believers who advocate the establishment of a single Islamic nation can be persecuted.

In the UK, however, all the sects and factions of the religion are free to worship and debate. As long as they obey the law, they may be as extreme as they wish.

One of them is the Egyptian Islamist, Yasser Sirri, an opponent of the autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak in his native country. Sirri, who has spent several months in Belmarsh prison accused of links to al-Qaeda, had initially fled to Yemen, then to Sudan. He found refuge in London, where he set up an "Islamic observation centre" focusing on the "holy struggle" against "ungodly" Arab regimes and their supporters in the West.

Britain's tolerance has been too much for other governments, including some friendly to the UK.

The Russian government is exasperated by the fact that Chechen separatists, such as Akhmed Zakayev, whom Moscow views as an Islamist terrorist, have been granted asylum in the UK.

And last week President Musharraf of Pakistan, pointed out that the Islamist organisation Al-Muhajiroun had called for his overthrow "and yet operate with impunity" in the UK.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For Dr Ayman El-Disouky, a lecturer in Arabic and Comparative Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London,

the question has to be how much longer the United Kingdom will be a friendly location for Muslims.

He said: "So far things look positive. The consensus in the media and in the population has been to separate the attacks from the Muslim and Arab communities. We can only hope that goes on."

Related topics: