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Monday, June 27, 2022

Imam Asim responds to Government sacking saying he rejects accusations of fuelling “community tension”

The Imam of Makkah Mosque in Leeds has rejected claims that he fuelled “community tension” calling them “inaccurate” as he responds to his public sacking as a Government advisor on Islamophobia.

Imam Qari Muhammed Asim MBE has responded to his sacking as an independent advisor to the Government, refuting accusations of fuelling “community tension” calling them “inaccurate” and rejecting claims of “undermining democratic principles and free speech.”

On Saturday, Imam Asim of Makkah Mosque in Leeds was publicly fired from his role as a government advisor on Islamophobia by the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), allegedly for a post he made on social media regarding the controversial The Lady of Heaven film.

In July of 2019, Imam Asim was appointed as an independent advisor to the Government to lead a process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia and has contributed in a voluntary capacity to the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in a voluntary capacity for over ten years.

Imam Qari Asim has rejected the Government’s claims that he has fuelled “community tension”.

Imam Asim condemned the film on his Facebook page last week, calling the film “derogatory,” saying that it has caused “much pain and hurt to Muslims.” He added that the community had been “successful in some places” in getting cinemas to not play the film and that in other areas, “negotiations are still ongoing.”

He also mentioned that a protest was to take place in Leeds last Monday and that not all scholars are in favour of protests, but those who participate in any protest must remain vigilant that any statements or actions during such protests don’t breed hatred against any group or “go against any of our values.”

The Government claimed that the post promotes “restriction of artistic freedom” which has led to “religious hatred” and anti-Shia rhetoric, which is “incompatible with the role as Government advisor.”

The Government’s letter to Imam Asim, read: “You have encouraged an ongoing campaign to prevent cinemas screening the film Lady of Heaven, a clear effort to restrict artistic expression, and the campaign you have supported has led to street protests which have fomented religious hatred.

“You will have no doubt seen reports of the scenes outside different cinema venues. These included deeply disturbing videos of sectarian chanting and anti-Shia hatred.

“As you know, anti-Shia hatred is a longstanding and very serious issue, which must be challenged at every opportunity as part of a wider effort to combat anti-Muslim hatred. We were disappointed to see that you failed to condemn some of the protests complicit in these behaviours.”

Imam Asim rejects the DLUHC’s claims that he has “acted to undermine democratic values or spread community tension and religious hatred.”  In a letter posted online, Imam Asim claims that he was not informed about his sacking and that he found out through social media.

In the letter addressed to the DLUHC, Imam Asim, said: “Unfortunately, as the Government did not contact me about these matters, there were no opportunities to clarify any misunderstandings.

“I learned about the DLUHC’s recent letter addressed to me from the media and subsequently found it on the Government’s website. I still have not received the letter personally from DLUHC, which did not contact me about the letter’s contents before releasing it.”

Michael Gove is the current minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Image: Gov.uk.

The letter goes on to say: “The current Government has not engaged with me at all on the definition of Islamophobia.

“Due to this apparent lack of political will at the very top level of Government, I was not given any resources to undertake the work that my work demanded. This has fuelled perceptions that the current Government is not serious about tackling anti-Muslim prejudice.

“The Government has opposed the existing proposed definitions of ‘Islamophobia’ yet has completely failed to undertake any steps to facilitate the work of establishing a new definition in the last three years.”

In the letter, he mentions that he “did not personally attend or organise any protests outside cinemas regarding the Lady of Heaven film.”

He added: “I fully understand and support the values of free speech, but as we are all aware, there is also a nuanced and complex debate around when free speech has boundaries and limits.

“Where there is a risk of fuelling extremism and tension being caused in communities, free speech has to be exercised responsibly in the public interest. I am of the firm opinion that the challenge to and the critique of the Lady of Heaven film is part of free speech, though violence and intimidation can never be.

“My concern has always been that due to how the film was made, it risked fuelling extremism and tension in communities that would undermine cohesion in British society. My position is aligned with the vast majority of Sunni and Shia scholars and communities who are not in favour of the film being screened in cinemas because of its divisive and highly sectarian content which appears to be aimed at fostering hostility between Muslims.”

The letter also read: “I did unequivocally condemn anti-Shia hatred displayed during the protests in Leeds, which came to my attention, to my own congregation. As soon as I learned about the anti-Shia slogans being chanted during the Leeds protests, I publicly and firmly condemned such hateful rhetoric in our Makkah Mosque in Leeds.

Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West and vice-chair of the APPG for British Muslims tweeted out in support of Imam Asim.

“I therefore strongly disagree with the characterisation of me in the letter as someone who has supported anti-Shia statements.

“I also refute any attempts to attribute comments made by individuals attending the protests to me, or any suggestion that I have any association with sectarian rhetoric.”

Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West and the vice-chair of The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, tweeted in support of Imam Asim.

She wrote: “Shameful removal of Qari Asim. Appointed in 2019, never given terms of reference, never heard back from ministers and never allowed to start work towards tackling Islamophobia. [I] agree with Qari Asim on Islamophobia, there is a ‘lack of political will at the very top-level of gov.’”

In an open letter to Imam Asim, Ajmal Masroor, a broadcaster, author, relationship counsellor and fellow imam, said that he was warned not to take the role three years ago by others, comparing his position with that of a “poisoned chalice.”

Imam Masroor, said: “Qari Asim, if you remember when you were appointed to this position, many of us clearly warned you to reconsider. This position came with a poisoned chalice, you were being asked to advise an office that has a history of never taking advice from genuine Muslims.

“They like advice from Muslims who agree with their position first, those Muslims who would be prepared to cower to their diktats, sell their soul and worst of all be a reject from the wider Muslim community. It is part of their modus operandi to hire ‘brown sahibs’ – a colonial term coined in the Indian subcontinent during the British Colonial era for Indians who pretended to be white and for those who colluded with the occupiers.

Imam Ajmal Masroor said Imam Asim was warned by others to not take the job. Image: GMB.

“Hiring and firing their ‘subjects’ were everyday affairs for the colonialists. I am afraid old habits die hard, some in the British Government still think Muslims are their subjects and they are still their colonial masters.”

Dr Wasiq Wasiq a founding trustee for the charity Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS) and expert in extremism and terrorism said that it was “right” for Imam Asim to be removed as an independent advisor in order to protect free speech but that it doesn’t “tackle the core issue of the extremism seen at the protests”.

He said on Twitter: “Qari Asim has been sacked by the government for campaigning to limit free speech which is incompatible with the role of government advisor.

“Qari Asim confirms free speech within the law is important but appears to fall short of confirming how The Lady Of Heaven transgresses that.

“He seems to suggest it could fuel hatred, sectarianism and extremism but, [his] post doesn’t acknowledge that very risk at current protests. The government have taken the first step in defending freedom of speech by sacking its advisor on anti-Muslim hatred.

“Whilst this is seen as a good thing, it does not tackle the core issue of the extremism seen at the protests and the support cinemas need to screen the movie.”

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