A Shi’a mosque in Leeds has backed one of Leeds’s prominent Sunni Imams after the Government accused him of promoting anti-Shi’a hatred by “failing to condemn individuals” who part took in sectarian chants during some protests.
Imam Qari Asim MBE, of Makkah Mosque, was publicly fired from his role as a government advisor on Islamophobia by the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) on Saturday, allegedly for a post he made on social media regarding the controversial The Lady of Heaven film, which claims to tell the story of Lady Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad.
The film was also criticised for depicting the Prophet Muhammad and for its portrayal of prominent revered figures in early Sunni Islam.
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 claim that Imam Asim ‘Failed to condemn’ anti-Shi’a hatred is patently false. We could have furnished them with the facts had they troubled themselves with checking. We take this opportunity to thank Imam Asim for his courage and leadership in condemning anti-Shi’a rhetoric.” – Baab-ul-Ilm.
Last night, Baab-ul-Ilm, a Shi’a Islamic centre and mosque in Leeds, published a statement backing Imam Asim and accused the Government of using the Shi’a community “as a scapegoat.”
The letter said: “Imam Asim is local to the Baab-ul-Ilm Centre and has visited, spoken at, and led programmes at the mosque on several occasions. Therefore, we have an excellent relationship with him and know his activities well. We can confirm that Imam Asim gave a sermon at his Makkah Masjid after evening prayers condemning the anti-Shi’a rhetoric used at the protests.
“[He] messaged the Baab-ul-Ilm Mosque to inform us of this and stated his ‘sincere support and solidarity’ with the Shi’a community.
“[He] maintained regular contact throughout the period of the protest and events, demonstrating Muslim unity. He invited the Shi’a community to events at Makkah Masjid to discuss matters where anti-Shi’a rhetoric was again publicly and unreservedly rejected.”
The letter added: “The Government’s claim that Imam Asim ‘Failed to condemn’ anti-Shi’a hatred is patently false. We could have furnished them with the facts had they troubled themselves with checking. We take this opportunity to thank Imam Asim for his courage and leadership in condemning anti-Shi’a rhetoric.
“Dismissing Imam Asim in this negligent manner and under the guise of anti-Shi’a rhetoric has fuelled misunderstandings between the two communities because many have now been deceived into thinking Imam Asim is somehow anti-Shi’a or failed to quell anti-Shi’a sentiments, something no one thought before this letter.”
Toby Haworth, the Bishop of Bradford, has also spoken out against the Government’s dismissal of Imam Asim stating that it “undermines dialogue” between different religious communities.
In an article published by the Yorkshire Post, Bishop Haworth, said: “Imam Asim has a proven track record of bringing people together within his Muslim community and beyond to talk about contentious issues. He has courageously spoken out against the persecution of Christians and others in Pakistan and elsewhere.”
He added: “Publicly undermining and excluding such a constructive figure as Imam Asim risks leaving the field open to less constructive voices.”