On 14 February 1989, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa:
“I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world … that the author of the book titled The Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been declared madhur el-dam [‘those whose blood must be shed’]. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islam again.”
Salman Rushdie was the author, and in addition to the death sentence contained in the fatwa, Iran offered a bounty of six million dollars for his assassination. Rushdie survived, but over the next few years translators and publishers of the book would be attacked all around the world, with dozens of casualties.
It would later transpire that the fatwa originated with Kalim Siddiqui (1931-1996), the former director of the now-dissolved Muslim Institute and the founder the since-dissolved Muslim Parliament of Great Britain; he had travelled to Iran to ask the Ayatollah to issue it. This was only the most salient British connection.
The Rushdie Affair was intrinsically interwoven with British Muslim feeling; it was rooted in Britain, and fundamentally carved out the British Islamist scene we see today. This report will look at the history of Islamism in the United Kingdom (UK): its ideological roots, the challenges it poses to cohesion and resilience to radicalisation, how it manifests itself, and how it has been and should be interacted with.
Islamism in the UK manifests itself via many different organisations but mainly stems from two key influences: Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) from South Asia and the Arab Muslim Brotherhood (MB). This report intends to give an overview of Islamism’s roots descending from these two streams. It takes the Rushdie Affair as a starting point, owing to the galvanic effect it had on Muslim communities in the UK and the awakening it provided for Islamist organisations.
The report chooses a number of organisations to discuss in greater detail as a means of providing this oversight into the Islamist and Islamist-influenced milieu. The report identifies a number of themes that the organisations and individuals related to them focus on, among them: the notion of institutionalised Islamophobia in the UK, conflicts that are perceived as being a part of a Western war on Islam, and Islamic education.
The report finds a number of problems that Islamism creates in the UK: creating for Muslims, a sense of being under threat in the UK, in particular threat from the state, and a sense that the Western world is against Islam globally. This sows division and leads individuals to be less integrated, less trusting of non-Muslims and the government, and more vulnerable to radicalization. The academic theory underpinning this will be unpacked.
Also included in this report but not necessarily clearly falling within the remit of an Islamist organization is Khatme Nubuwwat (KN). KN is a sectarian South Asian movement that is heavily influenced by Islamist organizations such as JI. It has had a devastating impact on a specific community in the UK: Ahmadiyya Muslims. Since KN does not easily fall into the category of Islamist, and does not have the East versus West focus that is so concerning amongst other organizations in the UK, it gets readily overlooked in discussions of extremism. However, KN’s influence and that of others that share in its outlook led to the sectarian murder of Assad Shah, an Ahmadi shopkeeper in Scotland, in 2016. The impact of KN and those that share in prioritising anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric need to be discussed; they are the canary in the coalmine of extremism in the UK.
The main purpose of the report is to provide the reader with a greater sense of Islamism’s roots and its manifestations in the UK.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this report represent the author alone.