UK

British Military Imam On The Flawed Logic Behind 'More Muslims Join ISIS' Comments

10/11/2014 15:28 GMT | Updated 10/11/2014 17:59 GMT

SEE ALSO: British Military's First Imam Speaks Out On The Poppy Hijab

British Muslims will be more likely to fight for their own country in the future rather than join radical militant groups like Islamic State (IS), one of the most senior Muslims working with UK's armed forces has said.

Asim Hafiz, who became the military's first imam in 2005 and is also Islamic religious advisor to its most senior commanders, was responding to claims more British Muslims are fighting for IS, than their own country's military.

Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said there were "twice as many" fighting for the Islamist terrorist group. He estimated around 1,500 had joined IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in the last three years. There are between 600 and 700 serving with the military.

But Mr Hafiz said the comparison was flawed, partly because joining the British Military was a much harder task than joining IS.

asim hafiz

Asim Hafiz

Although unable to comment on whether Mr Mahmood's remarks were accurate, Mr Hafiz conceded few Muslims join the armed forces, but claimed this would change. Though Muslims are around 4.4% of of the country's population, they account for less than 1% of the military.

Mr Hafiz added: "(British Muslims are) still on a journey. There's still a lot more we can do to raise awareness about what the British military is about and how it operates and that's going to take a generation before we're able to do that. We talk about the British Muslim population as if it's been here for hundreds of years. Actually, it hasn't. It's still in its infancy.

"I speak Gujrati, which is the language my parents spoke in India and speak with each other, but my son doesn't speak a word.

"We can see a process of integration taking place. I think once we pass the second generation and we have a third generation grown up, I'm more than sure we'll see a lot more people joining the armed forces."

Explaining how he thought the attitudes towards the military had evolved, Mr Hafiz said: "The first generation came here for economic betterment. They still had connections with their countries of origin, which were stable or not stable and there were particular perceptions about what the military represents there.

"When they've come to the UK and they're thinking about careers for their children, they're thinking about lawyers, dentist, doctor or a businessman. The idea of talking about military career is not on the list at the moment."

BEYOND BELIEF

He said the process of joining the armed forces, compared with that of joining IS, made it a "wrong comparison".

"We have high standards to be able to recruit people into the British military. I doubt anyone who's going to join ISIS would pass those particular tests," he said.

"The British military attracts people who are want a career, (it's) an organisation with established moral values and standards. To compare individuals to go and join ISIS to individuals joining the military is a wrong comparison."

He added: "99.9% of British Muslims are not concerned with going out there to fight and are going about their daily lives, working, contributing to society.

"That's the number that I'd like to focus on. The vast majority are law-abiding citizens who are against terrorism and extremism who would not want to see individuals go and join a terrorist organisation."

During the interview - part of HuffPost UK's Beyond Belief series - he said UK Muslims were increasingly thinking of themselves as "British".

The full text of our interview with Mr Hafiz, where he describes how fellow Muslims reacted to him becoming the British military's first imam, will be published later this week as part of the Huffington Post UK Beyond Belief series on Britons using their faith to change society.