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Careful Scrutiny of Olympic Park Preaching is Required

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As people from all over the world arrive in London to cheer on their athletes at the Olympic Games, the opportunity for religious organisations to spread their word is one which appears to be too good to miss.

Here at Student Rights we have found that a number of Muslim organisations are planning on involving students in some form of Da'wah, or preaching, activities at the Olympic Park.

Whilst we would never normally write about such harmless activity, there are two groups that will be involved which do merit closer attention due to a number of worrying links with extremism.

In the past months, material related to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) UK, the British branch of one of the world's largest Muslim youth organisations, has been shared with several UK student Islamic Societies.

WAMY UK is organising 'Olympics Da'wah Training' for young people, encouraging them to take a "once in a lifetime chance to invite people to Islam" and is also holding a number of exhibitions at mosques around London during the games.

However, this benevolent exercise is overshadowed by the fact that the overseas branches of WAMY have some extremely dubious connections, with the Saudi Arabian-based charity described in evidence given to the 'National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States' as providing "cover or logistical support to Islamic terrorists".

Khaled Mishaal, the political head of Hamas, was invited by WAMY to a conference in Riyadh in 2002 and it was alleged in the evidence provided in 2003 that WAMY was also involved in funding or supporting terrorist activity in Pakistan, Kashmir, Israel and the Philippines.

Recently, in March 2012, the Canadian offshoot of WAMY was stripped of its charitable status when Canadian revenues authorities linked it to the Benevolence International Fund, a group listed by the US Treasury as Specially Designated Terrorist Organisation.

Alongside WAMY UK, Student Rights have also found that a training day and 'Street Da'wah' session at the Olympic Village, organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), has been promoted to student members of both the University of Westminster Islamic Society and the University of Westminster Global Ideas Society.

We have written about IERA on a number of occasions in the past, and provided a brief profile of their on-campus activity in our recent report 'Challenging Extremists: Practical frameworks for our universities'.

Headed by Abdurraheem Green, who has claimed in the past that that "Islam is not compatible with democracy" and that a husband may use "physical force... a very light beating" against his wife, IERA's website also used to describe Dr Zakir Naik as a member of the organisations advisory board.

Naik was banned from entering the UK in 2010, chiefly for comments he made in which he said of Osama Bin Laden "If he is terrorising the terrorists, if he is terrorising America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, every Muslim should be a terrorist".

In another case, Student Rights found that an IERA fundraiser and activist had shared numerous links to videos featuring the Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in October and November 2011.

Abdurraheem Green will be speaking at the training event before attendees are treated to a two hour "Da'wah Training Course" by Hamza Tzortzis, a researcher at IERA and former Hizb ut-Tahrir member.

Tzortzis is famous for declaring that that "we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom".

He also believes that "the Islamic Social Model can not be established successfully without a fully functioning Islamic Government, also known as the Khilafah" and is a supporter of barbaric punishments including amputation.

That IERA are involved in teaching students how to engage with, and even convert, new Muslims is slightly concerning given a number of their speaker's views.

The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of WAMY UK, whose moderation is still tainted by their association with overseas partners who have apparent links to terrorist organisations.

If we are to guarantee that these Olympics are not used by groups like IERA to spread intolerance amongst visitors to the UK we should ensure that prostelysing at any events is carefully regulated.

To deny people their freedom to preach would be deeply wrong, yet we should ensure that we know the full story of any group that seeks to spread its message at the games.