THE BLOG

Don't Blame Radicalisation on Britain's Mosques

21/10/2014 12:37 BST | Updated 20/12/2014 10:59 GMT

An unfortunate but perhaps inevitable consequence of the growing numbers of young British men travelling to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS is that the communities from which they hail will at best be scrutinised for answers, and at worst be blamed for playing a part in their radicalisation.

In particular, fingers will be pointed at mosques across Britain, which risk being viewed as breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism. The latest place of worship to be singled out in this manner is the Al Manaar Mosque in Westbourne Park, West London. In a recent article in the Evening Standard, the journalist Joshi Herrmann writes that many of the young men who have travelled to Syria had prayed at this mosque and lived in the surrounding area.

While Herrmann is careful not to overtly implicate the mosque - and indeed he does favourably quote at length the centre's chairman - the impact of the article will be such that many will go away, having read it, believing the mosque has played some part in determining the actions of these men.

This fills me with great sadness because Al Manaar is no Finsbury Park. There has never been a self-proclaimed preacher ranting outside and there has also never been any politicising from inside.

In fact, quite the opposite. The emphasis of the mosque, formerly known as the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, has always been on educating and training the local community, which, as Herrmann points out, is amongst the poorest in the country. It provides literary, numeracy and computing classes to children and adults, as well as offering a good number of social facilities for anyone who needs them.

I know this because my brother has regularly attended Friday prayers there since it opened in 2001. My mother is also a visitor and I too attend Eid prayers a couple of times a year.

It is a bright, airy, welcoming place where anyone who walks in, regardless of his or her religion, will be offered a cup of tea and some snacks by the men and women who work there.

Visitors are free to sit, chat, read, pray and even sleep in the numerous rooms without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. It really is the hub of the community, so to tarnish it with accusations that most people find abhorrent is false and unfair.

In all the time the mosque has been in existence it has never been accused of allowing any remotely contentious practices to take place on its premises. It doesn't even allow the distribution of any literature. In fact, my brother tells me that far from preaching anti-civic sentiments during the Friday sermons, the imams often stress the point that being a good Muslim means being a good citizen.

Still, it seems that some of the men who have joined ISIS, including the hip-hop artist Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, really did use the mosque to pray. But it would be completely inaccurate to blame the mosque for their actions. As its chairman, Dr Abdulkarim Khalil told Herrmann, on any given Friday, up to 2000 people can attend prayers. How is it possible to police the conversations of every single one of them as they mill around the car-park or on the nearby streets? That is the same as singularly blaming the principles of a university for any illegal activities its students are involved in, or holding to account the bosses in a workplace where employees are planning criminal activities without their knowledge.

The truth is that these days, if anyone is contemplating joining a radical organisation, a mosque is the last place he would choose to broadcast his intentions. This is not just because of the strict surveillance that has been put in place, but also because there is a good chance that his own fellow worshipers will be the first to expose him. So while there is evidence to suggest that mosques may well have been breeding grounds for terrorism in the past, this is now longer the case.

In fact, the factors resulting in radicalisation are considered not to be mosque attendance, but a complex combination of gang culture, language barriers, the internet and social deprivation, all of which need to be addressed with a greater degree of commitment than we have seen so far.

If anything, many mosques, as well as providing educational facilities where local authorities and the government have failed, actually play an essential role in the prevention of radicalisation.

For this reason, any fal

se press against them is not only damaging to the communities that rely on their services, but may even result in many more men heading to their deaths in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere.