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Environmental and Religious Extremism: The Raging Fires of our Fragile World


There are three factors required for a wildfire to occur. The first is an ignition source coming into contact with vegetation. The second is heat, and the third is a sufficient oxygen supply from the ambient air. Wildfires begin from a single spark and quickly become an inferno, enveloping and consuming everything in their path. They are destructive, swallowing the diversity of the forest, and robbing animals and plants of their homes, their families, their lives.

Indonesia burned last year, and is beginning to burn again. Its fires have been caused by human greed, with businesses preferring to use cheap 'slash and burn' methods of forest clearance, regardless of the damage caused. People have died due to these fires, hundreds of thousands have suffered respiratory problems, animals such as wild orangutans are edging ever closer to extinction. The fires have been releasing around 20 million tons of carbon dioxide per day, and still there is no end in sight. We have collectively decided to put money and consumerism before the health of our planet and its inhabitants.

And then there was Glasgow. Not an environmental disaster, but a tragedy of another kind. Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper Asad Shah brutally murdered, not by an 'Islamaphobe' but allegedly by another Muslim in what the police have described as a 'religiously prejudiced' act of sectarian hatred. This was not a one-off, freak event that we can simply consign to the annals of history, but a sign of a spreading wildfire which began in Pakistan and threatens to encompass the UK too.

Under the dictatorship of General Zia Al-Haq in the 1970s and 80s, being a member of the peace-loving Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was forbidden by Pakistani law. Since then, persecution against the community, as well as against other minorities such as Christians and Hindus, has sharply increased. Intolerance has become pervasive, and from Pakistan it has spread throughout the world, and to the UK. A Tooting Imam told his congregation to boycott shops in the area owned by Ahmadis. Just in recent weeks, both a Bradford Imam and the leader of Glasgow's largest mosque used their platforms of power not to calm religious tensions and sectarianism but instead to glorify Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, who prominently opposed Pakistan's blasphemy laws - used to persecute Ahmadi Muslims. A Facebook post by an Islamist group posted its 'congratulations to all Muslims' following the murder of Asad Shah.

These are not insignificant happenings. Prominent, highly-regarded Imams in this country praise extremists rather than denounce them. Their bigotry, exposed for all to see, highlights the need for the UK to confront the problem head-on, and to stamp out hate-speech at its source. If this is not done, then previously innocent minds may soon become gripped by the messages of hate which they are being preached.

And what of the Ahmadis' reaction? Despite the persecution and killings it has suffered over the years, the community does not take the law into its own hands. Having a global spiritual leader, a role model in the form of a Caliph, who possesses a philosophy of patience, peace and prayer must have helped in this regard. This Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, repeatedly enjoins every Ahmadi to strive to create a world of harmony through acts of charity and compassion, in accordance with Islam's true teachings. Not only that, he offers practical solutions to world problems. In an LBC interview last year, as part of a number of solutions which he posited, the Caliph called for the government to monitor all sermons in Mosques, in order to identify and root out hate speech. The openness of the Ahmadiyya Community is epitomised by the fact that every Friday sermon given by the Caliph is shown live on TV, and within hours put online and translated into several languages. The Ahmadis also regularly partake in inter-religious dialogue, and encourage people to learn about their community from the source, rather than from extremist Imams.

What the Anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan teach us is that if we are not careful and prudent about the decisions we take and the acts we choose, then the suffering which initially only touches a small minority, eventually reverberates back to us all. If we turn a blind eye, and do not put out the wildfires of Indonesia and Glasgow before they are allowed to spread even further, then the devastation they create may quickly become too great to handle. What is required is an open discussion, in plain sight, about Islam in Britain and the duty of care that British Imams owe not only to their followers, but to the society at large.

There are three factors required for a wildfire to occur. The first is an ignition source - an initial movement towards hatred or a law encouraging intolerance instead of acceptance. The second is heat - flames of hatred which burn and soar through communities, causing more and more individuals to burn with anger like vegetation in a forest. The third is a sufficient oxygen supply - breathing space for extremists to vent their fury. As a global community we have allowed the fires of extremism, both environmental and religious, to scorch our souls and take our lives. Now we must take them back - we must rob extremists of space to vent their intolerance, or else before long it will engulf us too.

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