Muslim Brotherhood–inspired Islam, embraced mostly by Muslims hailing from the Middle East and North Africa, is an activist variant of Islam. It uses religion as a political ideology to mobilize society in order to bring about change in the form of an Islamic society governed by sharia (Islamic law).
Hizb-ut-Tahrir-inspired Islam is a missionary, transnational movement of Islam striving to restore the caliphate as a prerequisite to unify Muslims and apply Islamic law.
The Salafi school of Islam is a puritanical, transnational movement of Islam seeking to create an Islamic utopian state by returning to the authentic beliefs and practices of the first generations of Muslims (the “righteous ancestors”). The ideology of Salafism split into three schools in response to disagreement over the methodology by which to bring about an Islamic state. Quietist Salafists are apolitical, and favor creating an Islamic state by focusing first on Islamic indoctrination and education, based on ridding Muslims of reprehensible innovations (bid’ah) and on a strict interpretation of the Koran and the sunna. This school is represented by the Wahhabi-Salafi religious establishment, and is funded by Saudi Arabia. Activist Salafists assert their claim to politics in response to what they consider the miserable failure of the politics of Arab/Muslim rulers. Their ideology overlaps with that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Finally, jihadi Salafists believe that the establishment of an Islamic state can only come through jihad in the path of Allah, and that quietists and activists are wasting their time. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Salafi-Jihadi organizations.
In addition to these fundamentalist schools of Islam, several transnational organizations, inspired by these schools, such as Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat-e-Islami and Al Muhajiroun, have been active in Muslim society. They share the belief that Muslims in the West should not lose their Islamic identity and should identify with Islam, including adhering to its tenets and principles. Al Muhajiroun, similar to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, strives to create a global Islamic caliphate. No less significant, charismatic radical preachers have played a decisive role in promoting these schools of Islam and in radicalizing a significant number of British Muslims. Among the most radicals of preachers are the following:
Abu Qatada, a Salafi cleric and a Palestinian-Jordanian émigré to Great Britain, was considered Osama bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe. He was reportedly a spiritual leader of the Algerian Salafi-jihadi Armed Islamic Group. His sermons attracted terrorist figures such as Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, and his video sermons were found in the Hamburg apartment of Mohamed Atta, leader of the September 11 terror attack. After several unsuccessful attempts, in 2013 the United Kingdom deported him to Jordan, where he was cleared of terrorist charges. In 2016, he released a video on his YouTube account in which he accused the Jews of world domination and asserted that the so-called “Blood libel” against them is true.
Omar Bakri, a Syrian Salafi cleric, played a key role in organizing Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun, which was disbanded in 2004. He underscored Muslim supremacy and promised to “fly the Islamic flag over Downing Street.” In 1999, he called for the murder of Prime Minister John Major. He also justified suicide bombings. He escaped to Lebanon in 2005, whereupon the British government banned him from returning. In 2010, Lebanese authorities sentenced him to life in prison on terrorism charges, but he was released when testimony against him was withdrawn. In 2014, Lebanese authorities sentenced him to six years in prison for supporting Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric who reportedly lost an eye and an arm in Afghanistan, entered London on a student visa in 1979. In the 1990s he fought alongside the Bosniaks against the Serbs. He was a preacher at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which was funded by Saudi Arabia. He is a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole. In June 2001 he proposed killing President Bush. He is considered as a spiritual guide for Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber”; Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who attempted to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris; and Ahmed Ressam, who attempted to bomb Los Angeles Airport at the millennium. Among the worshippers at his mosque were three of the 2005 London bombers. In 2012 Britain finally agreed to extradite him to the United States. Al-Masri was found guilty of supporting terrorism by a court in New York in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
Anjem Choudary is a British-born Islamist who, along with Omar Bakri Muhammad, helped organize Al Muhajiroun. Following the closure of Al Muhajiroun, Choudary reportedly helped found couple of Islamist organizations, including Al Ghurabaa, which was subsequently banned. Choudary then became the spokesman for Islam4UK. He vocally criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and lauded the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, and July 7, 2005, terror attacks. He supports the application of sharia in Great Britain. In September 2016, Choudary was sentenced to five years and six months in prison for his support of the Islamic State. Khuram Shazad Butt, a perpetrator of the London terror attack in June 2017, was associated with Al Muhajiroun.
Taken all this under consideration, it is safe to argue that Islamist and Salafist organizations and preachers have exploited Britain’s liberal pluralistic policies to entrench their ideologies in a segment of the Muslim community. These Islamist and Salafist organizations are transnational missionary movements that have been active in various European capitals. Significantly, Islamists and Salafists have been successful not only in promoting their extremist ideologies but also in undermining the fealty of Muslim youth to their homelands. This absence of loyalty, coupled with the incubation of the Islamist and Salafist triumphalist ideology in the minds and hearts of Muslim youth, has emotionally and psychologically detached radicalized Muslim youth from their British non-Muslim compatriots. They became the sinful, infidel others, whose fate should be murder. What other explanation can one posit for the drivers who indiscriminately plowed their cars into innocent people along London Bridge and Nice’s Promenade des Anglais? This lethal line of separation, where “you” is Britain and “we” is the Muslims, was put on full display by a posthumous videotape featuring British-born Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 2005 London terror bombing:
Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood . . . Therefore, we are going to talk to you in a language you understand . . . We are at war and I am a soldier. Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.
Ominously, London, like other European capitals, has been complacent in curbing the missionary activities of Islamist and Salafist organizations, which dissociate themselves from violence yet promote the ideological path to violence. A cursory look at the ideological affiliation of mosques in Great Britain betrays the widespread of Islamist and Salafist mosques, even though their numbers pale in comparison to mainstream mosques. Out of a total of approximately 1,800 mosques and prayer halls, 754 are Deobandi (bearing in mind that not all Deobandi mosques adopt a fundamentalist version of Islam), fifty-one Mawdudi-inspired, 121 Salafi and eight Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood). No less significant, a significant number of these mosques have a capacity of over three thousand, making them not only large religious venues, but also central for social and cultural activities.
No wonder, many Muslim Europeans have gone to Syria to fight within the ranks of ISIS and sister Salafi-jihadi organizations. By the same token, ISIS and Al Qaeda have found within Muslim Europe’s community a fertile and receptive environment to disseminate through social media their theological views, to publicize and justify their actions on Islamic grounds, and to recruit European Muslims. In fact, both ISIS and Al Qaeda have been adept at using social media and transforming it into a virtual, transnational mosque, connecting radicalized Muslims and inspiring so-called lone-wolf terror attacks. To be sure, the defeat of both ISIS and Al Qaeda will not bring about the elimination of extremism in Europe.
London, among other European capitals, needs to curtail Islamist and Salafist schools of Islam, regardless as to whether or not they support jihad. In this respect, European capitals, in addition to beefing up their security and bettering their intelligence sharing and cooperation, have to promote their individual and collective cultures as integral parts of Western civilization. At the heart of this undertaking European capitals should endorse constructive and honest criticism of Islam’s perversions, instead of indiscriminately casting the epithet of Islamophobia on concerned activists or scholars. This is what makes both the insolence and probity of Western thought the critical vessel for continuously advancing Western culture. In other words, Europe needs to help shape a European Islam in line with Western culture and more, and therefore must not shy from confronting Islamism, Salafism and their apologists.