Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, responds to the Observer reports
Last week The Observer published a front-page article, a two-page investigation and an editorial, all seeking to question the Muslim Council of Britain.
In the very first paragraph The Observer stated that the MCB stood 'accused of failing mainstream Muslim Britain', owing to its stance in upholding Palestinian rights in a BBC Panorama programme. And who was doing the accusing? Well, one had to read another 16 paragraphs to find out. It turned out to be someone called Abdul-Rehman Malik from the magazine Q-News.
The Observer claimed to have uncovered the MCB's 'roots in the extremist politics of Pakistan'. What roots, though? The reporter, Martin Bright, said senior MCB figures had stated that Mawlana Mawdudi - the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami party - was an 'important Islamic thinker' (and indeed he was) and that they shared some of his views while disagreeing with others.
The Jamaat-i-Islami party happens to be a perfectly legitimate and democratic Islamic party, which through an alliance with other parties is actually in power in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
The Observer also described the MCB as a 'self-appointed organisation' and said it had been criticised for 'having no women prominently involved'. The truth is that more than 400 MCB affiliates hold elections every two years to elect the central MCB leadership and one of the Assistant Secretary-Generals of the MCB is actually a woman, Unaiza Malik.
The MCB's affiliates include Sunni and Shia groups. In fact, in terms of its diversity and elected nature, the MCB is a unique body not just in the UK but throughout the West, bringing together Muslims from many ethnic and national backgrounds.
The Observer describes the Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith - a national affiliate of the MCB - as an 'extremist sect' for its negative views about dogs, watching soap operas and shaking hands with women. Similar views can be found among Orthodox Jewish communities in the UK - would The Observer describe them as 'extremist sects' too?
Astonishingly, the article holds that the depiction in pictorial form of the Prophet Muhammad is only opposed by 'some strict Muslims'. This is an almost complete misrepresentation: the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world regard any pictorial depiction of the Prophet as forbidden.
The Observer's editorial condemned the MCB's refusal to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day while neglecting to mention the reason. The MCB has called for a more inclusive 'Genocide Memorial Day' and believes that this would make the 'Never Again' subtext of the day more effective and pertinent in a world where the past few years have witnessed carnage in Srebrenica, Chechnya and Rwanda. By singling out the Holocaust Memorial Day as a central reason to criticise the MCB, The Observer confirmed the MCB's argument that there is indeed an 'Israel test' to which British Muslims are being subjected.