New Delhi Times Bureau
Apr 11th, 2016
The Central Mosque, Gorbals, Glasgow
Hafiz Abdul Hamid and Chaudhry Sabir Ali – leading figures at two mosques in Scotland (UK) – have been found to have links with the proscribed group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan which has previously committed massacres in Pakistan. Both occupied senior positions in SSP’s UK branch; Shabir Ali is the Head of religious events at Glasgow Central Mosque, and Hafiz Abdul Hamid is the leader of Polwarth Mosque in Edinburgh.
Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) is a militant, mainly anti-Shia, political party formed in Pakistan in the 1980s and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is its armed off-shoot. Both SSP and LeJ aim to transform Pakistan into a Sunni state by violent means with total control of Sharia law. SSP is part of the Deobandi movement which espouses an orthodox interpretation of Islam sympathetic to Taliban hence was banned by UK in 2001 and Pakistan in 2002 due to links with Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Since its formation, the group has waged a campaign of sectarian violence against Shias, whom it considers to be heretics, Kafirs (non-believers). It has unleashed numerous deadly attacks against other religious minorities- Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism- in Pakistan. LeJ bombing in 2013 targeted Shia Muslims in the Pakistani city of Quetta killing 100 people.
Sabir Ali is a member of the executive committee at Scotland’s largest Glasgow Central Mosque where Sunni Muslims of Pakistani origin constitute the largest group, holding the position of ‘convenor of Ishat-e-Islam’, or leader of religious events for long that made him a key link between the Imams and the mosque community. As President of SSP Scotland, he hosted Azam Tariq, the co-founder of SSP, along with another SSP leader, Zia ur Rehman Farooqi in the mosque on numerous occasions.
On Tariq’s assassination in Pakistan in 2003, he hailed him for having ‘won the hearts of the Muslim world’ and fumed that ‘the enemies of Islam killed him’ and vowed to continue his mission. Even after SSP was banned, conducted a memorial service at the mosque in October 2003, earning praise from Khalifat-e-Rashida- the in-house magazine of SSP.
Imam Habib Ur Rehman – the lead imam at the mosque – even praised Mumtaz Qadri, who was recently executed in Pakistan after murdering the governor of Punjab over his opposition to the country’s blasphemy laws.
Hafiz Abdul Hamid is the founder leader of Idara Taleem-ul-Quran mosque in Edinburgh, often referred to as Polwarth Mosque. Finding his connection to SSP, UK, there was an abortive move to remove him from his post in 1999 as the charity which runs the mosque ruled that SSP was not banned at that time. He retained his role while continuing ties with SSP even after the ban becoming its leader in 2004. In January 2004 interview to Khalifat-e-Rashida, Hamid encouraged SSP to ‘work for the political dominance of Islam’ and continue the religious work with the same zeal and fervour under all circumstances. Even after the ban, he made mosque pay for a series of advertisements in the magazine’s November 2003 edition earning thanks from Azam Tariq’s brother Alam for financial support that included channelling donations from abroad.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) is currently investigating the financial irregularities at the mosque after seven members of its executive committee resigned amid claims they had been threatened and intimidated by its more conservative members. It now transpires that even after the ban, both Hamid and Ali continued their involvement with SSP, using Scottish mosques to further fundamentalist propaganda. On the face of such serious allegations, there is revulsion among respectable members of community who denounce being tagged with fundamentalist organisation like SSP with terrorism connections in Pakistan.
They find it unacceptable being un-Islamic – not the Islam they know and have been brought up with. They want investigation to put erring leaders to due process and reform Glasgow Central Mosque.
Lawyer Aamer Anwar emphasized, ‘There is no point preaching religious tolerance, talking about unity of the communities, condemning terrorist attacks, and then to be found that, privately, you are involved in supporting or showering praise on individuals who actually commit atrocities. Where extremism is exposed, we have to unequivocally condemn it.’
The Glasgow Central Mosque said in a statement ‘Islam is a faith of peace and we openly reject and condemn terrorism and extreme views of any kind.’ ‘Glasgow is a proud beacon of how Muslim communities can engage with the wider society and the Central Mosque will continue to take a lead in promoting integration.’
Sipah-e-Sahaba has killed hundreds of Shias, mainly in the Eastern province of Punjab in Pakistan, where a bomb attack on Christians celebrating Easter on 27thMarch killed more than 70 people, including children. It is welcome that UK is refusing any leeway to Islamic fundamentalists to prosper on its soil.