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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

UK Muslim group accused of undermining anti-Islamophobia campaigners

Muslim Engagement and Development faces scrutiny after television programme secretly records officials linked to the group

Sara Khan, the British Muslim human rights activist appointed as the government's anti-extremism coordinator. GARY DOAK / Alamy Stock Photo
Sara Khan, the British Muslim human rights activist appointed as the government's anti-extremism coordinator. GARY DOAK / Alamy Stock Photo

A grassroots Muslim lobby group has been accused of undermining the work of anti-Islamophobia campaigners in the UK by promoting its own hard-line political agenda at the expense of moderate British Muslims.

A television expose on Monday screened a secret recording of a high-profile imam linked to the campaign group Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) insulting officials who supported the government’s anti-terrorism laws.

The group previously opposed the appointment of Sara Khan as the government’s new anti-extremism tsar because of her backing for the government’s Prevent programme that was set up to tackle domestic terrorism.

It said another unnamed official apologised after describing Ms Khan as an “Oreo”, a brown biscuit that’s white in the middle that has been viewed by campaigners as a racially derogatory slur.

An imam, Shakeel Begg, was secretly recorded using the phrase “house Muslims”, adapting a term used for black slaves in the United States, about those who supported the policies.

A report by the right-wing thinktank, the Henry Jackson Society, described Mr Begg as a MEND affiliate partner.

Mr Begg lost a 2016 libel case against the BBC after a judge ruled that he was an “extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions”.

MEND said he was not a member of the group and did not endorse his views, according to the Channel 4 documentary.

Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Faith Matters which works to tackle anti-Muslim hate crime, said his colleagues had been described as Islamophobic by officials linked to MEND.

He said its activities had damaged the campaign against anti-Muslim hate crime.

“We believe that tackling extremism within our own community and working with other groups is an essential part of tackling anti-Muslim hate crime,” he said.

“Our approach so far has been not to highlight our divisions. But this agenda is too important to be left to those who would divide the community and ignore intolerance.”

MEND has been one of the most vociferous opponents of the government’s anti-extremism programme, which it sees as unfairly targeting the community. But officials linked to MEND have been criticised for espousing extremist views.

Both MEND and Mr Begg were among the signatories of an open letter that opposed the appointment of Ms Khan.

She has been given a three-year contract to examine the scale and threat of extremism and advise on how the government should tackle the challenge.

It follows five terrorist attacks in Britain in 2017 that killed 36 people. One of the five was carried out by a far-right extremist.