Comment: Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing is unjustified

Barack Obama’s administration and lawmakers may cheer the killing of US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. But this is not how legal scholars, libertarians and millions of Muslims feel.

Al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico on 22 April 1971, was an American Islamic scholar who was an engineer and educator by training. He was killed in a drone attack in a remote Yemeni town on 30 September 2011 by US forces.

To some, he is a Muslim hero, a mujahid (fighter for the sake of Allah) and a great Islamic scholar. His lectures have inspired hundreds of followers. One reason why many people admired him was that he was talented in delivering Islamic lectures in fluent English. This made him famous not only in US and Europe, but also in the Maldives.

There are only few Maldivians who agree with US government officials’ allegations against al-Awlaki. According to US president Obama, he was the leader of external operations for the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a statement which many Maldivians openly deny.

“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” said Obama after the drone attack. “He took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans … and he repeatedly called on individuals in the United States and around the globe to kill innocent men, women and children to advance a murderous agenda.”

According to US officials al-Awlaki allegedly preached to a number of al-Qaeda members and affiliates. Among them were three of September 11 hijackers, alleged “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan.

US government has made a list of allegations against al-Awlaki, but none of these allegations was ever made in court.

Al-Awlaki was an American citizen. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to life of American citizens in the absence of due process of law to determine when to withdraw that right. The Fifth Amendment stipulates that no citizen shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Article 11(a) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”.

But al-Awlaki was executed without any charges, without a trial or without giving any chance to defend. Even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was given his constitutional rights before his execution. This raises questions about the legal authority under which the US government can target its own citizens for assassination.

Al-Awlaki’s father Nasser al-Awlaki has publicly announced his son’s innocence.
“I am now afraid of what they will do with my son,” he said speaking to CNN earlier. “He’s not Osama bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he’s not.”
“He has been wrongly accused, it’s unbelievable. He lived his life in America; he’s an all-American boy”.

US officials have continuously accused al-Awlaki for preaching radical Islam, which gives endorsement for Jihad (struggle) and violence. This inspired new recruits to Islamist militancy, especially though internet (YouTube), according to US officials. His videos were removed from YouTube on 3 November 2010.

This is the only evidence which the US government has presented to the media against al-Awlaki in order to prove he is a radical, an extremist and a terrorist.

If this is the case, the US may label not only al-Awlaki but other Islamic scholars in future for giving “radical” sermons, because sermons are based on the verses from Quran and Hadith of prophet Muhammed (pbuh).

In Quran, there are nearly 41 verses which speak about Jihad, and many more verses against Jews and Christians.

For example, Quran 4:89: “They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad pbuh). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them”.

Similarly, Quran 2:191: “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers”.

Al-Awlaki’s story has told the world today that US government is the judge, jury and executor of all Muslims.

Ibrahim Mohamed is a Parliamentary Reporter at the Peoples Majlis of the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


How the US discovered the Maldives in the aftermath of 9/11

Before 2002, Maldives was over the horizon and off the radar of the American embassy in Colombo charged with following Sri Lankan and Maldivian affairs. Busy with the Sri Lankan civil war at its doorstep, the embassy kept no representative in Maldives. Following the 2001/9/11 attacks, US anti-terrorism responses required the Colombo embassy to fully engage with Maldives for the first time. The US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that it was a discomforting experience for both parties.

US officials wanted an interactive relationship with a government controlled for over two decades by President Maumoon Gayoom. After 24 years of his rule, the American diplomats knew almost nothing about him and his administration. Regardless, the US expected Maldives to enact anti-terrorism laws and sign an Article 98 agreement making Maldivian-US prisoner exchange procedures immune from the International Criminal Court. There was also the matter of Ibrahim Fauzee, a Maldivian terrorist suspect being held at Guantanamo Bay.

In December 2001, the embassy praised Maldives as ‘extremely cooperative in its dealings with the international coalition.’ The brief period of extreme cooperation was followed by a long hiatus.

Nearly a year later, ‘during coffee breaks and over lunch’ at a counter terrorism conference in Washington, US officials were told by Maldivian delegates that terrorist legislation was held up because Maldives ‘does not even have a formal criminal code and needs further assistance developing the legal framework for countering terrorism.’

In fact, Maldives has had a criminal code since 1968, which was updated in 1981. A broad anti-terrorism law had been ratified by President Gayoom in 1990. However, mention of administrative and legal inadequacy brought immediate rewards after the conference, with the US financing ‘two slots to the Maldives Law Commission to attend the Tulane University Legislative Drafting course in New Orleans.’

The Maldivian delegates also described a ‘back log’ of legislation awaiting ‘refinement’ by their Law Commission, including ‘a securities act, a telecommunications act, a customs act and a civil aviation act.’ The embassy could not assess this information. Similarly, details of a minor cabinet and diplomatic corps reshuffle by Gayoom in October 2002 were cabled by the embassy without comment or analysis.

Effective lobbying from Ibrahim Fauzee’s family prompted the Maldivian government in November 2002 to request access to him at Guantanamo Bay. For the US, Fauzee’s detention seemed to reinforce the importance of counter-terrorism legislation. It was time for a serious meeting.

In December 2002, US officials sat down with senior Maldivians in Male and demanded that Maldives sign an Article 98 agreement. Sri Lanka had already signed in November, and the US was impatient for Maldivians to comply. States that refused were being removed from US Aid programs.

This time the Maldivians did not blame the delays on bureaucratic ‘back log’ or the absence of a legal system. Rather, it was President Gayoom’s busy travel schedule, and the need for ‘weighing whether the U.S. proposal “conformed with Maldivian law” and was in the country’s “foreign policy interest”.’

The Maldivian officials linked consent to an Article 98 agreement with a request from Gayoom to meet with President George Bush. Gayoom would ‘deeply appreciate the honor of even a very short meeting… [He] was up for re-election next year and, as a politician, a meeting with President Bush was especially important to him at this time.’

At the December 2002 meeting the Maldivians learned that access to Fawzy in Guantanamo was being granted. The US seemed keen to have Maldivian security officers question him. In its cable, the embassy admits it had collected information about Fawzy ‘that surfaced on the anti-GoRM [Government of the Republic of Maldives] website “Sandhaanu”.’

The meeting’s final item was the desire of the Maldivian government for continued Least Developed Country (LDC) status, due for review by the UN Committee for Development Policy in April 2003. Maldives ‘would appreciate strong US support on this issue, as it had received in the past.’

In these secret negotiations, the US and Maldivian positions were clear: The Americans wanted an Article 98 agreement immediately, while Gayoom wanted cheap loans and a photo opportunity with Bush before the Maldivian Presidential referendum. Both countries wanted to question Ibrahim Fawzy when it was convenient.

During their stay in Male, US officials also took a keen interest in politics and subversion trials. In a second cable about the December visit, the Americans reported discussions with government officials and others about the 2003 Presidential referendum. The acting Indian High Commissioner ‘revealed Gayoom maintained strong support in a Majlis stocked with family members and close friends.’

The attorney-general Mohamed Munavvar told US officials that ‘Mohammed Zaki, Ahammaadhee, and Ibrahim Luthfee, all Maldivian nationals, had been convicted of subversion in July and sentenced to terms ranging from 15 to 25 years in prison… The objective of the group, according to Munavvar, was to undermine President Gayoom’s government and replace it with some sort of Islamist regime.’

This cable did not mention the actual reason for the subversion charges against the three men – the production of the emailed magazine Sandhaanu and its website – the same website used by the embassy to gather intelligence information on Fawzy.

Munnavvar confirmed to US officials that ‘Ibrahim Fareed, a Muslim cleric from Male was under arrest. Fareed would be tried soon on charges of disturbing “religious harmony”. Munavvar thought that Fareed would probably be convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment. He said Fareed’s offense involved repeated sermons in which he asserted that the government was not following Islamic law. It was not clear whether Fareed had international connections, but he had studied in Qatar.’

The reality was that Ibrahim Fareed’s sermons were more a threat to religious apathy than harmony, for which the attorney general was predicting a four year sentence.

When asked about the banning of the Monday Times magazine, the attorney general ‘denied that the magazine had been banned, but he admitted that the government had urged its publisher not to print it any longer.’

US officials learned that ‘Gayoom, his family, and his allies hold virtually all of the top government jobs, and they also control most of the lucrative commercial enterprises.’ The officials noted that ‘a brittle response to the so far gentle requests for further democratization could provoke opposition.’

The embassy did not question the severity of the sentences handed out to Zaki, Ahammaadhee, and Luthfee, while Mohamed Bushry and his publisher and father-in-law Zahir Hussein (a long-term close friend and supporter of Gayoom) faced no charges or lengthy prison sentences for their efforts with the Monday Times.

The Gayoom government’s provocative responses ‘to the so far gentle requests for further democratization’ raised no misgivings among the US representatives, and they decided the President’s ‘grip on power seems solid into the foreseeable future.’

Undemocratic Maldivian political processes and human rights abuses aside, over the next few months the embassy remained focused on an Article 98 agreement.

In January 2003, the Maldives foreign minister Fatulla Jameel assured the US ambassador that Maldives considered an Article 98 agreement almost superfluous. ‘The Maldivian government would never turn over a U.S. national to the International Criminal Court,’ said Jameel. ‘The Maldivian government would not sign the ICC treaty and would not respect its claim to universal jurisdiction.’

In March 2003, the US invaded Iraq. The Colombo embassy reported there were no demonstrations in Maldives against the war, and that ‘government-controlled’ Haveeru was carrying reports of events without comment.

An article 98 agreement was ready for signing as the invasion occurred, but there were further delays for the impatient US embassy which was ‘in close and constant touch with the Maldivian government, pressing it to sign the non-surrender of nationals agreement as soon as possible… The Maldivians have, so far, made it very clear to us that they want Jameel to be the principal who signs the document for their side.’

The agreement was eventually enforced by Gayoom’s executive decree, but not before a US official suggested that ‘bureaucratic confusion leading to inertia in the government… is endemic’ in the Maldives. The problems were within the Majlis and administration, which as the embassy knew, were controlled by ‘Gayyoom, his family and his allies’. In such an environment, delays could be due to connivance as much as ineptitude.

With the Article 98 agreement finally concluded, US officials in July 2003 promoted the payoff to Maldives, namely a positive response to a request for continued Least Developed Country (LDC) status. ‘Embassy strongly believes meeting this modest request will go a long way towards reassuring the Maldives that their recent helpfulness to us (Article 98 signature, support for the war on terrorism) is not unrequited.’ Military and other diplomatic considerations were also listed in support of the LDC favour.

To be truly convincing, the embassy’s geo-political and great buddy arguments required an additional economic impact analysis. A US delegation spent three days in Male in July, where they heard first from foreign minister Fathulla Jameel, his senior officials and the Indian High Commissioner. All argued that continued LDC status would protect the country from ‘the threat of Islamic extremism’.

The US visitors were treated to meetings with other government officials and their associates, who repeated the same lines. The foreigners learned that Male had ‘a population density 50 percent greater than that of Manhattan’ and there were ‘vast inequalities in wealth between residents of Male and those of the outer atolls’ where many Maldivians lived in poverty. ‘Some NGO officials said 20 percent of the population is estimated to live on less than one USD a day.’ Maldives had 200 inhabited islands, the US officials discovered, and they heard tales of high atoll development costs and many unemployed young people, but these facts were not enough to change the delegation’s forgone conclusions.

Though LDC status was not delivering on the 199 inhabited islands outside Male, the US embassy cable chorused Gayoom officials and proclaimed ‘the development of the Maldives continues to hinge on the international aid and favorable trading agreements it receives as a result of its LDC status.’

That same month, the status of Ibrahim Luthfee, convicted subversive emailer and Sandhaanu producer, was raised with the embassy by ‘a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection officer… [who] stated that Luthfee’s case was under review to determine possible refugee status. Pending the outcome of this review, UNHCR planned to contact Mission to ascertain possible resettlement in the U.S.’

The embassy’s understanding of Luthfee’s case was blinkered. It knew he was involved in ‘a website that carried anti-GoRM information.’ The embassy repeated what it had been told by Gayoom’s officials: ‘This individual, Ibrahim Luthfee, was convicted along with two other Maldivian nationals of subversion in July 2002 and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. In explaining the long sentences, the Maldivian government had told us that the three were extremists bent on overthrowing President Gayoom’s government and replacing it with an Islamic state.’

Though they were happy to parrot a condemnation of Luthfee, the Americans seemed not to be aware that Maldives was already officially an Islamic state. Nor did the Americans share Gayoom’s belief in the extraordinary powers of Sandhaanu. The US officials noted without concern that the previous year it ‘carried some anti-U.S. and pro-Al-Qaeda content’, and many months later ‘the website is still in operation’.

In August 2003, the US embassy repeated the predictions of its informants in Maldives, reporting that ‘Gayoom and his ruling circles seem to be relatively popular’ with the proviso that ‘there are no polls, so this perception is anecdotal.’ Gayoom had ‘the wind of solid economic indices behind his back’, and this was expected to overcome criticism of the ‘only marginally democratic presidential selection process, which has chronically produced non-competitive races in the past.’ The US embassy suggests that ‘this system might well have to be adjusted and opened up.’

The same month, two senior Maldivian security officers questioned Ibrahim Fauzee at Guantanamo. The Maldivian officers reported the results of their interrogation to US officials in Colombo, and the embassy then distanced Fauzee from suspicious activities. He was ‘residing briefly in an apartment whose owner apparently had a tertiary connection to an individual who had connections to Al-Qaida/Taliban elements,’ according to their cable.

The Maldivian interrogators revealed that Fauzee had travelled to Pakistan from Maldives via Kenya in early 2000, staying in Kenya 10-12 days waiting for a Pakistani government No Objection Certificate. Maldivians travelling to Pakistan usually obtained these certificates in Sri Lanka, the Maldivian officers said. Also, Fauzee would not reveal the source of the US$1200 used to purchase his air ticket to Kenya, and he ‘claimed not to remember his activities during his time in Kenya.’

Nevertheless, the embassy cable exonerated Fauzee: ‘he did not subscribe to Islamic extremist thinking and he expressed sadness about the September 11, 2001, attacks.’ The Americans raised no objections when the Maldivian officers said that Fauzee would not likely face any charges should he be returned to the Maldives.’

Above all, the return of Fauzee would make Gayyoom’s government happy, and ‘in his 25 years in power, President Gayoom’s regime has been no friend of extremism, locking up a number of Maldivians who it felt strayed too far from the government-imposed moderate Islamic orthodoxy.’

For old times sake, and in recognition of those Maldivians already incarcerated, Fawzy was to be returned, freed and forgiven. It was curious behaviour from both the Maldivians and the Americans, given their proclaimed fear of Al-Qaeda-style Islamic extremism. Fauzee may have been only the friend of a friend with ‘connections to Al-Qaida/Taliban elements’ but he, and young Maldivians like him, were closer to real extremism than the jailed Maldivian emailers and the preacher facing 4 years in prison.

On September 15, the embassy continued to claim that there was ‘little sign of serious political dissonance’. Three days later the embassy cabled, without comment, a full copy of the 2003 Human Rights Report for the Republic of Maldives. It included a devastating critique of the Maldivian justice system and the powers of the President: ‘The Constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary is subject to executive influence. In addition to his authority to review High Court decisions, the President influences the judiciary through his power to appoint and dismiss judges, all of whom serve at his pleasure and are not subject to confirmation by the Majlis.’

Before Gayoom had a decent opportunity to deny everything, there was a devastating display of social disorder on the weekend of September 20 and 21, with a torture death and mass shootings at Maafushi jail and riots in Male directed against government buildings and property.

On 23 September 2003, two days after the violence, the US embassy critically analysed Maldivian government statements for the first time. ‘These unprecedented riots were apparently triggered by mistreatment of prisoners but quickly mushroomed into a broader expression of discontent. Maldivian officials are quick to assert that the disturbances are not connected to the just-launched Presidential selection process, although we find it interesting that the Elections Commission was one of the buildings put to the torch.’


Osama bin Laden killed in Pakistan by US forces, says Obama

US President Barack Obama has declared the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US forces.

In a live broadcast to the US on Sunday night, Obama claimed that an intelligence lead in August 2010 had culminated in the tracking of bin Laden to Abbottabad, a town north of Islamabad in Pakistan far from the tribal belt where the US has been searching for the fugitive.

“It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorised an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama said.

“A small team of Americans” engaged bin Laden in a firefight, killing him. No US or civilian casualties were reported, and bin Laden’s body was recovered.

A US official told Associated Press that “We are assuring [his body] is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.”

Counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan “help lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” Obama said.

“We must also reaffirm that the United States is not – and never will be – at war with Islam,” he added. “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”


Crowds immediately gathered outside the gates of the White House singing the country’s national anthem, while news networks reported a “party atmosphere” spreading throughout the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that confirmation of bin Laden’s death should  “bring great relief to people across the world”.

“Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the worst terrorist atrocities the world has seen – for 9/11 and for so many attacks, which have cost thousands of lives, many of them British,” the PM said.

A Western diplomat based in Islamabad told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that bin Laden’s death was a “game changer” for US foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m overjoyed, but what this exactly means is really not clear,” the diplomat said.

A number of analysts speculated that while bin Laden’s death was a significant symbolic victory for the US, it was unlikely to hamper al Qaeda’s operations as bin Laden was no longer involved in the day-to-day functioning of the terrorist organisation.

The US State Department meanwhile issued a travel alert to all US citizens warning of an outbreak of anti-American violence in the wake of bin Laden’s death.

“Given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation, US citizens in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence are strongly urged to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations,” the State Department said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake, is currently in Male’ for meetings with political leaders and civil society.


Q&A: Young Muslim Advisory Group

Four young British Muslims from the UK’s Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG) visited the Maldives this week to learn about the Maldives and speak about their own experiences growing up as Muslims in a western society. During their visit they met ministers, civil society, school students and numerous community and religious leaders across Male’, Kuludhufushi and Hanimadhoo.

Minivan News spoke to Fahad Khan, YMAG’s chair and a graduate in International Relations from Leeds, Aisha Iqbal, a biochemist with an MSc in toxicology, Saadeya Shamsuddin, a London-based journalist and author, and Waliur Rahman, founder of the Bristol Active Youth Service (BAYS) and Project Manager for the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations (CEMVO).

JJ Robinson: Can you explain what the Young Muslims Advisory Group does, and the purpose of your visit to the Maldives?

Aisha Iqbal: The organisation was set up in 2008 by the previous UK government to engage young Muslims with the government on issues relating to violent extremism, which has now expanded to other issues including Islamic justice, religious and sex education, and foreign policy.

Waliar Rahman: We have a relationship with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – therefore this visit – and we also advise other governments, including the US, Syria, Bangladesh and Algeria.

Fahad Khan: We’re not in the Maldives on behalf of the British government. We are here to promote and express our own views, to explain what it is like being a young Muslim in Britain, what Islam is like in Britain, and what the benefits and challenges are.

JJ: How did the group come about?

Saadeya Shamsuddin: Since the [London bombings] of 7/7, and 9/11, the UK’s government has made a whole range of changes in terms of how it gets in touch with Muslims on the ground. YMAG is part of something they created called ‘Prevent’.

FK: After 7/7 the government released a policy document as part of its wider counter terrorism strategy aimed at preventing violent extremism. At the time it was formed it had a strong focus on al-Qaeda. There was quite a large backlash from Muslims in the UK, down to how the document was worded, and its use of rhetoric they found offensive.

What we want to do is engage with the gov to change the policy and make it more positive. Currently the document is under review, and it is looking more likely that the policy will change to focus on all forms of extremism, such as the current surge of right -wing extremism in the UK. It is trying to challenge ideology in a positive way, and bring extremism into the mainstream so it can be challenged.

WR: [YMAG] is not representative of Muslims. We are not elected. But we are a channel between young Muslims and the government, and we are in a unique position because we can see both the government’s strategy and the thinking at a grassroots level.

AI: We are the first group so have had so much access to cabinet ministers and government. ‘Prevent’ was a very top down policy imposed on Muslim communities, with no prior engagement with Muslim communities, which had settled into different parts of the UK and been left alone – there was no interaction [with government].

It addressed Muslims in a very security-focused way. Our role is to make sure the government understands the need for dialogue and consultation, and not just imposed policies.

JJ: What changed with regards to the treatment of Muslim in the UK following the July 2007 bombings?

FK: I’m from Leeds, where three of the bombers came from. The experience in Leeds was very different and exaggerated compared to other parts o the UK – there was a massive influx of the world’s press wanting to speak to locals about the bombers, wanting to know about them, and asking how extremism had taken root.

A lot people walking down street had a microphone put in front of them. It made the Muslim community in Leeds very uncomfortable, because a lot of those speaking were young people aged 14-15, people without confidence or skill to speak clearly. As a result, the community became very insular and closed off. The spotlight was on them, and they were saying “we don’t want this, it’s not fair.”

Five years later the Muslim community has started to open up, and is willing to talk to people and address the issue.

JJ: How did people’s reactions change to you as Muslims living in Britain?

SS: One of the crucial things was that these were so called ‘home-grown’ terrorists. Prior to 7/7 terrorists from different parts of world had attacked America – but now it was British people attacking their own country.

AI: The whole question of identity and ‘Britishness’ came up. People asking who were you loyal to – to your faith first or to the country?

SS: The government made it an issue. it was never an issue for us.

AI: People on the street would wonder. We had huge debates and people were asked to choose [between their faith and their nationality]. It was really unfair – nobody asked Hindis or Jews. They targeted Muslim communities.

WR: In Bristol a young person was arrested on charges of planning to blow up a shopping centre. He was self-radicalised – there wasn’t a terrorist recruiter involved, which was quite unusual. He was vulnerable, disengaged, and that fed it even more. What was different was that the Muslim community stood up and worked with police to prevent this from happening.

After that the Muslim community formed the Muslim Advisory Network, a single point of contact. Because Muslim communities [in the UK] are under the spotlight, they have had to be more proactive in promoting their faith and putting in safety blankets so it doesn’t happen again.

SS: There was a media storm – it was overwhelming after 9/11 and 7/7. I’m from London and the bus bomb in Tavislock square happened a few meters from my university. There was a climate of fear – I use the tube a lot, and you could really feel the sense of fear.

A few days afterwards I was at Finchley Road station and saw two bearded men giving bags to a policemen with a resigned look. I thought it was so sad it has come to this.

AI: A lot of young people felt targeted. Young boys were so disengaged by police and felt targeted just because they were Muslim. Stop and searches went through the roof, and every time I went to the cinema they would look through my bag. A lot of people were feeling targeted and under suveillance.

In Birmingham, with no community consultation, the authorities put up £3 million worth of number-plate cameras ring-fencing the majority Muslim areas, so that anyone coming in or out would be under surveillance. The community was so angry – before that the counter-terrorism unit had great links with Muslim community, but a separate department funded it with counter-terrorism funding and said it was targeting anti-social behaviour.There was huge debate in the community, and eventually police lobbied for the cameras to be taken down.

JJ: Is there a sense that Muslim communities in the UK do isolate themselves because of this kind of reaction from the authorities?

WR: What happened was that after 7/7 people felt targeted and marginalised, especially young people. They were disaffected an disillusioned, and they felt not done anything wrong, and were being targeted because of their faith. Because of that they became increasingly isolated. One of our roles was to be that channel and identify where this disengagement was happening.

FK: In response to the question, very bluntly – yes, Muslim communities did become very insular, and I think generally speaking if your way of life is under the spotlight you will shut off, and you will only speak to people that have same beliefs as you, the same culture, and understand things the same way. That’s what happened.

WR: Let’s remember – it’s not even a percentage of the population that have these terrorist ideologies. But 100% of the faith was tarred with this brush.

FK: I work closely in schools, and one of the messages I hear is segregation in schools of young Muslim males. But that’s not just the case with Muslims – you see that with other ethnic minorites. In the UK we do not want to become isolated. We don’t want to become divided to the point where communities live in different parts of cities and there is no cultural crossover.

AI: I do think that although the majority of communities have withdrawn from politics, we are seeing a lot more young people engaged in politics and civic engagement. It is more visual now – especially at universities. I became much more active, and the events held were interesting and engaging. There is also lots of investment in leadership skills and empowerment of young Muslims.

JJ: Would you say the situation for Muslims in the UK has improved since 7/7?

WR: When Prevent was introduced, there was a large group of people who would not apply for funding – they would not go near it.

AI: It has taken a long time.

WR: The government does seem not sure where taking the strategy. A minister described it as a “fluid process” – which to to me means they have no idea where it is going.

FK: Mosques are now a lot more engaged with statutory authorities. There are programs to go out and train Imans as community leaders, run workshops in mosques, debate and discuss Islam in a way that young people can get involved in the conversation.

AI: Initially, Muslims felt attack and went on the defensive. But people are breaking from the mold and becoming self-critical, and improving governance in the mosque. Often [mosque] council members stay the same for a long time and it is very hard get the change that is needed, but the fact is that Muslim communities are slowly taking on the challenges rather than burying their heads in the ground.

JJ: What is your impression of Islam in the Maldives?

SS: We’ve been learning. We’ve had a crash course over the last week or so, starting with the Maldives High Commissioner in the UK [Dr Farahanaz Faizal] last week.

AI: Some people here are saying the religion is very similar to the culture, other people said they are seeing new influences of conservative Islam from abroad which is concerning them. We need more time to understand it.

JJ: What are some of the things that have struck you so far?

SS: I’m familiar with the culture and lifestyles of countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and what I really like about the Maldives is the progressive equality of men and women. At all the offices we visited we’ve seen women working alongside men – in many of these other countries women seem few and far between – even the UK has gender imbalance. It is very impressive here – women have freedom to go out, do shopping, and without a chaperone. It was a huge shock, I wasn’t expecting that.

I’m not sure about the economic status of the Maldives, but it’s clean, has nice pavements – and it’s really impressive in terms culture and religion. Even though women are wearing headscarves, they are also out enjoying themselves and being independent.

WR: I think for me it’s been a shock to see the segregation of the tourism and the locals.

AI: It struck me the way people dress here. I thought coming to a Muslim country people might be conservative or there might be a traditional way of dressing, but what I found was that everyone looked Western – skinny jeans and tops. I was really shocked because I thought a conservative country would be covering itself or wearing baggy clothes. But it reminded me a lot of Indonesia and Malaysia, where faith is seen as more internal, and people aren’t judged so much by their image and their exterior.

Even where I’m from in Birmingham, a predominantly Muslim area, you get judged for what you wear. People tend to make judgements on how religious you are by your exterior appearance.

WR: Although there appears to be a rise in that here, judging from the concern of ministers and NGOs.

FK: For me what has been fascinating was to find that divorce for women is not a social taboo. In the UK, particularly for Muslim women, divorce probably means she will find it very difficult to get married again – she is seen as tainted. Whereas over here a divorced woman is not looked at as any less than a single woman.

AI: The High Commissioner told us a very funny joke about it when we were in London: “A tourist comes to the beach and sees a very pretty Maldivian girl. He wants to know who she is so he goes up to three guys and asks them.

The first guy says, ‘She’s my ex-wife.’ The tourist is very embarrassed by this, and says sorry. The guy next to him says ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, she’s my wife.’ The tourist is now really apologising. Then the third guy says, ‘Don’t worry, she’s my future wife.’” And that’s how relaxed marriage is. We were really shocked.

FK: We find this fascinating, because divorce is talked about a lot in Islam – scholars say you should avoid it.

JJ: Some Maldivians who travel overseas meet a lot of criticism back home from people who say they have been exposed to corrupting, decadent Western influences, and that these make you less Islamic, less Muslim than those who live in a 100 percent Muslim society. As young Muslims living in the West, what is your reaction to that?

SS: We visited a school and spoke to a class of 25 teenagers. We asked them to describe what they thought our experiences in the UK were. A lot of answers were quite conflicted: “tough”, “difficult”. We gave our own experiences, and I can understand why Maldivians might have this myth of British Muslim youth being corrupted.

It couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, because we’re not a 100 percent Muslim country, because we have such a diverse mixture of colours, cultures and races, especially in London, it is a good test of your faith. You have freedom to choose, freedom to wear the headscarf, freedom to fast, freedom to pray five times a day.

Aisha’s family in Pakistan is always asking her: “you must have boyfriends – how many boyfriends do you have?” Then they come over and see the way we live, that we are far more conservative than they are, in terms of what we want to do and don’t want to do. I think it is a complete myth.

AI: I think it is true to some degree that external appearance shows that someone is more religious. But religiousity is different everyone. I’ve seen people who follow a very spiritual Islam, and for them it is about making sure their character is correct. Culture also influences you – when I first went to university nobody wore the hijab. I was one of the few to wear it, but wearing it has become a trend. People wear it in a funky way, and it’s also an identity thing. It can be very trendy.

SS: That said – there are definitely corrupt Muslims in the UK, maybe as much as in the Maldives – but no one’s watching them. Of course we have option of drinking alcohol when our parents aren’t looking, or to go out with friends to nightclubs, or have boyfriends. But it’s a very strong test of your faith to set your boundries yourself.

Because Islam is such a diverse religion, with different thoughts and cultural influences, it’s such a generalisation to think that because we are exposed to corrupting influences that we are therefore by default corrupt ourselves.

JJ: The authorities are strict in policing [unIslamic] things here, and there is antagonism towards questioning these rules, at least publicly.

WR: But then you drive it underground, into secret communities. It gives the authorities even more of a headache in terms of enforcement. What we advised when we spoke to ministers was to let people have a dialogue – people are going to have ideas that don’t conform to what you would want them to think. But let’s have a dialogue and celebrate diversity rather than trying to control it.

JJ: How do you promote debate within Islam? There is a case made here that you are only allowed to participate in a debate if you are a scholar, if you have a particular level of training.

FK: In the UK I do talks on Muslim cultural awareness – I’m not an Imam, I’m not a scholar, and I don’t have as much knowledge as them. But we can comment on Muslim culture in the UK – and certainly Islam does allow you to quote verses, and give information – so long as it is the right information. Of course I think the reason the Maldivians are more conservative about this is because they don’t want the wrong information being given out by the wrong people, which can then cause deviations from the faith, or traditional school of thought.

But in the UK, because we have the freedom to debate, we have different schools of thought. Ultimately we believe there is one God, and that Mohamed (PBUH) is his last messenger. That, and the five pillars, are universal among all schools of thought. We celebrate that.

AI: In response I would say that the first thing the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) commanded was “to read” – to read and find out about religion for yourself. We cannot just expect scholars to teach us about religion, we have to find out and take our own conclusions on the faith – to have a dialogue. Having only lectures is not empowering – it is disempowering. It’s important to learn and engage through dialogue, and if somebody doesn’t agree with you, the fact you have made your point means they have a choice; to reflect on their position, to adjust their position or maintain it.

WR: This is a difference in our cultures regarding education. It’s common in South Asian countries to learn by ‘read, regurgitate, put on paper.’ Whereas in UK we are taught to debate, to analyse, think on our feet and think for ourselves. That’s reflected in the way we practise our religion as well.

SS: I think having scholars commenting and reflecting on passages in Islam is only effective if it is in conjuntion with all these other things, such as young Muslims going out and reading the Quran for themselves, understanding the different interpretations and engaging with that inforamtion on all levels – not just sitting there and being talked to. It should be organic, not stilted.

JJ: What you are talking sounds similar to the human right of freedom of expression, which is stated in the Maldivian constitution as ‘freedom of expression subject to the tenets of Islam’. There is a perception that freedom of expression let fundamentalism out of the bag, as well as the liberal side, but such a caveat gives the moral authority in any debate to the conservative side – the liberal element feels it cannot debate publicly for fear of social ostracism. Can you have the kind of debate you are promoting with such a precondition?

SS: That’s very interesting – I think it’s about tolerance, and tolerance goes both ways. If you are liberal, you should be tolerant of extremist ideas – not accept them but give space to accept them. Freedom of expression is a good thing – but you can’t have it both ways. If you stop that debate, you will only hear the liberal debate and ideas – and that isn’t a democracy, or probably what the Maldives is striving to be.

AI: I would say that under the tenets of Islam you have 73 different groups that are going to be coming out – so I’m sure that both liberalism and conservatism will fit somewhere within those 73 groups. There is room for that debate and dialogue.

WR: I think that in a true democracy you have debate both sides of the argument, and do not control that debate to surpress one side or the other. I think what the Maldives will do is allow this new conservative view and allow people to have these ideologies, but also allow people to have the right information so it doesn’t become an extremist ideology. And to have control measures in place so there is no violent extremism. I think the only way you can empower people is to allow them to come to their own conclusions.

AI: I think the fear in the government here is that this new wave of conservative Islam may be eroding their culture. Any culture for them is integral because of their history. But I think that’s something for the people to decide, not the government.