Barelwi and “Salafi-Islamist” “Extremism” – Sara Khan, Securitisation of Minorities and the Deformation Project


To recap, Sara Khan had a written a piece for the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate’s (HnH) report State of Hate 2017. The first piece analysing it, Sara Khan’s connections with neoconservatives and the far-right counter-Jihad movement were established, demonstrating the incoherence of HnH’s decision to incorporate her writing.  In the second piece, the PREVENT framework Khan employed was demonstrated to be rooted in a problematic neoconservative epistemology, the consequence of which has been the demonisation of the Muslim diaspora and an effort to control Muslim discourse.  This was shown to be evident in Khan’s own writing, indicating to the fact that HnH had been used as a vehicle to promote PREVENT.

In this piece, the hypocritical exploitation of differences in various groups related to Muslims, as a mechanism to further extend the counter-terrorism framework in order to stringently regulate more facets of Muslim discourse, will be explored.  Khan’s tendency to exaggerate incidents and distort cases will also be highlighted through the piece.

Spinning Statements

Khan begins by highlighting the threat of ISIS and terrorism before shifting to sectarian violence.  In attempting to paint an alarming picture of the threat, Khan carefully spins a statement made by Europol chief and former MI5 officer Rob Wainright.  Khan states that Wainright has warned “that up to 5,000 Jihadist Europeans have returned to the continent after training at terrorist camps”.  What Wainright actually stated in an interview with Time magazine was,

“We have 5,000 Europeans who have been radicalized by [ISIS] and have traveled to Syria and Iraq and engaged in conflict experience. We suspect that about one-third of them have come back: That is our best guess. We don’t know for sure. Of course many have come back and are not planning to engage in terrorist activity. Some are in rehab programs, some are in prison. That still leaves, however, maybe several hundred that are potential terrorists.

Khan’s misleading twist of Wainright’s statement is emblematic of the neocon penchant for exaggerating the threat against Britain.

To exemplify the threat of “Islamist” and “other religiously-inspired extremist ideologies”, which she later implies is “Salafi-Islamism” (see first sentence of the section “Barelwi Extremism”), Khan draws attention to murders perpetrated in the UK.  This sloppy conflation has demonising consequences for the Muslim minority.

The Case of Imam Jalal Uddin

The murder case of Jalal Uddin is used to demonstrate Salafi-Islamist “extremism”, with the perpetrator being declared an “ISIS-supporter”.

As a side note, the claim of the alleged murder-accomplice being an “ISIS-supporter” rests on ambiguous grounds.  Questions are to be raised concerning the flawed analysis of the evidence submitted in court. Professor Robert Gleave of Exeter University assisted the ascription of the flag of the Islamic declaration of faith and the “one-finger salute” with ISIS based on his view that he found these signs prevalent in ISIS literature and he himself had not seen them used in the “past four years”. The argument of course is spurious; should the cross and the St. George’s flag be considered emblems of hate because the EDL, Britain First and a plethora of counter-Jihad movements employ them? Additionally, the defendant expressly rejected that he was an “ISIS-supporter”.

Pertinent here, however, is that the case revolved around Salafi beliefs.  Professor Gleave added that not all Salafis would do what had taken place. In fact, despite the UK presence of the Salafi community pre-dating the War on Terror, such a case has rarely, if ever at all, occurred. As one radicalisation trainer even stated, “it’s the first time I’ve known it to happen in this country.”

Despite the isolated nature of the case, through the framework of PREVENT, Muslims groups are being smeared by Khan as potentially murderous simply for sharing underlying Islamic concepts.  Moreover, a member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) or the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) may follow the Hanafi School of Islamic law and not agree with Salafis on issues involved in the Imam Jalal Uddin case, and yet, the label “Salafi-Islamist” would implicate Salafis, HT and MB with violence.

The abovementioned is not the only facet which exposes Khan’s pathetic “expertise”.

Demonstrating sectarian tendencies herself, she has called “Salafism” a “bastardisation of Islam” and its followers “fascists”. Khan is an advocate of another sectarian deformist, Khaled Abou El Fadl, who has also declared all Salafis “extremists”.  These sweeping generalisations, usually the preserve of neocons, ignores the reality of the Salafi movement: Salafis adopt varying approaches, from those who adhere to the principles of the classical Shafi’ and Hanbali legal tradition thoroughly constrained by scholastic learning to the those who, like Sara Khan, pick up a text and contort it to conform to “personal interpretation” to justify a warped agenda – be it an ISIS or neoconservative one.  And it is in this point that lies an example of her ignorance; she has hypocritically used a scholar associated with Salafis to prove her own distorted theology.

 “Barelwis Extremism

The creation of a new security target with Khan’s introduction of “Barelwi extremism” marks a shift in British policy towards Britain’s Sufi community. Gone are the days when Haras Rafiq of Quilliam Foundation, fully supported by neocon Michael Gove, touted Barelwis and Sufis as the “moderate” community to be exploited for British domestic and foreign policy interests. The Barelwi/Sufi community is now no longer seen as the antidote to “extremism”, having thoroughly been abused by PREVENT. Those with longer memories will recall the divide and conquer strategies found in neocon blueprints for Muslim disruption.  The infamous RAND document suggested using “Sufis” against “fundamentalists”, for instance, in effort which would ultimately lead to the deformation of Islam.

Sectarian exploitation was Britain’s official state policy.

Early last year, I highlighted how the right-wing media began attacking sections of the Sufis for being “hardline” and “extreme” in the context of their love for the Prophet (peace be upon him). Indeed, the year before that I showed how Maajid Nawaz and his neocon string-pullers were gunning for “traditionalists”, citing Al-Azhar University as an example – the same university which the aforementioned section of Sufis have affiliated with.

It was only a matter of time before a slip or an unrepresentative action would be used as evidence of underlying “Barelwi extremism”, creating a pretext for more pervasive securitisation and the PREVENT regulation of Islam.

Khan uses two examples to highlight “Barelwi extremism”. The implication, however is an attempt to directly interfere with Islam’s creedal constitution as has been traditionally understood for well over a millennium and the right of Muslims to maintain this.

The first example is the political assassination of Pakistani governor Salman Taseer for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and responses to this incident from the Barelwi community, which seemingly glorify the assassin and his actions.  My sources have attempted to garner the views of the Barelwi scholars concerning this.  The views broadly echoed are that the manifesting expressions are the result of intertwined concerns. There is a political situation where a corrupt state is not only compromising Islam legislatively, but is also attempting to “reform” the faith in Pakistan.  There is also a belief that this is being urged through Western interference. Whilst this theory has some basis, the unusually swift execution of the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has aggravated this perception. The Barelwi scholars spoken to, however, were clear, that while this is the political context, there is no legitimacy from the Islamic perspective for the actions of Qadri.

The murder is certainly condemnable and any aggrandisement of the action deplorable. However, issuing misleading statements to bolster “extremism” claims is also deceptively Machiavellian.  Khan being Khan however engages in this PREVENT-esque activity.

Khan writes that “despite his vile hate speech and incitement” to murder Taseer, Mufti Hanif Qureshi was allowed to enter the UK and that a “senior cleric at the Luton Mosque defended Qureshi saying that he gave an “impressive speech”.

The “senior cleric” in question is Allama Qazi Abdul Aziz Chishti, who “defended the decision to invite Qureshi to speak” on the basis that Qureshi had “renounced his hardline views” – this is not exactly a defence of Qureshi and his past, problematic pronouncements.

The point of the Muslim minority discrimination is aptly made in my first piece examining the HnH report, which has all but excluded the Jewish minority from scrutiny. However, it is worth highlighting an example where Khan’s “extremism” concerns have been notoriously silent.  Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman visited London last September.  He has called for disloyal Palestinians to be beheaded with an axe. How was he allowed to enter the UK despite explicit incitement to brutal murder? And are those British Parliamentarians whom have met and welcomed Lieberman through the Zionist lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel all “extremists”?

Ahmadiyya Hate

Khan further adduces the killing of Asad Shah, a crime which expressly did not target the Ahmadiyya community. Despite the attack not being aimed at the Ahmadiyya and despite the fact that, theologically, Shah was technically not an Ahmadi as he had pronounced himself a Prophet, Khan uses this case of violence and connects it to “increased hate” against the Ahmadiyya.

The claim of “increased hate” requires some analysis. Khan’s statistics derive from Tell MAMA, a “soft counter-extremism” organisation run by Fiyaz Mughal who secretly advocates PREVENT and has attempted to control the Muslim discourse using the draconian policy. Tell MAMA has failed to gain supportive traction in the Muslim community due to its historic associations with the Quilliam Foundation, the deformist agenda and support for PREVENT.  Understandably then, the incidents reported by the organisation cannot be used to reflect trends.  The claim of “increased hate” is not exactly a strong one: the figures concerning the Ahmadiyya date from 2013 and ignore under-reporting in the initial years; lack of support from the Muslim community; and as of 2015, a well-orchestrated political and media campaign to use the Ahmadiyya as a mechanism to bully Muslims into deforming their faith (to be elaborated partially below and in detail in the next piece).

In demonstrating “hate”, Khan uses an example which is completely unsubstantiated. She claims that anti-Ahmadi leaflets were circulated “across London”. Her information seems to rely on a report on the Ahmadiyya published late last year by Fiyaz Mughal’s Faith Matters. That report states that “a Freedom of Information request a year later confirmed that police had not found CCTV evidence of the incident, nor did they possess copies of the leaflets”.

Mughal and Khan both include boycotting as evidence of hate. This is reflected in Khan’s HnH piece as well as the Faith Matters report. However, the incident referred to in the Faith Matters report concerns Imam Suliman Ghani, who, in 2010, had urged a halal meat shop owner not to sell it to an Ahmadi.  However, the reasoning was also provided – the meat would potentially not be halal. It is a requirement in Islam that the individual slaughtering animals is a Muslim. It follows that if someone is not considered a Muslim then the meat sold would be at the very least doubtful. This is precisely the reason why Imam Ghani also stated that if the supplier of the halal meat was the same “there would be no issue”.  In other words, the cause for the boycott was not hate, but genuine religious concerns.

The real bigotry here is forcing Muslims to accept those they believe not to be Muslim as Muslim, to the point where being sensitive about dietary needs is consigned to the realm of “hate”.

A Cover to Deform Islam

Sectarian violence is a problem.  One needs to look to the Troubles to see evidence of that.  However, the solution is not thought-regulation and coercive restructuring of the mind through PREVENT, which uses labels that securitise whole groups whom share beliefs but not illegitimate violence.

At the peak of the Troubles – a sectarian conflict – the Omagh bombing of 1998 took 29 lives. However, even at that time, despite the magnitude of the devastation, counter-terrorism efforts accompanied by media campaigns did not seek to demonise Catholic beliefs, priests and churches. There was no attempt to characterise certain Catholic beliefs as “conditions” which gave rise to “extremism” and terrorism. As Professor Andrew Silke has stated, “counter-ideology just doesn’t feature at all in counter-terrorism in Northern Ireland”.

Khan’s problematic categorisation of “Barelwi extremism” (as with “Salafi-Islamist”) allows PREVENT to be effected further down the academically spurious “conveyor-belt”, turning Islamic orthodoxy into a cause of terrorism.

Using the pretext of “Barelwi extremism”, will a reaction of offence towards abuse and derogatory actions and statements against the Prophet, peace be upon him, be considered an indicator of potential “extremism”? Will an affirmation in the absolute finality of the Prophet be regarded as a sign of “extremism”?  And are these incidents going to be used to redefine orthodoxy thus dovetailing the counter-extremism agenda to deform Islam?

There is evidence of this subversive agenda.  Fiyaz Mughal says in the report on Ahmadiyya used by Khan,

“Seeking to redefine Islam through a narrow, interpretative lens allows fundamentalists to dictate the narrative and exclude others (be they Ahmadi or Shia) as ‘outside’ of Islam helps normalise banal, everyday forms of prejudice, including the decision to boycott Ahmadi-run businesses

In other words, asserting and defending Islam’s creedal tenets – a process which is integral to Islamic history and intellectual thought – is already being restricted through the discourse of “hate”. In this way, orthodox Muslims are being required to validate (theologically) those they differ with against the threat of being classed as “prejudiced” and therefore in need of various “social cohesion” or counter-extremism measures.  This is of course, ironic, because the very group for whom Mughal is stating this, believe only they adhere to “true Islam”, which, according to their second Caliph, is distinct in a number of ways from Sunni Islam. This, by implication, excommunicates anyone who do not follow the “reformed” religion of their founder and “Messiah” Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadiyan. In fact, the current “Caliph”, Mirza Masroor Ahmed, in accordance with his own declared right, has threatened women who do not wear the hijab with excommunication (a position absent in normative Islam).  Will Mughal and Khan consider this a case of a “fundamentalist” dictating the narrative and excluding others outside of his group as the normalisation of prejudice? Will Mughal now create an “intra-Ahmadiyya hate” category? Will an image of Mirza Masroor Ahmed be plastered in the 2018 edition of HnH’s report?

Concluding Remarks

This discussion must be framed within the general context of Muslim minority discrimination which I highlighted in greater detail in my previous piece. The culturalist account taken by Khan, that a crime committed by a member is somehow endemic of a broader group due to sharing of “conditions” is an ideological narrative which rationalises bigotry, curtailment of civil liberties and discriminatory policies creating suspect minorities within an already suspect minority. It is an account which is absent in examining crimes perpetrated by other minorities.

The Ahmadiyya community is being used to bully Muslims into allowing the deformation of their faith.  This enables deformists like Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, Mughal, and Khan et al to in reality “redefine” Islam through a pseudo-liberal, neocon-coated lens and exclude mainstream Muslims from the “acceptable” social sphere under the rhetoric employed by PREVENT through Khan: “extremism”, “Islamism” and “Salafi-Islamism”.

In the next piece, the ideologically anti-Islam agenda underpinning Khan’s HnH piece will be focussed on through analysis of the Ahmadiyya blindspot.

2 thoughts on “Barelwi and “Salafi-Islamist” “Extremism” – Sara Khan, Securitisation of Minorities and the Deformation Project

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “The Ahmadiyya community is being used to bully Muslims into allowing the deformation of their faith. This enables deformists like Maajid Nawaz, Usama Hasan, Mughal, and Khan et al to in reality “redefine” Islam through a pseudo-liberal, neocon-coated lens and exclude mainstream Muslims from the “acceptable” social sphere under the rhetoric employed by PREVENT through Khan: “extremism”, “Islamism” and “Salafi-Islamism”.”

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