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Sunday Times correction on Deobandi imams preaching “anti-British views”

Sunday Times correction on Deobandi imams preaching “anti-British views”

Categories: Latest News

Monday July 25 2016

The Sunday Times yesterday printed a correction in relation to an article published on 6 March on prison imams and radicalisation.

The Sunday Times and The Times have published several articles over the last few months about a Ministry of Justice report written by a former Home Office official, Ian Acheson. The papers have trailed a number of allegations covered in the report on prison imams preaching “anti-Western values”, “encourag[ing] prisoners to raise funds for Islamic charities with links to international terrorism” and of prisoners being placed at “risk of radicalisation”.

Needless to say, the Ministry of Justice report which mentions all of this has yet to be published and its findings subjected to open scrutiny.

In the article published on 6 March in the ST, it stated:

“A government adviser on Islam faces having to leave his post after authorising the recruitment of about 140 prison imams who hold anti-British views.

“An independent review into the role of Ahtsham Ali, the Muslim adviser to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), has found that he oversaw the appointment of prison imams who have studied Deobandi Islam, a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islamic scripture contrary to British values and human rights.”

The correction appearing in yesterday’s paper states:

“Our report “Jails adviser may lose job over hiring hardline imams” (News, March 6) should have stated that prison imams “are suspected of” holding anti-British values and attributed to “security sources and other critics” the description of Deobandi Islam as “contrary to British values and human rights”.”

The clarification first appeared on 17 March, when the article was amended online but the paper has gone further to issue a clarification in the print edition of the paper too correcting its misrepresentation of Deobandi imams as “hold[ing] anti-British views” and practising a “hardline Sunni interpretation of Islamic scripture contrary to British values and human rights.”

Suggestions that prisons are “incubators of terrorism” or “universities of terror” have been in the news recently following the raft of articles published by The Times and Sunday Times on the Acheson report. Assumptions of a link between prisons and radicalisation have been challenged by academics studying the role of prison chaplaincy in the UK and the role of religion in the lives of inmates. According to new research by Dr Ryan Williams, there is an intrinsic misunderstanding between the role of imams and Muslim inmates in UK prisons and political and policy rhetoric which portrays chaplaincy and religious devotion as inextricably linked to radicalisation.

The Times and Sunday Times have certainly perpetuated these misunderstandings with copious coverage blaming individuals hiring imams into the prison service and imams from Deobandi backgrounds in particular, for what David Cameron called the “new front” on tackling radicalisation.

In a speech on delivered on prison reform at Michael Gove’s former think tank, Policy Exchange, the then PM referred to prison reform policy and his determination to “consider major changes: from the imams we allow to preach in prison to changing the locations and methods for dealing with prisoners convicted of terrorism offences” as a means to do battle on this “new front”.

But as The Guardian noted, in coverage of Dr Ryan Williams study on imams, prisons and the ‘phenomenon of Emirs’, assumptions about prisons as “incubators of terrorism” are not supported by empirical evidence.

Moreover, Dr Williams argues that “a preoccupation with radicalisation is warping perceptions of prisoners’ behaviour and relationships.”

He said, “Within prisons, everyday Muslim practices of praying, reading the Qur’an, or even reading commentary from Muslim scholars about God’s creation and evolutionary theory can raise concerns over extremism.”

And while fears of radicalisation rate high, more fundamental issues of alienation, institutional Islamophobia and the high proportion of British Muslims in the prison population merits much less media or political attention. The omission reinforces the prison radicalisation narrative which features so prominently in press coverage and political speeches.


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