Why I support #FreeAlanHenning but not #NotInMyName letter

Left to right: Abu Eesa Niamatullah, Sheikh Haitham al Haddad and Imam Shakeel Begg

Dilly Hussain explains how a letter published in The Independent signed by more than a hundred Muslim leaders urging ISIS to release British aid worker Alan Henning, lacked consistency in content and context.  

To be absolutely honest, I am getting sick and tired of writing, talking and hearing about the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). This, coming from a journalist, isn’t really ideal considering ISIS is making all the headlines at the moment. But there are two reasons for my annoyance: firstly, the solution to solve the ISIS problem is quite clear, and it’s been staring at the face of policy makers in Whitehall for nearly a decade. Secondly, political commentators and journalists who are now used to the drum beats of war can see right through the agenda of western governments, namely the US and the UK.

I was reluctant to write a sequel to my article The Muslim Blame Game, a piece which focussed on how British Muslims have been entrapped in a vicious circus show called “Not in my name”. This circus show entails guilt by association of faith, and the never-ending apologies and condemnations which Muslims are forced to make for crimes allegedly committed in the name of Islam.

After ISIS executed British aid worker David Haines, the group is now threatening to kill another aid worker, Alan Henning. While it is categorically against Islam to arrest and murder non-combatants, be it aid workers or journalists, we have witnessed another episode of senseless apologetic condemnations from British Muslim leaders.

Pleas and condemnations

Making a plea to the captors for the release of Alan Henning, and reminding ISIS of their transgression of Islamic laws is absolutely fine and should be encouraged. However, pleas and condemnations should be done with a level of consistency and wisdom. Hence, when I had the displeasure of reading a letter in The Independent on Wednesday 17th September, which was signed by a hundred Muslim leaders, I was shocked at the tokenism displayed by the signatories. While they rightfully condemned the abduction of Alan Henning, the signatories completely ignored the government’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq which gave birth to ISIS. Furthermore, the language that was used in the letter seemed it would only hinder any hope in assisting the release of a British citizen.

Alan Henning is a taxi driver from Manchester who went to Syria as a humanitarian aid worker
Alan Henning is a taxi driver from Manchester who went to Syria as a humanitarian aid worker

A plea is very different to making a demand, especially when it’s a matter of life and death. The author of the letter urging ISIS to release Alan Henning clearly didn’t grasp this reality. The plea which very much read like a condemnation appeared as if it was targeted towards the British public as opposed to ISIS. The signatories sounded like takfiris, repeating the words of Prime Minister David Cameron when he said ISIS “are not Muslims, but monsters” – ironically, the same characteristic they criticise ISIS for.

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So a word of advice to the signatories of this so-called ‘plea’ – unless this document was intentionally authored to provoke a reaction to justify the government’s military ambitions in Iraq, the ridiculous choice of words referring to the captors as “monsters”, “lunatics” and “unIslamic” will hardly appeal to the ‘good nature’ of ISIS, especially when it’s known that they have a shortage of compassion.

Constructive and balanced “pleas”

There are numerous examples of how a plea or a balanced condemnation should be made:

– Advocacy group, CAGE issued a statement yesterday condemning the arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment of anyone without being offered their right of due process. At the same time, they highlighted Western intervention in Iraq as the root cause behind ISIS killing hostages.

– Majid Freeman, a friend of Alan Henning who was with the convoy when he was captured, also made an appeal to ISIS. Speaking to the BBC, Mr Freeman reminded ISIS of the good intentions Mr Henning had in trying to help the Muslims of Syria.

– The Muslim charity which Alan Henning was working with, Al-Fatiha Global, made a direct appeal to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for his release. In a YouTube video entitled Call of Mercy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from British Muslim Aid Workers, a member of the charity reached out to the leader of ISIS to free Mr Henning for the sake of Islam.

Bilal spent two years in Syria in areas under rebel control.
Bilal spent two years in Syria in areas under rebel control.

– American filmmaker, Bilal Abdul Kareem, who spent two years documenting the Syrian rebels and knew many senior ISIS commanders, also made a plea for the release of the British aid worker. Mr Kareem even confirmed that an Islamic jurist from the Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra was sent to negotiate the release of Alan Henning.


– Three prominent Salafi scholars who many would regard as “conservative” posted a YouTube video entitled #FreeAlanHenning – The Islamic Perspective. Sheikh Haitham al Haddad (MRDF/Islam21c), Abu Eesa Niamatullah (Al Maghrib) and Imam Shakeel Begg (Lewisham Islamic Centre) reminded ISIS of the Islamic prohibition of murdering a non-combatant, especially an aid worker who went to help Muslims. Additionally, they delivered this advice by acknowledging ISIS’ foreign policy grievances as an emotion that is shared by Muslims in general.

The Muslim blame game – #NotInMyName

With the aforementioned examples of what appeared to me as sincere efforts to release an innocent man from captivity, as opposed to politically motivated community leaders towing the government line for brownie points, I will not have my name associated with the letter published in The Independent.

Some of the signatories of the document are self-professed “Muslim leaders” who lack influence at grassroots level, while others are opportunists seeking to further their careers by intentionally ignoring the issue of foreign policy – so not to upset the establishment who may offer lucrative funding and titles for their obedience.

As Muslims we should question why we are expected to condemn terrorism purely on the basis of being adherents of Islam. Is it a test to see how much we value the British way of life over the Islamic way of life? Like most Muslims, I am appalled by the criminality of ISIS, but when I’m pressured to publicise my disgust, I perceive this to be an act of conformity which legitimises the idea of guilt by association of religion.

This article was first published in the Huffington Post.


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