The Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) has issued an open letter to The Telegraph, challenging its editor to define the term “extremism”.
The letter addressed to Ian MacGregor came after The Telegraph published an article linking iERA to a Portsmouth based dawah group, who had some members leave to fight with ISIS in Syria.
The prominent journalist, Andrew Gilligan, wrote: “Others paid thousands of pounds of public money in Gift Aid include iERA, a charity closely linked to a number of the ‘Portsmouth jihadis’ – six young men from the Hampshire city who travelled together to fight for Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. At least two of the six, Mehdi Hassan and Ifthekar Jaman, and possibly as many as five, were members of the ‘Portsmouth Dawah Team,’ a group which proseltyses in the streets of the port.”
Mr Gilligan backed his claims by stating that: “Portsmouth Dawah Team members, including Hassan and Jaman, dressed in iERA T-shirts to proseltyse and used iERA banners and literature on their street stall. The group was last year described by Mission Dawah, part of iERA, as “our team from Portsmouth.”
He added: “iERA is run by the extremist preacher Abdurraheem Green and its board of advisers has included Bilal Phillips, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, and the notorious extremist preacher Haitham al-Haddad. iERA is also under investigation by the Charity Commission.”
In response to the article which was published on Sunday, iERA’s Vice-Chairman, Saqib Sattar wrote the following letter to Mr MacGregor:
“I am writing to you in regards to Andrew Gilligan’s recent article published on Sunday 30th November, where he made a direct link between the Islamic Education & Research Academy (iERA) and a Portsmouth based group, who had some members leave to fight with ISIS in Syria. Without going into the details of Mr Gilligan’s unsubstantiated claims, which I have already raised with him in writing; this letter is an open invitation to you and Mr Gilligan to discuss the subject, or rather the definition of extremism with iERA.
iERA’s position as a Muslim missionary group towards extremism is very clear, and our material in the form of press releases, videos, lectures and articles are abundant. As the editor of a prominent UK newspaper, you are aware that prior to publishing an article, it is ethically and principally incumbent on the publication to offer the opportunity of fair comment to an organisation or an individual when claims such as those made by Mr Gilligan in his article.
‘Extremism’ is an ambiguous term which is frequently used by the media with little regard to the wider impact it has on society, forging an ill-informed perspective on Muslims. Sadly, the term extremism has become a political tool to demonise and censor normative Islamic beliefs. By coining mainstream concepts under the umbrella term of extremism, Mr Gilligan amongst other journalists, are fuelling an atmosphere of hate and fear of Muslims, which will inevitably hinder the process of community cohesion.
Quoting speakers out of context is unprofessional and misleading. Extracts of previous lectures should not be referred to in isolation, to depict certain members of our organisation as extreme, homophobic or anti-Semitic. The same speakers have clarified their theological opinions within a particular context, and engaged in projects which controverts the conclusions drawn by Mr Gilligan in numerous articles on iERA, but they were clearly ignored.
We would appreciate you providing a clear definition of extremism from your paper’s perspective so that we can understand why your paper is labelling many orthodox Islamic speakers as ‘extreme’.
The fundamental pillars of the free press are to educate the masses, to account those in authority and remain impartial at all times. Based on Mr Gilligan’s article and others published by The Telegraph, there appears no intention to advocate balanced discourse. Taking this into consideration, we would like to offer you and Mr Gilligan the opportunity to debut in an open dialogue, where you can put forward questions directly to iERA, so we can be given a fair and equal opportunity to state our position on any matter.“