Sheikh Sulaiman Gani was used and abused for the sake of party politics

Shaykh Sulaiman Ghani

There are some serious lessons to be learnt from the ongoing London mayoral elections and the Sheikh Sulaiman Gani Saga, writes Jahangir Mohammed.

Earlier this year I gave a talk on racism and Islamophobia in London with other speakers. During the question and answer session, a member of the audience, an Imam, asked: “I want to invite X to my mosque but the person has been labelled as an extremist and I‘m afraid that if I invite him to speak, my local mosque and I will also be labelled extremist, what do you say?”

The Imam was expressing the common fears of the Muslim community in all walks of life these days (being labelled, extremist, anti- Semitic and pro terrorist etc). I replied, “Sheikh we need to give confidence to the community to stand up and speak for themselves. Tell me, are you the qualified scholar and expert on Islam, or is David Cameron and his advisers? You are the expert on whom or what is an “extremist” according to Islam not David Cameron. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The only thing we have to do is lose our fear of speaking up.” That Imam was Sheikh Sulaiman Gani.

David Cameron
David Cameron

Coincidently, just last week, Sheikh Gani was labelled an extremist who apparently “supports IS” (ISIS/Daesh) by none other than David Cameron and in Parliament.

He was also described as “one of the most repellent figures in this country” by the Tory mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, and similar slurs of supporting ISIS by Andrew Neil on a live BBC debate between the mayoral candidates.

He has been labelled an “extremist”, and worst, an ISIS supporter publicly and across the mainstream media for absolutely no other reason except for the advancement of party politics, and peoples’ political ambitions.

The Sheikh has been forced to stand up and defend himself, and it seems to be doing well, as it became clear that he was actually an open and ardent critic of ISIS. In actuality, the Sheikh was a Labour Party supporter, and then a Tory supporter, but never an ISIS supporter! It was subsequently revealed that Sheikh Gani had engaged with politicians from both parties, and went from Labour to Tories due to Sadiq Khan’s support for the Same Sex Marriage legislation.

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Politicians were happy to use him when they needed Muslim support and votes, and even happier to smear him when they needed the mainstream vote. Welcome to party politics!

Is “extremism” a political charge?

The incident also highlighted that David Cameron and his advisers showed little expertise on Islam or “extremism”.  Our Prime Minister clearly forgot that ISIS does not support participation or any form of engagement with what they consider to be “The Devils Parliament”.  Anyone with common knowledge could have told politicians that Sheikh Gani could not have been an ISIS supporter when he’s actively engaging with politicians.

The Sheikh’s reputation and life has been affected by this saga, yet the “Right Honourable” Prime Minister and Goldsmith are not even “honourable” enough to apologise to him for making such a blunder…if it was that.

Zac Goldsmith has launched a smear campaign against Sadiq Khan
Zac Goldsmith has launched a smear campaign against Sadiq Khan

This incident also highlights the dangers society faces if the government plans laws based on “non-violent extremism”. Sheikh Gani could have ended up being issued an “Extremism Disruption Order” on what are clearly politically motivated charges of “extremism”.

How many baseless accusations will be made, and how many Muslims will have to defend themselves and be criminalised as a result if these laws are introduced? We don’t need legally sanctioned McCarthyite witch hunts in this country.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Sulaiman’s local MP Sadiq Khan, is alleged to have shared a platform with him at least nine times, whilst he was Imam at his local mosque in Tooting.


He has probably met him more times in private than he would dare to admit, and is likely to know his views very well. You would expect a former human rights lawyer to have the instinct to defend a local Imam that he knows well, yet chose not to. I get the impression that these days Khan is more content to defend the interests of the rich and powerful than the powerless.

Party Political Servitude

That is what Party politics can do to you. Like the majority of politicians, once you are in the party you become a slave to it, the political system, and your own personal ambitions. You spend years working the doors and streets for the party, become a councillor, and after a period of time you may get selected to stand for a seat in Parliament, and an unsafe one at first. You spend most your life parroting “yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full Sir”, and by the time you become an MP, there is very little meaningful commitment to Islam and the Muslim community left.

Instead of standing for justice, you end up becoming a spokesperson for the powerful and oppressors. You delude yourself and your innocent supporters, that once you have your seat and are in power you will make changes, and stand up for them and their issues. Well take a look at Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the free world. He was a friend of Palestinian writer and thinker Edward Said, even went on demonstrations with him. I recall people said before his election, “he supports the Palestinians he will not forget his friend Edward Said.” What did Obama do for the Palestinian people? Nothing. The harsh and ugly truth is, once any politician attains a position of power, the only relationship that matters is the one you have with the party, the establishment, and powerful interest groups – everyone else is expendable.

Sadiq Khan MP
Sadiq Khan MP

Muslim activists have probably found the most depressing part of the London mayoral campaigns, aside from the Sheikh Gani’s issue, the behaviour of Sadiq Khan – especially in pandering to pro-Israeli Zionists, surpassing Goldsmith to secure the Jewish votes.

However, this has not protected him from smears of “extremism”. He may well become Mayor of London, but in reality, if you cannot utter a word of truth in front of power, or the status quo, what will you change, or what use are you?

Change requires challenge, a break from the past, and those that challenge have often been labelled “extremists” or “radicals” but you cannot “challenge” by being a slave to the party, the political establishment, and by adopting their divisive language and problematic narratives.

Lessons to be learnt for Muslims

What can we take from this episode? First and foremost, if you are an opinionated public Muslim figure, you are likely to be maligned and smeared as an “extremist”. Secondly, don’t chase the deceptive mirage of party politics and ambitious politicians, both are likely to use and abuse you. If you happen to be an Imam, keep well clear of the aforementioned, as it will damage your reputation. If politicians label and “no platform” Imams and Muslim activists in their space, then religious figures and activists should return the favour by having a “no platform” policy in mosques and activist circles.

Don’t spend your life and energy in being a slave to party politics. Be a free and independent person instead. Work in civil society to produce meaningful change. Don’t become some politician’s slavish vote bank, when in reality they are supposed to be your public servants.

We are witnessing an unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim hatred. More often than not, that emanates from Parliament, the mouths of politicians, and the mainstream media. So opposition to it will not come from within Parliament. That accountability and change is already happening outside of Parliament, from activist movements, student societies, and the public sector, both Muslim and non-Muslims.

I am genuinely wondering which mayoral candidate Sheikh Gani will be voting for…that’s if he chooses to vote!

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