A controversial “Mufti” who was jailed for his role in an illegal plot involving a Birmingham police officer has been criticised by a prominent Moroccan scholar for his “unislamic” views and for labelling a non-violent Muslim political group as “khawarij”.
Nahiem Ajmal, commonly known as “Mufti Abu Layth” was shunned this week by prominent Moroccan scholar, Shaykh Hassan al-Kettani, for wrongly labelling Islamic political party, Hizb-ut Tahrir (HT), as “khawarij” – a deviant sect known for indiscriminately killing and ex-communicating other Muslims.
In June 2015, Ajmal posted photos of himself and Shaykh al-Kettani on Facebook when they met in Rabat, Morocco, describing the cleric as a “living legend” who students of knowledge from the West should study under.
He wrote: “Had the honour of being hosted by Shaykh Hassan al-Kettani in his amazing & blessed home in Rabat! At a relatively young age, the Shaykh is amongst the outstanding scholars of the Maghreb, whose works and contributions to Hadith Studies & Maliki Fiqh are well known! May Allah preserve and bless him! Ameen. #LivingLegends”.
Manchester and London attacks
In the wake of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, Ajmal launched a scathing attack against HT on Facebook, labelling the group “khawarij” and “extremists” who were no different to ISIS and needed “deforestation”.
He also posted a message on Facebook describing the concept of a modern-day Caliphate as an extremist idea, which he said had been used by groups like ISIS and HT to spread hatred against the West. Additionally, he also said it was a religious obligation to report non-violent extremists to the police, a view that is not shared even by ardent Islamophobes.
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In response to Ajmal’s attacks against HT and the Islamic opinions he espouses, Shaykh al-Kettani posted on Facebook:
“I looked into what was written by the brother known as Abu Layth from Britain – who is a student of knowledge and attributes himself to the Maliki school of thought. He visited me in my home, and we are in contact with each other. I was surprised by what he said, for it contradicts what our Maliki scholars said, and above that he contradicted Qat’iee (indisputable) evidences in the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as obvious matters in the Shariah.
“I hope that this brother reverses what he has said, for his speech is not something that he will be happy to face Allah (swt) with. I have looked through many articles and publications written by the brother, and I am very saddened by what I saw, and the matter is left with Allah.
“As for Hizb ut-Tahrir, regardless of our disagreements with them they are not khawarij, the khawarij make takfeer on Muslims on what is not kufr and they shed their blood. We do not know this to be true about them.”
Ajmal has previously launched similar attacks against Salafis and Deobandis on Facebook.
Denial and deflection
When Shaykh al-Kettani’s Facebook post went viral, Ajmal responded by discrediting the scholar he championed just two years ago by highlighting the cleric’s conviction for his alleged involvement in the 2003 Casablanca bombings where he was given a 20-year prison sentence.
However, Moroccan authorities have confirmed to 5Pillars that Shaykh al-Kettani had all charges against him dropped, as well as receiving a royal pardon for the false accusations.
5Pillars can also confirm that the charges were dropped and the royal pardon was given in February 2012, three years before Ajmal met the cleric in Rabat, a significant detail that was left out in Ajmal’s explanation.
Normalising minority Islamic opinions
Ajmal, who is very active on social media under his “Mufti Abu Layth” profile, is widely known for his eccentric behaviour. He is also known for using abusive language against those who disagree with him on Facebook.
Most recently, Ajmal used the word “retard” – a derogatory term for people with mental disabilities – a number of times on Facebook, and in a video in reference to people who questioned his views about HT.
Ajmal is also known for proliferating minority and fringe Islamic opinions, which include:
- Pre-marital masturbation is permissible at all times for personal pleasure
- Smoking shisha and tobacco is permissible
- It is permissible to have tattoos
- It is permissible for Muslims to celebrate Halloween
- It is permissible for Muslims to celebrate Christmas
The above views are just some of the rulings expressed by Ajmal as being mainstream.
In addition to Ajmal’s unorthodox theological views, the Birmingham based former schoolteacher has been marred by numerous controversies and a criminal conviction:
- Ajmal was one of the early advisers of the much-despised Quilliam Foundation think-tank;
- He received a positive character reference from Dr Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation;
- He is known to be good friends with Rashad Ali, a former founder of the Quilliam Foundation who has close ties with Islamophobic neoconservatives such as the Henry Jackson Society;
- He was arrested and charged with possessing extreme pornography in February 2014 to which he pleaded not guilty. The outcome of this case is unknown;
- Ajmal was jailed for six months for his role in a plot involving a disgraced West Midlands Police officer who tried accessing restricted information about the location of another man’s wife.
Using celebrity figures
Ajmal who has posted photos of himself with prominent Muslim speakers and scholars such as Shaykh Akram Nadwi, Nouman Ali Khan and Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is relatively unknown beyond Birmingham or social media.
A former student of his, who said he wishes to remain anonymous due to Ajmal’s criminal past, told 5Pillars: “The Mufti invites prominent scholars and celebrity speakers to his house or manages to arrange meals with them.
“He then uses this intimate environment of sharing food and inviting people to his home to take photos with them, which is then used to boost his online credibility.
“He is neither close nor taken seriously by most of these figures. I have personally witnessed how the Mufti overwhelms well-known speakers to visit his house or have dinner with him to the extent that it gets very embarrassing and awkward until they are pressured to say yes.”
5Pillars contacted Ajmal and invited him to respond before the publication of this article. He did not get back to 5Pillars in time but the article will be updated with his comments if he responds.
However, you can watch the following interview with him after his release from prison.