The police have cleared Didsbury Mosque of any wrongdoing after a BBC investigation based on advice from the Quilliam Foundation’s Usama Hasan accused the mosque of “calling for armed jihad.”
The accusations were all the more incendiary after it emerged that the Manchester Arena bomber, Salman Abedi, had worshipped at the mosque.
But this week the counter terror police who investigated the contents of a sermon delivered by an Imam at the mosque in 2016 said “no offences have been committed.”
In a joint statement, Manchester City Council and Counter Terrorism Policing North West said: “Although at all times freedom of expression must be respected we understand that people may be concerned by the content of the BBC report, in particular the tone of the speech.
“We have engaged with the Mosque Trustees for several months and they have committed themselves to monitoring and dealing with behaviours which could be considered extreme while maintaining their right to freedom of expression. We will continue to work with these trustees.”
The BBC investigation last August reported that imam Mustafa Graf referenced “jihad” and “mujahideen” during a sermon delivered at the mosque.
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The sermon centred on the suffering in Syria and included an appeal for donations.
The BBC spoke to Usama Hasan and Shaykh Rehan who reported that Mr Graf said: “We ask Allah to grant them mujahideen – our brothers and sisters right now in Aleppo and Syria and Iraq – to grant them victory.”
It was also claimed he said: “Jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation.”
At one point Mr Graf is heard saying: “The whole world, including Europe, America – what is the so-called civilised world – is watching what is happening in Aleppo and Syria. They know that Iran, Russia and the militias are killing humans in Syria and they do nothing.
“Well in fact they helped the Russians and the Iranians and others, the militias, to kill Muslims over there.”
Mr Hasan, head of Islamic studies at Quilliam, said: “From the context and the way these texts [the religious passages quoted within the sermon] are used they are clearly referring to military jihad, to armed jihad.
“I have known the Islamic discourse for pretty much 40 years, from being a child in this country and worldwide, and the mujahideen are the group fighting armed jihad.”
Mr Rehan said he was in no doubt about what the sermon meant.
“The jihad he’s referring to here is actually being on the battlefield, there’s no ifs and no buts in this.”
However bosses at the mosque said the comments, which were recorded onto a tape, were taken out of context.
In a statement they said: “Such sensationalist reporting is not helpful to the Muslim community or the wider community, and only further damages good community relations.
“The Friday sermon in question took place shortly after chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime against innocent men, women and children of Aleppo. There was a nationwide appeal by most UK charities to collect donations for humanitarian aid for the victims.
“The Friday sermon was aimed at encouraging the worshipers at the center to donate generously to such causes and to pray to God to help those victims of oppression. There would have been many such passionate speeches in support of the Syrian people amongst the Muslim community at that time.
“The term Jihad was used in its wider meaning ‘to strive and struggle’ and in this case aid to those being oppressed. There was no call for any military action, the Arabic term is (Qital). Nor was there any comment which could in anyway be construed to suggest that Britain or British people should be targeted or attacked. The focus was on the behaviour of the Syrian regime and its victims.
“Dealing specifically with Salman Abedi, there is no nexus between his criminal conduct or anything said or done at Didsbury Mosque. The Mosque unconditionally condemns Salman Abedi’s barbaric criminal conduct as being offensive to all civilised norms and the spirit and letter of Islam.
“Didsbury mosque does not encourage anyone to go and fight in any military struggle. We refute strongly any suggestion that there is a link or association between Imam Mustafa Graf’s sermon and the criminal actions of Salman Abedi, or his radicalisation. Nor have we been made aware that the latter’s grievance was related to Syria.”