Allama Qamaruzzaman Azmi, a renowned Islamic spiritual scholar based in Manchester, Britain, has been a leading voice advocating interfaith dialogue and representing mainstream majority Islam. His lectures and preachings are considered to be the antidote to radicalisation, which is said to be on the rise in Europe. A renowned speaker, he comes from the Sunni Sufi school of thought, whose lectures are heard by millions throughout India. A local network of youngsters in Deepa Sarai locality of western Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal town, from where three youths were arrested on terror charges last week, plays his speeches on a community radio connecting local residents. People in his network have also been contacted by the Indian government to help tackle terrorism and radicalisation of the youth. Azmi, who was on a lecture tour of India this week. Excerpts.
Q: Allama Sb, you are based in Europe, which has reportedly witnessed a sharp rise in radicalisation of the Muslim youth. Many such radicalised youths are even said to have joined groups like the ISIS. How are you and people in your network trying to counter such radicalisation?
A: I have spent my whole life countering radicalisation and extremism because this is not Islam. There are evil people who exploit and manipulate (others) by using Islam to justify terrorism and murder of innocent people. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this and those who use the name of Islam for such evil actions are in fact Islam’s enemies. We must reclaim our beautiful faith from such evil barbaric people and I do this through my preaching so that people understand what Islam is and what Islam isn’t, so that no one can mislead them. There are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, who live a peaceful and beautiful life, according to the teachings of Islam and we must ensure that the few who have left the true path of Islam and are causing terrorism are eliminated, for they are a threat to our global peace and cohesion of societies.
Q: Can you identify some people or groups active in Britain, or Europe, that are radicalising the youth?
A: Vulnerable people exist in every ethnic and faith community and so do those who would wish to brainwash and recruit them for their evil ends. The far right extremists and neo-Nazis are good examples of this. ISIS or Daesh, Al Qaeda and such groups are the same. They are Nazis, who are active in leading particularly impressionable youngsters astray; and gullible youth are falling prey to their propaganda.
Q: There are also characters like Anjem Choudhary, who was in the news recently because of his very extreme views. He even launched a campaign to introduce Shariah rule in Britain and elsewhere. Do you blame these groups and people for the radicalisation of the Muslim youth in Europe?
A: People like Anjem Choudhary or organisations like Hizbut Tahrir have been disowned by the three million Muslims in the UK. Muslims, together with the wider UK society, are playing an active role in rooting out such evil individuals from our communities, just like we need to root out neo-Nazis and far right extremists who wish to divide communities for their political ends. Such people are dangerous and we demand that people like Anjem Choudhary are arrested and punished severely.
Q: If such people are not being punished and many of them remain active, do you think the governments in Britain and in European countries are deliberately lax on them?
A: We shouldn’t believe in conspiracy theories, but we would certainly demand that government(s) should not be lenient towards such groups if they are found to be involved in such activities. They should be treated like criminals.
Q: Allama Sb, you are touring India. You have a huge following in many parts of India, including in Sambhal where some youths from the Deepa Sarai locality play your speeches on a community radio. This locality is in news because of the arrest of some youths, who were even accused of being linked to Al Qaeda’s Indian subcontinent branch. What do you say about this development?
A: Youths have been misguided everywhere, and those who commit crimes must be punished, but we must also ensure that fighting violent extremism does tarnish or criminalise whole communities but separates between criminals and communities.
Q: Allama Sb, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited some Sufi scholars; some of them included people who follow your teachings, and some of your young followers were even reportedly contacted by the Ministry of Home Affairs to help the government in its proposed “de-radicalisation programme”. Do you see this as a positive development?
A: Both the government and people have shared responsibility towards the welfare of our society, including the deradicalisation of the youth. This has to be done with utter responsibility.