Help JIMAS win a £5000 Co-Operative grant to continue its community work by signing up here and giving them your vote — it won't cost you a thing.
On March 7 2011, extremists burned down a large section of St. Michael's Church in Ipswich, which was in the process of an uninsured £300,000 renovation. The product of over 30 years of savings and donations from the local community, it was being turned into a community centre headed by Sheikh Muhammed Manwar Ali (also known as Abu Muntasir), the chief executive of JIMAS. It is unclear whether the arsonists were of the far-right or Islamist persuasion, though both have good reason to dislike him and his ideas.
Originally founded in the late 1980s, JIMAS (an acronym of Arabic words which translate to ‘The Association to Revive the Way of the Messenger') is a very different organisation from what it was then. During its earlier years, it acted as one of the primary conduits of hardcore Salafi and Islamist thought in Britain, introducing a generation of young Muslims to the ideas of modern jihadi thinkers, including Sayyid Qutb and Abdullah Azzam. It organised regular lectures and classes with some of the main Western contemporary Salafi ideologues, and within the milieu it created could be found household names of the Western Salafi movement including Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abdullah al-Faisal and Anwar al-Awlaki. As Manwar himself would admit, JIMAS undoubtedly helped to form a pool of angry young Muslims who resented Britain and the West, and injected within them an Islamist zeal the consequences of which we are experiencing to this day.
Manwar has long since changed his ways, and the message of his group. JIMAS is now an organisation that, while remaining Islamic, goes far beyond sectarian and religious boundaries and promotes an integrationist, anti-Islamist agenda. Above all, the Sheikh expounds the importance of a truly national, rather than sectarian, identity with a liberal outlook reminiscent of medieval Islamic humanism (for more on this, see Lenn Goodman's Islamic Humanism). Through his planned community project at the Church, he wants to revive a piece of the local area's Victorian heritage and provide believers and atheists with a neutral discussion forum which will help people learn more about and, it is hoped, reject many of the ideas which create bigots and terrorists.
Having worked with numerous extremist Salafis and Islamists in the past, he is under no illusions about the harm they have done to British society, and has taken it upon himself to help reverse this damage. On the face of it, he may seem the perfect candidate to benefit from a Government Prevent grant, but he has refused to apply for it, though not for the reasons one might think. Whereas many Muslim groups reject the fund either because they don't trust the Government, or are concerned about losing legitimacy among the local Muslim community, Manwar has a novel (and noble) take on it: "People like me should not take taxpayer money to do a job that is our duty", he told me over coffee in early February.
No single individual or group will succeed in defeating Islamic extremism in Britain; success requires the patience of many dedicated people who understand and believe in the values of this country. I have no doubt that Manwar should be counted among this group. Many on this blog may read this with more than a tinge of scepticism: the East London Mosque and its sectarian and extremist cohorts, for example, are often described in similar terms by naive reporters and politicians. JIMAS is not the same — it is now the real deal.
Help JIMAS win a £5000 Co-Operative grant to continue its community work by signing up here and giving them your vote — it won't cost you a thing. They are currently in 3rd place out of a total of 152 organisations, and need at least 200-300 more votes.
Focus on Islamism is a blog dedicated to analysing and exposing the modern ideological phenomenon known as Islamism.
Shiraz Maher is a writer and broadcaster.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens is a PhD student at King's College, London. He has contributed to various online and printed publications including, The Daily Telegraph, Lebanon's Daily Star, Standpoint and NOWLebanon.
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