A harbinger of things to come: Didsbury Mosque and Imam Graf

By Emma Webb

Earlier this year a gentleman in the audience of BBC’s Question Time read out a leaflet he had been handed on an open day at Didsbury Mosque: “living in a society in which people have accepted Western lifestyle as their way of life brings immorality at every step. Modesty, shame and honour have no place in Western Civilisation”. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Thanks to an excellent investigative piece by the BBC, past weeks have seen new revelations about Didsbury Mosque.
In May last year, a former attendee of the most — Salman Abedi– carried out a horrific suicide attack at an Ariana Grande, killing 22 and injuring hundreds in a crowd composed heavily of children.

A recording obtained by the BBC shows that not long before the attack, the imam of the mosque, Mustafa Graf, preached a sermon that appears to promote violent jihad. “Jihad for the sake of Allah” he said “is the source of pride and dignity for this nation”.

In the recording he is heard praying for those fighting: “We ask Allah to grant the mujahideen (holy warriors) our brothers and sisters right now in Aleppo and Syria and Iraq to grant them victory…lots of brothers stay behind unfortunately. They love Islam and Muslims but they do nothing about the support of their brothers and sisters”. In rhetoric characteristic of extreme Islamist narratives, the Imam told his congregation: “The whole world including Europe, America, the so-called civilised world, they know that Iran, Russia and the militias are killing humans in Syria and they do nothing. Well in fact, they help the Russians and the Iranians and others, the militias to kill Muslims over there”.

Imam Graf denies that he was preaching violent jihad, but if two Muslim scholars interpret it as promoting violence and it is not difficult to see how his congregation could have taken this interpretation. At the very least, the Imam appears to have been dangerously careless. The latest revelations are perhaps not all that surprising, given the mosque’s apparent connections to extremists going back decades.The mosque doesn’t seem to take their responsibilities very seriously. When a trustee was asked for comment on an instance in 1999 when Abu Qatada spoke at the mosque, they replied “I cannot say if it’s true or not”.

When one of its congregation—the young Anil Khalil Raoufi—travelled with a group of friends to fight for Islamic State in October 2013 following what seemed to be a swift and noticeable radicalisation, the mosque said that he was not well-known to them, and believed he had been radicalised online.

It is well-known that the mosque has connections to Libyan extremists, having been attended by individuals affiliated to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a terrorist group that was loyal to Osama bin Laden—some of whom reportedly raised money for the group. Abedi’s own father, who attended the mosque, was a member of the LIFG who returned to Libya to take part in the deposing of Muammar Gaddafi. Additionally, according to Quilliam’s Haras Rafiq, the mosque was also allegedly run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

At the very least, given its history of extremism you would think the mosque might be concerned enough to become a little better at recognising extremists and turning their ideas around. But where does the buck stop?

Where is the Charity Commission in all this? The trustees of the mosque must also be held to account. The mosque is a registered charity, and should surely be immediately investigated for ongoing concerns relating to extremism.

Worse perhaps, no taxpayer will be pleased to hear that in 2017 the mosque received £78,743 through Gift Aid. This is not a worthy use of the money of British taxpayer money and HMRC must respond to reassure the public.

Imagine being the parent of a child seriously injured in the Manchester attack, being powerless to ensure that the money you pay in taxes is not contributing to the radicalisation of more young people who may carry out such attacks in the future.

Perhaps most importantly, Imam Graf cannot be allowed to get off scot-free—he must be investigated and face criminal charges if necessary.

Emma Webb is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society.

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