Qur'anic scholars started a tour of Muslim communities in Britain yesterday to underline their unequivocal horror at suicide bombings and terror attacks.
Using texts from both the Qur'an and 1,200 years of Islamic jurisprudence, they will speak in Bradford, Birmingham, Sheffield and London after an initial meeting in Leeds where three of the July 7 bombers lived.
Seven lecturers are addressing open meetings in English, Arabic and Somali in a programme entitled Islam's War on Terror, backed by posters and leaflets which describe suicide bombers as "perpetrators of evil".
"We have been arguing this case for many years, with regard to such bombings overseas, including in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt," said Asfal Choudhary, one of the organisers of the opening meeting in Leeds. "But now there is all the more need for the voice of truth to be heard."
More than 150 people listened to 90 minutes of closely argued reasoning at the Pakistan community centre in Harehills, Leeds, where the attacks were condemned as contrary to every principle of Islam. Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Whaid, a scholar from Birmingham, accused radical clerics such as Abu Hamza, formerly of the Finsbury Park mosque in London, of "poisoning young minds" with an entirely false version of the religion.
He deplored the combination of human rights laws and constant media attention which gave exiled radicals in Britain a platform to "preach evil" for more than a decade and commit acts absolutely abhorrent to Islam such as circulating videos of terrorist beheadings and other atrocities. Twisting of the concept of jihad had led to grandiose visions of "Islamic empires" and the right to kill so-called "apostates" (disloyal Muslims) which were nowhere supported in the Qur'an.
"I become a target. You become a target," he said. "The terrorists make no distinctions and are absolutely indiscriminate. It is the most disgraceful of crimes."
A simplistic anti-American feeling had also led people to claim sectarian terrorists in Iraq, or even Saddam Hussein, as Muslim or Arab heroes when they were nothing of the sort.
He also called on mosques and communities to address the problem of disaffected Muslim youth in Britain. He told the meeting: "They have a burden of personal baggage - confusion about their culture, identity and religion - and we must make it clear that we understand this and care about it. We must get out on to the streets and speak to them on their level. Because if we do not, Hamza and Bin Laden will."
The meeting also discussed the issue of raising the level of understanding of Islam in British mosques, and the effects of a lack of intellectual training - and also experience of the west - among some imams recruited from overseas. Abu Khadeejah said that it was a cause for concern that of 105 mosques in Birmingham, only one conducts Friday sermons in English.
"Our mosques should have more contact with all communities and that is a handicap," he said. "There is a danger that we spend too much time discussing foreign politics instead of addressing the problems of Muslims here."
The message was well-received but organisers admitted that it was not a forum likely to attract disaffected youth. "There were very few here," said one, "and they left early."