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U.K. Imams Visit Iraq To Bring Back Knowledge On Extremism
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U.K. Imams Visit Iraq To Bring Back Knowledge On Extremism

U.K. Imams Visit Iraq To Bring Back Knowledge On Extremism

U.K. Imams Visit Iraq To Bring Back Knowledge On Extremism
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/472035924/472035925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A group of imams and religious scholars from the U.K. visited Iraq to learn more about ISIS. NPR's Linda Wertheimer asks Sheik Mohammad Umar about what he plans to do with the knowledge.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

As the threat of ISIS attacks looms over Europe, concerns about religious radicals in European cities are becoming more urgent. In the United Kingdom, small group of imams and religious scholars recently returned from Iraq where they hoped to observe the fight against ISIS and talk to people living in territories controlled by the Islamic State about what it was like to exist under that extremist group.

They plan to share what they've learned with their communities in the U.K. with the hope of keeping Muslims from becoming radicalized and leaving to fight for ISIS or committing attacks close to home. Shaykh Mohammad Umar is the chairman of the Ramadan Foundation in England. He was on that trip. He joins me via Skype. Welcome to the program.

SHAYKH MOHAMMAD UMAR: Thank you very much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Did you learn something that you didn't know about ISIS? Did you get any sort of insights - special insights from being there, do you think?

UMAR: Yes, definitely. I mean, I think people like yourselves, the media, are doing a great amount of effort in explaining and telling us who ISIS are. But the reality is what you tell us - the media - is literally only the tip of the iceberg of the reality of what ISIS stands for and what ISIS does. It's the barbaric, narrow-minded, Stone Age ideology that must be defeated physically, must be defeated theoretically and academically.

WERTHEIMER: So, do you think you have good reason to worry about young radicals in the U.K., especially in your community?

UMAR: Yes, we do. Every imam and every scholar should be worried. I mean, the reality is now - the mosque and the places of worship in the U.K. have never been places of propagation for radical ideologies or radical views. The mosque doesn't propagate them. The recruitment from radicalization and the recruitment for ISIS or any other terrorist, barbaric organization are social media. I'm extremely cautious simply because, you know, recently, we had a woman that was prosecuted from my local town, and she went to ISIS. She came back with her 1-year-old child.

She's been prosecuted, and she's serving a sentence. What we have to do is we have to give a very clear message to our youth - our youngsters that if you have grievances - if you are frustrated, if you disagree with certain foreign policies, the way to go about that is not by taking the law into your own hands, but by using lawful means and objections to lobby your MPs and so forth.

WERTHEIMER: The British government has sent messages to mosques in the U.K., trying to urge the leaders to tone down speech to prevent hate speech. What is the situation with that?

UMAR: I would disagree with that point. And I disagree with what - how the government is going about of engagement. The reality is that the places of worship are not a avenue or a place of radicalization.

WERTHEIMER: Is that a change, do you think, from, say, 10, 20 years ago?

UMAR: No, it's not a change because 10, 20 years ago, there was only one or two mosques. But the government allowed people like Abu Hamza who's currently serving a sentence in the U.S.

People like that were allowed to stay and to preach their views. But 97 percent of the mosques in the '90s and 100 percent of the mosques nowadays do not preach that hatred, radicalization. And if you interview the people that have gone to Syria, that have gone to fight in Iraq and said to them - what made you go to Syria or Iraq? They will all tell you it wasn't the imam. It was online social media radicalization.

WERTHEIMER: So are you meeting with young people now since you're back from Iraq?

UMAR: Well, yeah. We have a number of programs. We are going to launch a U.K. roadshow where we will go to different mosques, institutions, universities, to speak to young Muslims and to show them footage and to share with them our experience of what we learned about ISIS.

What you have to understand is there is a clash of civilization, and we must all come together. We need to stop the fighting and the bickering amongst each other, unite and take on this modern-day tribulation and this modern-day ideology.

WERTHEIMER: If ISIS and other groups are reaching out to young people on social media, shouldn't you be doing that, too? Shouldn't you have a social media component to your effort?

UMAR: Yeah. And that's something that we are looking at. But the bigger question is to be asked - is people like Google, people like Facebook, Twitter - these people need to also take some type of possibility of monitoring. I know it's not their job. It's the job of authorities. But, you know, this is a joint responsibility, a joint effort by everyone.

WERTHEIMER: Shaykh Mohammad Umar is the chairman of the Ramadan Foundation in England. Thank you very much, sir.

UMAR: Thank you very much for having us on your program.

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