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British Imam receives death threats: Implications for ‘Prevent’ programme

This is a press release from the Quilliam Foundation

As reported in today’s Guardian[1], Usama Hasan, a prominent British Muslim imam and an outspoken critic of extremism, has recently received a number of credible death threats in the form of fatwas (religious rulings) issued by overseas clerics. Extreme Islamist individuals within the UK have circulated these fatwas in an attempt to intimidate and silence Hasan, who in his role as an imam at the Al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton in East London has effectively challenged both violent and non-violent extremism on many occasions.

The circulation of fatwas against Hasan and the issuing of direct death threats against him shows the urgent need for the government’s Prevent programme to tackle non-violent extremism as well as terrorism and to support genuine mainstream Muslims.


During the 1990s Usama Hasan was formerly a prominent British-based extremist who openly supported international jihadist causes and translated a number of key Wahhabi texts from Arabic into English. In recent years however he has publicly renounced his former views, challenging extremism through his mosque, through community networks and through the mainstream and Islamic media. This has made him a prominent target for Islamists extremists.

These extremists particularly object to Hasan’s vocal and effective criticism of Islamist extremism, his rejection of the modern concept of an ‘Islamic State’, his support for the British troops abroad and for arguing that Muslim women are not obliged by religion to wear the ‘hijab’ (headscarf). In an attempt to silence him, they have recently obtained a number of fatwas by prominent Wahhabi clerics overseas declaring that Hasan is an apostate as a result of his belief in Darwinism – a ruling that can be used to invalidate all his other beliefs and to pave the way for his murder.

According to most medieval Islamic scholars, apostasy from Islam was punishable with death. As a result of the deliberate distribution of these rulings, which can be understood as death threats, Hasan’s life is now directly under threat and he has received numerous verbal death threats from extremist members of his mosque’s congregation.

The most damaging – and potentially lethal – fatwas against Usama Hasan have been issued by Salih al-Sadhlan, a prominent Wahhabi cleric based in Saudi Arabia, by Abdullah al-Farsi, another Saudi preacher, and by the Ahl-e-Hadith organisation in Pakistan. Conservative Saudi scholars such as Sadhlan have been extensively courted by the Home Office which believes that they can be used to tackle terrorism – with little regard to their role in promoting other forms of extremism and intolerance.

The issuing and the distribution of the fatwas against Hasan was meanwhile co-ordinated by Saleem Begg (aka ‘Abu Zubair’) a prominent Wahhabi preacher partly based at Lewisham mosque in South London. Begg (who also helps run the radical web-forum) was helped by a network of Wahhabi extremists based in a number of mosques through east London, including the increasingly hardline Masjid-al-Ansar mosque in Goodmayes and Redbridge Mosque. Saleem Begg also produced a youtube video in which he directly and openly argued that the killing of Usama Hasan was permissible.[2]

As a result of these cumulative threats, Usama Hasan last week publicly retracted his support for Darwin’s theory of evolution and he is currently being pressured into additionally renouncing his other beliefs.[3] His reason for not also resigning from the mosque, as his opponents have also demanded, however, is that he believes that without his moderating presence, the mosque will become an overt centre of jihadist activity, as happened to Finsbury Park Mosque under Abu Hamza. Hasan has currently received no support at all from the government or from any of the many Muslim religious institutions funded through the Prevent programme (Quilliam is not a religious institution and its Prevent funding is currently being reviewed).

Indeed, under the Prevent programme, the Home Office has deliberately sidelined genuinely mainstream Muslims in favour of funding and empowering extreme Wahhabi groups, institutions and individuals who have much common ground with the ones now calling for Hasan’s death and who likely support many of the fatwas against him. Some of the institutions regularly courted by OSCT such as the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham have even been instrumental in the hate campaign against Usama Hasan (Sadhlan’s fatwa against Hasan was actually delivered during a public event at the Green Lane mosque in December 2010).


– As these events show, Prevent’s policy of empowering and funding extremists in the hope that they will counter terrorism is failing to prevent Islamist intolerance and even overt threats of violence. While these government-funded ‘non-violent extremists’ may condemn ‘terrorism’ in the narrow sense, none of them have publicly stood up to defend Usama Hasan or to refute the death threats made against him – even though it is over two years since the first threats were received. Indeed some of them like the Green Lane Mosque have actually been complicit in the issuing of these threats. If the Home Office policy’s of supporting extremism does not change, outspoken critics of extremism and terrorism like Usama Hasan will continued to be silenced, with the end result that Islamist terrorism ultimately becomes more likely, not less.

– Prior to Prevent, British mosques (with a few obvious exceptions such as Finsbury Park) were rarely hotbeds of extremism. Now however many London mosques, such as those in Goodmayes and Redbridge, as well as the Tawhid mosque in Leyton itself, are becoming notably more hard-line and intolerant. Is it a co-incidence that since the Home Office began systematically empowering ‘non-violent extremists’ through Prevent, such extremists have become stronger and are now forcing out genuinely mainstream preachers from mosques? Such weakening of mainstream Muslims is a damning indictment of the Home Office’s pro-extremism policy.

– Instead of empowering extremists in the hope they will speak out against terrorism, Quilliam urges the government to adopt the Cameron doctrine by supporting genuine mainstream Muslims who are not only against terrorism in the narrowest sense but who are also fully in favour of genuine religious, political and social pluralism – and who support freedom of speech and freedom of belief for all. The Home Office’s sponsorship of extremists simply because they are claim to be against ‘terrorism’ is potentially disastrous; it is resulting in basic human rights such as freedom of expression being undermined in British Muslim communities and it is leading to extremists believing that they have a free rein to intimidate genuinely mainstream Muslims – with overall result that terrorism and acts of Islamist violence are becoming more likely, not less.


[2] The youtube video of Saleem Begg in which he discusses the permissibility of executing Usama Hasan for his beliefs (he concludes that in principle it is permissible) is still available online here ( – from 03:00 onwards). Notwithstanding Begg’s ‘disclaimer’ that he is only discussing his execution for ‘information purposes’, this video can be understood as justifying Usama Hasan’s murder.


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