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Thousands Attend Islamic Gathering in London

Religion: Event marked by fiery anti-Western rhetoric shows the division among Muslims in Britain over accepting mainstream values.

September 16, 2002|From Times Wire Services

LONDON — Radical Muslim speakers drew thousands of followers to a London ice-hockey arena Sunday, denouncing the West at what organizers called the largest Islamic gathering in Britain since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The fiery rhetoric, delivered to a crowd of about 9,000 mainly young people, showed the deepening rift in Britain's 2-million-strong Islamic community over whether Muslims should accept mainstream culture or reject Western values.

Moderate Islamic groups, saying radicals make up a tiny proportion of their community, accuse the media of giving too much attention to firebrands.

But the audience at Sunday's conference, organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that calls for the creation of an Islamic state in Central Asia, was receptive to strong denunciations of the West.

"The take-home message was that the ideologies of Islam and the Western capitalist world are not compatible. We must not fall into the trap of integration," Imran Waheed, Hizb ut-Tahrir's leader in Britain, said after the conference.

"Since Sept. 11 we have been told to choose between accepting capitalism or being labeled terrorists, but we have chosen a third way: to maintain our Islamic identity."

Waheed said the group denounced any U.S. action to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But he added that he would not tell British Muslims to rise up if Britain joined a possible attack on Iraq, as some radical clerics have done in recent weeks.

Waheed said Hussein needed to be replaced but not with a Western-mandated figure like Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Issam Amireh, a Palestinian cleric, said: "They want Muslims to integrate and to accept democracy, which is a one-way ticket to hellfire."

Islamic groups in Britain are broadly divided into those who say they see Muslims becoming part of British society and those who say they reject Western values.

A tiny but vocal minority has shown sympathy with the Sept. 11 hijackers, alarming mainstream groups who say such views discredit the peace-loving majority.

Some of the most radical held a rally at a North London mosque Wednesday on the anniversary of the attacks, observing what they called "a towering day in history."

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group for British Muslim organizations, said there was nothing un-Islamic about joining the mainstream.

"We don't accept that Islam is being watered down because adherents learn to speak English or integrate into British society," he said.

"Today's meeting was about establishing a worldwide Islamic state and this is not what we are about at all," he added.

But the more radical messages on offer Sunday appeared to have struck a chord with some in the crowd, which the organizers estimated at more than 9,000.

A teenager wearing a baseball cap that read "Property of Islam," said: "I am tired of my religion being kicked around, and I'm ready to fight for it."

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