Blackburn Imam calls for change as Lancashire Muslims face daily ‘persecution’ and racism

Members of the Ahmadiyya mosque in Blackburn want to challenge misconceptions that ‘all Muslims are terrorists and share the good work they do in the community members of a mosque in Blackburn have spoken about their desire to open up to the wider community in a bid to eradicate the stereotypical belief that “all Muslims are terrorists”. LancsLive reporter Amy Fenton visited the Ahmadiyya mosque in Pleasington Street in Blackburn to find out some of the challenges local Muslims are facing – and how they hope to challenge people’s misconceptions. At 27-years-old, Sabah Ahmedi is one of the UK’s youngest Imams and now oversees a growing number of mosques for the Ahmadiyya sect of Muslims. As well as mosques in Blackburn and London Imam Sabah also looks after the Darul Aman Mosque in Hulme, one of the largest in Manchester.

“People do have this fear of Muslims and because there has been a handful of individuals who have carried out attacks, claiming to do so in the name of Islam, there is this perception that we are all the same,” he said.“A recent survey found that one-third of people say they feel threatened by Muslims but I want to tackle this view and show that we’re all human beings.“That’s why we’re organising more inter-faith events. We all have a responsibility to look after our neighbours; we’re all here to look after humanity.”

Imam Sabah takes the concept of inter-faith to heart. His wife Melissa converted to Islam when she was a teenager.“We spend Christmas with her parents and they spend Eid with us,” he said.“I spend Christmas Day with them because Islam teaches to respect the religious beliefs of others and treat everyone with love and respect.“At a time where people are moving away from religion and divisions are increasing within societies, interfaith respect and understanding are crucial so that we are able to live in a tolerant, respectful, and loving society.”Imam Sabah’s father is a police officer in Manchester and was working on May 22 in 2017 when an Islamist extremist detonated a bomb as people were leaving a concert by Ariana Grande. More than 800 people were injured and 23 died. The Imam’s father “would have been first on the scene and done anything to stop the terrorist doing what he did in the name of Islam”, Muhammad Khurshid, who is based at the Blackburn mosque, said.

“The essence of Islam is love for all and hatred for none,” Imam Sabah said.“Killing an innocent person is akin to killing the whole of mankind. But that’s not what we see in the media. People didn’t hear about when a huge group of us went up to Cumbria to help after the floods and during lockdown, we have delivered food parcels to more than 50,000 people.“In Bolton, Muslims prepared meals and gave them to NHS staff. It’s not just about serving your faith it’s about serving humanity as a whole.”In light of these issues, and given his own efforts to eradicate misconceptions from outside of Islam, Imam Sabah spoke of his sadness that within the wider Muslim community Ahmadiyyas, a minority Muslim sect, face persecution, and some in Blackburn have been subjected to abuse.

“They call us kafirs,” he added.“They refer to us as non-believers. It’s a very sad state of affairs but it’s a real issue and it’s one of the things we want to change.”He claims that the reason many Muslims refuse to acknowledge Ahmadiyyas is that they don’t believe that Muhammad was the final prophet. As this is believed to be a strong tenet of Islam many, including the Muslim Council of Britain, do not recognise Ahmadiyyas as Muslims.“In some of the smaller towns, if we attempt to buy a venue to have as an Ahmadiyya mosque other Muslims will buy it from under us so that we can’t,” Imam Sabah said.“We have instances where Muslims of other sects won’t use shops or businesses if they know it’s owned by an Ahmadiyya Muslim. It is sad but people suffer on a daily basis.“And that’s how we are fighting a battle on two fronts. There is this misconception that all Muslims are terrorists but then we are facing persecution from other Muslims. ”

In a statement issued to LancsLive a spokeswoman for the Muslim Council of Britain said that while the organisation condemns any persecution of Ahmadiyyas it “is not in a position to represent or be represented by the Ahmadi community”.“We affirm the right of Ahmadis to their freedom of belief and reject any attacks on their property or persons,” the MCB said in the statement.“They have the right to live free from discrimination or persecution. The targeting of Ahmadis for their beliefs is totally unacceptable. The Muslim Council of Britain reflects the clear theological position expressed across Islamic traditions: namely that the cornerstone of Islam is to believe in One God and in the finality of the prophethood of the Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him.“We understand that this is not a tenet subscribed to by the Ahmadi community. The MCB Constitution requires our affiliates to declare that“Messenger Muhammad peace be upon him is the final prophet and whoever does not subscribe to that declaration cannot be eligible for affiliation with the MCB.“Given this fundamental theological difference with the Ahmadi community, the MCB is not in a position to represent or be represented by the Ahmadi community.

“Despite our clear theological beliefs, we note that pressure is mounting to describe this community as Muslim. Muslims should not be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so, at the same time, we call on Muslims to be sensitive, and above all, respect all people irrespective of belief or background.”