Dublin imam takes on the fanaticsA Muslim cleric is taking a stand against those who preach Islamic extremism in Ireland and think that the cult of the suicide bomber is noble Henry McDonaldSunday January 14, 2007
Beneath a basketball net in a freezing sports hall, a Muslim cleric is waging war on Islamic extremism.
Imam Shaheed Satardien is taking a stand against those Muslims in Ireland whom he claims are too sympathetic to Osama bin Laden and the cult of the suicide bomber. At Friday prayers in the sports hall in north-west Dublin, the South African-born former anti-apartheid activist warns his multinational congregation against blaming other religions and the West in general for all Muslims' ills.
Cast out by the majority Islamic community in Dublin for his outspokenness, the 50-year-old preacher says he has received death threats. 'I am standing firm in my beliefs,' Satardien says. 'The truth is more important than being popular or living a quiet life. Extremism has infected Islam in Ireland. It's time to get back to the spiritual aspect of my religion and stop it being used as a political weapon.'
The imam from Cape Town fled his native country following death threats, he says, from Islamic extremists in South Africa. His younger brother, Ibrahim, was shot dead in 1998 following a row with Islamic radicals in the city. When Satardien was told he would be next, he travelled to Ireland, the birthplace of his maternal grandmother, and pleaded for asylum.
'I never, ever, expected that Muslims would come under the influence of extremists in Ireland when I arrived here with my family. So I was shocked to find support for Osama bin Laden, to discover the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and even al-Qaeda here in Dublin.'
Satardien fell out with the main Dublin mosque at Clonskeagh, singling out the influence of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian born sheikh who has spoken openly in support of suicide bombers and issued fatwas on gays.
According to Satardien, al-Qaradawi's European headquarters is based at the Clonskeagh mosque in south Dublin. Its own website refers to al-Qaradawi and to Clonskeagh as the headquarters of the sheikh's European Council for Fatwa and Research. The authorities at the Clonskeagh mosque and at the South Circular Road mosque, the other main establishment in Dublin, angrily deny the extremist accusation. They point out that these mosques attract thousands of mainstream Muslims to their doors each week.
Satardien, however, is adamant that extremist Wahhabi sects have infiltrated the republic's 40,000-strong Muslim community, especially in Dublin. 'Young, impressionable Muslims in Ireland are being raised to think that suicide bombers are cool. I know for a fact that when the Americans killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq who died after an airstrike in June last year] there were prayers for him in this city. This was for a man who slaughtered other Muslims. What I am trying to do is convince the young people that such practices are un-Islamic, that there is another way,' he says.
Although his mosque is tiny, Satardien has attracted a loyal following from 20 nationalities of Muslims now living in Ireland. Haris Puskar, 19, fled from Bosnia to Ireland with his family while he was still at primary school. A victim of Serb ethnic cleansing in Banja Luka in the early 1990s, Puskar now speaks English with a Dublin accent and is an ardent Gaelic football fan.
'The imam preaches the same kind of tolerant Islam that my family grew up with back in Bosnia. He is a moderate voice against the extremists. I also like him because he preaches in English, which is the language I have grown up speaking since I came to Ireland at the age of eight,' he says.
Moshin Khan, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, originally from Lahore in Pakistan, agrees. 'I like the message this imam gives us. I don't like extremism - here, in this mosque, there is the teaching of true Islam.'
Satardien has applied to the local schools around Blanchardstown, which has the largest concentration of Muslims in the republic, to speak to students. 'I want to tell the kids from all faiths about true Islam, not the radicalised, false version they hear about in the media.'