On Friday 16th September, the Manchester Crown Court formally convicted Mohammad Syeedy for his role in the murder of Rochdale Imam Jalal Uddin who was bludgeoned to death in a children’s playground whilst walking home from the Mosque .
Mohammad Syeedy’s compliance in the murder was his role as getaway driver for his accomplice Mohammed Kadir, the man identified as wielding the murder weapon. The identified murderer, Mohammed Kadir, has since left the UK and fled to Syria thus affirming his allegiance to the extremist entity Daesh. The court proceedings showed that Mohammed Syeedy had also been a supporter of Daesh.
The murder of Imam Jalal Uddin, an individual who was much loved in his community and said to be a kind man who had lived a simple life, providing religious education to the young and spiritual support to the sick and grieving, has significant ramifications for the Muslim community here in the UK.
One of the key motivations behind the actions of Kadir and Syeedy was opposition to a practice of spiritual healing known as taweez (a practice prominent in the South Asian Muslim community) that Imam Jalal Uddin was practicing and providing to his community. The opposition to this became so fierce that it led two young Muslim men to murder an Imam in an unprovoked attack. The actions of the two perpetrators indicates the very real dangers that exist at the hands of extremists. As we have seen in Syria and Iraq, the kind of horrors being administered by Daesh with those perceived to be ‘dissenters’ is indiscriminate, resulting in limbs being chopped off and death. The fact that these two men would target an Imam, someone considered to be a religious authority and a custodian of the community highlights that there is a clear and present danger irrespective of your position in society or the amount of Islamic knowledge you might hold. It shows quite clearly the challenges facing society and the kind of resilience required in order to mitigate further damage.
The question of whether a practice like taweez is permissible should be put to one side for the moment. The more pressing concern should be over the issue of how Islam teaches an individual to deal with differences and disagreements between people. The Islamic tradition is rich with examples of people coming together to discuss, debate and reconcile differences without resulting to violence or murder. In a famous incident under his rule, Umar ibn Khattab (r.a) was reported to have said to an individual with whom he disagreed with, “I may not like you, but I will respect your rights” indicating that although there were difference between the two, it was not even in the leaders right to transgress the boundaries of the religion and infringe on another’s rights or look to harm them in any way.
The murder of Imam Jalal Uddin once again shows the twisted understanding of religion being adhered to by supporters of extremist organisations like Daesh. It begs the question as to what motivates a young man, living in the UK, to murder an Islamic faith leader in cold blood. What kind of religious education is being taught to someone who feels it is within his right to take away the life of someone he disagrees with? The actions of Mohammed Kadir and Mohammed Syeedy show how unlettered they were in Islamic understanding, a trait indicative of extremist ideologies. The likes of Daesh peddle a narrative of Islam that is void of any authentic understanding, a fact that has been constantly reiterated by Imams and Scholars from across the UK and the rest of the world.
The actions of Kadir and Sydeey reiterates the crucial role Imams and Scholars play in providing for and educating the Muslim youth with a normative understanding of the religion. We know that young people are now increasingly going online and elsewhere for information and their religious education. The role of the Imam or Scholar thus becomes even more important as they look to engage with this audience via social media and other forms of modern communication. Imams and Scholars need to be able to bring the authentic Islamic position to contemporary channels of communication as a way of filling a void and deterring people away from extremist interpretations of the religion if they wish to help eradicate it from society.
We continue to pray for the family of Imam Jalal Uddin and for the countless number of people all over the world facing unprecedented levels of hate and violence.