Today, thousands of UK Muslims are converging on the city of Manchester for ExpoIslamia – a convention that promises to present Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims in its clearest and most original form using artists, comedians and guest speakers, including one who has said that, if he had the chance, he would sacrifice himself as a suicide bomber in Israel.
The day-long event, bearing the theme – “A Call to Humanity,” – is the fifth in a series of ExpoIslamia conventions held across the UK.
“Whilst a few espouse a ‘Clash of Civilizations,’ the vast majority who believe in the innate goodness of humanity need to raise their voice,” the organizers say on their website.
Among the guest speakers are several imams, Muslim community activists and leaders of national Muslim organizations.
Mohammed Abdul Bari, Muslim Council of Britain secretary general, was one of the “moderate” signers of an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair last week that linked the thwarted terror plot to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic with British foreign policy positions in the Mideast.
A second speaker is Yvonne Ridley, a former British journalist who converted to Islam 30 months after being captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. She also sits on the national council of Respect, a UK political party, and stood as a Respect candidate in the last general election.
“[Respect] is a Zionist-free party,” she declared at a meeting earlier this year. “If there was any Zionism in the Respect Party, they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists.”
She criticized government support “towards that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East” and promised that a Respect victory would mean the raising of the Palestinian flag in the UK.
Zakir Naik, 40, an Indian doctor, is also scheduled to address ExpoIslamia. Naik, a frequent lecturer, has reportedly declared that it is blasphemous for Muslims to wish Christians a Merry Christmas because doing so acknowledges Jesus as a son of God.
The most controversial speaker, by far, at today’s conference is Azzam Tamimi, who has condemned unequivocally the London bombings of July 7, 2005, but who praises suicide bombers in Israel – even to the point of saying he would like to be one.
In 2004, while a guest on the BBC’s “Hard Talk,” Tamimi, who is director of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought, was challenged over his praise of suicide bombers.
“Why, if it is so glorious and honourable to do this, why don’t you do it?” asked the interviewer.
“If I have the opportunity I would do it,” Tamimi, who was born in Hebron, answered. “If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself, I would do it.
“Why not? You see, sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity,” he said.
A video of a recent street rally, following the outbreak of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, shows Tamimi denouncing Israel.
“Anyone in the world … must come together in order to eradicate this cancer from the body of humanity. … We are ever grateful to the late imam Khomeni for starting this occasion. … [Bush and Blair] are worried that this spoiled baby of theirs is about to be thrown out of this human body of ours. It’s just a matter of time. You count my words. … If they don’t want peace, we have another language. We have another language and we have every right to use that language. And time will tell, and history will tell. Allah akbar!”
Organizers say ExpoIslamia is a multi-faith event with other religious groups invited to attend – but Manchester Jewish community leaders said they were not been invited, and other religious groups say they had not heard of the event.
“We appear not to have been invited,” a spokeswoman for the Manchester Inter-Faith Forum told the Irish Examiner.
“It is certainly not anything that I or my community would want to be associated with,” said Louis Rapaport, president of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester. “We are greatly suspicious of what their motives are. We have good relations with the Muslim community here. This is not going to lead to harmony.”
Ahmed Khabir, spokesman for ExpoIslamia insisted that speakers would not be permitted to stray into extremist subjects.
“They are here to talk about specific issues. These are not our views or our principles,” he said, despite the “Call to Humanity” website’s promise that the convention’s primary goal is to present Islam in its clearest, original form.
“If they start to talk about these things we will take them off the platform,” he said.
Tamiri dismissed questions about his advocacy of suicide bombing.
“That is history. I have not decided what I am going to say,” he said. “It is a free country. Are we in a dictatorship now? Let the government prosecute me.”