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January 03, 2002

Muslim Prisoner Advisor denies erroneous reports about suspensions

Muslim Prisoner Advisor Maqsood Ahmed has clarified erroneous reports about a series of Imam suspensions linked with the September 11 attacks in the US.
Imam at Feltham prison, Abdul Rahman Qureshi, was suspended for “unprofessional conduct,” Maqsood told The Muslim News. He denied media claims that “anti-American” leaflets were distributed to inmates at the prison, where so-called shoe-bomber Richard Reid converted to Islam. The Muslim Prisoner Advisor said there was an allegation that Qureshi had a newspaper cutting with him when he arrived at the prison, which Qureshi has denied and Maqsood said that his suspension had nothing to do with September 11.
Another imam at Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution, Ahmed Bilal, was removed for “extremism” on November 15, Maqsood said. He had distributed “potentially inflammatory” transcripts of a radio interview to prisoners, it has been alleged, but said Maqsood his appointment was on a freelance basis and made by the local chaplain in July without being cleared by the Muslim Prison Advisor. Maqsood stressed that all imams are interviewed and employed only if they are trained imams, have a good reputation in the community and have been security checked (Counter Terrorism Clearance).
With regard to reports of a third suspension at Belmarsh maximum security prison in south-east London, the Muslim Prisoner Advisor said the imam was alleged to have “links with Islamic fundamentalists,” but has since being reinstated after being cleared by a Prison Service investigation.
The series of reports about the suspension of prison imams followed Richard Reid being arrested in the US, accused of trying to blow up an American airline he was flying in from Paris to Miami. Abdul Haqq Baker, the Imam at Brixon Mosque, which Reid attended after his release from prison during 1996-1997, denied that his mosque influenced him to join “radical Islamic groups.” He told The Muslim News that he was “shocked that Reid had gone that far”. Initially Reid was “an amicable character and respectful” but later changed and developed a “misunderstanding of jihad,” Baker said.
The so-called shoe bomber did have meetings with “extremist groups” but outside the mosque in council halls, sports and recreation centres, the Brixton Imam said. “I informed the police about these groups but they did not do anything. They thought our complaints was due to religious rivalries and did not take us seriously,” he explained. With regard to many former convicts and coverts attending the mosques, Baker said it was due to its attraction of “youthfulness and multiculturalism.”
In an attempt to clarify the proliferation of media stories stemming from the arrest of Reid, The Muslim News also questioned the linkage with Home Secretary David Blunkett’s plans to change immigration laws to clamp down on imams who cannot speak English, largely from Pakistan and Bangladesh. “There is no logic behind this hotch potch,” editor Ahmed Versi said. “Reid befriended those who were from the Middle East and maybe North Africa, who spoke English and Arabic. The meetings took place outside mosque premises. The ‘extremisms’ had nothing to do with the imams coming from abroad,” he said.

For further information contact us on 020 7608 2822 or 077 68 241 325. Please acknowledge The Muslim News when using the press release

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