Muslims Like Us reveals the growing threat of sectarianism in the UK

How difficult can it be to say the following words: I don’t think Muslims should be killed just because they are Shia?

Well, very difficult if you’re of the Islamist persuasion it would seem.

On the BBC reality TV show, Muslims Like Us, ten members of my faith were put together in a house in York. It was a kind of Big Brother for British Islam. Just to spice things up, the programme makers included ex-boxer Anthony Small, who now styles himself Abdul Haqq. In his Islamist incarnation, Haqq has hung out with jailed extremist Anjem Choudary and demonstrated against British troops.

He didn’t disappoint the Muslims Like Us producers. Fresh from telling women in the house how to dress and keep apart from men in the first episode, he decided to reveal his sectarian side in episode two. Asked by Zohra, a Shia in the house, whether he agreed with killing Muslims of her persuasion, he did what so many Islamist extremists do – started gabbling some scripture out of context.

Even when Zohra told him that a friend of her father had been shot dead in a mosque because he was Shia, Haqq was pathetically evasive. This reduced the poor woman to tears and she went off to take refuge in her bedroom. It really makes you wonder what goes on in the mind of a sectarian – is causing upset like this some kind of victory?

Eventually, a bit mollified, Haqq apologised to Zohra off camera though not changing his views one iota of course. We can of course dismiss this as a superficial TV reality show moment and not worth considering any further. But I’m afraid to say that in the real world, sectarian attacks by Muslims against other Muslims is very real. Of course, those Muslims doing the attacking don’t regard their victims as Muslims at all.

In the Middle East we’ve seen the shockingly brutal murders carried out by Daesh against Shia Muslims and other religious minorities. Even Sunni Muslims have faced death, torture or beating for not adhering to the narrow version of Islam espoused by Daesh.

Here in the UK, Bradford taxi driver Tanveer Ahmed was jailed for a minimum of 27 years for the murder of Glasgow newsagent Asad Shah. The victim was a total stranger to his assailant. The reason he was slain – because he was an Ahmadi, a branch of Islam hated by sectarians. When Ahmed was sentenced, he received cries of support from the public gallery in the courtroom.

A Shia institution in Bradford had the words “Shia Kaffirs” sprayed across the entrance. Organisations monitoring hate crime have noted the increasing use of anti-Shia rhetoric and events in Syria clearly have the potential to fuel this kind of enmity.

But as Muslims we must rise above this. It was so heartening to see most of those in the Muslims Like Us household show the loving side of our faith and a commitment to succeeding in this country. I’m convinced that Abdul Haqq represents a small minority of us – very vocal and telegenic, but not where the majority is. Most of us have no wish to sink into violent extremism but often our voices are overwhelmed by the loudmouths.

At last, the BBC let some of us be heard. More of that please!


Henna Rai

Women Against Radicalisation Network