I met with Mr. Mohsen El-Beltagi (the Picture above) who is the Imam of the Mosque in Swansea University, to discuss the Muslim community, the effects of ISIS in particular on Swansea and his thoughts and concerns of the current situation. Below is the interview:-
ISIS are influencing people to fight to get back the democracy from the west, they are targeting people with no knowledge of Islam as he stated: ‘They are using some holy text from the holy Quran and statements from the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) in a very wrong way to influence other people.’
He explained ISIS are disguising and wearing black, to express sadness how the Muslims are treated , or to fight until they die. He thinks they might disguise themselves because the community knows them and they want to hide their faith.
He explained why ISIS is benefitting from the war with the West, in order to draw attention ‘ it gives them status. They have succeeded as everyone is talking about them’. He was concerned how Muslims are perceived, as ISIS is named the Islamic State, he stated,
‘I want to mention that the Media are calling them the Islamic state, this is what really annoys us Muslims. They are not the Islamic estate they are not a state at all, they are a small group of people who no one knows who supports them and where they came from. No single Muslim in Swansea consider that they represent Islam’
I asked if he considers the leader of ISIS Abo baker Al Baghdadi a caliph, he said No and that he nominated himself as a caliph, he explained according to Islam a caliph must be nominated and elected by all Muslims and their representatives around the world, he called him mad as he stated
‘I consider him a mad person honestly, I stated in one of my speeches that either he has a mental problem or he has a different agenda’.
The Imam also stated
‘ISIS have no values, they are killing Muslims, children and women, because they believe that Muslims don’t practice Islam in the right manner that they want’
I asked him his views on the newspapers claiming that ISIS recruitment is moving from online to British mosques.
He said that he has heard that, but nothing like that is happening in his mosque, he said that he preaches regularly against ISIS, as he was preaching in the ceremony last Friday at the university with over 1500 people celebrating Eid.
I asked if he’s aware of religious centers or activities encouraging ISIS , he said that he has a very close relationship with the local authority and he would report them , he mentioned he has regular meetings with the police regarding community cohesion and prevent agenda.
I asked him his view if nothing is done locally, and if it could lead to a civil war , as he stated the concern of calling Isis the Islamic State.
He answered ‘it could lead to violence in the street and its very difficult to control people on the street, this is what exactly happened after 9/11 I was in the States and I witnessed people angry, American people insulting and hitting people in the street and Muslims scared to practice their faith. If there is no serious work and a plan executed in the local community we might face racism, violence and discrimination, which will be very difficult to control. ‘
Due to the current situation he’s worried about discrimination ‘yes I am worried because the media is pushing hard and influencing people and two things are causing this the media giving people very strong head lines about ISIS which people are stereotyping, the second is the representation of the true Islam in Swansea and the UK. Integration with the community is needed, as encouraging people to be engaged with different faith and showing them the real Islam. ‘
We talked about the lack of knowledge in regards to the Middle East, Islam, and the culture, and the awareness needed to distinguish between terrorist and religion.
The Imam stated ‘there are not many sources to gain knowledge. The university of Swansea is opening the door for activities to raise awareness, we have work shops in December, we are organising faith week in February to share information about different faith, we have joint lectures to discuss the similarity of various faith and also there is a proposal with the University of Swansea to open a Middle East institute that will educate and enhance the real understanding and knowledge of the culture. ‘
In regards to raising the awareness, he explained that there are no allocated funds, the Welsh Assembly have confirmed that there is no support financially for any religious activity. He expressed his concerns that especially with the current situation allocated funds, strategies and the right people to execute the plans is needed he also said:
‘the worshipers here are the students who have limited resources, kindly the university is supporting some part but they don’t have an allocated budget for this issue. We are trying to encourage people to be more engaged with the community and to have more work shops with the police as arranging the activities mentioned, faith week and work shops is one of the strategies, the mosque is open 24 hours and there are activities taking place whoever wants to come is welcome.’