Manwar Ali is the former jihadist who nowadays works against radicalization among British Muslims. Last week, he visited Lund to take part in a seminar at the newly started association Introspekt. Lundagård had a talk with the British-Bangladeshi imam.
By Oskar Madunic Olsson Translated by Viktor Jönsson
Manwar Ali was born in Bangladesh but has lived in the United Kingdom for a long time. For Ali, who was twelve years old at the time, the 1970’s war between Bangladesh and Pakistan became a personal trauma. When he came to England he wanted to change the world, lessen the suffering, and turned to militant Islam. Ali fought as a guerrilla soldier in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Burma and worked with coordinating and financing jihadist activities across the world.
Manwar Ali is the founder of the organisation JIMAS, which initially promoted violence and extremism but today functions as a platform for Manwar Ali’s work against radical Islam. Manwar Ali is also active as a lecturer, holds courses about Islam and tries to influence young Muslims who consider joining, for example, ISIS. He has previously held a TED-Talk under the headline: Inside the mind of a former radical jihadist.
“We at JIMAS try to fight extremism on a religious plane. Everything ISIS does, they do with references to the Quran and other holy scriptures. We want to show that there is another way to interpret these verses. Important Muslim thinkers have reasoned very differently, and we want to plant a healthy dose of scepticism. There is a lot that is contentious or uncertain. For the people we work with, the biggest problem is that they often do not know what gives their life meaning”, says Manwar Ali.
On Thursday evening, he held a well-attended seminar at LTH about fear and what it does to our humanity. The seminar was organised by Introspekt, an association newly founded by three technologist students with the goal to counteract a harsher social climate through dialogue and reflection.
“Islam is absolutely not politics”
Manwar Ali means that the relationship between Islam and politics is the most important question for someone who wants to stop political violence in the name of Islam. That Islamists use a social, economic or political theory, and combines this with Islam in order to accomplish change, is according to Ali deeply problematic.
“They mix together the message from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, with their own ambitions. There is actually no political theory in the Quran. Muhammad gained followers because people thought he was a prophet sent by God. He had no message on how to organise a government or the economy. Most Muslims points out that they have a duty to establish an Islamic state ruled by sharia laws, but I do not agree. And what sharia really means is widely debated to say the least”, says Manwar Ali.
For him, jihad is an inner, spiritual struggle.
“Do you believe that you will get the majority of Muslims with you regarding your peaceful version of jihad?”
“No, to be frank I do not think so”, says Manwar Ali.
Many Islamists – such as ISIS, are deeply inspired by early Islam and the middle age Muslim kingdom known as the Caliphate. After the death of Muhammad, the faith spread like wildfire over the world. And it was often done through conquest and imperialism. But Manwar Ali points out that the faith has to be updated for our current time.
“The middle ages were violent. One fought, took slaves, and decapitated each other. This was the case in Europe and other places. This absolutely does not mean that we should do such things today. I mean that Islam’s system of regulations has to adapt to progress, but with respect to Islam’s goal and values”, says Manwar Ali.
According to him, military actions against groups like ISIS are necessary, even if he would have preferred to solve the problem without violence. And one must not forget the intellectual battle as well.
“Muslim thinkers who can adapt Islam to our time need our support. I think this is a better idea than for example public run imam education. Islamism is primarily a Muslim problem. It is us who allow them to misinterpret our holy scriptures and commit crime in our religion’s name. Muslim leaders has to act”, says Manwar Ali.