Salafi Da’wah in 1995: A First-Hand Account
One year before the inception of Salafi Publications
End of the JIMAS Era: Beginnings of the Salafi Da’wah
In 1995, the da’wah landscape was very different to what it is today. JIMAS was the dominant “Salafi” da’wah of the time. JIMAS stood for “Jam’iyyah Ihyaa Minhaaj As-Sunnah”. It had been around for several years, and had organised some very successful conferences. The leader of Jimas was Abu Muntasir Munawar Ali, of Bangladeshi origin. Abu Muntasir was perceived by those around him and knew him well, to be very dictatorial, manipulative and controlling. He was also astute enough to keep enough people close to him so as to maintain a hold on the da’wah and control key daw’ah regions around the country.
As for his methodology, then Abu Muntasir could at times be a Qutubist (follower of Sayyid Qutb), with intermittent moments of conversion to more moderate approaches. Abu Muntasir’s fear of being isolated and alienated by the Salafis led him to keep his radical opinions hidden, as he made clear when Jimas eventually imploded in 1996. The Qutubist streak of Abu Muntasir eventually came out at the end of 1995, when he ended up openly siding with Ali Tamimi’s extremist ideology (who is currently serving a life sentence in the USA). Safar al-Hawali, Salmaan al-Awdah and Sayyid Qutb all became ideologues for Abu Muntasir. It was this ‘aqeedah-based (doctrinal) differing that was truly the dismantling of Jimas which led to the eventual isolation of Abu Muntasir. The more Abu Muntasir made apparent his political activism, the more myself and the other du’aat distanced themselves from him. Jimas as a group remains till this day, but now its pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, claiming to be non-Jihadist and non-radical, but still very distance and aloof from the Salafis and the Salafi creed.
Throughout the second half of 1995 Abu Muntasir travelled around the Salafi communities in the UK promoting the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and al-Maududi, mentioning them and praising them in circles. This actually added to his own unravelling due to the fact that many Salafis had already been made aware through the efforts of the likes of Dawood Burbank, Amjad Rafiq, Abu Sufyaan, Bilaal Davis, and myself (amongst others) that these ideas were alien to Salafiyyah. The fact that on one hand Abu Muatasir would praise the ideologues of violent extremism in his classes, then rebut Takfeeree ideology in other classes confused many young brothers and sisters – and it took a few years to clarify to the people the intrinsic link between the ideologues of takfeer and those who carry out these ideologies, that is, those who venerate the ideologues of misguidance are in reality themselves misguided. And, as expected, within a short time Jimas’ true colours became apparent. In the spring of 1996, “Jimas” (under the leadership of Abu Muntasir) invited Ali at-Timimi, who by then had openly declared his allegiance to al-Hawaalee and al-Awdah, and declared the Muslim countries to be “Lands of Disbelief”, their governments to illegitimate and their rulers to be upon apostasy. I met Ali Timimi at the request of Abu Muntasir in the spring of 1996 (in Leicester) in another attempt to win Abu Muntasir over, and to ask Timimi some straight questions about his ideology. It did not work – Timimi attempted to convince me to accept his views (which we filled paranoid notions of a complete infiltration of Ahlus-Sunnah by the “enemy”) – and Abu Muntasir was fully converted by Timimi to Qutubist radicalism.
In 1995 the Salafi da’wah was becoming stronger. Dawood Burbank (rahimahullaah) had translated al-Barbahaaree’s “Creed” by that time and Amjad Rafiq was very active in writing articles in clarification of the belief and methodology. We had already started openly opposing the Jihadists and Takfeerees in our lectures.
In August 1995 JIMAS organised its Leicester conference where it can be said there still remained a semblance of Salafiyyah. All conferences after that in the 90’s were highly politicised, with invited guest speakers such as Anwar al-Awlakee and others – and Jimas thereafter was considered by Salafis to be Qutubee-Jihadist, a description I doubt Abu Muntasir would have objected to at the time.
At the 1995 Jimas conference the attendance was well over two thousand people – and was held at the Leicester University Campus, attendees staying overnight in the student halls of residence. Invited speakers included: Ali Hasan al-Halabi, Muhammad Musa Nasr and Saleem al-Hilaalee (all three Jordanians). It was my responsibility to take care of them and they stayed with us in Birmingham for several days that year delivering classes here and there, including at Green Lane Mosque. Both al-Hilaalee and al-Halabee were vigorous in their opposition to the likes of Muhammad Suroor (and his organisation, al-Muntada al-Islamee), Jam’iyyah Ihyaa Turaath al-Islaamee (of Kuwait), Ali Timimi, Safar al-Hawali, Salman al-Awdah, and others who attempted to draw the Salafi youth towards political activism and Qutubiyyah. Surprising therefore, that nearly two decades later these same people would make pacts and agreements with the same Jam’iyyah Ihyaa Turaath, and defend revolutionaries such as Muhammad al-Hassan of Egypt and Muhammad al-Maghrawee of Morocco. Musa Nasr was fairly mute on most of these subjects as he was not well-read in the affairs of methodology, and remains so till this day. Ali Timimi was invited by Abu Muntasir to this conference. Ali Timimi responded in a letter written prior to the conference where he cautioned Abu Muntasir regarding al-Halabee and al-Hilaalee due to their staunch opposition to al-Hawaalee and al-Awdah (both protege’s of Muhammad Qutb, brother of Sayyid Qutb). He further advocated inviting al-Hawaalee and al-Awdah instead (since they were the “sahwah” sheikhs). Abu Muntasir did not accept Timimi’s requests on this occasion – a decision he later severely regretted. In the end Timimi did not attend, and upon the advice of either al-Hawaalee or al-Awdah ended up at the international women’s conference in China! People respected the Jordanians due to their overt connection to the great Muhaddith and Scholar, Muhammad Naasir ad-Deen al-Albaanee (died 1999CE, rahimahullaah), whose methodology they later deviated from, after the death of the Shaikh, and invented their own methodology. I remember driving in my car from Birmingham to the home of Abu Muntasir in Ipswich (three to four hours away) with the Jordanians in August 1995, it was a very warm and sunny day. I sat listening whilst they tried to convince Abu Muntasir about the errors of Timimi (USA), Al-Hawaalee (Saudi) and al-Awdah (Saudi). Abu Muntasir grudgingly accepted, and the conference went ahead.
Several meetings took place at the Jimas conference wherein the two factions struggled against each other: one faction in support of Abu Muntasir, who at that time displayed openly his opposition to takfeeree extremism and the Jihaadists, which I believe was one of the motivating factors in remaining with him. The Jordanians also came out in support of Abu Muntasir, asking the Muslims to remain patient with him whilst he remained upon Salafiyyah. The other faction, however, were not satisfied and saw Abu Muntasir as a hinderance, a manipulative, dictatorial and arrogant individual. The result was that Abu Muntasir remained the head of Jimas, and many of the du’aat went their separate ways, conducting da’wah activities completely independent of Abu Muntasir and Jimas.
So in 1995 the lecturers of the da’wah associated with JIMAS [even if by mere perception] were Abu Aliyah Surkheel, Abdur-Raheem Green, Abdul-Haqq Baker, Faisal Malik, Abu Sufyaan McDowell, Abu Talhah Dawood Burbank (as a translator), Amjad Rafiq, Ilyas Kirmani, Usamah Hasan, Bilal Davis, myself and several others. A few of these speakers had already openly disassociated themselves from JIMAS and Abu Munatasir, possibly the most notable being Abu Sufyaan McDowell. Others felt that whilst Abu Muntasir and JIMAS overtly displayed Salafiyyah, he should be supported, and felt the best approach was to continue the course with him. This was the position of Dawood Burbank in 1994 that he stated in a written letter of his that was read in a “rectification” meeting that took place in that year at Francis Road Mosque (run by Suhaib Hasan) in Leyton, at which I was present with approximately fifteen other attendees. But the truth is that (in 1995) Jimas under the leadership of Abu Muntasir was going more and more astray as the months went by, and the many of the du’aat were operating individually without any recourse back to Abu Muntasir or Jimas.
By the end of of 1995, myself, Amjad Rafiq, Bilal Davis and Dawood Burbank (and a group of others) had decided to distance ourselves from Jimas – at the very least not referring to Abu Munatsir and not inviting him, and this became a known position amongst the Salafis. This was based on the fact that we considered him to be a supporter of the da’wah of Qutubiyyah and Surooriyyah – which Abu Muntasir made more and more apparent after the Jimas conference. At that time, Amjad Rafiq was at Essex University completing his PhD; Bilal Davis was studying at the Islamic University in Madinah, Saudi Arabia; Dawood Burbank was active in translating in Birmingham; I was pursuing a postgraduate certificate at the University of Manchester and travelling around the country delivering lectures upon Salafiyyah; Abu Sufyaan was very active in that time lecturing at universities and at Hyde Park corner – we were active in the field of da’wah. In this time-period I came to know and become close to a student of knowledge from Kuwait, Abu Anas Hamad al-Othman, who had come to stay with us in Birmingham. He had studied under and benefitted from the Allaamah Muhammad b. Saalih al-Uthaimeen (died 2000CE). We in turn benefitted from him as he was greatly influenced by the teachings of Allaamah Rabee’ al-Madkhalee. Since he was Kuwaiti, he knew about the detailed errors of the likes of Jam’iyyah Ihyaa Turaath and its head Abdur-Rahmaan Abdul-Khaaliq.
In autumn and winter of 1995, Salafi da’wah was very active in the British universities. The speakers, myself included, would travel two or three evenings a week to different universities around the country delivering lectures and spreading the Salafi da’wah. It was a very exciting time with lecture theatres packed with students, males at the front, women at the back. Question and answers would follow after the lectures often resulting in heated verbal and theological confrontations with Shi’ah, Ikhwaanees, Jihaadists, Hizbut-Tahreer and others. Salafiyyah was spreading rapidly through translational work (predominantly Dawood Burbank and Amjad Rafiq), university lectures, local community classes, internet and websites.
Unfortunately, many of those public speakers who opposed Abu Muntasir in that era, ended up either returning back to him and cooperating with him, or they just chose another methodology in opposition to the Salafi Methodology. From them: Abu Aliyah Surkhil (left the Salafi da’wah and found affinity with Sufism), Usamah Hasan (took a Modernist Mu’atazilite approach and later claimed that the Prophet Adam evolved from an ape), Abdur-Raheem Green (chose the Ikhwaanee approach, now an associate of Yusuf Estes, Zakir Naik, Bilal Philips, etc), Ilyas Kirmani (associated with Green Lane Mosque, now an elected representative of the Socialist Respect Party in Bradford), Abdul-Haqq Baker (of Brixton Mosque, who are promoters of the methodology of Ali al-Halabi).
In 1995 Green Lane Mosque was under the control of the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith UK. It was the headquarters of the organisation, having up to twenty affiliated branches in the UK. Its ideology was very much in line with Ikhwaanul-Muslimoon: They entered the political arena, promoted the Labour Party candidates, partook in regular demonstrations outside the Houses of Parliament (even organising coach trips for the purpose), they invited Soofees to deliver lectures inside the Masjid, they even invited Shi’ah to join them in a campaign to highlight the plight of Kashmir. Their conferences were filled nasheeds and politically-charged lectures. Having said all that, they still permitted the Salafis to deliver regular classes at Green Lane Mosque, even winter conferences (as part of their open-door policy), until the Salafis were officially banned in 1998 from all classes in Green Lane Mosque. In that time, the Salafis were the only ones delivering English language classes. The Friday Khutbahs were in Urdu – this locked-out up to 50% or more of the congregation. As for their regular knowledge-based classes in any language, there were none or very rare. Books of Sayyid Qutub, al-Mawdudi, Yusuf al-Qardaawee’s and Muhammad Suroor’s Magazine “As-Sunnah” was to be found on the shelves or in the office. The main figureheads of that time in the ‘Jamiat’ were: Suhaib Hasan (based in London), Abdul-Hadi Omari, Hafizullah Khan and Shoiab Ahmed Mirpuri.
This was also a time when many people entered the da’wah, many converts from all backgrounds, (and especially those from Caribbean backgrounds). People found the da’wah of the Salafis very appealing, due to its simplicity, clarity and distinction. The demographics of the Salafis in the UK would have showed at that time to be predominantly Pakistani, Kashmiri, others from the Indian Sub-Continent, Afro-Caribbeans and white British. Somalis and Arabs, though present, were very, very few. Most were second generation, born and raised in Britain. The main areas of da’wah were: East London, South London, West London, Birmingham (Small Heath, Handsworth, Sparkhill), and Manchester, with smaller pockets in Leeds, Leicester, Reading and Luton.
Suhaib Hasan at that time was respected by most of the Salafi speakers including ourselves due to his age and studies, but cracks started appearing as early as 1995. His lack of connection to the Scholars, his self-appointed status as the “mufti” of the UK, his short-temper and quick rage, his cooperation with, and promotion of Sufi and Ash’aree speakers (such as Said Darsh, an open critic of Salafiyyah) raised eye-brows, his willingness to sit on stage with any sectarian that invited him were all matters of concern. As the Salafis entered the internet era, information such as this started to be readily available through advertised talks of Suhaib Hasan. By the end of 1996, Suhaib Hasan, like Abu Muntasir, isolated himself due to his numerous oppositions.
There were others who contributed in the spread of Salafiyyah in that time whose names I have not mentioned due to my desire to keep this article brief.
Much can be said about this year, but this summarises the events from my own first hand perspective.
[Note, this article is open to editing by the author as more things come to mind]