A BBC investigation into the most influential Muslim sect in the UK has revealed that the head of one of Pakistan’s most violent militant groups preached in Savile Town as long ago as 1993.
The BBC Radio 4 documentary The Deobandis, part one of which aired on Tuesday morning, featured an in-depth interview with Dewsbury Islamic cleric Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, who described the Deobandi mission as a “back to basics movement” that wanted to live life in the style of the prophet Mohammed.
Mr Pandor, who lives in the Halifax Road area, is the brother of Batley West councillor Shabir Pandor, tipped by many as a future leader of the Kirklees Labour group.
A BBC article accompanying part one of The Deobandis described Masood Azhar as “the man who brought jihad to Britain” long before the 9/11 atrocities in New York.
Azhar is wanted by the Indian authorities over a recent attack on a military base. When he carried out a month of mosque visits in 1993 he led the Pakistani group Harkat ul Mujahideen.
BBC research shows that Azhar spoke at the Zakaria mosque in Savile Town – attended by ISIS terrorist runaways Hassan Munshi and Talha Asmal, who became Britain’s youngest suicide bomber last year – and the Madina Masjid in Purlwell Lane, Batley. It said the theme of his speeches was “from jihad to jannat” (paradise).
In part one of the programme, Mufti Mohammed Pandor, secretary of the Rabetah al-Ulama – Institute of Islamic Scholars – based in Batley, played down the position of Deobandi Muslims.
The Rabetah comprises some 150 Islamic scholars, all followers of highly secretive Bury scholar Moulana Yusuf Motala, described as the most powerful Muslim cleric in Britain. Masood Azhar also spoke at his Bury mosque.
Asked why Motala refuses to speak publicly, Mr Pandor said: “He has people like me (as his) mouthpiece. Do you think you’re getting an interview with the Queen? No you don’t.”
Mr Pandor works for the health service and is a Muslim faith adviser at both Huddersfield and Bradford Universities. He has repeatedly condemned acts of terror carried out by Islamic State, and says he is in favour “of integration, but not assimilation”.
However he also told his interviewer he was not allowed to see his wife, saying, “Our culture does not allow that”.
He condemned TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing as being immoral – but admitted quite liking the X Factor. “There might be some grey areas,” he laughed.
Mr Pandor described his family coming to Savile Town and the “white flight” that ensued. In the programme, University of Bradford lecturer Philip Lewis described Savile Town as “a Deobandi village”.
Mr Pandor said: “Who’s going to buy the house next door (to us)?” he said. “It certainly isn’t going to be a white guy, is it? So my uncle bought it. So now there’s two of us. So then guess what happened? The bloke opposite said ‘bugger this, I’m going, I’m not staying here, there’s Pakis here’. So he left.”
When challenged over an online magazine called Al Islah that he has run since 2003, Mr Pandor argued the nature many of the messages it carried.
He said an instruction to Muslims not to celebrate festivals like Bonfire Night because they are “Haram” (forbidden) was more about health and safety issues. An instruction not to wear something by Christian Dior because of the word Christian was, he said, relating to brands in general.
“If the Prophet Mohammed didn’t do it, we don’t do it,” he said at one point.
Deobandis are the majority Sunni sect in Britain, accounting for over 40 per cent of the Muslim population and the vast majority of religious clerics. The Markazi mosque in Savile Town is the European headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, the ‘missionary’ arm of Deobandi Islam. The sect was founded in India in 1867 as an anti-colonial movement, by men who fought in the first Indian Mutiny.
• Part one of The Deobandis is available on the BBC iPlayer, with part two broadcast next Tuesday at 9am on Radio 4. The article on Masood Azhar is available online at bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35959202.