Muslim authorities in Rome recently sacked the Egyptian imam of Rome's Grand Mosque, Abdel Sami' Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa, for praising Palestinian suicide bombers and calling for the annihilation of all enemies of Islam.
His remarks sparked controversy, and caused the Italian Interior Minister, Guiseppe Pisanu, to state that Italian mosques must be freed from preachers of violence and agents of foreign interests in Italy.
Another report claims that the Saudi government has fired several hundred Islamic clerics and suspended more than one thousand others for preaching intolerance. This followed the bombing that killed more than thirty people in Riyadh, and growing pressure from Western governments on the Saudis to do more to root out the sources of Islamic terrorism.
This is a positive development that will hopefully be imitated in other countries where radical Islamists continue to disseminate incitement to hatred and violence. While we firmly believe in freedom of expression, incitement to violence is clearly not included in such freedom. Saudi Wahhabi Islam has long been one of the main sources of Islamist extremism, hatred of non-Muslims and violence. In western Europe, authorities have been very lenient with Muslim incitement to violence for a long time out of fear of being labelled Islamophobic. The 11 September 2001 attacks caused a shift in attitudes as the tragic result of such incitement was realised.
It is gratifying to see Muslim authorities taking a firm public stand against extremists within their communities. For far too long moderate Muslims have been intimidated by the radicals, denying the existence of radical groups and of their infiltration into many mainstream mosques and other Muslim institutions. It is to be hoped that this incident will set a precedent which will help establish clear blue water within Muslim communities between those who espouse
violence and terrorism and those who oppose it.
Because of the Muslim claim that politics cannot be separated from religion, mosques have throughout Islamic history been centres of opposition and intrigue against established regimes. In the West, where separation of religion from the state is normal, mosques have been viewed as non-political religious sanctuaries which must not be violated by the authorities. Radical Islamists have exploited such misunderstanding to infiltrate many mosques around the western world and use them as centres for propagating their message of hatred and violence, as well as centres for recruiting volunteers for jihad in places like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Yemen, Egypt and Palestine.
In London it took a police raid and the intervention of the Charity Commission to finally end the reign of the radical preacher Abu Hamza in the Finsbury Park Mosque. The government also changed immigration rules to help protect British mosques from radical clerics recruiting gullible youth to their cause . However, unless they want to be viewed as accomplices to these messages of incitement, British Muslims would do well to take matters into their own hands and expel extremist preachers and agitators from their mosques.
While the news from Saudi Arabia is encouraging, it has yet to be seen whether the pronouncements of the government will be actually implemented in practice. It is also to unclear whether there will be a doctrinal shift in state-sponsored Wahhabism in the direction of moderation, and whether the hate tirades against the West, Christians and Jews in Saudi mosques, schools and the media will finally be stopped.