Dubbed the “hate-mail cleric” by British tabloids, Anjem Choudary is London’s headline-grabbing Islamist who wants to see the United Kingdom under Shariah law and the queen under a burqa. Recently his group Al Muhajiroun (operating under the moniker “Islam4UK”) caused an uproar when they announced plans to march through the sleepy town of Wootton Bassett, a place best known for its solemn tributes to fallen British soldiers as their coffins are carried through its High Street after their arrival at a nearby Royal Air Force base.
Is Choudary simply — as the saying goes — “taking the piss?” Is Al Muhajiroun just a small band of harmless, media-savvy pranksters? Or is there more to Choudary than meets the eye? Do the views of this 42-year-old former lawyer resonate with a larger segment of the population than the tabloids, and indeed many Muslims, would care to admit?
The Daily Caller: Your desire to march through the town of Wootton Bassett caused a media uproar in the UK and has clearly offended the sensibilities of many Britons. Was that the whole point?
Anjem Choudary: Well, the concept of having a procession at Wootten Bassett was never about the people of Wootten Bassett. The atrocities which are and have been committed in Afghanistan by the U.S.-led assault I think have been well documented. Hence, I thought it appropriate to mention that we’re going to have a procession in Wootten Basset in order to engage the public in the true reasons why the British government is in Afghanistan and to really expose the lies the British government and the American government are telling the public. The campaign in Afghanistan is not about fighting for freedom and democracy, it’s not something which will make them safer at home. Rather, the presence of America and Britain and other countries in Afghanistan causes instability in the region and they are only there to establish their economic and military interests. Moreover, the more Muslims who are mercilessly slaughtered in that region will make the possibility of operations taking place in Western countries, in particular in Britain and in America, a far higher likelihood were they not to be there in the first place.
The DC: What are your thoughts on recent “operations” or acts of terrorism by Muslims in against United States? For example the soldier who killed 13 at an army base in Texas or the Nigerian man who is accused of attempting to blow up an airliner heading into Detroit?
AC: First of all, we need to get behind these terms, because a lot of these terms are pejorative. They’re emotion-laden terms designed to be used against Islam and Muslims … that is the popular use of them today. However, if you look in the dictionary at the word “terrorism” it has been defined as the use of force against a community or a section of the community for political ends, and that is precisely what the British and the American governments are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even in their own societies against the indigenous Muslim population. So it does not surprise me that people want to retaliate against these governments and their societies because of what they’re doing against Islam and Muslims.
I think you have two types of terrorism: terrorism which is against the commands of God, and you have a terrorism which is in line with the command of God. Both of them are forms of terrorism, one is not sanctioned and one is. But definitely in war, people terrorize each other. The individuals you’re talking about, I do believe they see themselves as soldiers, fighting on behalf of Allah and his messenger, and they believe that the operations that they are carrying out are sanctioned by the divine text.
The DC: So is it up to each individual to determine whether his own actions are sanctioned by the Quran? Who’s the judge?
AC: Allah said clearly in the Quran, “Ask those who have knowledge, if you don’t know.” So it is obliged upon every Muslim to abide by the divine text. If he doesn’t know, then he will go to the scholars or the students of knowledge and he will ask them what he needs to do in every situation and scenario. So nobody will be able to make up the law as they go along. The Shariah can be very complicated in some areas. There are some matters which are known by necessity. For example, to drink alcohol is prohibited, to fornicate is prohibited, to pray is obliged. However there are some issues which are not known by necessity, like the details of the covenant of security, like the details of jihad and martyrdom operations, et cetera, for which you need to refer to the scholars of Islam in order to know what you should and should not be doing.
The DC: Do you consider yourself one of these scholars? Would you feel comfortable advising on the legitimacy of a martyrdom operation?
AC: I am merely a student of knowledge, and all Muslims must be students of knowledge. I am not a scholar but knowledge is relative. I know more about some issues than some of the Muslims, and I know less than others. If you ask me a specific question, if I have the information then I can answer it, then if not I will refer you to a scholar of Islam who can give you the answer.
The DC: Many in the press seem quick to dismiss you as a something of a publicity-seeking joker, and they often comment on the relatively small size of your group, Al Muhajiroun, as if to say, “These are just a few bad apples.” But given all of the attention you’ve been receiving lately, have your numbers been growing?
AC: As far as the numbers are concerned, I don’t believe that Al Muhajiroun, or any Islamic movement for that matter, should be judged on the numbers, rather on their effectiveness in society. I think that we’ve been extremely effective in passing our concepts and ideas to the masses. It’s not about Al Muhajiroun, it’s about Islam. If people adopt the Islamic ideas and they go back to the Shariah and implement it in their lives, that is success.
The DC: So is that was attracts people to your organization, your success at mass communication?
AC: We are not an organization dealing with propagating Islam purely on an individual basis. Our objective is to please Allah, obviously, which we do by working to establish Islam as a dominant force worldwide. That will be achieved by establishing a Khilafah — an Islamic state somewhere in the world, and the process to do that involves inviting the societies in which we live to think about Islam as an alternative political, social, economic, judicial system even with its own foreign policy. So most of our activities are based on addressing the society, and whether we like it or not, the society has its own voice, has its own tongue, which is the media. And just the way the poets of the Quraysh, which was the society of the prophet, used to demonize him and lie about him, we find that the BBC, CNN and Sky News these days lie and demonize us. When the companions of the prophet said to him, “Oh prophet of Allah, the poets lie, and they fabricate about you,” he said, “Others will hear about me, and they will come and verify the news.” And what we do find in fact is that when the media tries to demonize us, others from the Muslim community and others from the media want to know the truth, and that is the way that we can pass the true message that we want to carry, away from the lies and the fabrications and the distortions, to the masses. And I think this has reverberations around the world and many Muslims will agree and many Muslims will want to work with us.
The DC: It’s fair to say that the U.S. led the charge into Iraq and Afghanistan under the leadership of President Bush, but I wonder what you think President Obama’s handling of these wars and outreach to the Muslim world?
AC: I think that Barack Obama is doing exactly what his predecessor did. In their foreign policy, there’s no difference. It is a complete absurdity — and perverse — for him to be given the Nobel Peace Prize when he has, in fact, increased the presence of U.S. forces in the occupation of Afghanistan, and the aerial bombardment has increased since he became president. More people have been killed in the last year than were killed in the previous years toward the end of the Bush regime. So I do believe that he is more bloodthirsty and he is more determined to fight Islam and Muslims and he has made it clear that this war for the Americans is designed to ensure that the Muslims never implement the ideology that most of the Muslims want to, which is Islam as a law and order, and thereby reestablishing the Islamic state — the Khilafah. I believe that the Obama regime are willing to fight Muslims wherever they may go back to the fundamentals of their religion and thereby want to establish the Shariah and that includes Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and every other country where there is an Islamic resurgence.
There is a clash of civilizations today. The head of one believes that sovereignty and supremacy belongs to God — Sheikh Osama bin Laden, and the head of the other believes that sovereignty and supremacy belongs to man — Barack Obama.
The DC: You clearly see this as a war on Islam, yet there are Muslim soldiers among the American and British forces. How do you explain their involvement?
AC: They are not Muslims. Anyone who stands with the Americans and British or indeed any non-Muslims and fights against Muslims is an apostate. Allah mentions clearly in the Quran in chapter 5, verse 51, that those who stand with them are part of them. Therefore, they go outside of the fold of Islam. It does not surprise me that in the current climate where people grow up in the West and they are educated in the West, and they adopt the principles of secularism and democracy and freedom that eventually you’ll find some of them joining the army and the police and even helping them against Muslims. That is an act of apostasy and I don’t think that anyone who has studied the Shariah and who knows about Islam would call them Muslims.
The DC: Can Islam and democracy co-exist?
AC: The word democracy comes from the root word demos kratos, which means man-made law. And Islam means submission — submission to the law of God. So, in essence, they have completely different meanings. The common meaning of democracy is that it is for the people to decide their own affairs, and that is anathema to Islam and Muslims.