The terror attacks in Brussels make it seem as if Isis terrorists will never change.
But the story of Abu Muntasir shows how even the most hate-filled warmonger can learn to find peace.
The British preacher’s tale of redemption could be seen as a glimmer of hope for humanity as the world reels from the atrocity in the Belgian capital.
Muntasir was responsible for radicalising a generation of Muslims. From the mid-1980s until the end of the ’90s, he was a notorious hate preacher. He recruited thousands of Brits to become jihadis and bought weapons to use against the West.
His actions led to Muntasir becoming known as “The Godfather of British jihadis”.
“Abu Muntasir was a notorious hate preacher who recruited thousands to become jihadis. But now he’s a man of peace”
The former Kingston Polytechnic student convinced his extreme disciples to fight on battlefields throughout the world. Muntasir fought in Afghanistan, Burma and Chechnya himself, buying weapons, distributing leaflets with messages of hate spouted by fellow extremists. He gave speeches against the West throughout Britain.
Muntasir’s former follower Alyas Karmani, now a youth worker, said of him: “He was a charismatic father figure. It was exciting and there was an energy.”
But now Muntasir, who lives in Suffolk, is a man of peace. He runs a charity, Jimas, which works with homeless people and tries to spread an understanding of British culture among Muslims.
Last year, Muntasir broke down in tears in the ITV documentary Exposure: Jihad – A British Story because he said he was sickened by his old life of violence.
Muntasir’s despair is understandable. The legacy of his past violence against the West can be traced to Isis atrocities in Paris and beyond. But he has changed. Here, the former extremist writes for Loaded on why humanity should never give up on even the most evil of mankind.
I was deluded when I was a jihadi. As a student, I became influenced by the ideology of a group called The Muslim Brotherhood. They wanted to instigate a Muslim caliphate, for Muslims to reclaim lost land such as Spain and Grenada.
I was heavily involved in the jihad for about 15 years. I recruited jihadis, I raised funds and spoke out against the West. Many people became jihadis because of me, and they were deluded too. We lacked enough information and any understanding of reality. British people joining Isis are also deluded. I’m saddened, frustrated and angered, because these recruits are making a terrible mistake.
I was deluded, but at least the world’s politics were different. The Cold War was there, and we were fighting against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. But now? The hatred and enmity against the West and non-Muslims has become so endemic with Isis and al-Qaeda that young British Muslims know what they’re walking into. They’re choosing to be on the side of evil.
Isis need to be opposed, whether with grace and love or with bombing in a war. They can’t be tolerated
There is such blanket hatred and wanton violence, simply because of not sharing the same faith. Whatever their excuses or reasons, they’re on the wrong side and are doing wrong things. They need to be opposed, whether with grace and love or with bombing in a war. They can’t be tolerated.
In my opinion, there are two reasons Isis are so popular. One is, they want to establish a caliphate. They already have landmasses where their so-called law operates. They’ve established an authority, where they can claim they’ve gone back to the pure text of Islam, supposedly restoring what is authentic and with a power base. To that extent, they’re succeeding and that has a pull on people.
The second reason is because of our internal weakness as Muslims. We haven’t developed Islamic jurisprudence adequately to deal with modern life. That’s a much woolier subject, but we don’t have the books to deal with Isis effectively. Isis are quoting from the same type of sources which the majority of teachers and scholars in mosques are fed. That’s a fundamental problem.
I turned away from being a jihadi partly because I met a Jordanian scholar, Al-Albani, and I became influenced more by the Jordanian teachings of Islam. But I also became disillusioned by the in-fighting among Muslim sects. Crucially, I also began to read more. I realised how little knowledge me and my fellow jihadis had.
British Muslims in general don’t have much knowledge of the political foundation or history of our country, particularly our so-called scholars. I began reading at random, and became amazed at what the human mind is capable of. I thought, ‘How can it make sense to simply toe the line of one or two groups in the jihad?’ I was trying to mix with more people, both non-Muslims and people from other Muslim cultures.
Not having that knowledge is dangerous. Most people aren’t as fortunate as we are in Britain.
Look at Bangladesh. How are those people going to be enlightened, when they have such social deprivation and gruelling poverty? They’re not aware of the full story, so they’re open to people coming to agitate them.
British people joining Isis are betraying a country that has given them so many rights
British people joining Isis are betraying a country that has given them so many rights, and rights that they have enjoyed. They’re choosing to fight against their own country. They are enemies and they are treacherous. I have no sympathy, because they’ve chosen to be killers. We shouldn’t have to worry about restricting their citizenship and I don’t understand why we’re being so tolerant.
I can see how some people, however deluded, go to Syria because they think they’re doing the right thing. They want to help victims of the oppressors. But who are the right group there? Anyone going there is bound to get caught up in in-fighting with other Muslim groups. If they go to join al-Qaeda, they will end up fighting Isis. Islam says Muslims cannot fight against other Muslims. Yet these recruits are effectively saying that other Muslims are worth killing and fighting against.
“I thought I was fighting with noble intentions. But none of it is what Mohammed or God wants”
This is what I say if I get the chance to talk to people who are unhappy with the West and against Britain. I unpick the myths that are fed to Muslims, for example that Islam is under attack. I say, “Look at the rivalries and differences Muslims have in Britain. We can’t even sort those out, so how can we sort out the world’s problems?”
There is a victimhood mentality among some Muslims. I say, “What about other peoples’ suffering? Why only talk about us?” Many young people are caught up in the idea of master races, blaming it all on Jewish people. How is that Islamic, let alone being factually incorrect?
I can talk to young Muslims based on my own experiences. I preach and I’m a Muslim teacher. I can tell them, “I thought I was fighting with a noble intention. But none of it is what god or the prophet Mohammad wants. It’s not what Islam teaches according to our holy scripture.” Sometimes it works, sometimes people don’t want to listen and call me a spy or a sell-out. They can question what I say, but they’ve been told. When the day of judgement comes, they can’t say that nobody gave them the right message.
I could have been arrested so many times for what I did. I ought to have known better. If I’d been put in prison, it would have given me time to think. I hope I would have realised that I had been saved from a greater evil, of spreading a deluded message. I was a jihadi. Now I do positive work, not wicked, evil and destructive work. I hope I use my energies the right way.
For more information on Jimas see jimas.org.