Britain’s “First Counter-Extremism Interfaith Organisation”

Here’s one from last week; a press release published on Harry’s Place (links added):

THE ALL FAITHS NETWORK – “Britain’s first counter-extremism interfaith organisation”

You are cordially invited to a special parliamentary event to mark national Inter Faith Week:

…Religiously-motivated violence and extremism pose a challenge for interfaith organisations – many of which are heavily funded by the taxpayer. What is the best way for faiths to work together to challenge such extremism, and are we talking to the right people?

Has interfaith gone wrong, and how can we make it work?

The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom, and its member organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain, Islamic Foundation and Board of Deputies, have been invited to take part on this important panel, and to offer Muslim and Jewish and representatives to speak at this important event.

…If you would like to attend or for further information, please write by e-mail to or call 020 3411 7596 or 07979 750293.

Speakers included Revd Peter Colwell, of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society, Sam Westrop of the Gatestone Institute, and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hussaini of the Westminster Institute; the release ends with a link to an anonymous-looking website – entitled Don’t Fund Extremism – which commends a report by Westrop on what he describes as the “Interfaith Industry”. Follow-up pieces at Harry’s Place state that the purpose of the “special parliamentary event” was actually to launch the report, and note that it was chaired by Baroness Cox.

Westrop’s report, actually published by Stand for Peace, can be seen here; according to the executive summary:

Interfaith dialogue initiatives have been extensively infiltrated and exploited by extreme Islamist groups aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood… Taxpayer-funded interfaith groups willingly provide extreme Islamists with a platform. Senior interfaith officials include Manazir Ahsan, who coordinated the riots against Salman Rushdie and directs the Islamic Foundation, a Taliban-linked publisher of radical Islamist tracts in the UK. Groups such as the Joseph Interfaith Foundation work closely with extremist organisations, one of whose officials was a signatory to the Istanbul Declaration, a document that advocated attacks against British troops and Jewish communities. Interfaith umbrella groups include members such as the Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust, a Wahhabi charity accused by Nigerian media of funding Al Qaeda; Engage, an Islamist lobby group which harangues Muslim anti-Islamist activists; and the Islamic Forum of Europe, a Jamaat-e-Islami lobby group accused by former Labour Minister Jim Fitzpatrick of “infiltrating the Labour Party”.

…Interfaith groups and government officials have encouraged discrimination against smaller faith organisations, including Ahmaddiya groups, in order to placate the larger faith groups. Interfaith advocates who dissent from the official interfaith line have suffered harassment.

…Soft Islamism has embraced interfaith dialogue because it affords extremist groups moral legitimacy, access to political influence and public funds. Other interfaith leaders, meanwhile, tolerate fundamentalists in order to preserve the interfaith idea.

Westrop’s survey is a synthesis of material already in the public domain (mostly websites and news articles), and its purpose is polemical rather than discursive. But the primary evidence assembled amounts to a case that needs to be answered – as I’ve said before, that it’s not necessarily the case that a group or individual should be reduced to the least creditable thing they’ve ever said or done, but it is reasonable to press their associates to clarify exactly where they stand and how they justify a maintaining link. Peter Colwell, according to reports, appears to have been dismayed.

Westrop’s report must stand on its own merits, but some may see an element of “glass houses” in an event devoted to exposing discreditable associations: Baroness Cox infamously invited Geert Wilders to the UK Parliament, while the Gatestone Institute recently hosted him in the USA. And when it comes to controversial religious groups, it should be noted that the “All Faiths Network” recently scrubbed some pertinent information from its website:

Since its legal establishment on 30 August 2011, the All Faiths Network has operated continuously from its headquarters in the City of London

The All Faiths Network for the United Kingdom
c/o Religions Working Together, 146 Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4BY

“146 Queen Victoria Street” is better known as the London base of the Church of Scientology. Also, one of the two phone numbers given in the press release published by Harry’s Place belongs to a Church of Scientology Community Affairs Officer.

According to Charity Commission documentation, the All Faiths Network (charity number 1145611) has three trustees, named as Petar Grigorov, Iftikhar Ayaz (OBE), and Clarence Thompson MBE. None of these are Scientologists, although Ayaz (who is known as an Ahmadi human rights activist) and Thompson (who has been involved in race relations in south London for decades) have been involved with some Scientology events. Grigorov, meanwhile, is actually Petar Grigorov Grammatikoff (1),  a Bulgarian Orthodox hierodeacon who is also involved with the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom; this group has a French Scientologist minister as its primary contact.

However, official documentation for the All Faiths Network gives a different address from Queen Victoria Street: PO Box 67481, London NW3 9RN. Several other groups share the same contact address, including the Christian Muslim Council and Abraham House. The Christian Muslim Council is headed by Patrick Sookhdeo (previously blogged by me here) and Sheikh Mohamed Elsharkawy; Abraham House is run by al-Hussaini, who is noted above as attending the parliamentary event on behalf of the Westminster Institute (with which Sookhdeo is also associated). Al-Hussaini is also Secretary of the Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom, which along with the Christian Muslim Council and and a group called Scriptural Reasoning (tagline: “Better quality disagreemeent”) are described as “sister” organisations to the Interfaith Alliance UK, which is also associated with PO Box 67481. Meanwhile, the phone number for the All Faiths Network on the Charity Commission Website is the same as that of the UK branch of Al-Azhar University, where Elsharkawy is dean.

Unexpectedly, the Interfaith Alliance UK is a supporter of the Occupy movement:

Occupy Faith UK is the operational name of Interfaith Alliance UK, a charity dedicated to the promotion of religious harmony for the public benefit, striving for social and economic justice for all God’s children.

Occupy Faith UK stands in solidarity with Occupy Faith in the United States and the global Occupy movement, comprising people of many faiths and beliefs working together to build God’s Kingdom, where women and men of all economic, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds are cared for with parity of esteem.


(1) Name variations: Petar Grigorov Gramatikov, Petar Gramatikov, Petar  Gramatikoff

4 Responses

  1. I’m no great fan of either Cox or Murray, but I attended the event and thought the concerns raised seemed fully valid.

  2. Essentially the whole thing is a charade and a front for the anti Muslim prejudices of the main movers. Interesting that the Board of Deputies are in bed with Murray though.

  3. Thanks Richard. This is clearly an attempt to hijack the interfaith space by Gatestone et al. Every but everybody in the interfaith world is mentioned in the report, and tarred by association with the brush of extremism because they talk to people of more conservative / fundamentalist / extremist views. That’s dialogue, you don’t just talk with people you agree with. You even partner with them in a limited way.
    Richard Armbach, you’ll note that it says the Board of deputies – and Interfaith Network and MCB have been invited to participate. You can invite anyone and tell the world you’ve done it, adding quasi legitimacy. Peter Colwell tweeted that he wasn’t sure hoe useful the event was.

  4. I’ll confess I have not yet read the full report, but I could not challenge any of the concerns raised during the event. I assume that it was pointed out MCB etc were invited to make clear they were being given a ‘right to reply’, not to claim they were endorsing the event. I think it should be possible to talk to people with whom one is not in complete agreement while deciding some views/people are beyond the pale. Also, who decides which groups are acceptable? it seems (and I would be happy to be corrected on this) that some of these interfaith groups have deemed Ahmadi Muslims unacceptable.

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