Sean O’Neill, Times (London), April 20, 2006
Muslim students training to be imams at a British college with strong Iranian links have complained that they are being taught fundamentalist doctrines which describe nonMuslims as “filth”.
The Times has obtained extracts from medieval texts taught to the students in which unbelievers are likened to pigs and dogs. The texts are taught at the Hawza Ilmiyya of London, a religious school, which has a sister institution, the Islamic College for Advanced Studies (ICAS), which offers a degree validated by Middlesex University.
The students, who have asked to remain anonymous, study their religious courses alongside the university-backed BA in Islamic studies. They spend two days a week as religious students and three days on their university course.
The Hawza Ilmiyya and the ICAS are in the same building at Willesden High Road, northwest London — a former Church of England primary school — and share many of the same teaching staff.
They have a single fundraising arm, the Irshad Trust, one of the managing trustees of which is Abdolhossein Moezi, an Iranian cleric and a personal representative of Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme religious leader.
Mr Moezi is also the director of the Islamic Centre of England in Maida Vale, a large mosque and community centre that is a registered charity. Its memorandum of association, lodged with the Charity Commission, says that: “At all times at least one of the trustees shall be a representative of the Supreme Spiritual Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Both the Irshad Trust and the Islamic Centre of England Ltd (ICEL) were established in 1996. Mr Moezi’s predecessor as Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative, another cleric called Mohsen Araki, was a founding trustee of both charities.
In their first annual accounts, lodged with the Charity Commission in 1997, the charities revealed substantial donations. The Irshad Trust received gifts of £1,367,439 and the ICEL accepted an “exceptional item” of £1.2 million.
Around the same time, the ICEL bought a former cinema in Maida Vale without a mortgage. Since then it has received between £1 million and £1.7 million in donations each year which, it says, come from British and overseas donors. The centre declined to say if any of its money came from Iran.
Since 2000, its accountants have recorded in their auditors’ report on the charity’s accounts that they have limited evidence about the source of donations.
The links between the two charities and Iran are strong. The final three years of the eight-year Hawza Ilmiyya course are spent studying in colleges in the holy city of Qom, the power base of Iran’s religious leaders.
The text that has upset some students is the core work in their Introduction to Islamic Law class and was written by Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, a 13thcentury scholar. The Hawza Ilmiyya website states that “the module aims to familiarise the student with the basic rules of Islamic law as structured by al-Hilli”.
Besides likening unbelievers to filth, the al-Hilli text includes a chapter on jihad, setting down the conditions under which Muslims are supposed to fight Jews and Christians.
The text is one of a number of books that some students say they find “disturbing” and “very worrying”. Their spokesman told The Times: “They are being exposed to very literalist interpretations of the Koran. These are interpretations that would not be recognised by 80 or 90 per cent of Muslims, but they are being taught in this school.
“A lot of people in the Muslim community are very concerned about this. We need to urgently re-examine the kind of material that is being taught here and in other colleges in Britain.”
Mohammed Saeed Bahmanpour, who teaches in both the Hawza and the ICAS, confirmed that al-Hilli text was used, but denied that it was taught as doctrine. He said that, although the book was a key work in the jurisprudence class, its prescriptions were not taught as law. When he taught from it, he omitted the impurity chapter, he said.
Dr Bahmanpour said: “We just read the text and translate for them, but as I said I do not deal with the book on purity. We have left that to the discretion of the teacher whether he wants to teach it or not.
“The idea is not to teach them jurisprudence because most of the fatwas of Muhaqiq are not actually conforming with the fatwa of our modern jurists. The idea is that they would be able to read classical texts and that is all.”
Dr Bahmanpour said that Mr Moezi had no educational role at either the ICAS or Hawza Ilmiyya. Mr Moezi has been the representative in Britain of Ayatollah Khamenei since 2004 when he also succeeded Mr Araki in the role and as a trustee of the ICEL and the Irshad Trust.
The Islamic centre’s website reports Ayatollah Khamenei’s speeches and activities prominently and one of the first sites listed under its links section is the supreme leader’s homepage.
A spokeswoman for the ICEL also confirmed its links with the Iran’s spiritual leadership but said the centre was a purely religious organisation.
Middlesex University, which accredits the ICAS course but not the Hawza Ilmiyya, said: “The BA in Islamic studies offered by the Islamic College of Advanced Studies is validated by Middlesex University.
“This means that Middlesex ensures that the academic standards of this particular programme are appropriate, the curriculum delivers to the required standards, learning and teaching methods allow achievement of standards.”
‘The water left over in the container after any type of animal has drunk from it is considered clean and pure apart from the left over of a dog, a pig, and a disbeliever’
‘There are ten types of filth and impurities: urine, faeces, semen, carrion, blood of carrion, dogs, pigs, disbelievers’
‘When a dog, a pig, or a disbeliever touches or comes in contact with the clothes or body [of a Muslim] while he [the disbeliever] is wet, it becomes obligatory — compulsory upon him [the Muslim] to wash and clean that part which came in contact with the disbeliever’