First published in Sunday Observer Sunday, May 27, 2007
JAMAICA’S Muslims have made it clear they will welcome reputed hate preacher Abdullah el-Faisal into the community unless he proves himself unworthy, following his deportation to the island last Friday.
“As a Muslim coming back to Jamaica, we welcome him. We welcome any and every Muslim who come here as long as they abide by the rules and regulations that are stipulated,” president of the Islamic Council of Jamaica (ICJ) Mustafa Muhammad told the Sunday Observer.
At the same time, he said they were relieved to learn of el-Faisal’s release from prison.
“As a member of Muslim family in general, we are somewhat relieved that he has been released from prison. Just like any family member who has gone to prison and is released, family members will experience joy and relief that he is out,” Muhammad said.
“It is now up to that person (who was in prison) to prove whether their going to prison was justified and whether they have learned anything from the term they spent in prison. And actions will prove stronger than words,” he added.
El-Faisal, a Jamaican-born Islamic cleric, was the first person in more than a century to be convicted under Britain’s 1861 Offences Against the Person Act after he was found guilty of soliciting murder and fuelling racial hatred in 2003.
Muhammad said Friday that the Islamic Council would make an effort to meet with the deported el-Faisal in order to gauge his intentions.
“We will make an effort to see him so that we can sit down and speak with him to find out if his intention is to work with us. From what we know of him, he is a fairly learned person in terms of Islam. He speaks the Arabic language very well (for example),” the ICJ head said.
“So if he wants to work along with the ICJ, then there are rules and regulations he will have to comply to. And if he chooses to comply, then we will work along with him,” he added.
Sheikh Tijani Musa, head of Islamic education in Jamaica, supported Muhammad’s stance on the matter of el-Faisal’s return.
“We give anyone a chance to know what they are up to. We cannot judge him or anything until we see him,” Musa said. “If he comes and then he said he already learn the lesson and that everything said about him, he has nothing to do with that again and want to be good Jamaican Muslim he will be welcome to all Muslim communities.”
At the same time, he made it clear they would not sit by and allow el-Faisal to preach any message of hate under the guise that that is what Islam is about.
“All Muslims in Jamaica are peaceful. We conduct our religion according to what God said in the Koran. Islam teaches you to live with each other in peace and harmony, and you cannot force anyone to do something else,” he said. “Religion is a choice. We cannot force anyone to choose a religion.”
“If he [el-Faisal] says anything that from an Islamic point of view is not [of the religion] then we will not just keep silent. We will make it clear that this is not what we are about. And we will have no apologies for that,” he said.
The community, he noted had grown in numbers, from an estimated 500 to 600 two decades ago to the current estimated 4,500 active members of the community found in a census done in 2004.