Britain's most powerful Islamic organization was facing accusations of failing mainstream Muslim Britain Saturday night after it complained of a "pro-Israel agenda" at the BBC in a program to be aired next week on Muslims in Britain.
In an extraordinary letter, the Muslim Council of Britain has written to BBC director general Mark Thompson to complain that Panorama, a respected current affairs television series, which is investigating an organizations representing Muslims in Britain, will "inflame mistrust."
The letter will be used by critics of the organization as evidence that the MCB is out of touch amid growing concern that it does not represent moderate Muslims.
The MCB has its roots in the extremist politics of Pakistan. Its secretary general, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, and media spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, have both expressed admiration for Maulana Maududi, founder of the radical Jamaat-i-Islami party, which campaigns for an Islamic state in Pakistan by non-violent means.
Maududi, a prominent figure in the 20th century Islamic revivalist movement, was a virulent anti-feminist who believed Muslims should struggle to rid their countries of Western influences. The Islamic Foundation, an affiliate of the MCB which has close and influential links to the British government, was founded by Khurshid Ahmad, a prominent member of the Jamaat-i-Islami.
A second affiliate, the strictly orthodox Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith, which is based in Birmingham, practices a form of Islam which demands strict separatism from mainstream society. Its Web site describes the ways of "disbelievers" as "based on sick and deviant views concerning their societies, the universe and their very existence."
MCB is a loosely structured organization of over 400 affiliates, and there is no suggestion that they are all extremist.
The BBC program is thought to be highly critical of some MCB affiliates for their links to extremist Islamic ideology. Last week reporter John Ware challenged Sacranie over his boycott of the Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this year, his attendance at a memorial service for Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin and his equivocal stance on Palestinian suicide bombers.
The letter from Bung-lawala, sent on Thursday, repeatedly refers to the "pro-Israel lobby" at the BBC, which is said to be behind the program, although it does not specify who it means. Bunglawala says: "It appears the Panorama team is more interested in furthering a pro-Israeli agenda than assessing the work of Muslim organizationsin the UK.
"It is quite regrettable that at a time when it is of the utmost importance that trust is built between the Muslim communities across the country and the wider society that the Panorama team seem intent on creating mistrust by serving the interests of the pro-Israeli lobby and undermining community relations in the UK."
The letter goes on: "The BBC should not allow itself to be used by the highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make capital out of the July 7 atrocities in London."
One senior BBC source said: "It's plain wrong, insulting to suggest we have an agenda and frankly preposterous."
Sacranie said: "We are concerned that the test of whether we are doing good work in the UK is whether we pass the Israel test. We have a clear position: we oppose the Israeli occupation. But our prime concern is with the Muslim community in this country." He added that since July 7 he believed the MCB had been under a concerted attack: "This is a campaign orchestrated by the pro-Israel lobby."