VIDEO: Muslim academic defends Pastor Jim McConnell

A leading Muslim academic has defended Pastor McConnell on the foot of the court steps as the trial of the 78-year-old cleric gets underway in Belfast.

Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a Senior Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute, said this morning at Laganside Courts that these issues of academic and religious freedom during rising religious extremism is “possibly one of the most important things at oiur juncture in history - it could be the make or break for the continued survival of our planet actually”.

Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a Senior Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute, speaking outside Laganside Courts today

Muhammad Al-Hussaini, a Senior Research Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute, speaking outside Laganside Courts today

He also highlighted the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. And he claimed the Public Prosecution Service has “done us a great disservice by wasting public money and time on this particular issue”.

Mr Al-Hussaini, said he stood alongside Catholic cleric Fr Patrick McCafferty, who had also had public debates over faith matters with Pastor McConnell.

Both disagreed with Pastor McConnell’s critiques of Catholicism and Islam respectively, but the academic said such debates are “a matter for civil society - not the judiciary”.

The Pastor faces two charges - which he denies - improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network - after remarks about Islam made at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast were streamed online. He is accused of branding Islam “satanic” and “heathen”.

Pastor James McConnell  at court

Pastor James McConnell at court

Hundreds of Christian supporters accompanied the veteran churchman to court for pre-trial hearings.

Outside court this morning as the trial began, a crowd of supporters held banners and placards and sang hymns to show their support.

When asked how he was feeling ahead of the trial, Pastor McConnell said: “It’s a good day for a hanging - particularly to hang the prosecution.”