Muslim leaders are in denial that this has anything to do with Islam

Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini with Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast's Laganside Courts after a court case in December 2015 in which the pastor was tried for anti Islamic comments he made in a sermon. He was acquitted later that year.
Dr Al-Hussaini had travelled to give him moral support. 
Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini with Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast's Laganside Courts after a court case in December 2015 in which the pastor was tried for anti Islamic comments he made in a sermon. He was acquitted later that year. Dr Al-Hussaini had travelled to give him moral support. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

I recently had the privilege of discussing with Brendan, a Londoner originally from South Armagh, his personal narrative of growing up during The Troubles.

His story recounted how the external environmental violence had seeded internally in a brutalising of the family dynamic, and the transmission of that trauma generationally across the lives of others.

That he was able to turn round such historical brokenness with a determined personal warmth and care for others offers some insight into the questions that face Northern Ireland and our world situation today.

Most striking was Brendan’s recognition that, in this world of ideologically-driven oppression, on the one side stands flawed and grubby humanity, and on the other, pure, perfect and merciless dogma.

And when I watch the heartbreaking images from Manchester, I’m rather inclined to ask God which side He’s on.

The routine blandness of statements issued by certain self-appointed Muslim and interfaith leaders following this terrorist attack upon young innocents holds the very key to the problem.

In absolute denial that this has “anything to do with Islam” the Muslim Council of Britain and its partner organisations comment, “This is horrific, this is criminal”, and, “This is and will always be a mindless and unjustifiable act”, and, “The perpetrator of this vile action and their perverted ideology is an aberration of all humanity and all religions”.

Unfortunately, the abjuring of the ideology, indeed, theology of violence is no more than a convenient untruth.

The reality is the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, faithfully and mindfully gave up his own life for a cause in which he piously believed, his actions justified and grounded in one particular shocking, but nevertheless extant and valid interpretation of religious scriptures, which reading of Islam is shared by rather a large number of my co-religionists.

And yet the entirety of our national counter-extremism strategy is currently constructed to avoid this question.

An intellectually free and compassionate society falls into existential peril when it makes a no-go area of debating how the sacred texts and traditions of the Abrahamic religions have upheld the worship of God and enjoined moral conduct, and at the same time have for centuries supported slavery, genocide and the oppression of women and minorities.

Until such time as the interpretation of Islamic and other theological categories are a full and legitimate part of our mainstream discourse on the future of this nation, and the freedom of speech to interrogate and critique religious ideas is vigorously protected, we can expect only further cycles of Islamist violence followed by bland apologetics by our leaders.

Of all places, Northern Ireland understands where the ideology of the ends justifies the means gets us, and it is only when we bind ourselves unshakeably to truthful speaking about these things, and moreover to privileging compassion over religion that we might stem the generational trauma that now lies before us.

• Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini is Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute (Twitter: @MYAlHussaini). In 2015 he travelled to Belfast to support Pastor James McConnell during his criminal trial over an anti Islamic sermon