A Muslim academic has asked why Pastor James McConnell should be required to trust people that he himself does not trust.
Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hussaini, who travelled to Belfast to support the pastor in his trial, said that much of the Islamic community in Britain expressed “Jew-hating” prejudices that fuelled violence.
Pastor McConnell was acquitted this week of making “grossly offensive” comments about Muslims in a sermon at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle church in Belfast in May 2014.
In a three-day trial his defence lawyer Philip Mateer QC said that in effect the case against him came down to five words: “... but I don’t trust [Muslims] ...” The prosecution never disputed this assessment.
It conceded that the section in which the pastor said “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell” was protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and its provisions in relation to freedom of conscience and religion.
In justifying bringing the case after the pastor was cleared on Tuesday, a Public Prosecution Service statement also referred to the ‘trust’ section: “This case was brought by the PPS because of the characterisation by Pastor McConnell of all Muslims as potential terrorists by virtue of their faith.”
Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini told the News Letter: “Why would Pastor James McConnell be required to trust people that I as a Muslim academic and clergyman would not trust?”
He said that every time there was an atrocity by Islamic extremists, British Muslim leaders said “we condemn this completely, Islam is a religion of peace”. He said however that the “deeds don’t match the words” and that the same leaders were seeking money from a UK government that was trying to bolster “non violent Islamism”.
Dr Al-Hussaini added: “Muslim parents are just like everybody else. They want their sons not to go off to Syria to fight and become jihadists; they want their sons to grow up and become doctors and lawyers and successful professionals.”
But he said it was like prejudice among Germans in the 1930s who did not explicitly support the Nazis: “Ordinary British families in the Muslim community round the family dinner table – you will just hear ordinary, everyday, banal, Jew-hating talk or prejudiced comments against other sections of society.”
Dr Al-Hussaini said such talk “in a minority of cases can lead to people actually taking these things very seriously”.
He said that the pastor’s trial was “a clear case” of a culture in which “the British establishment rather than wanting to engage hard questions is rather keen to pacify and to appease Islamist opinion”.