‘Terrorism is not in the name of Islam’

Ali Amla
Ali Amla
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Ali Amla is remarkably positive for a man who spends his time building bridges between communities, only for extremists to regularly blow them apart.

The Muslim vice-chairman of the Preston Faith Forum did a sterling job calming tensions across the city after the murder of Private Lee Rigby in London in May 2013.

The slaughter of innocents like aid worker Alan Henning by ISIS fighters in Syria raised the temperature again last year.

Now events in Paris have once more tested his resolve – and his assertion that Preston is the model of tolerance in an increasingly intolerant world.

“People generalise and blame all Muslims for the behaviour of these terrorists,” he said. “But that is not Islam. That’s not what we are about.

“Many Muslim leaders have come out and condemned these people and distanced themselves from this barbaric behaviour.

“But sometimes we feel like we are swimming against the tide. It’s an avalanche and we are trying to stay on top of it.”

Ali admits he too felt insulted when cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad were published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Like most Muslims he refused to let the anger get the better of him and tear apart all that he has worked for in pursuit of racial harmony in a truly multi-cultural city like Preston.

But he admits he gets worried what reaction there will be when an act of terrorism is “perpetrated by a jihadist group, particularly on European soil.”

“That feeds the narrative of the right-wing that Islam is a threat and needs to be countered,” he says. “There have been over 60 attacks in France alone since the murders in Paris. There have also been incidents across Europe, Britain as well.

“We saw an immediate backlash and that further reinforces the notion that the West is at war with Islam.

“It brings a lot of challenges. I’ve seen some quite awful comments across social media, a lot of right wing groups using France as an opportunity to capitalise on their hate and create more anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“For someone who is trying to build bridges, it’s really worrying.”

The follow-up edition of Charlie Hebdo, again using a cartoon of the Prophet, caused more offence.

Ali admitted: “I said to my Muslim friends that it was inevitably going to happen. I told them to just accept it’s happening, let’s not create any more community tension. Take it on the chin. It’s unpalatable. But, for me, it’s about calling for peace and calm.

“I found the images disrespectful. They are an insult to the Prophet, but then, what the murderers did is also an insult to the Prophet.”

Preston, says Ali, has a proud record for tolerance. It is not, he predicts, going to be broken by the actions of extremists.

But, while tensions exist across Europe and around the world, faith groups continue to work together in the city to foster peaceful co-existence.

“Whilst most people are trying to continue with their lives as normal, there is a theme of anxiety running through different communities.

“All I would hope for is that we all invest more into building bridges of understanding across all those communities.”