LONDON (Reuters) - Over a thousand young Muslims are due to attend a camp in Britain to discuss terrorism this weekend, but rather than encouraging militancy the organisers’ mission is to destroy the arguments of extremists.
The three-day “al-Hidayah” camp, which gets underway at the University of Warwick in central England on Saturday, is billed as the first event of its kind in Britain specifically aimed at targeting terrorism.
“I feel it is my duty to save the younger generation from radicalisation and wave of terroristic recruitment in the west,” said Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, head of the global Minhaj ul-Quran religious and educational organisation which is hosting the camp and hopes to attract some 1,300 attendees.
“We need to prepare them mentally and academically, intellectually and spiritually, against extremist tendencies and terrorist attitudes.”
Qadri, a prominent Islamic scholar figure who has promoted peace and inter-faith dialogue for 30 years, made news in March when he issued a 600-page fatwa denouncing terrorists and suicide bombers to be unbelievers.
The Pakistan-born Qadri, who has written about 400 books and is a scholar of Sufism, a long tradition within Islam that focuses on peace, tolerance and moderation, said his edict went further than any previous denunciation.
He has widespread global support, with millions of followers in Pakistan, but told Reuters earlier this year he was worried about the radicalisation of young British Muslims.
Britain has about 1.7 million Muslims, mainly of Pakistani descent, and the security services say that nearly all major terrorism plots since 2001, including the 2005 London bombings which killed 52 people, were linked to Pakistan.
While al-Hidayah is an annual peace conference, organisers say this year it will much more aggressively focus on tackling extremism.
“This is the first anti-terror camp of its kind Britain has witnessed and I believe this will change the concepts of many Muslim youth who will learn directly from the scholar who issued the Fatwa on Terrorism,” said Minhaj ul-Quran spokesman Shahid Mursaeleen.
“It will be a severe blow to extremist groups in the UK.”
The Quilliam Foundation, which describes itself as a counter-terrorism think tank, said the conference was important.
“This event will give young Muslims the confidence and the theological tools to go back to their own communities across the UK and root out the virus of extremism and intolerance,” a spokesman said.
Reporting by Michael Holden