Did Manchester mosque imam really call for armed jihad?
Police open probe into Mustafa Graf’s sermon at mosque attended by the Manchester Arena bomber
Greater Manchester Police have launched an official investigation over claims that an imam at a mosque in the city may have helped radicalise the perpetrator of the Manchester Arena bombing last May.
Authorities have confirmed they were in possession of footage obtained in secret by the BBC that appears to show Mustafa Graf, an Islamic cleric from Chorlton, calling for jihad during a sermon at Didsbury Mosque on 16 December 2016.
The sermon, which took place during heavy bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo, rebuked believers who “love Islam and Muslims but... do nothing for the support of their brothers and sisters”.
Graf said: “Now it is time to act and do something... Jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation.”
The recording appears to show Graf praising the “mujahideen” – a term commonly used for Islamist guerrilla fighters, according to the BBC.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Manchester bomber Salman Abedi and his family regularly attended the mosque, adding that his father sometimes led the call to prayer. But the paper says it’s unclear whether Abedi, or any members of his family, attended the mosque on the day of the audio recording.
Abedi is understood to have bought a ticket for the Ariana Grande concert at which he killed 22 people ten days after the sermon.
Questions remain over Graf’s usage of the term “jihad”, with some claiming it can be interpreted in different ways. In a statement, Didsbury Mosque defended Graf, saying: “‘Jihad’ is an Arabic word meaning to struggle or strive for good, and it is often used incorrectly.
“The English translation said something like ‘you must all give to charity’. But instead of translating the full sermon they [the BBC] have translated all the Arabic words around jihad, but left that as it is.”
The mosque’s trustees told the Manchester Evening News that the imam had been “highlighting the plight of Syrians” after chemical bombings in the country. They said the imam’s use of the words jihad and mujahideen had been misinterpreted.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines jihad both as a “personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline” and “a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty”, lending credence to the mosque’s defence of Graf.
But the BBC played the tapes to two Islamic scholars, both of whom felt it was not Graf’s choice of words that was inflammatory, but his application of them.
“The jihad he’s referring to here is actually being on the battlefield, there are no ifs and no buts in this,” said Shaykh Rehan, a lecturer at Minhaj College, Manchester. Rehan said Graf was “psychologically and practically brainwashing young people” into either travelling or taking action.
Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam, agreed, saying: “From the context and the way these texts are used they are clearly referring to military jihad, to armed jihad.”
After the bombing by Abedi last May, Graf condemned the attack, saying: “As a community we have lost many hundreds of people who bravely fought and defeated Isis in Sirte, Libya, only a few months ago, and so we are affected by grief again.”