EXCLUSIVE: Cleric probed for calling Israel a ‘terrorist state’ returns to ‘well-paid’ counter-extremism role

Imam Irfan Chishti's firm fights radicalisation for up to £1,500 a day


MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 24: Manchester Central Park Mosque Imam, Irfan Chishti, speaks as Multi-cultural religious leaders from across Manchester hold a vigil in St Ann's Square on May 24, 2017 in Manchester, England. An explosion at Manchester Arena on the night of May 22, as people left the Ariana Grande concert, caused 22 fatalities and injured 59. Greater Manchester Police are treating the explosion as a terrorist attack.Ê (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

A Muslim cleric who was caught on film calling Israel a “terrorist state” and praising “martyrs” who have “given their life for Palestine” is to return to his well-paid job on the government’s counter-extremism programme.

Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered an inquiry into Imam Irfan Chishti, MBE, after he was filmed giving a speech to a pro-Palestine rally in Rochdale during the recent Israel and Gaza conflict in which he said, “We ask you Allah that you accept every single shahid (martyr) who has given their life for Palestine.”

Referring to the “historic” loss of Palestine, he said that under Muslim rule the area had been peaceful, but now Israel was “this terrorist state forcing terror upon our brothers and sisters”.

Mr Chishti added during the speech that Muslims must be smart, adding that “our Jewish brethren” are “a lot smarter than us”.

He said Muslims knew “exactly the strategy that those Jewish, Zionist politicians are doing and we also know how to respond. It’s got to be long term, it’s got to be economic, it’s got to be with strategy”.

The cleric issued a fulsome apology when his comments came to light. The JC understands the imam has received a written warning and been cleared to return to his paid role as an adviser on the government’s counter-terror strategy, Prevent.

His company, Me and You Education, is a Prevent partner and gives training to the police, the NHS and schools on how to spot extremists and neutralise radicalisation.

The company’s website states its mission is to heal divisions between communities but Mr Chishti found himself the subject of an investigation after a film emerged of him attacking Israel during the 11-day conflict with Gaza in May.

Mr Chishti suggested to the crowd that if they wanted to become “mujahideen”, holy warriors, then they should emulate the Muslim general Saladin, who expelled the Crusaders from Palestine in 1187. “Where is the modern-day Saladin?” he asked. The term “mujahideen” can also mean those who engage in purely spiritual struggle.

He went on to praise shahids, or martyrs — a term used by militant groups such as Hamas for civilians and those killed as suicide bombers or in combat.

Confronted at the time, Mr Chishti said he was “jolted” when he read back his speech and accepted he “could have chosen better and less equivocal words” to encourage “the expression of opinions”.

He added: “Some of my words reflect a clear error of judgment, in the heat of the moment and do not reflect my sentiments or the sentiments of the audience.

“I now appreciate that my ill-chosen words will have caused offence and hurt to the Jewish community and I tender my most profound apologies.”

Launching its inquiry, the Home Office called his comments “completely unacceptable” and warned they risked “damaging community relations and undermining Prevent’s important work.”

It promised an urgent investigation and “appropriate action.”

Mr Chishti was a member of the Government’s Task Force on Tackling Extremism, whose 2013 report warned that “is often too easy for extremist preachers to spread extremist views which can lead people into terrorism”.

His company says it is “part of the solution”, and has been a Prevent partner since 2013. The cleric got his MBE for services to Muslim communities in 2009.

An official Prevent catalogue says his firm fights radicalisation for up to £1,500 a day. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Office expects all Prevent providers to abide by strict standards. Any failures to comply with these standards are taken very seriously.

"Following an internal investigation into these comments, disciplinary action has been taken.”


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