One of the most unnerving aspects of the current turmoil in Iraq and Syria has been the steady trickle of young British and Irish radicals joining extremists in their self-proclaimed 'Jihad'.
Whilst it has been reported that hundreds of EU citizens have fled their shores to join the purported ‘Caliphate’ of terror group Isis, one Irish Imam is making a very different kind of migration to meet a very different kind of Caliph.
Irish-born Imam Ibrahim Noonan has travelled not to the Middle East, but to the leafy English countryside of Hampshire, where he is attending the UK’s largest Muslim convention.
30,000 Muslims have gathered for the International Annual Gathering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, known as Jalsa Salana. Imam Noonan, head missionary of the community in Ireland, is one of the thousands travelling there from abroad.
I catch him as he leaves one of the two 15,000-capacity marquees, having just listened to the speech of the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslims, Mirza Masroor Ahmad. The Caliph leads tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims worldwide, so seeing him in person is an experience relished by his followers. Imam Noonan tells me, almost in awe, that the Caliph’s message of purely peaceful Islam is something Ireland sorely needs to hear.
Imam Noonan said: “My message is that Islam is a religion of peace; it is a spiritual religion, a religion of reformation. You will not find anything in the Qur’an which suggests or orders or instructs any Muslim to go and fight a jihad which is being done in Syria or Iraq at the moment.
"So these Muslims who are leaving Ireland, have gone purely on some other ideology. Because you cannot find such incidents of commandments in the Qur’an that say go and slaughter men and women and children.”
Imam Noonan has been busy in recent months, spreading his Caliph’s message of peace. When Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson made his negative remarks about Islam earlier this summer, he was the first Muslim representative to meet him and address the comments he made directly.
“I introduced [true] caliphate to him, and he was very happy and gave us his apologies.”
Ahmadi Muslims, led by their Caliph, believe in a very different kind of Caliphate to the extremists currently overrunning Iraq. Based purely on the Holy Qur’an, they believe that Caliphate is spiritual leadership, not political leadership, and abhor any kind of violence and aggression being perpetrated in the name of Islamic Caliphate.
“My message is that Islam is a religion of peace. If you want to find out about Islam, come to those who know about Islam, and right now those who know about Islam as it should be is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. You have to come to this Caliph.”
Imam Noonan is passionate about removing misconceptions about Islam, but as the actions of extremists reach new barbaric heights, he knows that the message he bears has never been more crucial.
“The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has held a number of interfaith conferences in Northern Ireland, and I’ll be giving several more lectures in the coming year.
"They’ll all be on the message of peace. My message to the people of Northern Ireland is please be patient, and when you hear the name ‘Ahmadiyya’ know that we’re peaceful. Our motto is “Love for All, Hatred for None”, and we want to have dialogue with the people of Northern Ireland.”
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