Pictured in 2011
|Former spokesman for Islam4UK|
November 2008 – 14 January 2010
18 January 1967 |
Welling, London, England
|Spouse(s)||Rubana Akhtar (m. 1996)|
|Alma mater||University of Southampton|
Anjem Choudary (Urdu: انجم چودهرى; born 1967) is a British Muslim social and political activist. He was previously a solicitor and served as the chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, and, until it was proscribed, as the spokesman for Islamist group, Islam4UK.
With Omar Bakri Muhammad, he helped form an Islamist organisation, al-Muhajiroun. The group organised several anti-Western demonstrations, including a banned protest march in London for which Choudary was summonsed to appear in court. Al-Muhajiroun was disbanded following the UK government's decision to ban it. Choudary was present at the launch of its intended successor, Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, and later helped form Al Ghurabaa, which was also banned. He then became the spokesman for Islam4UK. He receives little support from mainstream UK Muslims and has been largely criticised in the country's media.
A critic of the UK's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Choudary praised those responsible for the 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005 attacks. He supports the implementation of Sharia law throughout the UK and marched in protest at the Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy, following which he was prosecuted for organising an unlawful demonstration. He was investigated, but not charged, for his comments in 2006 regarding Pope Benedict XVI. He is currently on bail pending prosecution for inviting support of a proscribed organisation, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Born in the UK on 18 January 1967, Anjem Choudary is the son of a Welling market trader and is of Pakistani descent. He attended Mulgrave Primary School, in Woolwich. He enrolled as a medical student at the University of Southampton, where he was known as Andy, but after excessive partying, failed his first-year exams. Responding to claims that he was a "party animal" who joined his friends in "getting stoned", in 2014 Choudary commented "I admit that I wasn't always practising... I committed many mistakes in my life." He switched to law and spent his final year as a legal student (1990–1991) at Guildford, before moving to London to teach English as a second language. He became a lawyer after he found work at a legal firm and completed his legal qualifications. Choudary became the chairman of the Society of Muslim Lawyers, but was removed from the roll of solicitors (the official register of legal practitioners) in 2002.
Choudary first came to public attention in 1999, when The Sunday Telegraph identified him as having played an instrumental role in the recruitment of Muslim trainees leaving Britain to fight abroad. He told the newspaper "before they go abroad to fight for organisations like the IIF, the volunteers are trained in Britain. Some of the training does involve guns and live ammunition."
Choudary embraced Islamism and, with the Islamist militant leader Omar Bakri Muhammed, co-founded al-Muhajiroun. The two men had met at a local mosque, where Bakri was giving a tafsir (literary interpretation). In 2002 the group was refused a permit for a rally in London, by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Ignoring the ban, they held a rally on 25 August, for which Choudary was summonsed to Bow Street Magistrates' Court on 14 January 2003, on charges which included "exhibiting a notice, advertisement or any other written or pictorial matter", "using apparatus for the amplification of sound", "making a public speech or address", and "organising an assembly". In the same year Choudary gave a talk on education at Slough, where he outlined his ideas for a parallel system of Islamic education in the UK. His speech followed a bazaar organised by al-Muhajiroun, advertised by leaflet and word of mouth. Choudary also included elements of the group's ideology in his lecture.
In 2003 or 2004 he organised an Islamic-themed camping trip, at which Bakri lectured, on the 54-acre (220,000 m2) grounds of the Jameah Islamiyah School in East Sussex. Advertised by word-of-mouth, the trip was attended by 50 Muslim men, most of whom were members of al-Muhajiroun. Bakri later claimed the camp's activities included lectures on Islam, football and paintballing. In September 2006, following allegations that it was used in the training and recruitment of terrorists, police searched the school. According to testimony from Al Qaeda suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, in 1997 and 1998 Abu Hamza and groups of around 30 of his followers held training camps at the school, which included training with AK47 rifles and handguns, and a mock rocket launcher. No arrests were made, and students and faculty were allowed to return on 23 September 2006, the first day of Ramadan.
The UK government had investigated expelling Bakri even before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and in July 2003 the headquarters of al-Muhajiroun, and the homes of Bakri and Choudary, were raided by the police. The following year, under new anti-terrorist legislation, the government announced that it wished to ban al-Muhajiroun from operating in the UK. In 2005 Bakri learned that he was at risk of prosecution for his support of the 7 July 2005 London bombers, and in August left the UK for Lebanon, where he claimed that he was on holiday. After leaving a television station where he said "I will not return to Britain unless I want to go there as a visitor or as a tourist", he was detained by Lebanon's general security department and held in a Beirut prison. Several days later, Bakri was excluded from returning to Britain by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, on the grounds that his presence in Britain was "not conducive to the public good." Choudary condemned the decision and demanded to know what Bakri had done to justify the ban. He claimed that ministers were inventing rules to ensure that Bakri could not return. In November Choudary was deported from Lebanon, along with three other followers of Bakri, and returned to the UK. Choudary claimed that they were there to help Bakri set up a madrasah, and blamed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for orchestrating their deportations.
Following his deportation, Choudary attended the launch in London of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, the intended successor organisation to al-Muhajiroun. Choudary said that Bakri was not on the committee of the new group, but that "we would love for the sheikh to have a role." The organisation operates mainly through an invitation-only internet forum, to which Choudary contributes under the screen name Abou Luqman. A reporter visiting the site found calls for holy war, and recordings by Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Omar Bakri Mohammed.
Al-Muhajiroun attempted a relaunch in June 2009 at Conway Hall, in Holborn. Several speakers were invited to share a platform with Choudary, but some later claimed that they had been invited under false pretences. When the group refused to allow women into the meeting, the chairman of the society which runs the hall cancelled the event. He was heckled by many of those in the audience. Choudary took the microphone from the chairman and led chants of "sharia for UK", saying in reference to the exclusion of women: "Jews and Christians will never make peace with you until you either become like them or adopt their ways." Outside the hall, Choudary criticised British society, and predicted that Muslims would make up the majority within one or two decades. When asked why, if society was so bad, he lived here, he replied: "We come here to civilise people, get them to come out of the darkness and injustice into the beauty of Islam."
Choudary was also a spokesman for Al Ghurabaa, believed to have been an offshoot of al-Muhajiroun. It was proscribed in 2006 by the then Home Secretary John Reid. Choudary was outraged: "The easy option when one is losing an argument is to ban the opposition voice. ... We [al-Ghurabaa] are not a military organisation; we have only been vociferous in our views—views concerning everything from the government's foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan to the host of draconian laws, which they’ve introduced against us in this country."
In November 2008, Choudary organised a meeting of the newly formed Islam4UK, which, according to its website, was "established by sincere Muslims as a platform to propagate the supreme Islamic ideology within the United Kingdom as a divine alternative to man-made law", and to "convince the British public about the superiority of Islam ... thereby changing public opinion in favour of Islam in order to transfer the authority and power ... to the Muslims in order to implement the Sharee’ah (here in Britain)". According to Ed Husain, co-founder of the counter-terrorism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, Islam4UK was a "splinter group of al-Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir, the originators of extremism in Britain." The meeting, advertised as a conference to "rise to defend the honour of the Muslims", was held at the Brady Arts and Community Centre in Tower Hamlets. Choudary then announced that Bakri would be speaking, via a video-conference link, although technical problems meant that his address was instead given over a telephone line. When asked by a Muslim woman how the comments of one of the event's speakers could be justified, with regards to Islam being a religion of peace, Choudary stated, "Islam is not a religion of peace ... It is a religion of submission. We need to submit to the will of Allah."
With the announcement by Islam4UK that it planned to hold a protest march through Wootton Bassett (known for the military funeral repatriations of dead British soldiers returning from the war in Afghanistan), Choudary said "You may see one or two coffins being returned to the UK every other day, but when you think about the people of Afghanistan its a huge number [being killed] in comparison [...] I intend to write a letter to the parents of British soldiers telling them the reality of what they died for." Choudary's open letter was published on 3 January 2010. In it, he explained his reasons for proposing the march, endorsed his religious beliefs, and claimed that UK politicians had been lying about the war. Choudary stated that the proposed march was to "engage the British public's minds on the real reasons why their soldiers are returning home in body bags and the real cost of the war." In an interview with Sky News, he stated that the location of the proposed march was chosen to effect a level of media attention which "it would not have gained anywhere else". The proposed march was condemned by the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who said that to offend the families of dead or wounded troops would be "completely inappropriate", the Minhaj-ul-Quran International UK centre in Forest Gate, and the Muslim Council of Britain, which stated that it "condemns the call by the fringe extremist group Islam4UK for their proposed march in Wootton Bassett." The planned march was cancelled by the group, on 10 January 2010.
From 14 January 2010, the organisation was proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000, making membership illegal, and punishable by imprisonment. Choudary condemned the order. In an interview on BBC Radio he said "we are now being targeted as an extremist or terrorist organisation and even banned for merely expressing that. I feel this is a failure of the concept of democracy and freedom." Following his arrest and subsequent release in September 2014, Choudary claimed he was questioned about his membership of or support for proscribed groups including Islam4UK and Need4Khalifah, both of which the government believes are successors to al-Muhajiroun.
Activism, views and marches
Choudary referred to the 11 September 2001 terrorists as "magnificent martyrs", and in 2003 he appeared to endorse terrorist attacks by British Muslims, saying that al-Muhajiroun would "encourage people to fulfil their Islamic duties and responsibilities". In 2004 he said that a terror attack on British soil was "a matter of time". He refused to condemn the 7 July 2005 London bombings, but accused the Muslim Council of Britain (who had) of "selling their souls to the devil". He blamed the 2013 murder of Lee Rigby, an off-duty British soldier, on British foreign policy.
Choudary has regularly attended public marches and, following a protest march outside the Danish Embassy in London on 3 February 2006, held in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, he was a member of a panel of interviewees on the BBC news programme Newsnight. He defended Muslims in Britain, saying that "we live in peace with the host community, we are not allowed to target people here", and claimed that the police had inspected and allowed the controversial placards used in the demonstration. Choudary was heavily criticised by his fellow panellists, who included Ann Cryer, then MP for Keighley, Humera Khan, of the al-Nisa Muslim Women's Group (who accused him of demonising Islam), Sayeeda Warsi, the vice-chair of the Conservative Party, Professor Tariq Ramadan (who claimed that Choudary's actions were designed to evoke a strong response from the media), and Roger Knapman, the leader of the UK Independence Party. On 15 March 2006 he was among five men arrested in connection with the demonstration, which had been organised by al Ghurabaa. He was arrested again on 4 May at Stansted Airport for an alleged breach of bail, and charged with organising the protest without notifying police. He was bailed to appear before Bow Street Magistrates Court on 11 May. On 4 July 2006 he was convicted and fined £500 with £300 court costs.
The following day, at an Al Ghurabaa press conference at the Al Badr centre in Leyton, Choudary claimed that the blame for the London bombings lay with the British government, and said that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had "blood on his hands". He also urged Muslims to defend themselves against perceived attacks by "whatever means they have at their disposal", and referred to the 2 June 2006 Forest Gate raid in which Mohammed Abdul Kahar was shot in the shoulder. He encouraged Muslims not to co-operate with the police under any circumstances. Local council leader Clyde Loakes criticised Choudary's comments, stating "I am sure the vast majority of Waltham Forest residents do not support these views." Several days later, on 9 June 2006, Choudary organised a demonstration outside the Forest Gate police station in London, to protest against the arrest of the two Forest Gate men. This was actively opposed by the families of the two arrested men, who said that an extremist protest would "only give another opportunity for our community to be portrayed in a negative light", and sent a statement to more than twenty mosques which was read to worshippers during prayers, urging them to disassociate themselves from the event. About 35 men and 15 women attended the demonstration.
Choudary has voiced support for the Muslim community in Somalia, who, he claims, have been "violated" by Christian-backed Ethiopians, and has also called for other members to fight jihad. He led an anti-Shia protest in London in May 2013 which turned violent.
Choudary strongly believes in the primacy of Islam over all other faiths, and the implementation of Sharia Law, in its entirety, in the UK. In 2001 he stated that his allegiance is to Islam, and not a country. He believes that, for a true Muslim, "a British passport is no more than a travel document." In October 2006 he addressed a debate at Trinity College, Dublin, where as spokesman for al-Muhajiroun he spoke against the motion that "This house believes that Islamist violence can never be justified". Supporting him were Sulayman Keeler, from al-Ghurabaa, and Omar Brooks, leader of the Saviour Sect Group. Among those supporting the motion, the Islamic scholar Sheikh Al Saleh said that "Islam is the heritage of mankind", and Shaheed Satardian of the Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland criticised "Muslim vigilantes" who had made attempts on his life, and fire-bombed his home in South Africa. Satardian said that his younger brother had been killed by extremists, and told Choudary "I believe violence perpetrated in the name of Islam is a terrible slur on the name of Islam." In February 2008 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, commented that "as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law". Choudary responded by saying that Sharia "has to be adopted wholesale", and that "it will come either by embracing Islam because it is the fastest growing religion in the country, or by an Islamic country conquering Britain or by elements embracing Islam and imposing it."
In 2008 he spoke of the "flag of Sharia" flying over Downing Street by 2020,[nb 2] claimed that some Muslim families in east London were having "10 or 12 children each", and that hundreds were converting to Islam each day. Choudary has spoken against elements of the Christian faith. In December 2008 he posted a sermon on an Islamic website, in which he stated: "Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. Protect your Paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas".
In September 2006 Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech on the question of the "reasonableness" of the Christian faith, to the University of Regensburg in Germany. In the Regensburg lecture he spoke about rationality in faith, and cited comments by the fourteenth-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, who, as the Pope put it, said "show me just what Mohamed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The citation attracted severe criticism from Muslims around the world, including the parliament of Pakistan which condemned the Pope for his comments, and which sought an apology from him. Following the speech, on 17 September Choudary led a protest outside Westminster Cathedral, where he told reporters "Whoever insults the message of Mohammed is going to be subject to capital punishment." The Daily Mail reported him as saying: "I am here [to] have a peaceful demonstration, but there may be people in Italy and other parts that would carry that out." The Metropolitan Police investigated his comments, but concluded that "no substantive offences" were committed during the demonstration. The Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, who had called for action to be taken against Choudary, said: "It is quite disgraceful. It sends out a message to Muslim extremists that we, as a country, do not have the moral courage to stand up to them."
He attempted to enter France to demonstrate against the French government's decision to ban the burka, but was stopped at the port of Calais. His passport was seized and he was issued documents banning him from France indefinitely.
In an interview with Iran's Press TV (which was subsequently posted online on 11 April 2013), Choudary stated "As Muslims, we reject democracy, we reject secularism, and freedom, and human rights. We reject all of the things that you espouse as being ideals ... There is nothing called a republic in Islam. When we talk about the shari'a, we are talking about only the shari'a. We are talking about rejecting the U.N., the IMF, and the World Bank."
On 13 December 2013 Choudary led a march in Brick Lane, organised by the east London-based Sharia Project, demanding a ban on alcohol being sold by Muslim establishments. An East London Mosque official, speaking of the patrols, identified The Shariah Project as "strongly linked" to Anjem Choudary's banned group Al-Muhajiroun. Abu Rumaysah of The Shariah Project had predicted "hundreds" would join the demonstration, claiming that groups of Muslims would come from as far away as the Midlands to take part. In the event, only a few dozen protesters took part in the march. Choudary afterwards explained its purpose: “What we did is we posted a notice to the shop owners saying that under Sharia and under the Koran the sale of alcohol is prohibited and if one were to also drink alcohol, that would be 40 lashes. We were there to teach them that just because they are living among non-Muslims is no excuse because Sharia law will be implemented in Britain, and so they should be aware that just because it is not Sharia today, they can’t just do whatever they like.” Choudary said that the Shariah Project group would be arranging many more such rallies.
In 2013 the British pressure group Hope not Hate presented a report which identified Choudary as "a serious player on the international Islamist scene", saying that although there was no evidence that he was directly responsible for instigating any terrorist plots, "he helped shape the mindset of many of those behind them" and "through his networks linked them up to terror groups and supporters across the world." Choudary dismissed the claims as "fanciful", that if they were true, UK security services would have arrested him.
On 5 August 2015, Choudary was charged with one offence under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for inviting support of a proscribed organisation, namely Islamic State, between June 2014 and March 2015. An expected trial date of 11th January 2016 has been given.
Choudary has been largely criticised by most UK newspapers, some of whom describe him as an extremist, or radical cleric or preacher. In January 2010, Guardian contributor Mehdi Hasan wrote: "Is Choudary an Islamic scholar whose views merit attention or consideration? No. Has he studied under leading Islamic scholars? Nope. Does he have any Islamic qualifications or credentials? None whatsoever. So what gives him the right to pontificate on Islam, British Muslims or 'the hellfire'? Or proclaim himself a 'sharia judge'?", and claimed that Choudary was "as unrepresentative of British Muslim opinion, as he is of British anti-war opinion."
The Conservative Party leader David Cameron said that Choudary "is one of those people who needs to be looked at seriously in terms of the legality of what he's saying because he strays, I think, extremely close to the line of encouraging hatred, extremism and violence."
Salma Yaqoob, then leader of the Respect Party, said in 2010 of Choudary: "He is a bigot whose goal in life is to provoke division. He engages in these provocations because he is deeply hostile to any coming together of Muslims and non-Muslims. For him, the fact that a majority of the British people – Muslim and non-Muslim – oppose the war in Afghanistan is not something to be celebrated, but is something to be feared." Rod Liddle, writing in The Spectator, said: "Anjem Choudray...is one of those thick-as-mince gobby little chancers who could only possibly come from Britain." Conservatives in the United States have also been critical of Choudary. The Fox News host Sean Hannity called him "one sick, miserable, evil S.O.B." during a segment on his show discussing the 2011 Egyptian protests.
Choudary has received little support from the mainstream Muslim community. However, in January 2010 Jamie Bartlett, a writer for the Telegraph, speculated that he might have "some" support among the minority of Muslims in the UK who could be considered to hold conservative views.
Tabloid criticism of Islam4UK and Choudary since news of the proposed march first became public has, generally, been vitriolic. The Sun printed an article on 6 January 2010 which claimed that Choudary was in receipt of state benefits in the region of £25,000 and said: "British-born father-of-four Choudary is notoriously vague about whether he works or has other money coming in." It continued, "He is understood to be employed by a Muslim organisation on a shoestring wage, which allows him to claim income support and free time to spread his hatred." Choudary had first commented on the matter to the Evening Standard months earlier, stating "I don't think it's of any importance". While generally, follow-up reporting of The Sun's article was restricted to other tabloid newspapers, on 12 January Choudary was asked to clarify the matter by the ITN reporter Angus Walker. Choudary replied "The money belongs to Allah and if it is given, you can take it. You don't lie and you don't cheat – that is what the prophet said. I am not doing anything illegal." Choudary, appearing on the BBC's The Daily Politics on 14 January, was asked by its presenter, Andrew Neil, for his opinions on the banning of Islam4UK, before being asked to comment on his financial status, claiming that it was "relevant to our viewers". Choudary told Neil that his finances were a personal matter, and that he was "doing something, and I don't want to discuss that with you. I'm not on Jobseeker's allowance, but at the same time I have family allowance, I have very firmly held views which I'm propagating at the same time." Responding to the media's criticism of him, Choudary said "I do believe that people have been whipped up into an anti-Islam anti-Muslim frenzy."
In 1996, Choudary married Rubana Akhtar, who was then 22 years old and had recently joined al-Muhajiroun, which he led at the time. She later became the group's head of women. The couple have four children.
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Mr Choudary said: 'We've been a part of British culture, really. People are aware about our rallies, our demonstrations, our conferences. The fact that that presence, in terms of the title, will no longer be there, that's saddened a lot of people.' It is a notion that is scoffed at by mainstream Muslim groups, who say Mr Choudary does not speak for their community at all. A spokesman for the MCB said: 'We are very perturbed that a tiny minority is being extended such publicity.'
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- al-Ashanti, AbdulHaq and as-Salafi, Abu Ameenah AbdurRahman. (2009) A Critical Study of the Multiple Identities and Disguises of 'al-Muhajiroun': Exposing the Antics of the Cult Followers of Omar Bakri Muhammad Fustuq. London: Jamiah Media, 2009 ISBN 978-0-9551099-4-2
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Anjem Choudary.|
- Fox's favorite Muslim radical, Salon.com
- A Critical Study of the Multiple Identities and Disguises of 'al-Muhajiroun'
- "The War Within", Special Investigations Unit, CNN, 20 January 2007 – transcript of a documentary featuring an interview with Choudary
- Is Anjem Choudary a Qualified Islamic Judge of a Shariah Court in the UK?
- Fareed Zakaria interview (Choudary section starts about halfway down)
- Anjem Choudary at the Internet Movie Database