| Muslim Council of Britain member Daud Abdullah (left) and cleric Musharraf Hussain (centre) with British counsular Cathy Cottrell at Kuwait airport. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 25: A delegation representing UK Muslims has flown to Iraq in a desperate attempt to save the life of the 62-year-old British hostage, Kenneth Bigley.
The mercy mission to Baghdad takes place against the background of mounting fears of a possible backlash against Muslims in Britain should Bigley be killed by his captors, who have already beheaded two Americans who were taken hostage with the British engineer.
Tomorrow, 3,000 Muslims are expected to take to the streets of Blackburn, the constituency of Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, both to express support for Bigley and anger at the British government's decision to go to war against Iraq and its handling of the crisis since then.
The Muslim Council of Britain, which claims to speak on behalf of 1.5-1.8 million Muslims in 411,000 households in the country, today also began sending out half-a-million copies of Know Your Rights & Responsibilities Pocket Guide, which informs members of the faith of their rights if they are arrested.
But the guide, which will be translated into Urdu, Bengali, Arabic, Gujarati and Turkish, also urges them to tip off the police if they suspect a possible terrorist in their midst. Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the council, explained: 'These recent months and years have been very difficult for British Muslims. The combination of the anti-terror raids, the large increase in police stop-and- search activities, and the constant denigration in the media of Islam and its followers, has left many British Muslims feeling unsettled and even fearful.'
He added: 'This pocket guide seeks to reassure Muslims about their rights and remind them of the responsibilities we all share to help build a more just and cohesive society.'
Muslims have been among those who have flowers and cards to the terrace house in Walton, where Bigley's mother Lil, 86, brothers, Stan, 65, and Philip, 49, and son, Craig, are continuing their agonising wait for news from his captors. From her home in Bangkok, Bigley's Thai wife, Sombat, 42, has also made an emotional appeal to the captors to set her husband free.
Straw has warned that although the British government is doing everything in its power to secure the release of the British engineer ' the foreign office has distributed 50,000 leaflets in Baghdad asking for information about his whereabouts.
It will not negotiate with the kidnappers who are demanding the release of Iraqi women prisoners.
This leaves Britain's Muslim leaders in an acute dilemma. Although they have condemned Bigley's kidnap in the strongest possible terms, they have also attacked the war against Iraq.
The fear is that in the current climate, some might interpret criticism of the war as indirect support for Iraqi militants opposing the American and British troops in Iraq through hostage-taking.
Thus, the delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain, which has gone to Iraq, is as concerned about Bigley as it is about the fate of Muslims in Britain.
The council says it has received 2,000 threatening e-mails since Bigley's capture nine days ago. A spokesman for the council, Inayat Bunglawala said: 'It may lessen any backlash if our people go out there. This is about showing that Muslims are just as appalled by this barbarity as anyone else.'
The police have drawn up contingency plans on how to protect Muslims if the worst happens to Bigley. A source with close knowledge of their efforts told a newspaper today: 'Our anxiety is that there will be some who seek to exploit it. We have to be prepared for anything from fighting in the streets, to low-level incidents such as graffiti.'
A member of the council, Mohammad Akbar Ali, said: 'It is a humanitarian cause. It is important to show to the world that Muslims and Christians can work together.'
He explained why the delegation was going to Baghdad: 'We hope and pray their wise counsel will prevail and Allah will show the hostage takers the way of mercy and compassion to a man who had nothing to do with the war, but was in Iraq to rebuild the country.'
A delegation member, Daud Abdullah, commented: 'We believe we are well placed ' perhaps better placed than others ' to convey our concerns and the concerns and the grief of the family and their wishes for his relief. We are going to contact some scholars, Muslim leaders in the community there and we will discuss with them the best way of approaching this matter.'