01535-16 Rashid v The Sunday Times

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01535-16 Rashid v The Sunday Times

1. Dr Rafaqut Rashid complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jails adviser may lose job over hiring hardline imams” published on 6 March 2016.

2. The article reported that a government adviser on Islam faced losing his job after he authorised the “recruitment of 140 prison imams who hold anti-British views”. It said that the independent review found that the adviser to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) oversaw the appointment of imams who had studied Deobandi Islam, which it said was “a hardline Sunni interpretation of Islamic scripture contrary to British value and human rights”. It also said that Deobandi Islam forbids music and promotes gender segregation, and quoted a source who said it was worrying that imams with anti-British values were preaching in prison.

3. The online and print version of the article were identical.  

4. The complainant said it was misleading to use the term ‘Deobandi’ to refer to a “single entity or following” of Islam, although he did accept that the term is used in this way.He said that it referred to an institute of higher Islamic education in Deoband, India, and scholars who studied at the school were often known as ‘Deobandi’ simply by their association with the institute, much as graduates of Oxford and Cambridge use the designations “Oxon” or “Cantab”. He said that Deobandi scholars have different interpretations on many matters, and that not all institutions termed Deobandi follow the same Islam.

5. In so far as the term could be used, the complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that Deobandi Islam is “hardline” and contrary to “British values and human rights”; he said that Deobandi Muslims follow “normative Islam”. He said that Deobandi scholars had endorsed fatwas condemning hate speech, violence, radicalisation and involvement in terrorism; promoted British values such as democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs; and were against sentiments that are not conducive “to integration and community cohesion”. He said that just because a few individuals had behaved inappropriately, it did not mean that all Deobandi Muslims were the same.

6. The newspaper acknowledged that the first two lines of the article could be misunderstood to mean that the newspaper knew that the imams held anti-British views, and that Deobandi Islam was contrary to British values and human rights. It said that these were in fact the opinions of a senior security source who provided information to the newspaper. It amended the online article to state that the imams were “suspected of holding” anti-British views, and that “security sources and other critics” described Deobandi Islam as contrary to British values and human rights. It also offered to publish the following correction in the newspaper’s established corrections and clarifications column, as well as a similar footnote on the online article:

Our report “Jails adviser may lose job over hiring hardline imams” (News, March 6) should have stated that prison imams “are suspected of” holding anti-British values and attributed to “security sources and other critics” the description that Deobandi Islam is “contrary to British values and human rights”.  

7. The newspaper also provided a number of articles and academic papers about Deobandi Islam which it said supported the various claims made by its source. These documents identified the role played by Deobandi scholars, defined the Government definition of British values, provided background information on the role of Deobandi clerics in the UK, and quoted leading Deobandi preachers expressing their views on matters such as living in the West as a Muslim, and the threats facing British Muslims. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

Findings of the Committee

9. It was not clear from the article that the claims about Deobandi Islam were the views of the newspaper’s source; instead, they had been presented as fact. The failure to correctly attribute the claims made in the article represented a failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 1(iv).

10. While the complainant had explained why he considered that it was misleading to use the term ‘Deobandi’ to refer to a category of Islam, he accepted that the term is often used in such a way. The newspaper had also provided a number of articles which used the term in a similar way; there was no further breach of Clause 1.

11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the vast majority of Muslims who might be identified as Deobandi were not “hardline”, and did not hold views “contrary to British values and human rights”. However, the complainant conceded that there were some Deobandi Muslims who he said behaved “inappropriately”; in addition, the newspaper had also provided evidence in the articles it provided which demonstrated that some Deobandi Muslims held beliefs contrary to British values that could reasonably be characterised as “hardline”. This did not breach Clause 1.


12. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

14. The newspaper had amended the online article promptly, which made clear that the claims were those of the newspaper’s sources. It has also offered to add a footnote to the online article, and publish a print correction, explaining that the claims were those of a source, rather than the newspaper’s own view. In the circumstances, this was an appropriate remedy as it corrected the misleading impression that the claims made in the article were fact rather than opinion. In light of the Committee’s decision, the footnote and correction should now be published.

Date complaint received: 06/03/16

Date decision issued: 06/07/16

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