On 11 September, the leader of the Norwegian imams Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni caused a controversy in Norway claiming that George W. Bush and the US were behind the 9/11 attacks. Moreover he denies that such a thing as al-Qaeda exists, and he says the video messages that are said to be from Osama bin Laden are recorded in a studio. The imam received support from other imams in Norway and ordinary Muslims in the street.
The Norwegian national newspaper Aftenposten invited imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni for an Internet discussion on the occasion of the commemoration of 11 September 2001. During the discussion, the imam said that according to him, not Muslims but George W. Bush and the US were behind the attacks of 9/11. Islam stands for peace, and does not permit citizens to be killed or wounded, and therefore the 9/11 attacks cannot be done by Muslims. Furthermore, he doubts whether Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden really exist, and thinks that the video messages that are supposed to be coming from Osama bin Laden are actually recorded in a studio. Finally he refers to the movie Loose Change that argues that Muslims are not responsible for the attacks of 9/11. In relation to this, stressing that the movie is in fact American.
Imam Zulqarnain Sakandar Madni is not just any imam. He is the leader of the United Ulama of Norway (Jamiat Ulama-E-Norway) and is supported by other imams, such as imam Hafiz Mehboob-ur-Rehman of the Islamic Cultural Center and imam Syed Ikram Shah of the World Islamic Mission. The latter claims that, even though the hijackers had Muslim names, the West cannot prove they really were Muslims. Another imam, imam Nehmat Ali Shah of Central Jamaat-e Ahl-E Sunnat points out that even after five years, nobody has been found guilty for the attacks by an independent court, and therefore he cannot know whether the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslim or not.
Street interviews showed that ordinary Muslims are not really convinced that Muslims were behind the 9/11 attacks. However, some immigrant politicians have distanced themselves from the imam's statements, among them Afshan Rafiq of the conservative Right (Høyre) party and Khalid Mahmood of the social democratic Labor Party. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Integration, Jonas Gahr Støre and Bjarne Håkon Hanssen, both social democrats, said they were very sceptical about the statements of the imams. Jonas Gahr Støre told Aftenposten that the freedom of speech must be respected, but at the same time the statements of the imams are speculations which he does not share.
According to the cultural historian Kari Vogt, one of the best experts on Islam in Norway, the statements of the imams show a double problem: on the one hand there is the discomfort and the shame connected to the fact that Muslims are linked to such crimes, and on the other hand their distrust of Western politicians who feel there is clear proof that Muslims planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. She also notes that such conspiracy theories have been around since 2001, not only in the Muslim community, but also elsewhere in Norway and the rest of the world. But she also thinks that only a small minority actually believes those theories, also amongst Muslims, and that most Muslims have a proper political feeling and a sense of reality.
If the latter is true, it is remarkable that prominent imams and Muslim leaders can make statements which the majority of their supporters must regard as complete nonsense, without affecting their position within the community. Also, it is striking how easily they can get away with it, which cannot be said of pope Benedict XVI who seems to have angered the complete Islamic world by simply referring to a quote from which he distanced himself in the same sentence. Tasnim Aslam, the spokeswoman of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs even expressed a remarkable contradictio in terminis:
Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence
A religion that is truly tolerant would not cause any problems when described as intolerant, let alone that such a statement would encourage violence. That is even more so if the statement was made in good faith and does not describe the religion as intolerant at all. If, however, violence results, as in this case, then perhaps something is wrong with the leaders of that religion.