“I have no link with the Salafist branch of Islam; on the contrary, I always criticize radical or Salafist ideas and I fight against extremism and radicalism,” the imam of the Great Mosque of Brussels, Abdelhady Sewif, said in an interview with Knack magazine. His statement followed the disclosure by the Minister of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken, that he had decided to withdraw the imam’s residence permit after receiving “very clear” signals that he was “very radicalized, very conservative and a danger to our society and national security”.
“Do I look like a Salafist?” the Imam asked. “Have you ever heard of an Imam linked to the Al-Azhar University of Cairo becoming a Salafist? I studied at that university and they sent me here. Co-existence and tolerance are the values of al-Azhar. I was sent to the Great Mosque 13 years ago to bear this message, and that’s what I do.”
People close to the case say there are doubts hanging over Sewif linked to “his speeches on the condition of women,” but also to the people he frequents outside the mosque. These worrying elements contributed to the Secretary of State’s decision, they say.
The imam has appealed against the withdrawal of his residence permit. The Council of State will issue its decision on the 24th of October.