By Hasina Momtaz

Muslim organisations have sent an open letter today to Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, following comments reportedly made by Commander Mak Chishty, Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer.

The story emerged following an interview given to the Guardian by Commander Chishty, who is Head of Community Engagement for the MPS in London. The Guardian reports Commander Chishty as saying friends and family of youngsters should be intervening much earlier, watching out for subtle, unexplained changes, which could also include sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol, social occasions and western clothing.

In the interview, Chishty is reported as saying that there was now a need for “a move into the private space” of Muslims to spot views that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier. He said this could be shown by subtle changes in behaviour, such as shunning certain shops. He cited the example of Marks & Spencer and said that Muslims who suddenly stop shopping at Marks & Spencer could be victims of radicalisation.

Speaking to the Guardian, Chishty said: “We need to now be less precious about the private space. This is not about us invading private thoughts, but acknowledging that it is in these private spaces where this [extremism] first germinates. The purpose of private-space intervention is to engage, explore, explain, educate or eradicate. Hate and extremism is not acceptable in our society, and if people cannot be educated, then hate and harmful extremism must be eradicated through all lawful means.”

Chishty defined “private space” as: “It’s anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things.”

In the letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General Dr Shuja Shafi wrote today:

“The vast majority of the Muslim community who abhor terrorism are equally anxious to find the right answers to tackle terrorism. In this regard, we think deeper dialogue with the police and Muslim communities is crucial to ensure that measures proposed are effective.

We are in clear agreement about the need to prevent terrorism, as is the case with all crimes. We are also concerned about conflating religious conservatism with violent extremism. It seems this is not the case for some of your officers who are charged with community engagement. We would like to also understand whether your view aligns with that of Commander Mak Chishty who is reported to have said over the weekend that the police need to move into the “private space” of Muslims to see if they are becoming extremist.

Mr Chishty uses examples such as increased religiosity (e.g., aversion or abstaining from alcohol), children not celebrating Christmas and avoiding Marks & Spencer – all of which are hugely worrying. Such comments, if true, demonstrate a startling disconnect between the police and Muslim communities. It underscores our mutual goal to deepen dialogue between Muslim communities beyond the grip of privileged interlocutors.”

The full text of the letter to the Commissioner has been seen by the Asian Sunday.

We want to hear your views. What do you think about Commander Mak Chishty’s comments? Do you agree with the MCB that deeper dialogue is needed between the police and Muslim communities? Send your comments to us at: