Eighty cultural representatives and advisers have been mobilized by Iran’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization to travel to European and North American countries to promote a message from Iran’s Supreme Leader among the youth there.
Ayatollah Khamenei has written a letter addressed to young people in Europe and North America in reaction to the January 7, 2015 armed attack on the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, urging them not to fall for politicians’ deceitful propaganda about Islam and become entrapped in Islamaphobia. He urges young people to learn about Islam through primary sources rather than through its representations and make up their own minds about it. The head of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization has enlisted Iran’s cultural centres abroad to explain and deliver the Leader’s message to European youth.
The “Letter of the Leader to European and North American Youth” has so far been reflected in a number of Islamic Republic media in Lebanon, Iran and Egypt such as Àl-Quds Al-Arabi published in London, Al-Nabil television network in Egypt, Al-Rai daily in Jordan and Assafir in Lebanon.
Ayatollah Reza Ramzani, the head of the Hamburg Islamic Centre, has written to the Islamic Republic leader, assuring him that his message will reach European and American youth. Ramzani wrote: “[The spread of] Islamic and religious centres, especially in scientific and academic sectors, and the significant embrace of spiritual and intellectual meetings and seminars have breathed new air into the spiritual lungs of the West, and no one can impede this rapid movement.”
The Hamburg Islamic Centre has been active in Germany since 1954 and is one of the important Shia centres in Europe. Together with this Islamic centre linked to Iran, Shora, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, has gathered numerous Turkish and other Sunni Muslim immigrants under one roof and since 1999 has become an influential Islamic Centre. After the armed attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, the Islamic centre condemned the attack and urged Muslims toward peace. Shora also organized a large demonstration with the slogan “Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood!” in support of the slain French journalists.
Soheil Asad, who founded Islamic Centres in Latin America, has also called for translations and analysis of the “Leader’s letter to European and North American youth” and widespread advertising to promote it. He has compared this letter to the one written to Mikhail Gorbachev by the late leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. Asad has called on all Islamic centres and seminaries to use all forms of media outlets and satellite programming to bring Ayatollah Khamenei’s message to all European and American youth.
As Shia centres such as the Islamic Centre Hamburg and the Islamic Centre Latin America try to promote the message of the Iranian leader at spiritual gatherings and seminars, Salafi centres in Europe and North America are also very active. In Germany alone, Salafi promoters have grown in number from 3,800 to 6,300 since 2012, according to statistics released by the government. Associations such as Invitation to Heaven are engaged in field activities to recruit supporters. They are also highly active in an internet network. In Britain, the Society of Sunni Revival brings Salafis under one umbrella, and three organizations in the United States are engaged in widespread promotional activities: the Society of Quran and Sunni Tradition, the North American Islamic Association and the Society of Salafis.
Salafism is described as a return to tradition and the original ways of Islam. Soren Kern of the New York Daily News described Salafism as “the fastest-growing movement in Europe”.
Iranian authorities regard Salafists as extremists, and people in Iran linked to Salafists are arrested and prosecuted for such associations.