The appointment of Asim Hafeez as head of intervention at the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism has caused serious concern among more moderate Muslim advisers across Whitehall.
It is seen as a sign of a shift in the government’s policy on radical Islam away from engagement with more moderate groups. There is a sharp divide of opinion within government about whether ministers should engage with Muslims at risk of radicalisation or concentrate on forging links with moderates.
Mr Hafeez was described by one fellow adviser as “hardcore Salafi”. Salafism is a strictly puritanical branch of Islam, often associated with Saudi Arabia. It does not promote violence, but does urge the creation of an Islamic state.
The new Home Office adviser is reported to have raised eyebrows at his new department during the Muslim festival of Ramadan, when he lectured guests at a reception about the benefits of fasting.
Before his appointment at the Home Office, Mr Hafeez worked as an adviser to the Welsh Assembly, government where he had a reputation for his strict views on Islam. He also regularly lectured on Islamic issues at Welsh universities.
The Home Office appointment coincides with a change of regime at the Department of Communities and Local Government, where John Denham has replaced Hazel Blears as Secretary of State.
Sources at the department have told the JC that Mr Denham’s deputy, Shahid Malik, has announced his belief that ministers have been “talking to the wrong people”.
The Home Office last night confirmed that Mr Hafeez had been given the job, but said that all appointments followed government procedures.