Abdul Haqq, aka Anthony Small, is one of ten Muslims who have volunteered to live in a house with those who share their faith as part of a new BBC2 documentary, Muslims like Us.
The two-part programme sees ten volunteers from very different backgrounds coming together in a house in York, aiming to challenge assumptions that everyone of the Muslim faith shares the same outlook and values.
It’s not long before Abdul is raising eyebrows among his fellow Muslims on-camera in the house, and his inclusion in the production is already causing uproar off-camera.
But who is he? And why are people talking about him?
Who is Adbul Haqq aka Anthony Small?
Boxing fans will be familiar with the name Anthony Small because he spent many years in the ring fighting under the alias Sugar Ray Clay Jones Jr. The London born former professional boxer held both the British and Commonwealth belts at light middle-weight.
When did he convert to Islam?
As Haqq explained on the Islam Channel’s Saturday Night Live about eight years ago (see the video below from about the 3 minute 25 second mark), he was born a Christian but felt the religion didn’t really sit well with him for a number of reasons.
“I always believed in a God,” he told the host before explaining that after a friend converted, he came to learn about Islam and felt as though the faith seemed to be the most truthful.
He went on to briefly touch on how the September 11th terrorist attacks affected his view of the faith, how his family reacted to his conversion, and what impact, if any, it had on his professional relationships in the boxing world.
Why are people angry that Abdul Haqq is featured in Muslims Like Us?
In 2014 Haqq uploaded a YouTube video in which he claimed the beheadings of American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley were not unprovoked, and actually a form of retaliation.
He has uploaded a number of controversially titled videos over the years, including ‘Why Muslims have no sympathy for Lee Rigby’s son!”.
Haqq was previously convicted of fraud (which he explains was actually related to parking tickets), is said to have appeared in the company of controversial Islamist social and political activist, Anjem Choudary, who was convicted of inviting support for IS under the Terrorism Act.
He was also acquitted of charges of plotting to flee to Syria to join IS using a false passport, but openly tells the programme makers on camera that if he had his passport he would go to Syria now.
Fatima Salaria, a senior commissioning editor for the BBC, defended his inclusion, arguing that it would have been irresponsible to ignore the fact that members of the community could hold such views.
“It was really important for me that that voice was represented, but he had to be adequately challenged,” she said in a statement released to The Guardian. “There are people in my own family who have quite radical views. We sit around the dining table and talk about those views. It would have been wrong for us not to have had him.”
What does Abdul Haqq have to say about the controversy?
Abdul Haqq claims he can’t understand why people are so angry about his participation in a show that he says he never expected most people to watch in the first place.
In a video posted to his YouTube channel just days after the programme sparked controversy he defends himself and invites anyone willing to question him in a “productive” manner to send messages to him for a Q&A session via a dedicated phone number.
Muslims Like Us airs on BBC2 on Monday December 12th and Tuesday December 13th at 9pm