- Aaqil Ahmed defended BBC decision to refer to 'so-called Islamic State'
- Told discussion it is untrue that 'ISIS has nothing to do with Islam'
- Says although 'uncomfortable' members of the group 'are Muslims'
- Critics including Prime Minister have called on BBC to stop using 'Islamic State' when referring to the terror group
The BBC's head of religion has said although it is 'uncomfortable' to accept, the ideology behind ISIS is based on Islamic doctrine.
Aaqil Ahmed, the first Muslim to hold the post, said it was untrue to suggest that ISIS had nothing to do with Islam, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims do not agree with the extremist group.
He was speaking at an event at Huddersfield University, when he was asked to explain the BBC's controversial policy on referring to the group as 'so-called Islamic State'.
Prime Minister David Cameron has been among those who have called for the corporation not to use the phrase when referring to the terror group operating in Iraq and Syria, saying Muslims would 'recoil' at the phrase being used to justify the 'perversion of a great religion'.
Mr Ahmed was asked at the event organised by Lapido, the centre for religious literacy in journalism, to defend the term by barrister Neil Addison on the grounds that he wouldn't have said 'so-called Huddersfield University'.
According to a report by Lapido, he responded by saying: 'I hear so many people say ISIS has nothing to do with Islam – of course it has.
'They are not preaching Judaism. It might be wrong but what they are saying is an ideology based on some form of Islamic doctrine. They are Muslims.
'That is a fact and we have to get our head around some very uncomfortable things.
That is where the difficulty comes in for many journalists because the vast majority of Muslims won't agree with them [ISIS].'
Clarifying his comments, he told The Times that he had not been referring explicitly to the name of the group, but that 'it [was] a reflection of the complexity of how you describe them and the religious belief structure.'
The extremists are variously known as Islamic State, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Daesh, based the Arabic acronym for the group, which the terrorists consider to be offensive because it sounds similar to the word 'Dahes' meaning 'one who sows discord'.
Critics have warned that referring to 'Islamic State' legitimises the group's attempt to carve out parts of Iraq and Syria.
The BBC has used its preferred term to describe ISIS since 2014, when the group shortened its name from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant to Islamic State.
However, the broadcaster qualifies the phrase by adding 'so-called' or 'self-styled', a reference to the extremists' claims of statehood rather than religious affiliation.
Last summer, Mr Cameron asked the BBC to drop the term, and criticised BBC presenter John Humphrys for referring to the group as Islamic State.
During an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Cameron referred to the group as 'ISIL'.
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State because it's not an Islamic State; what it is is an appalling, barbarous regime,' Mr Cameron said.
'It is a perversion of the religion of Islam and many Muslims listening to this programme will recoil every time they hear the words "Islamic State".
'So-called' or Isil is better,' he added.
His request was backed by 120 MPs, including Boris Johnson, Keith Vaz and Alex Salmond, who wrote to Director General Lord Hall calling for the broadcaster to refer to the group as Daesh instead.
However, Lord Hall rejected the demand, saying to use Daesh would 'bias their coverage', risked giving the 'impression of support' for the group's opponents and 'would not preserve the BBC's impartiality'.
Former Channel 4 commissioning editor for religion and head of multicultural programming, Mr Ahmed was appointed as the BBC's head of religion and ethics in 2009, in what was seen as a radical departure from broadcasting tradition.
He began his broadcasting career at the BBC, primarily working for BBC Birmingham, and had also worked as a director for Here And Now, as well as a producer and director on a number of documentaries and news broadcasts.
Prior to his 2009 appointment, the then Archbishop of Canterbury was reported to have raised concerns over the prospect of a Muslim head of religious broadcasting, amid fears the BBC was reducing its religious output.
Previously, the post had been considered a job for a senior and respected cleric or lay churchgoer.
Last month, a report compiled by Mr Ahmed suggested that the BBC was too Christian in its output, and should consider scrapping some of its long-running programmes in favour of shows for Muslim, Hindu and Sikh audiences.
The report was created in consultation with non-Christians who expressed their belief that the BBC is disproportionate in its religious content, and that while there are plenty of shows that celebrate Christianity, there are too few for other faiths.
The recent white paper on the BBC's future ordered the broadcaster to offer more for ethnic minorities.
As it stands, religious programming across the BBC includes the likes of Songs of Praise, Sunday Morning Live and The Life of Muhammad on television. Moral Maze, Beyond Belief and Thought for the Day feature on radio.
Muslim critics have suggested that the BBC could televise Friday prayers, cover Eid or show children attending madrasahs to boost their Islamic serving.