BBC apologises after Stacey Dooley wrongly claimed women gave 'Isil salute' in Panorama documentary

Helena Horton
The gesture refers to the oneness of Allah - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture

The BBC has been forced to apologise after Stacey Dooley wrongly described a Muslim gesture as an "IS salute" in her new Panorama show.

The documentary presenter, while narrating a show about the brides of Isil fighters, said over a clip of women displaying the raised finger of Tawheed: "As we left the camp, we saw women raising their index finger in an IS salute."

This gesture, though used by Islamic State fighters in the past, refers to the belief in the oneness of God, which is a key component of the Muslim religion. It is widely used by Muslims around the world.

The offending phrase was shown in a clip of the upcoming documentary, Stacey Dooley Meets the IS Brides, on the BBC News at 10 last night.

After multiple complaints, the BBC has confirmed this description will be removed from tonight's Panorama. 

A spokesperson said: "We wrongly described a gesture made by women filmed in a Kurdish controlled detention camp in Northern Syria as an ‘IS salute’. 

"While IS have attempted to adopt this for their own propaganda purposes, for accuracy we should have been clear that many people of Muslim faith use this gesture to signify the oneness of Allah. We apologise for this error and have removed this description from the footage."

Many were angered by the mischaracterisation of the gesture.

Anti-racism charity Tell MAMA commented: "Tawhid (Tawheed) is the defining doctrine of Islam, demonstrating the oneness of Allah (God). To reduce such a fundamental and important concept to a mere 'IS salute' is grossly wrong, ignorant, and damaging.

"This again demonstrates the importance of having Muslim representation in media, and more broadly, improving religious literacy."

BBC journalist Anisa Subedar tweeted: "This issue raised by @OzKaterji and others needs to be addressed before tonight’s #Panorama is aired. Raising the finger is NOT an IS salute.

"Does #StaceyDooley know us Muslims raise it everytime we pray (that’s 5 times a day) to remind us of the oneness of God?"

She said that the statement was "insulting and offensive to Muslims and journalists", adding: "Islam is a monotheistic faith. One of the five pillars – the declaration of faith – states there is only one God. Raising the index finger is a manifestation of that. It has nothing to do with IS.

"This is what happens when you pass over real journalists to cover these kinds of stories – those that require cultural sensitivity and compassion."

Oz Katerji, a journalist, said he had complained to the BBC about the mistake.

His complaint reads: "Stacey Dooley, while visiting an internment camp in Al-Hawl, Syria, describes meeting female former IS members. During the VT, one of the women raises her finger, this finger raising gesture is an Orthodox Sunni Muslim practice.

"Stacey Dooley refers to this gesture as an "ISIS Salute", which is both ignorant and offensive to adherents of Sunni Islam. The gesture has been adopted by ISIS members, but it does not belong to them, and referring to it as such is beneath a news broadcast."