Muslims oppose vast mosque plan in London
Fear that complex would stoke tension. Sect challenged by the moderates
The architect’s vision is of a 21st-century Alhambra, a place for prayer, education, debate and the celebration of Islamic culture.
But the plan to build Europe’s biggest mosque beside the London 2012 Olympic Park is attracting opposition from the Muslim community.
The concern is not the building, but the activities of Tablighi Jamaat, the ultra-orthodox sect that is behind the huge mosque.
A petition against the scheme, organised by Muslims in the East London borough of Newham, attracted 2,500 signatures in only ten days and is continuing to draw support. It says that allowing Tablighi Jamaat to build the mosque would aggravate community tensions.
Ruth Kelly, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, who is currently redrawing the Government’s approach to engagement with the Muslim community, is aware of the East London petition. She has the power to subject the plans to a public inquiry.
The scheme for the mosque, drawn up by the award- winning architects, MYAA, envisages a complex containing an Islamic garden, school and prayer space for as many as 70,000 worshippers — 23 times greater than the capacity of Liverpool cathedral, Britain’s largest Christian place of worship.
Newham Council signed a memorandum of agreement in 2001 with the charity behind the scheme, the Anjuman-E- Islahul Muslimeen, which states it has “no objection in principle to . . . a major new, high-quality mosque”. But there are mounting concerns about Tablighi Jamaat and its strict interpretation of Islam.
A leaked FBI memo, obtained by US news media in 2005, raised fears that al- Qaeda was using membership of Tablighi Jamaat “as cover . . . to network with other extremists in the US”. A number of British terrorists have had associations with the organisation, including Richard Reid, the shoe bomber now in prison in the US.
Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7 bombers, had links with the large Tablighi Jamaat mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. The sect’s leading scholars encourage its followers to be aloof from politics and the secular world, but security agencies fear that its brand of orthodoxy provides a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.
Dr Irfan al-Alawi, Europe director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, is “extremely concerned” about the spread of Tablighi Jamaat and recently addressed a seminar at the Policy Exchange think-tank about the mosque plans. “Tablighi are not moderate Muslims, they are a separatist movement,” he said. “If this mosque were to go ahead it will be strictly run by the Tablighis; there will be no room for moderates.”
Asif Shakoor, chairman of Sunni Friends of Newham, said the petition was a response to a feeling that the voices of most Muslims in the area were not being heard. The petition text states: “We propose that when and if planning permission is granted . . . that all Muslim groups be equally represented at the proposed place of worship that is to celebrate the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”
Temporary planning permission for a makeshift mosque on the site has expired and a formal application for the new complex has not yet been lodged. A spokesman for Newham council said: “We are keen to enter into fresh discussions about the future of the project.”