A ‘star’ witness against the controversial new mega-mosque proposed for West Ham in east London has withdrawn from the public inquiry after being persuaded to remove her objections.
Tehmina Kazi, a long-time lobbyist for a more inclusive Islam in Britain and for women’s rights within Muslim organisations, will not now testify at the inquiry, which began today at the ExCel conference centre in Docklands.
Alan Craig, director of the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign, said she was ‘intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters'. But Ms Kazi said: ‘Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women’s increased participation and involvement in the new facility.’
Ms Kazi also publicly opposed the mega-mosque project at the previous public inquiry in 2011. Then as now, she objected to the anti-woman bias of Tablighi Jamaat, the proselytising Islamic group behind the project that has been described as an antechamber of fundamentalism. Women are involved in the movement but not at the highest levels.
If it goes ahead, the mosque will be built close to the Olympic Stadium, future home of West Ham United. It will have a capacity for 9,000 worshippers.
According to Mr Craig, Ms Kazi, a former project officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and long-time supporter of Muslim women’s rights, was ‘harried and pressured’ while abroad on holiday last weekend. On Sunday evening she conceded and withdrew from the Inquiry. She wrote an email saying she would withdraw to members of the Newham People’s Alliance who in turn informed the office of the Planning Inspector who will chair today’s inquiry.
However, Ms Kazi told Lapido Media that she had been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community.
The episode has come to the fore just as Ms Kazi has just celebrated her fifth year as director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the benefits of democracy and its contribution to a shared vision of citizenship. She was recently voted one of the top 100 Muslim women in Britain at an event chaired by Jon Snow at the BBC. She was also shortlisted for the National Secular Society’s Irwin prize for Secularist of the Year.
At the commission she worked on a ground-breaking inquiry into the Human Rights Act and its impact on public service delivery, doing research, writing policy briefings, facilitating focus groups and interviewing victims of human rights violations. She also co-organised the first awards ceremony of its kind to acknowledge the achievements of the UK’s most powerful Muslim women.
Newham People’s Alliance last year invited George Galloway and his Respect Party to lead support for the mega-mosque and also held a large pro-mosque demonstration outside Newham Town Hall. Last month the alliance was at the centre of controversy over Tory candidates such as Mufti Shah Sadruddin in the Newham Council local elections.
‘Regrettably murky Tower Hamlets politics have come to Newham,’ said Mr Craig. ‘Why do Islamists always pick on women?’
He said Ms Kazi had been reassured on behalf of the Tablighi Jamaat mosque trustees about their future treatment of women.
He added: ‘Of course this is no assurance at all, as at present women are completely barred from the temporary mosque at the site. For 17 years since they bought the site, by choice it’s been a male-only mosque with no provision of any kind for women. Tablighi Jamaat’s future treatment of women can hardly get worse.’
The inquiry is scheduled to run for three weeks and is convened by the government’s Planning Inspector. The final decision will be made by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, later this year, based on the inspector’s recommendation.
The site, used by 3,000 worshippers, is being developed by Anjuman-E-Islahul-Muslimeen, the charitable trust of Tablighi Jamaat.