Lapido Media celebrated its fifth birthday with a capacity crowd at the Frontline Club in London last night, with the launch of its first Handy Book for Journalists.
The book, based on doctoral research by Zacharias Pieri examines the secretive Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) who are behind the media-dubbed Megamosque planned for a prime site on the edge of the Olympic Village in West Ham.
After a 14-year battle with Newham Council which included a public inquiry, TJ submitted plans in early September 2012 for a 12,000-seater mosque (reduced from the orginal 70,000-seater first proposed) described by their architect as being as ‘big as Battersea Power Station.’
It now includes – uniquely for any mosque anywhere on the planet - plans for mixed use buildings including a library, a nature trail and a sports centre for all.
It was standing-room only last night (Thursday 27 September) as mainstream journalists, commentators and authors gathered to hear a celebrity panel discuss the book and its issues including doctrines, hierarchy and integration.
In her opening speech, Director of Lapido Media, Dr Jenny Taylor, talked about the dangers of journalists ignoring religion. She described it as, ‘like being at a concert without being open to the information which the music is giving you.’
She said: ‘In the globalized context, many stories don’t make sense without a much more informed understanding of religion.
‘We chose the TJ and the megamosque because it is news worthy. We’ll be publishing handy books for journalists that scratch the itch that’s already there and feed the existing news agenda with facts.’
Introducing the book on which he spent two years researching as a participant observer at TJ meetings, Dr Pieri said, ‘Jenny has worked tirelessly to produce this series and I know she is committed to providing a balanced view of world religions. It is an honour for my book on the TJ to be the first in the Handy Book series.’
One of the most eye-opening comments of the night came from UNESCO-award-winning photojournalist and panel member Jeremy Hunter, He described his welcome at the TJ’s huge annual gathering in Tongi, Bangladesh, contrasted to the ‘aggressive treatment’ he received in the Upton Park area whilst trying to photograph TJ members.
‘In Bangladesh my experience with TJ was uplifting. In Upton Park, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had.’
Dr Taylor revealed that on her visit to the TJ’s Delhi headquarters, she was told by leaders there that the mosque in London was ‘the ambitious project of a few over-zealous people in your country.’
‘If you don’t want it, you must tell your government’, she reported being told.
A group described as the ‘ante chamber of terror’ was always going to prove a talking point and the event didn’t disappoint, with an animated debate highlighting polarised opinions.
One young Muslim member of the TJ said: ‘I was born in Britain and see myself as British, but at the same time the TJ provided a very powerful way for me to come back to the roots of my religion.’
Alan Craig, leader of Newham Concern, which has fronted opposition to the mosque, described the book’s conclusion as ‘dangerously over-optimistic’ and distributed his own alternative version.
Muslim commentator who is Chairman of the respected Muslim Institute, shared insights of his own time spent with the TJ when he was ‘a young impressionable man who was easily influenced.’
He said: ‘They take their followers back to the seventh century. They are always looking back – never forward.’
Talking about their lack of integration with non-Muslims, he added: ‘TJ drag people away from what they see as a bad world, but that’s the only world that they’ve got. If you’re not going to engage with non-Muslims then why build a mosque in a non-Muslim area?’
TJ spokesman, Moez Rahman said of the book: ‘It’s good but it’s got mistakes. It’s very good but it needs to be understood in a broader way because it’s just the beginning. All these people and journalists around should have a broader understanding of what the TJ is all about rather than having the opinions of a few individuals.’
Tablighi Jamaat by Zacharias Pieri is available to purchase on Amazon here.
See more pictures from the launch and read Stephen Sizer’s blog here.
Read the book’s introduction here.