Influential British Muslims are fighting new plans for the so-called ‘megamosque’ in Newham, East London.
Trustees of the Abbey Mills mosque – registered under the name Anjuman-e-Islahul-Muslimeen but known locally as the markaz or headquarters - have occupied a contaminated site near West Ham tube station for 14 years.
They are part of the world’s biggest Islamic movement, the Deobandi-inspired Tablighi Jama’at, founded in Delhi in the 1920s.
Newham Borough Council granted the group ‘temporary’ planning permission in 2001 but finally issued an enforcement notice to evict them in February last year after they failed to submit the promised plans. Trustees are now appealing that notice before a Planning Inspector on 8 February.
They say they want another 18 months to prepare the masterplan, and meet planning requirements.
But Muslims including Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD), and Dr Taj Hargey of the Muslim Education Centre in Oxford have made formal submissions to the Planning Inspector, and others have expressed concern to Lapido Media.
Tehmina Kazi, whose trustees include the well-known Independent journalist Yasmine Alibhai Brown, says the proposal will damage social cohesion.
She told Lapido: ‘BMSD opposes sectarian movements and preachers. The Tablighi Jama’at’s insularity and heightened cultural identity makes it very difficult for them to integrate into wider British society.’
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, founder trustee of the London-based Muslim Institute, believes that the plans for a 12,000 capacity mosque, with school and conference centre next to the Olympic site ‘threatens’ the future of Islam in Britain.
Siddiqui, also a founding trustee of the BMSD, said: ‘If people want to live in this country and have a better future, they have to have good relationships with this society and that mosque will threaten that.’
The on-off-on development, currently centred in a group of huts beneath pylons within striking distance of the futuristic Olympic stadia, regularly hosts between 2-3,000 worshippers of the Delhi-based Tablighi Jama’at sect.
It sparked controversy two years ago when it emerged that a number of Muslims, prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws, had worshipped there.
The mosque trustees had earlier hired a PR company and launched a campaign to convince local people that this was a community project to benefit everyone – though the website was later taken down.
However, a Muslim sharia judge or qadi, who presides at Regent’s Park Mosque in Central London and acted as the group’s financial advisor, this week distanced himself from the project on the grounds that the Trustees themselves were ‘incompetent’.
Mufti Barkatullah, a sharia compliance advisor to Lloyds TSB in the City, told Lapido: ‘This megamosque is a complete myth. The people in charge are not capable of doing it. This is sheer incompetence at the heart of the management and various trustees. It will not happen.’
The qadi who had earlier attempted to raise £20million in the City on behalf of the project, said that the Tablighi Jama’at were not famous for managing big projects.
‘They are a movement rather than an establishment. These 14 years of history show they are not capable of building projects. They are just a public movement which just needs some facilities to accommodate people who come and go.’
He believed Newham Council had given them ‘good permission’. However, the group was not capable of fulfilling the conditions, and would not become capable.
He accused Newham Council of trying to please voters by breaking its own rules for such a long time. ‘They are doing it out of their voter concern’, he said.
His advice to them was: ‘Stick to the rules, no favours, no prejudice, no rules bent. I know the TJ Trustees. It is incompetence rather than the council doing anything.’
The eight-day appeal hearing before a Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State, is set for 8 February, though the result will not be published until at least May.
Trustees want a further two-year reprieve whilst a masterplan for the Site is prepared, including a six months’ period while they work with the Council to enable site regeneration works.
According to documents submitted to the appeal, the appellants argue that the site is their place of worship in east London until a permanent redevelopment of the overall site gets planning permission and is implemented.
No spokesman for the TJ was available for comment.
The movement is said to number some 80million worldwide and hosts ijtimas or congregations of up to 5million annually in Bangladesh and 2million in Raiwind, Pakistan. It was founded in the 1920s in north India to strengthen the faith against Hindu incursions and later as a resistance movement against the Raj.
Researchers trying to penetrate the sect which has nonetheless been endeavouring to present itself in terms of community outreach, note a resistance to participate in the democratic process.
Cardiff University-based sociologist Sophie Gilliat-Ray, in her 2005 article for Fieldwork and Religion Journal ‘Closed Worlds: (Not) Accessing Deobandi dar-ul-uloom in Britain’ warned about the separatist nature of the largest Islamic movement in the world, part of the Deobandi denomination.
‘From the outset, Deobandi dar-ul-uloom (schools) were decidedly oppositional in character and they have retained this character in the process of transplanting to Britain,’ she writes.
Indian scholar Yoginder Sikand quotes Mohammed Ishaq Patel, Head of the Shura Council at the TJ HQ in Dewsbury as being told to ‘seek to win the whole of Britain for Islam.’
‘Contrary to what Tablighi Jama'at activists insist, the movement does have a political vision, and is, through the various political roles that it plays, deeply engaged in questions of power and authority’ he has written.
But that does not seem to extend to media savvy.
Mufti Barkatullah told Lapido: ‘It’s their policy not to interact with the media. They cannot handle the media. They don’t have the expertise. They are working under separate rules of engagement.
‘They are down to earth people just doing what they are believing, and I think we should leave them alone.’
Muslim Institute - 0208 563 1995
British Muslims for Secular Democracy - http://www.bmsd.org.uk/outreach.asp
Tablighi Jama’at (International) – http://gotabligh.com/
Appeal details - http://pad.newham.gov.uk/AnitePublicDocs/17014885.pdf
Statements of case by both sides - http://pad.newham.gov.uk/AnitePublicDocs/17452824.pdfand http://pad.newham.gov.uk/AnitePublicDocs/17170754.pdf
Background to the TJ - http://www.lapidomedia.com/taking-tea-with-the-tablighi-jamaat