Newham: Giant mosque is ‘no different from any European city where the church is the focal point’, say planners

by - 7th February 2012

Site of Markaz Ilyas today.  Photo: Z Pieri

Revised plans to build a huge mosque in the heart of east London will ‘dupe’ the local authority into believing a ‘separatist’ and ‘supremacist’ Muslim group is committed to social cohesion, an imam has said.

The Tablighi Jama’at sect are hoping they will be granted permission to build a 9,500-capacity mosque in Newham with a roof the equivalent of eight storeys high, including minarets towering 75m and 45m into the London skyline.

But in order to comply with Newham Council’s requirements that the Abbey Mills Riverine Centre be a mixed use site promoting social cohesion,  a range of additional features were unveiled at an exhibition in a marquee on site on Saturday (4 February), including commercial office space, retail units, apartments, a food hall and a visitors’ centre.

Critics argue, however, that the concept of social cohesion is totally at odds with this Deobandi-inspired, ultra-conservative Muslim group which was founded to assert an Islamic identity, and shuns the outside world.

To get residents’ buy-in ahead of a planning application submission, the project team which consists of top consultancy, PR and architectural firms, held an exhibition revealing the masterplan at the contaminated site where the TJ have been meeting for the past 16 years.

‘The masterplan responds to Newham’s design agenda for a borough of cohesion and acceptance by making public spaces that bring people together in a safe environment,’  the statement from the Riverine Centre read.

‘The masterplan creates a new part of London. We believe that the presence of a significant public building, and in particular a religious building, can greatly enhance public space adding to its meaning and purpose.

‘For this reason, the most significant strategic decision has been to place the mosque at the heart of the site as a powerful unifying element: a symbol of London’s diverse heritage and a celebration of our cultural diversity.’

But Imam Dr Taj Hargey of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford said, far from promoting social cohesion, the ‘towering edifice’ would be dangerous and divisive if it were ‘ever to see the light of day’.

‘I’m not against a mosque being built on the site, but this particular group represents, in my opinion, a distortion and a travesty of Islam. We shouldn’t be engaging in nonsensical projects of this nature because we have no need for this symbol of triumphalism,’ Dr Hargey said.

‘If this goes ahead, it will give Muslims in this country the idea that only this ultra-conservative, puritanical Islam works because they would have succeeded where others haven’t; and it will encourage others to follow this Neanderthal version of Islam.

‘It would also be a body blow for the non-Muslim. Here we have a group in our so-called multicultural society which espouses sexism, separatism and supremacy.

‘The TJ are a caricature of the Saudi Wahhabi branch of Islam. And this is not a variation that we Muslims need in Britain. We want an Islam that’s at peace with its neighbours. TJ is not conducive to good relations with those around it.’


TJ’s is a global Islamic revival movement: the ‘ijtema’ or congregation at Tongi in Bangladesh last month (January)

It has been a long road for the controversial re-development , which at one point included plans for a mosque accommodating 70,000 people which would have made it the largest place of worship in Europe.

In May 2011, the Tablighi Jama’at community won an appeal against an enforcement order issued by the London Borough of Newham, and were given two-year planning permission for the current use of the site – where the 3,000-strong membership were until recently, meeting illegally in temporary buildings on-site since 1997.

Following the decision, the Trustees of the Riverine Centre pledged to create ‘a mixed use scheme that meets both the needs of our community and the planning requirements of the statutory authorities’.

Haroon Saeed, a representative of the Riverine Centre, told Lapido: ‘The current space is not enough for our requirements. And even if we got the planning permission today, it would take a good number of years before the site is completed. But this is about looking ahead to the future.’

Despite fierce criticism over the plans from Newham Concern – a group set up to oppose the building of what it dubbed the ‘mega-mosque’ – architect Richard Owers of Cambridge-based NRAP Architects told Lapido the site would benefit the whole community.

‘This is a contaminated site, and so the best chance Newham has of seeing it developed is through this client and this community. We are committed to providing high quality spaces based on the courtyard model of a mosque, with the mosque as the centre point.

‘This is no different from any European city where the church is the focal point.

‘One of the key things is to try to balance the planner’s requirements and what is genuinely mixed use with better facilities for worship for the Muslim community.’

But Dr Hargey said the mixed use plans were merely ‘smoke and mirrors’.

‘It’s all a façade,’ he said. ‘It’s propaganda. They will pass through the hoops that have been placed in front of them by the council, but I don’t see how they are truly going to jettison their sexist and separatist views. It’s all designed to dupe the local government and the public.’

If planning permission is granted, the development could be completed within four years.

Related stories:
What is the Tablighi Jama’at?

Lapido  visits the TJ HQ in Delhi:

Muslims against the mosque address appeal hearing:

Mosque has royal connections:

TJ in pictures:  Gatherings are ‘bigger than the Hajj’:

Lady Warsi on ‘social cohesion’: