Rising Opposition to the Giant Mosque in London
Radical Islamists financed this religious structure with a capacity for 12,000 people
by Karine LE LOET
May 30, 2007
It is a simple end of an empty lot stuck between railroad lines and a neighborhood park in East London. It provokes opposition and controversy. In 2012, an immense mosque was to rise from the ground, just when only hundreds of meters away the capital would welcome the Olympic Games. Around 12,000 of the faithful would be able to come for prayer between the walls of this megamosque, catapulting it into status as the highest religious structure in England, compared with Liverpool Cathedral (3,000 seats) or the Birmingham Central Mosque (3,200 seats). A project outsized for the district of Newham which, if it includes an important part of the 600,000 Muslims in London, already overflows with religious places appropriate for such use, its critics argue.
The founding organization of the project also draws suspicion. Its name? Tablighi Jamaat. This proselytizing movement which has roots in India and Pakistan was described in 1993 as a "gateway to extremism" by the French secret services. Its reputation has suffered from the passage through its Pakistani training centers of big names in terrorism: Khaled Kelkal, presumed responsible for the wave of French terror attacks in 1995, Richard Reid, the attempted shoe bomber on board a Paris-Miami flight, and even Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the kamikazes of the London underground.
"Separatist." Meanwhile, in the U.K., the movement grew and founded mosques and medresas. But this time, resistance was organized. "To construct a mosque of this size in the very heart of London is to establish a place for jihadist recruitment," [emphasis in original] warns Irfan al-Alawi, International Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. "The Tablighis accuse the British of being corrupt and are dedicated to the creation of a parallel society," declares Alan Craig, municipal councilor for Newham and leader of the local branch of the Christian People's Alliance. "Here, ethnic and religious diversity is very great and we live relatively well together. We have no need for a separatist movement."
The proposal of the group to offer the Muslim delegations to the Olympics a place to pray during the Games (which will take place during the month of Ramadan), aggravates the anger of some. "This is diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Games," insists Alan Craig. "Chinese, Americans, Christians, Muslims, must mix and not close themselves up in ghettos!"
There remains, finally, the delicate subject of financing. Because its detractors accuse the movement of flirting with the Saudi Wahhabis and of frequently benefiting from its largesse. As proof, the headquarters of the group, at Dewsbury in the north of England, supposedly benefited from Saudi financing. But here "the funds were raised 100 percent in the UK," says Nick Kilby of Indigo Public Affairs, the public relations agency which not long ago took over media contacts for Tablighi Jamaat. Because after a certain period of time and the rise of polemics, the group, which habitually avoided the press, jumped handily into the media game.
Rumors. Following an attack by councilor Alan Craig on YouTube, the Tablighis had responded with other videos and an Internet site refuting some rumors, notably that of a project for a mosque with a capacity of 70,000 worshippers. "In watching the controversy increase, they surrounded themselves with press representatives, they introduced a school into their project to sugar-coat the pill, and scaled the project down. But nothing indicated that once the proposal for a 12,000-capacity mosque was accepted, they would not proceed with enlargements," warns Alan Craig.
In hope of blocking construction of the mosque, the opponents have collected over some months a petition on an official website. It has attracted 48,000 signatures. On the same site, the promoters of the mosque, have only gained 200 signatures.
Translation by Center for Islamic Pluralism
Montée des oppositions
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