Now for the Mega Mosque
by Stephen Crittenden
Stephen Crittenden: [M]eanwhile in East London, plans are under way to build the largest mosque in Europe, right alongside the site for the 2012 Olympic Games. The new mega mosque will cover 17 acres, and hold 12,000 worshippers in its first phase, four times as many as Britain's largest cathedral. Opponents say the times require self-reflection and soul searching, not a triumphalist race to dominate the public square, and there have been many opponents, 200,000 people have signed a petition on the website of No.10 Downing Street against the mosque.
They are particularly concerned that the group that wants to build the mosque, a radical fringe group with origins in India and Pakistan, called Tablighi Jamaat, has links to terrorism. A number of the bombers on the London Underground were associated with Tablighi Jamaat, as was the shoe bomber, Richard Reid.
Tablighi Jamaat is a separatist group whose large mosque in the north of England was built many years ago with Saudi money, and opponents of the group say it has been the centre from which much of the radicalisation of Muslims in the north of England has emanated, and that the new East London mosque will be a recruitment ground for Jihad all over Europe.
And this is where the story gets really interesting: the mosque project does not have the support of mainstream British Muslims. But where Tablighi Jamaat is getting its support is from the left-wing Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
Dr Irfan al Alawi is International Director for the Centre of Islamic Pluralism. He says British Muslims don't need another mega mosque in the middle of London's Olympic Village.
Irfan al Alawi: First of all there is no need for such a mega mosque in the City of London. It's not even architectural for Islamic mosque, it doesn't have any dome, it doesn't have any minarets, in particular, where they're going to build it, it's going to be close to the Olympic stadium. We don't have that many Muslims in the area who will be accommodated between 40,000 to 70,000 people. What they've also of course told us, they've denied the fact it was going to be between 40,000 to 70,000, so what they're going to do initially is apply for 12,000 accommodation and then perhaps in the second and third year running, allow for an expansion.
My major concern is that Tablighi Jamaat has been linked with terrorism activities in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami, Lashkar-e-Taiba and so forth. These are the organisations which train radicals and send them to Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries -
Stephen Crittenden: And linked to terrorist activities in Britain, isn't that right?
Irfan al Alawi: Of course, absolutely, yes. I mean we have significant proof that after 7/7, the London train bombings, most of the people who were arrested or who were involved with these, were not from the mainstream Sunni background, they were from either the Ahli Hadith or Salafis which is known otherwise as Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia, or the Tablighi Jamaat.
Stephen Crittenden: Let's look at the design, Irfan. This is not a traditional Ottoman dome with minarets, is it? It appears to be a modern building. Surely a lot of British people would see that as a good thing.
Irfan al Alawi: Well yes, I agree with you on that side. But the issue here is this is deliberately done so that the British people will accommodate this mosque in this London city. On the other hand Ali Mangera who was the architect, from what I gather, was sacked because of him making a statement that he was actually hired to design a mosque, which will accommodate between 40,000 to 70,000 people. However on the other hand the committee has recently denied this, and say Ali Mangera has absolutely made the story up, and lied.
Stephen Crittenden: I just want to stay with this architectural question and the question of the urban landscape in London as well. Also to think about the other major mosque projects in Europe at the moment, in Cologne, in Lyons, in Marseilles, that are causing similar controversy, are we seeing in fact all over Europe at the moment, a kind of race now, to dominate the public square?
Irfan al Alawi: I think what's happening is perhaps not dominate, but the other word we can use is perhaps to have a symbol to represent Muslims in the west, or Europe I would say. And this is deliberately being done by the Wahhabis, or the people like Al-Muhajiroun and other groups which have affiliated themselves to extremism which would mean that they want to enforce Islamic religion which they have by radicalisation to establish a Caliphate. And Islam was never spread by the sword, it was always with peace, love and harmony. I don't personally think why on earth do we need so many mosques? I mean let me give you an example: in England we have about 1500 mosques. These are spread out from north of England all the way to the south, which is the City of London and we have about 2-million Muslims. Now why on earth would we want to have a mosque which will accommodate 40,000 people and as the same issue which I would be interested in, in France or any other country.
Stephen Crittenden: Here in Sydney, our largest mosque has become a political force in its own right. Arguably to the detriment of smaller Muslim communities elsewhere in Australia. It sort of sucks up all the available oxygen. Is that the purpose of a building like this?
Irfan al Alawi: I think yes, you could say it is in so many aspects. But you see the issue here is that what we should be very cautious about, these mosques recently being sprung up in the west, in Europe, where is the funding coming from, especially if it's coming from Saudi Arabia, if it's coming from the Indian subcontinent like Pakistan, if it's coming from Jamaat-e-Islami.
Stephen Crittenden: And where is the funding coming from in this case?
Irfan al Alawi: OK, now the mega mosque, the original funding was supposed to have come 100-million pounds, from Saudi Arabia. However when we brought this into the public limelight, it's gone very quiet now.
Stephen Crittenden: So is the big story in all of this really, that this group, Tablighi Jamaat is in fact a radical fringe group and that this project doesn't have the support of most mainstream Muslims in Britain. Is that really the story?
Irfan al Alawi: Absolutely, yes. I mean the majority of the Muslims who live in the United Kingdom are mainstream. But the danger is, the Tablighi Jamaat is moving far quickly than the mainstream, and they're doing a lot of work by publishing literature, by having a lot of door-to-door call-ons, and calling on people to convert to Islam. And what is frightening is a lot of British people don't know the difference between who are the Tablighi Jamaat and who are the mainstream Muslims.
Stephen Crittenden: You compared them to the Jehovah's Witnesses, that's a very interesting analogy. From what I can find out, they don't talk to the press, and they're very big on separatism, which makes it interesting that they'd want to build such a big mosque.
Irfan al Alawi: Yes. Now why I say it's somewhat similar to Jehovah's Witnesses is because they hold camps at their madrassas or mosques, or even schools during the summer holidays or even on the weekends, which attracts hundreds of youth, and what happens is, they go around the local neighbourhood areas, knocking on people's doors and trying to attract them to come to the mosque, in their own languages, be it whatever language they speak, because they are international students who attract these big crowds. Now the very reason why they sort of keep away from the publicity is because they are very private in their meetings, they're very private in their beliefs. It's a party which has become very political, while very much interested in establishing Islamic States, they want Khashmir, they want Afghanistan, and the other thing that we have to look by here is they are very strong followers of Jihad, and Jihad means that they're very interested in if ever Pakistan or Afghanistan were able to declare Jihad, a Holy War, they would want their members in either America, Australia, in England, to go and leave those countries and go and fight the Holy War. And this is what it's all about. They are very loyal members.
Stephen Crittenden: Now it seems to me that another big question here given what you're describing, is that you've got this fairly radical fringe group that's not supported by mainstream British Muslims, but this group is being a given a leg-up by Ken Livingstone, and the City government.
Irfan al Alawi: Right. Now Ken Livingstone, he doesn't know what on earth Tablighi Jamaat is about. I mean I was there, I had a dialogue with Ken Livingstone myself, and I asked him how much of the essence does he know about Tablighi Jamaat, and because he's a politician, he wants to gain his votes, because he's got an election coming up and he knows the only way he can win by election if he gives the Muslims in that area what they require. And don't forget the Councillors for the City Council in Newham are belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat group. So as a politician, he's trying to have them, it's like you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. But in actual fact he's not listening to the majority of the general public who have voted on the major Downing Street website, there's a petition that no-one is interested in this mega mosque.
Stephen Crittenden: Yes, there have been some setbacks for the project in recent weeks. What is likely to be the future of it, what is Gordon Brown likely to do in fact?
Irfan al Alawi: OK, the reason why there have been some setbacks is because they're getting a lot of bad publicity from people like me, people of Alan Craig, who is the local councillor, and I think they realise that now what they've done is basically got a PR agency called Indigo, for their own public relations, press releases and so forth. And I think the chances first of all for it to go ahead are a little more slimmer than what they were perhaps four, five months ago. But that is not an indication for us to say OK we can sleep over it. Gordon Brown of course he's interested in his election which is going to be coming soon; just like David Cameron who's trying to call an election in October, they're all interested in their votes. Now although I'm very strongly against what this British government is trying to have this multicultural word that they use, or Ken Livingstone uses, I personally think that if they want to get rid of radicalisation and if they want to stop this particular mosque going ahead and other organisations operating within the UK, like Al-Muhajiroun or Hizb ut-Tahrir which is still not banned, which is still not banned, then they have to stop these three groups, which is Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Wahhabism.
Now I personally think the only country who's really hard on these groups is the United States. When you've got extremist HT, Al-Muhajiroun, Jemaat-e-Islami, Wahhabi, Tablighi Jamaat moving in, are we going to let these people walk away and say OK, we'll decide for ourselves, are these people safe? Because it will be too late. It's a time bomb which is ticking.
Stephen Crittenden: On the question of the security issues around a mosque like this, I wonder whether having a lot of Muslims praying in one place in a great big mosque, where surveillance if necessary is easy, it's a much better thing than having this sort of proliferation in towns like Birmingham and Leeds and Bristol and so on of little storefront mosques?
Irfan al Alawi: Well in some sense maybe I might agree with you up to a certain limit, but I think it's virtually impossible to say that we could have these Tablighi Jamaat people monitored if they're going to be all sort of coming under one roof. The reason being is because it's going to be an Islamic centre for recruitment, and what will happen is eventually people will be coming from north, from east, from south, and they will go back and establish their own centres. I mean what we have in the north of England is like a separatist movement, we have the Muslim slums, the ghettoes, and this is where they've established small madrassas or the corner mosques, what I call them. Because of one particular mosque which is the Dewsbury Markaz which was established many, many years ago, so the danger if the mega mosque goes ahead it will be a recruitment ground to establish more of the mosques, not only in England, but in the West, it could be Denmark, it could be France and so forth. And of course France has always said that Tablighi Jamaat has political terrorism activities. And I don't understand why Britain is so lenient.
Stephen Crittenden: Dr Irfan al Alawi, the International Director of the Centre of Islamic Pluralism.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.