Tablighi Jamaat London megamosque project
( London) But the project is far from gaining unanimous support.
With three security barriers, and two 'mosque guards,' nobody may enter as they wish on the property where the largest mosque in Western Europe is destined to be constructed, in East London. Young people would come to cause trouble, if I correctly understand the imperfect English of Mohammed Ashraf, who benevolently monitors the entrance.
Located in an industrial zone, erected between two railroad tracks, the structure appears as no more than an empty lot at present. Only a decrepit old building welcomes the believers who come to pray or to spend time there for a few days.
But if the prayers of the missionary group Tablighi Jamaat are fulfilled, a spectacular mosque capable of accommodating 12,000 faithful must see the light of day here some years from now, potentially in time for the 2012 Olympic Games. Less than a kilometer from the future Olympic stadium, the project would also include a school and cost between 120 and 165 million [Canadian] dollars.
Opposition to the project
Except that the idea does not bring unanimous support. A petition of opposition to the gigantic mosque has collected more than 280,000 signatures sent to the web site of the British prime minister last year. Only a petition against road taxes collected more signatures before now.
Although he did not sign the mentioned petition – which had a racist flavor – district councilor Alan Craig of the Christian People's Alliance is no less firmly opposed to the project. "My principal preoccupation concerns the men standing behind the mosque. Tablighi Jamaat is a group that seeks to divide people. They encourage Muslims to separate themselves from the rest of society," he warns. "They promote a very narrow and backward vision of Islam."
Originating in India and Pakistan, the Tablighi Jamaat movement defends a strict vision of Islam. Its supporters see their duty as that of following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, even sleeping on the ground in imitation of him. The group claims around 80 million adherents around the world.
While Tablighi Jamaat disclaims any political activity, Alan Craig emphasizes that the group has been linked to terrorists at various points. Examples? Two of the four individuals responsible for the bomb attacks of July 7, 2005 in London had visited the group's centers, as had Richard Reid who attempted to set off explosives hidden in his shoes aboard an airliner en route between Paris and Miami.
"Constructing a mosque of this size in the very heart of London means establishing a place for jihadist recruitment," said Irfan Al-Alawi, International Director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism.
Less categorically, the mufti Barkatullah, a moderate and respected representative of Islam in London, believes that the group has been somewhat demonized. "Certain people believe it is a question of conspirators with bad intentions, but I think rather that these are people with a mentality that is somewhat simplistic and narrow. They are not extremists. They are simply somewhat naïve and extremists can profit by utilizing their centres," he believes.
Mufti Barkatullah therefore welcomes with serenity the idea of a giant mosque close to the site of the Olympic Games. "The people from Tablighi Jamaat are accused of being excessively secretive. The idea that they wish to 'become involved' in the Olympic Games and that they want to be included in the community should be strongly welcomed."
At the door of the site, Mohammed Ashraf is, for his part, sure of one thing: whether or not there may be controversy, the mosque will be opened if Allah wishes it to be so. "Because Allah decides all," he explains, before returning to prayer.
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