After a long struggle to find a suitable place of worship in the town, the small Muslim population of Clitheroe has, by the narrowest of council votes, secured planning permission to convert the Mount Zion Methodist chapel into its first mosque.
The stipulations are strict. No domes or minarets. No calls to prayer. But the 300 local Muslims, who have resorted to praying in a room at the town’s council chambers after 30 years in futile pursuit of a mosque, are delighted and Sheraz Arshad, the young British Muslim whose campaigning efforts have secured the mosque, is determined that it should be a community facility where those of different faiths can find out more about each other. “We want it to become one of the first in Britain to incorporate a multi-faith facility,” he said.
But Mr Arshad’s gesture appears to mean little to those – including the far right, who will bid for political power in Clitheroe at next month’s local elections – for whom Muslims are unwelcome here. The chapel, still vacant while money is raised to convert it, has come under attack three times since planning permission was granted, and leaflets for the England First Party, which is contesting the Primrose ward where the chapel stands, are explaining to voters why this mosque might presage an Islamic invasion.
The party knows it is on solid ground, since 900 people lodged objections to the mosque plan – 200 in terms deemed so offensive that the council would not publish their submissions. The editor of the local Clitheroe Advertiser and Times also stopped publishing letters on the subject two weeks before the planning decision, citing “legal issues over content, the length of letters and restrictions on space”.
See also Guardian, 18 April 2007