After years of searching for a place to worship, Muslims in the northern English town of Clitheroe have won planning permission to transform a former Methodist chapel into a mosque.
Local Methodists and other faith groups have been among the mosque’s supporters, standing alongside their Muslim neighbors as they faced vocal opposition and even racial abuse from those who campaigned against the proposed mosque.
“This is a basic issue of human rights,” said the Rev. Christopher Cheeseman, superintendent minister of the Clitheroe Methodist Circuit. “These are people of faith who wish to find a place to worship.”
Cheeseman and fellow Methodists, along with other local Christians, Jews and Buddhists, have made it their business to counter the efforts of the far-right British National Party in Clitheroe. Many feel the party has exploited divisions in this community over the new mosque, deliberately fanning the flames of racial hatred for their own political gain.
During local elections in 2003, British National Party campaign fliers depicted the town dominated by a domed mosque with minarets, even though the new mosque and community center plans contain no alterations to the exterior of the church building.
The Rev. Dale Barton, interfaith officer for the Lancashire Churches Together organization, said the basic right to religious freedom is at stake in Clitheroe. He recalled attending an independent inquiry about the mosque application where openly racist insults were directed against local Muslims. Deeply disturbed by what he saw and heard, Barton said it was “the most racist meeting I’ve been to in my entire life.”
A spokesperson for the local council told United Methodist News Service the council had received a number of letters opposed to the mosque proposal that were so racist and offensive they couldn’t be made public.
Mark D. Tooley is not happy: “the Christian clerics who promoted the mosque sometimes seemed blissfully unaware of the demographic trends that prophesy their own potential demise in Britain and in an increasingly Islamicized Europe. Amid their quickness in painting mosque opponents as semi-fascist, they showed little sadness over a once vibrant Christian church becoming a place of worship for Allah….. do Christian leaders who celebrate the removal of the cross from a church in favor of the Islamic crescent really honor their own faith? Or have they succombed to a new religion in which politically correct multiculturalism has displaced the Deity?”