‘The screaming minarets of Oxford’

Central Mosque OxfordA small metal cross in Oxford’s Broad Street marks the spot where one of the worst acts of religious bigotry in English history was perpetrated: the burning of bishops Latimer and Ridley – the Oxford Martyrs – during the reign of Mary I, Bloody Mary, the last Catholic ruler of England.

Four hundred and fifty years on, a row has now flared in the city which threatens to pitch Muslims and a few Christian allies against an outraged coalition of both secular and non-secular figures. The issue in question is whether the cry of Muslims being summoned to prayer should be allowed to resound over Oxford’s dreaming spires.

The row blew up after the Oxford Central Mosque said it would apply to the city council for permission to broadcast the call to prayer from loudspeakers in the minaret in a newly built mosque, three times a day.

For the moment, the Oxford Central Mosque has said it is going to delay the request for planning permission. The new mosque, in Manzil Way, east Oxford, is still under construction, and will not be finished until the end of the year.

Allan Chapman, a devout Christian who is leading the campaign against the call to prayer, was relieved by the delay, which he attributed to the opposition from local residents.

“If there hadn’t been hell and fury we would have had this place wailing away already,” he said. “The opposition to this brings together people who on paper are totally apart. It links true blue Tories who go to church with ex-Marxists who don’t believe in God. We see it as naked Islamic imperialism. The community around the mosque is very Christian and European. The call to prayer is a sound many people find menacing. It’s redolent of things they don’t want to think about. It’s also a form of preaching. It will destroy the cohesion of a very well integrated community.”

He added: “What has angered people – and it has absolutely screamingly angered many people – is when we see Anglican clergymen overtly supporting Islam. We’re totally staggered. It’s being a traitor to the job description of their employment.”

Opponents of the call to prayer believe they have a natural ally in the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Nazir Ali, who has not commented directly on the Oxford row, but who alleged in a newspaper article this month that parts of Britain were being turned into “no-go” areas for non-Muslims.

Independent, 25 January 2008

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