Irfan al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz of the so-called Center for Islamic Pluralism continue the witch-hunt of Tablighi Jamaat over the proposed new mosque – or “Ken’s mega-mosque” as they now dub it – at Abbey Mills in East London. The article contains the welcome news that Asif Shakoor and the Sunni Friends of Newham, who were co-operating with Irfan al-Alawi in the campaign against the mosque, “now profess indifference about the project”.
Ken’s mega-mosque will encourage extremism
Irfan al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz warn that the Olympic mosque has been conceived by Islamic radicals, supported by politically correct politicians, and will add to divisions in Britain
In 2007 Britain will almost certainly be the chief testing ground of the attempt by radical Muslims to gain more power and influence in Western society.
The United States, too, is threatened by militant Islam not least by the prospect of terrorist attacks on its own territory but the problem in the United Kingdom is much greater. In America, radical Islamists have used civil rights legislation and the habits of multicultural courtesy to gain advantages that might not be available to them in Europe. At any rate there has been no debate there about niqab or face-covering. Britain, however, gives the impression of a society approaching a fork in its historical road: either towards more ‘Islamisation’ of the broader society or towards a powerful backlash as Britons grow increasingly troubled by the apparent forcible dilution of the majority culture.
The fork in the road could be reached later this year if the go-ahead is given for the building of the massive, intrusive and bizarre Sunni mosque complex to sit alongside the 2012 London Olympics centre. All the indications are that the goahead will be given.
The mosque is designed to be the largest religious structure in Britain. It will accommodate 70,000 people, of whom 40,000 can pray at any given time. According to the latest estimates, it will cost as much as £300 million to build. The complex will be known as the Markaz mosque, ‘markaz’ being the Arabic word for ‘centre’.
Among non-Muslims, the erection of so large a mosque will arouse resentment. But it is provoking unease among Muslims, too. The mosque will have no minarets – Sunni fundamentalists hate minarets – but, rather, a system of wind turbines that will make it look like the set of a science-fiction film. More controversially, however, the project has the backing of the Islamic separatist movement known as Tabligh-i-Jamaat – or Call of the Community.
Tabligh is a missionary Sunni sect that came under serious scrutiny after the atrocities of 9/11. It is not mainstream in its interpretation of Islam. Rather, it is, according to its own claims, ‘reformist’ like the Saudi-financed Wahabi movement, the extremist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Jamaatis in Pakistan.
Tabligh representatives insist that their movement is non-violent, but a number of terrorists have passed through its ranks: John Walker Lindh, the American Taleban combatant, was one; Richard Reid, the British ‘shoe bomber’, was another. The Tabligh centre in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, which is the movement’s European headquarters, was often visited by Mohammed Siddique Khan, head of the 7/7 London bomb attack, and by Shehzad Tanweer, one of his accomplices. Tablighis were also under investigation in the alleged Heathrow conspiracy to blow up transatlantic passenger jets last summer.
Although Tabligh followers may not constitute an active jihadist army, their doctrines are unquestionably hostile to other religions and to non-Muslim societies and governments. The movement originated within the Deobandi sect of Islam, which also produced the Taleban, and shares with the Saudi-financed Wahabis a rejection of traditional Islamic spiritual practices. Tabligh preachers have been crucial in the radicalisation of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.
In traditional cult style, new recruits to Tabligh from Western Europe or North Africa are routinely sent to Pakistan for intensive indoctrination. The aim of Tabligh is to unify and segregate ‘pure’ Muslims from their neighbours. In London, Abdul Khaliq, the Tabligh representative and Markaz mosque director, has declared, ‘We would like to think that the Olympic authority will use it as the Islamic quarter of the 2012 Games’ that is, as a separatist zone, an ‘Islamic village’.
When the mega-mosque proposal was made public, Muslims in Newham complained that it would increase tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. A group called Sunni Friends of Newham, headed by Asif Shakoor, complained that the Tabligh effort would discriminate against non-Tabligh Muslims and alienate Christians and others. Shakoor accused Tabligh of ‘radicalising the younger generation’ and demanded that his co-religionists in the neighbourhood take a stand against it. The pressure group gathered 2,500 signatures for a petition against the Markaz but then fell silent. Sunnis in Newham now profess indifference about the project, apparently as a result of pressure from radicals.
The purging of anti-Tabligh views from the east London Muslim community has been helped by Ken Livingstone’s endorsement of the Markaz mosque. The enthusiasm of the Mayor of London is shared by the Thames Gateway Development Corporation, which means, presumably, that public financing will contribute a major share to completion of the mosque. Among Muslims, rumour has it that the mayor himself will open the building, rather than an Islamic dignitary.
London does not lack distinguished houses of Muslim worship. Not long ago the London Central (or Regent’s Park) mosque, with its golden dome, was considered one of the most impressive in Western Europe. But it was built in 1978, and accommodates only 2,000 in its prayer hall. Then came the Saudi-backed Wahabi facility, the London Muslim Centre, which opened in 2004 in east London, with capacity for 10,000 at prayer. Even with its Saudi Wahabi financing, the LMC drew on public monies for its erection. And, of course, London is also known for radical preaching at the Finsbury Park mosque.
The Markaz mosque, meanwhile, is intended to promote a separatist cult, rather than the general interests of Muslims; there is no need for it as a service to the existing London Islamic community; it will use money collected from non-Muslims by taxation, which is neither ethical nor prudent, especially now.
Ken Livingstone is very much at the heart of the problem. For all his eagerness to reaffirm his multicultural credentials, he has shown little sensitivity to the differing trends within the Islamic community, and especially to the battle between moderates and radicals. Mr Livingstone is apparently happy with the idea of a ‘Muslim quarter’ at the Olympics, or a ghetto-style ‘Islamic village’, or put plainly, a fundamentalist enclave. Indeed, UK officials such as the Labour MP Mike O’Brien have expressed the absurd belief that ‘radical’ Islam is acceptable, in contrast with ‘extremist’ Islam, because the first is supposed to be merely rhetorical and the second is violent. The same officials have tried to reinvent Deobandis and other British Muslim jihadists as purported ‘moderates’.
As Muslims, we reject such thinking. We know the difference between moderate Islam and fundamentalism, and we know there is no significant distinction to be drawn between radicals and extremists. Further, we object to non-Muslim but ‘politically correct’ British politicians, experts, and media commentators trying to define the situation within our faith for us, without any consultation except with known radicals spuriously legitimised as ‘community representatives’. We believe London authorities should reject approval of the Tabligh Markaz mosque, that the British government should cease trying to placate radical Muslims, and that moderate and mainstream Muslims should stand up and defend their long record of success in Britain by repudiating Deobandism and all other forms of Islamist separatism, radicalism and extremism.
Irfan al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz are, respectively, Western Europe director and executive director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism (www.islamicpluralism.org)