Waiting to be convinced
Debating the Abbey Mills Mosque
By Angela Saini
Although a planning application has not yet been made for the Tablighi Jamaat Mosque, it's already causing a lot of heated debate in Newham and beyond
Christians, Muslims, international journalists, local residents, and members of UKIP and the BNP were among the wide variety of people who turned up at Ithaca House in Stratford to air their views about a controversial mosque being planned for Abbey Mills in West Ham.
"The reason that we held the event is that we want to know what all the fuss is about," explained Mizan Raja from Islamic Circles, a Newham-based community group that organised the debate.
Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group that has trusteeship of the land upon which the mosque would be built, has said that it would have a capacity for 12,000 worshippers – making it the largest mosque in the UK. There are also plans for a visitor centre and a school.
The stretch of land at Abbey Mills is now derelict and requires decontamination before construction can begin. Newham Council has said it is unable to comment or conduct a formal public consultation until a planning application is made, which is likely to be next year according to the mosque’s website.
Legitimate concerns or simply racism?
Representing the two sides of the debate were Alan Craig, Newham Christian People’s Alliance councillor for Canning Town South, and Abdul Khaliq Mian, a member of Newham’s Respect Unity Coalition, who also has ties to Tablighi Jamaat.
Councillor Craig said he believed Tablighi Jamaat had demonstrated an unwillingness to engage in public debate and that it has sought to separate itself from non-Muslims. He gave the Markazi mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and its adjoining Deobandi seminary, as examples of places run by Tablighi Jamaat that have fostered a conservative teaching of Islam.
Proponents of the mosque meanwhile insisted that there is a demand in the local community for a larger mosque to cater for special gatherings. A local resident said that Tablighi Jamaat had not caused any disturbances and had taken good care of the land at Abbey Mills since it was bought in 1996.
One audience member commented that religious minority groups in Newham had always faced opposition when building new places of worship, and that the reasons behind this were couched in racism – a comment that was greeted with applause.
The campaign against the mosque
Since being dubbed a 'mega' mosque by commentators, the plans have attracted international media attention and vociferous opposition through an online petition signed by approximately 250,000 people.
London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, said in a statement this year: "The particularly vicious nature of the campaign against a possible Muslim place of worship in East London should be condemned by all of those who support the long established right of freedom of religion in this country."
What are your views on the Abbey Mills Mosque? Do you live near the site? Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
"As I Muslim I totally understand, and support the disagreement of building a mega mosque that might be miss used after Jomaa’ prays. Those who wants to build the mosque need to prove to the world first (and for Muslims like me) that they are genuine in what they do." - Sameh El Sayed
"I just want to say that the demand for a large mosque in East London is huge. Anyone in doubt of this need should visit any current mosque in Newham (eg East London Mosque, Whitechapel) on a Friday and watch how we try to cram into the building, often resorting to praying on the road outside. Those who oppose the mosque are simply scared of us "aliens".......they need to understand that Muslims are not a threat to them or their culture!" - Dr Sherif El-Tawil
last updated: 31/12/2007 at 11:38