A new Shia Muslim mega mosque and Islamic center – measuring over 3,500 square meters and with room for 3,000 people -- has opened in Golders Green, one of only two largely Jewish areas in London. The Shia Muslim religious center, Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham, owns the mosque.
The mosque is situated in the Hippodrome, a prominent building centrally located in North London. The Hippodrome was built in 1913 as a 3,000-seat music hall and for more than 30 years housed the BBC Concert Orchestra. Two episodes of the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus were recorded there in 1969. After the BBC left the building in 2005, a Jewish group wanted to convert the building into a place of worship but was rejected, because the planning applications stipulated that the building should be used for entertainment. In March 2007, it was purchased by an evangelical Christian center. After the church center closed, the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham center acquired it.
Because the building is a so-called grade II building, special permission is needed to change the purpose of the building. The Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham has applied to the local city council for permission to use the building as a 'place of worship'. The application is still pending-- and worship there is therefore, strictly speaking, illegal -- but the mosque is operating nevertheless. It apparently officially opened on September 8, and has been in frequent use since, as is evident from the many photos shared on the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham Facebook page.
A partial screenshot of a post from the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham Facebook page, advertising the opening of the new mega mosque.
"This is a great move for us and we are very pleased and excited to be in Golders Green in such a diverse area. We can't wait to get to know our neighbours and plan to welcome them at an open day sometime in December... We will be reaching out to the local churches and synagogues so we can build strong ties with the community," Ahmed Al-Kazemi, the spokesperson for the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham mosque told the Jewish chronicle in September. It appears unlikely that forging ties with neighbors will be a high priority, as one young member of the mosque explained in a recent fundraising video for the new mega mosque:
"Growing up in this country, same as any other Western country, it is very difficult for the youth to stay on the straight path... it is very easy to stray yourself away from the straight path because of the friends you make at school or at work or anywhere, which is not mixed with your own people. So the Hussainiyah [the Shia mosque] was there as a backbone to us... where if they saw any of us doing anything wrong there would always be a person to advise you and put you in the right path..."
In the fundraising video, leading members of the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham describe the 30-year history of Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham and why it was established. An elderly cleric, not named in the video, said:
"[Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Al-Shirazi] ... would constantly encourage the establishment of Hussaini centers across the world, especially in non-Islamic countries and thus would encourage people to travel and reside in Western countries [at this point the cleric uses the term 'hijrah' to describe Islamic migration into the West]. I was one of those, who were advised to reside in the West; so we can propagate the teachings of the Ahlulbayt. I arrived in London in 1993. The Hussainiah programmes then took place in an apartment in Edgware Road [in London], which we would attend. At the time these were organized by the late Ayatollah Sheikh al-Garawi..."
The apartment on Edgware Road in London was subsequently exchanged for a larger property, a former garage and car storage facility, at 120 Cricklewood Lane in North London. After 20 years at the Cricklewood property, a younger cleric explained, 'we were under pressure from various angles to sell the venue in search of a more suitable space'.
Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham sold their old converted garage and warehouse for a remarkable £4.5 million in January 2017. The property was apparently only valued at about one tenth of that sum and properties in that area apparently sell at a fraction of that price.
The Islamic charity that runs Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham, the Center for Islamic Enlightenment (also known as Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami, which has at its stated purpose, 'to promote the advancement of the Islamic religion by all or any of the following means: Providing religious centers for worship of the Islamic religion, providing free booklets and supplements to followers, advancement of education of the public concerning the Islamic religious culture) bought the prominent Hippodrome building with its central location in the affluent and attractive suburb of Golders Green for £5.2 million in July – not that much more than for what they had sold their old converted garage. The identity of the extremely generous buyer of the Cricklewood property remains unknown.
The conversion of the Hippodrome into a mega-mosque has created local protests in Golders Green. A petition against it has been launched, signed by more than 4,000 people. According to one petitioner:
"To place a large Muslim institution in the heart of one of London's only two Jewish communities is a highly dangerous undertaking and one that can only result in violence and terrorism."
Another petitioner wrote:
"The appearance of burkas [and] veils has changed the area... the traffic is too much and we do not know what they are preaching as [it is] all in Arabic".
While Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham poses as a local Islamic community that is interested in diversity and interfaith dialogue, it would appear that it is under the direct influence of Iran. The Ayatollah Sayed Sadiq Hussaini Al-Shirazi, a leading Iranian cleric who resides in the city of Qom, has a list of religious centers and mosques with which he appears to be involved (they are listed as his "Works" on his website). Among them are three centers or mosques in Canada and one mosque in Europe: The Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham in London. Ayatollah Sayed Sadiq Hussaini Al-Shirazi, the brother of the late Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Al-Shirazi, is cited in the fundraising video mentioned above as the person who "would constantly encourage the establishment of Hussaini centers across the world, especially in non-Islamic countries and thus would encourage people to travel and reside in Western countries".
At the end of the fundraising video, a spokesperson for the Hussainiyat Al-Rasool Al-Adham says that the mosque is very happy with their new location and that they expect to be there for the next "100, 200 or 300 years".
 A very influential Iranian cleric and Shia Muslim scholar, who belonged to the inner circle, at least initially, of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
 The Ahlulbayt are certain descendants of Mohammad, his 'household', among them Hussain, the grandson of Muhammad. Shia Muslims frequently call their houses of prayer and study Hussainiah centers, after Hussain.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.