A radical Islamic group is one step closer to building one of the world's largest mosques in London after a star Muslim opponent of the controversial mega-mosque was intimidated into silence.
Tablighi Jamaat—a fundamentalist Islamic sect opposed to Western values such as democracy and human rights, but committed to "perpetual Jihad" to spread Islam around the world—is fighting a no-holds-barred battle to build a massive mosque complex in West Ham, a neighborhood in the East London Borough of Newham.
The proposed mosque would be built on a 16-acre site near the Olympic Stadium, and would have a capacity for more than 9,000 worshippers. It would be outfitted with towering minarets, an Islamic library, a dining hall, tennis courts, sports facilities, hundreds of parking spaces and apartments for visiting Muslim clerics, all of which would make the East London mosque the largest religious building in Britain and the largest mosque in Europe.
Tablighi Jamaat—an Arabic term that means "Society for Spreading the Faith" or "Proselytizing Group"—is the largest conservative Islamic proselytizing movement in the world.
The group, which has its roots in India and is active in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, has contributed to the explosive growth of Islamic religious fervor and conversions around the world.
Although Tablighi Jamaat promotes itself as tolerant and socially integrated, American security officials say Tablighi Jamaat is a "recruiting ground" for al-Qaeda, and French intelligence officials describe the group as the "antechamber of fundamentalism."
The French Tablighi expert Marc Gaborieau says the group's ultimate objective is nothing short of a "planned conquest of the world" in the spirit of jihad.
Tablighi Jamaat has been requesting permission to build the mosque since 1999 (the original plans called for a mosque with a capacity for 70,000 worshippers). The mosque, which will cost an estimated £100 million (€125 million; $170 million) to build, will be financed by Saudi Arabia.
Not surprisingly, local citizens—including many Muslims—are concerned that the project to build a "contemporary Islamic sacred space" is actually a smokescreen for an ambitious plan to establish a hardline Islamic enclave in East London.
After enduring more than 15 years of Tablighi Jamaat's pressure tactics, the Strategic Development Committee of the Labour-led Newham Council (the local authority for the London Borough of Newham) in December 2012 decided unanimously to reject the application to build the mosque on the grounds that the building was too big and would not serve the needs of the local community.
Supporters of Newham's mega-mosque project demonstrate in London. (Image source: Newham People's Alliance)
In a statement, Councilor Conor McAuley, Newham Council's Executive Member for Regeneration and Strategic Planning, said:
"Councilors have considered this application at length and with great care before deciding to reject it. The council undertook a rigorous and extensive consultation about the proposals in the run-up to this decision.
"Apart from the proposals being contrary to the planning policy for the site, they are also unacceptable for a number of other reasons. These are: the proposed mosque building is too big and would have an impact on important historic buildings nearby; it will generate too much traffic resulting in people parking on local residents' streets; the site is heavily contaminated raising safety issues which are not properly addressed by the application; the application proposes keeping existing buildings on the site, which are poorly designed."
Prominent Muslims responded to the news by vowing to punish the Labour Party in future elections unless the decision was reversed and the application to build the mosque was approved immediately.
Tablighi Jamaat also filed a formal appeal to reverse Newham Council's decision.
The appeal is now being considered by means of a Public Inquiry that was convened on June 3, 2014, by the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales. The Planning Inspectorate is responsible for determining final outcomes of town planning and enforcement appeals and public examination of local development plans.
The final decision over whether the mega-mosque can be built will be taken by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. His decision, which will be based on the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate, is expected sometime during autumn 2014.
On the first day of the inquiry, however, Tehmina Kazi, the only Muslim brave enough to give evidence against the mosque, abruptly withdrew from giving testimony after being "persuaded" by Muslim hardliners to remove her objections.
Kazi, who is the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a so-called progressive Muslim organization ostensibly committed to breaking the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalists in Britain, will not now testify at the inquiry.
"Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly," Kazi said in an interview with Lapido Media, which has followed the East London mosque debate for many years. "I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women's increased participation and involvement in the new facility."
At a previous Inquiry into the mega-mosque in January 2011, however, Kazi wrote in her Summary Proof of Evidence:
"Tablighi Jamaat is a movement which is inward-looking and has been reluctant to engage in dialogue with people who are different. They only engage with other Muslims and, even then, there is a reluctance to engage with other sects/movements within Islam who they believe to have controversial teachings e.g. Shiaism. While there are many groups and organizations across the UK with a socially conservative agenda, what marks out Tablighi Jamaat is its unwillingness to enter into dialogue with representatives of different religious and non-religious beliefs.
"Jamaat does not promote social integration in respect of Muslim women... Tablighi Jamaat adopts a narrow 'gender regime'. Tablighi Women are required to observe purdah, or seclusion. This seclusion dictates their actions in the public and private sphere. For example, in public places Tablighi women are required to cover their entire body with a burkha and face veil and must always be accompanied by a male relative.
"The values surrounding this seclusion are transmitted to their children. Therefore, the female members of this movement—as well as future generations—do not integrate into mainstream British society.
"Tablighi Jamaat's practices are not illegal in the UK, but its overly conservative and puritanical approach to gender relations—as well as relations between Muslims and non-Muslims—will have wider implications on society."
Considering that Tablighi Jamaat has not become any more progressive since the inquiry in 2011, observers believe there is far more to Kazi's story than meets the eye.
Alan Craig, the indefatigable director of MegaMosqueNoThanks.com, a campaign launched in 2005 to stop the mosque from being built, believes Kazi was "intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters."
In a press statement dated June 3, Craig, a former Newham town councilor, said Kazi was "harried and pressured" by members of the Muslim-run Newham People's Alliance (NPA), a pro-mega-mosque activist group, while on holiday over the May 31-June 1 weekend. On the evening of June 1, Kazi "conceded and withdrew from the Inquiry in an email to NPA, who in turn triumphantly informed the office of the Planning Inspector." Craig added:
"Regrettably murky Tower Hamlets-style [Tower Hamlets is a highly Islamized borough in East London] politics have come to Newham. Why do Islamists always pick on women? Like misogynist bullies NPA intruded on Tehmina's holiday abroad last weekend. By phone and email they harassed her, intimidated her and then on behalf of the Tablighi Jamaat mosque trustees gave her assurance that their future treatment of women at the site will improve.
"Of course this is no assurance at all, as at present women are completely barred from the temporary mosque at the site. For 17 years since they bought the site, by choice it's been a male-only mosque with no provision of any kind for women. Tablighi Jamaat's future treatment of women can hardly get worse!"
Kazi is believed to have been silenced by one Mudasser Ahmed, a British Muslim social climber who is formally named as an NPA delegate to the public inquiry of the East London mosque.
Ahmed is the founding CEO of Unitas Communications, a group that purports to specialize in the "communications interface between the Islamic and Western worlds." His Chief Operating Officer is Shiraz Ahmad who is the full-time representative of NPA at the inquiry and formally speaks on NPA's behalf. Ahmed's Chief Information Officer, Zahed Amanullah, has also been drafted into the NPA.
A Muslim source interviewed by the director of Lapido Media, Jenny Taylor, says that Ahmed is a liberal Muslim who would only speak up for Tablighi Jamaat if he were being paid to do so. "It looks as if someone with deep pockets is paying Unitas to promote the mega-mosque case through NPA," Taylor writes.
A lawyer representing Tablighi Jamaat at the Planning Inquiry said in a statement on June 2 that "NPA does not speak on behalf of the appellants and does not represent the appellants."
But—as Craig pointed in his press statement—Kazi emailed her formal withdrawal from the Public Inquiry to NPA, not directly to the Planning Inspectorate, as she should have. NPA then delayed forwarding Kazi's email to the Planning Inspectorate until late on the afternoon of June 2, at the end of the first day of the Inquiry.
NPA's underhanded delay in notifying the Planning Inspectorate effectively was an ambush because it ensured that the opponents of the mosque would find it very difficult to find a suitable replacement for Kazi.
Reflecting on the spectacle, Taylor writes:
"Poor Tehmina. Powerful Muslim men have closed ranks to isolate a winsome young woman who was given a job to achieve an objective that has proven after all, too fragile and inventive to stand up against the gale of traditional Muslim patriarchy, and ambition.
"British Muslims for Secular Democracy of which she is founding Director buckled at the first serious challenge to its authenticity. Let's hope it regroups.
"The Tablighi Jamaat have declared that they exist to resist Western and Christian values. Those values are secular and democratic. And they take women seriously.
"Newham's mega-mosque, dreamed of as a 'bridgehead to promoting the movement throughout Europe and the West,' could be another Trojan Horse, consolidating fundamentalism, fearfulness and misogyny around it."
By successfully silencing Kazi, Tablighi Jamaat has removed a highly effective obstacle to making the mega-mosque a reality. All eyes will now be on Eric Pickles, the cabinet minister who will take the final decision later this year on whether the mosque project goes ahead.
If Pickles decides no, it will be the end of the road for the mosque for now. But if he decides yes, many believe it will pave the way for the establishment of a full-fledged Islamic sharia enclave in East London.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.