Islam in Great Britain

Dispute over Planned "Mega-Mosque" in London

Muslims in London are preparing to build what will be the largest mosque in Europe. Although the Labour Party government has said it supports the project, there is also considerable public resistance to the plans. Tobias Armbrüster reports

The Abbey Mills mosque: Room for 12,000 worshippers

​​Abbey Mills in East London is an industrial estate with old factory buildings, bordered on one side by a railway line and on another by a nineteenth-century waste-water reservoir. This industrial wasteland on the edge of the city is where the main stadium will be built for the 2012 Olympic Games. And as the stadium rises, right next to it, a mosque with room for 12,000 worshippers will rise along with it.

The Abbey Mills mosque would be the largest religious building in Britain and the largest mosque in Europe. But many East Londoners are critical of the project.

One in four is Muslim

The mosque will cost an estimated 100 million Euro and it will be financed by the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim group with eighty million members worldwide. The new mosque will replace their existing facilities on the Abbey Mills Estate, which, it says, have become too small. After all, one in four of the people in this part of town is Muslim.

Critics fear that the mosque could turn the area into a "Muslim ghetto." Nobody from Tablighi Jamaat is currently speaking publicly about the project, but last May a spokesman used an interview with the BBC to respond to concerns.

"Our experience with mosques in other cities shows that people move to where they can find jobs, not to where the mosques are," he said.

Tablighi Jamaat – a Muslim sect?

The British media describe Tablighi Jamaat as an ultra-orthodox Muslim sect. According to a long report on the mosque project in The Times, the organisation is seen by the security services as a recruiting ground for Islamist terrorism.

On its website, however, the organisation says its members defend freedom and democracy.

Indeed, many non-Muslims hold the view that the organisation must have the right to build a mosque with its own money. One Christian priest said, "If our Muslim brothers need a new mosque to match the numbers of their worshippers, then they should have it."

Muslims against the mosque

On the other hand, there are also many Muslims who oppose the plans for the mosque. Some 2,000 of them have put their names to a petition being drawn up in East London, demonstrating how controversial the mosque is, even among Muslims. A national on-line petition has attracted almost 300,000 signatures in the last few months.

One of the leaders of the opposition to the mosque is local councillor Alan Craig, who says, "The Tablighi Jamaat is a fundamentalist, separatist and secretive group. Its ideology consists of isolating Muslims from the native population. We don't want something like that here!"

The Tablighi Jamaat will be applying for planning permission in the next few months. It is expected that the application will be dealt with quickly since the authorities in London want construction on the new buildings around the Olympic Stadium to be started as soon as possible.

And if the plans are approved, the mosque could turn out to be famous throughout the world in five years.

The hundreds of thousands of people making their way to the Olympic Stadium in 2012 will find themselves walking right past the biggest mosque in Europe.

Tobias Armbrüster

© Deutsche Welle/ 2007

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

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