The East London super-mosque, known as the Abbey Mills Riverine Center, would hold up to 10,000 worshippers. It would be the largest religious building in Britain and the largest mosque in Europe.
By comparison, Britain’s largest cathedral, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, can hold no more than 3,000 worshippers, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the iconic features of the London skyline, has a capacity of 2,500.
The 16-acre site near the Olympic Village in West Ham in the London Borough of Newham would include two 40-foot minarets, an Islamic library, a dining hall, tennis courts, sports facilities, eight apartments for visiting Muslim clerics and hundreds of parking spaces.
Much of the funding for the super-mosque, which will cost an estimated £100 million ($160 million), is expected to come from Saudi Arabia.
The project to build a “contemporary Islamic sacred space” is so massive in scale that critics believe the mega-mosque is actually a smokescreen for an ambitious plan to establish a hardline Islamic enclave in East London.
The construction plans have been submitted by Tablighi Jamaat, a controversial Muslim missionary movement with roots in India. Tablighi Jamaat, which in English means “Society for the Spreading of the Faith” or “Proselytizing Group,” is the largest group of religious proselytizers of any faith in the world.
Tablighi Jamaat is active in Southwest and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, and has contributed to the explosive growth of Islamic religious fervor and conversion around the world.
Although Tablighi Jamaat promotes itself as open and socially integrated, and strives to project a non-threatening image, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, members of the group were accused of having ties to Muslim terrorist organizations.
In addition, two of those responsible for the suicide bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Shehzad Tanweer and Mohammad Siddique Khan, as well as failed shoe bomber Richard Reid, have been linked to a Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
American security officials have called Tablighi Jamaat a “recruiting ground for Al Qaeda;”
French intelligence officials have described the group as an “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.
A former Newham town councillor, Alan Craig, has launched a campaign called “Mega Mosque No Thanks” to stop the project. He has produced 100,000 leaflets, which have been distributed throughout the borough.
Although Craig believes in the freedom of religion and does not object to mosques or any other place of worship, he has raised some important questions about this particular mosque proposal. According to Craig, “The mega-mosque is proposed and planned by a particularly disturbing Islamic sect called Tablighi Jamaat. They teach that if you want to be a good Muslim you must separate off from non-Muslims. It is only Tablighi Jamaat, of all the Islamic groups, that has created ghettos over in Toronto, in Canada. They are all around the world, this is a huge group and wherever they go they create barriers, hostility, division, they create separatism. In my view we would be mad, barking mad, if we let the project go ahead.”
These concerns are being echoed by Dr. Jenny Taylor, founder of the religious literacy group called Lapido Media. She says: “The grounds on which Tablighi Jamaat is trying to set-up here in Britain are anti-British and anti-Western. This is not just going to be a mosque. This is going to be a center of training, where they are going to try to reach out to Islamist Muslims to harden up and ‘medievalize’ the Islam of ordinary Muslims in this country. And I meet so many Muslims who do not want that.”
Indeed, Asghar Bukhari, a spokesperson for the UK branch of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, has been quoted by the RT news channel as saying: “Muslims themselves oppose this mosque. Not on the grounds that they do not want to worship their God, but on the grounds that women are not allowed, the local population, the Muslim population, has no say in how the mosque itself is governed.”
Tablighi Jamaat first submitted plans for the mosque in 1999 amid intense opposition from local citizens; the original plans called for the mosque to hold 70,000 worshippers. In 2001, the group agreed that worship at the ramshackle site, an old chemical factory which currently houses several pre-fabricated buildings, would be on a temporary basis only. Although the temporary planning permission expired in 2006, the group continued to use the site. In 2010, Newham town council tried to shut down the existing temporary facility by serving an enforcement notice on the owners. But in 2011 Tablighi Jamaat won an appeal and a two-year extension for use of the site. Today more than 5,000 people worship there every Friday.
Originally, the town council had wanted a “mixed use” of the site with homes, shops and business units. But plans for the construction of retail units and 300 apartments were scrapped after the Muslim community said they did not want their donations going to a commercial venture.
As the revised master-plan currently stands, the mosque will form the centerpiece of the project. At 30,000 square meters (323,000 square feet), it will include a prayer hall for 7,500 men, a separate prayer facility on an upper level for 1,900 women, and an additional dining hall for 2,000. According to the architects, Tablighi Jamaat has been particularly adamant that the mosque include towering minarets, which will change the skyline in East London.
Craig says the current mosque plans would further displace the non-Muslim community in East London and he believes that Tablighi Jamaat’s real aim is to establish a global base for its proselytizing operations. Says Craig: “Either way, it will be the first custom-built Sharia-controlled zone in Britain.”
In an irony that says much about the sad state of British multiculturalism, just a mile from where the mosque is due to go up, the Kingsway International Christian Centre, the biggest evangelical church in Europe with 12,000 worshippers on a Sunday, was demolished in 2007 on orders of the City of London to make way for the Olympic stadium. Five years later, the British government has still not given the church permission to build a new worship center on a new site.
Newham Council, which received the proposal from Tablighi on September 5, 2012, will decide whether it will grant planning permission for the mega-mosque this December.
According to Craig, “If this went ahead it would be like a tipping point, there will be no stopping fundamentalist Islam. If that happens, well we’d all need to leave the county.”