“You’re the bloke I’ve seen on the internet – you’re opposing the big Tablighi Jamaat mosque,” said the bearded man as I was about to climb the stairs at Custom House station adjacent to the massive ExCel Centre in Docklands. I was on my way to this month’s Public Inquiry (here) into plans to build a 9,000 capacity mosque, and my new companion – aged perhaps 40 – fell in beside me as we climbed the steps together.
“I’ve watched your videos and you’re right you know,” he continued. “I wish others would stand up against them like you do. I’m a Muslim and I know what they’re like. I don’t go near Tablighi Jamaat mosques.”
His name, he told me, is Ali. He came to the UK from Jamaica when he was nine and had accepted Islam. “Keep strong,” was his parting encouragement as he descended onto the station platform and I continued into ExCel. “I hope you are successful.”
Islamic opposition to the proposed massive mosque at West Ham – the architect claims it will be a big as Battersea Power Station (here) – is nothing new. I’ve lived less than two miles from the site for over 30 years and during our 8-year campaign of opposition (here) I’ve frequently worked with and cited prominent Muslims who oppose the project (eg here).
One of the most impressive Muslim opponents has been Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD – here). Able, articulate and progressive, she had been a Project Officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (here) and, through BMSD, is now committed to promoting an Islam that is about ‘social inclusion, co-existence and harmony’ and does not discriminate against women.
On our behalf she testified strongly against the mosque in a formal submission to a previous Public Inquiry in February 2011 (here) on the grounds of Tablighi Jamaat’s isolationism and the restricted role of Tablighi women, both of which are “not conducive to social cohesion and inclusion”. She made a similar formal submission to the present Inquiry two weeks before it opened on 3rd June. It was powerful courageous stuff and right on the button; she was our star opposition witness.
Public Inquiries are run by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate and, 10 minutes after close of business on the day before this Inquiry opened, the Planning Inspector’s office in Bristol received an email from cowboy mosque-supporters Newham Peoples Alliance (here) informing him that our witness Tehmina Kazi had withdrawn from the Inquiry.
NPA is the dubious Muslim-led outfit that last year held demos outside Newham town hall in favour of the mega-mosque and then invited George Galloway to Newham to lead the campaign for the mega-mosque during the 2014 local elections (here), (here) and (here). Despite the usual Galloway flatulence, the initiative fizzled out.
NPA, which is driven now by internationally-connected Muddassar Ahmed, the founding CEO of Unitas Communications, by his Chief Operating Officer, Shiraz Ahmad, and by his Chief Media Officer, Zahid Amanullah (all here), had formal representation at the Inquiry, and indeed Shiraz Ahmad was one of NPA’s spokesmen.
(Unitas Communications claims to be a “specialist public relations and reputation management agency” with offices in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as well as London and Washington; it specialises in “the communications interface between the Islamic and Western worlds” (here) and is well-connected at senior government levels in those countries. For instance in the UK Muddassar is known to be close to fellow religionist Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Minister of State for Faith & Communities in Eric Pickles’ Department (here); ominously Pickles and his colleagues will be deciding the final fate of the mega-mosque later this year.)
While Tehmina’s withdrawal was a disappointment it was not a complete surprise. The previous Saturday afternoon she had called me, deeply distressed, from her holiday break abroad to tell me that Muddassar Ahmed was pressurising her (“intimidating” was her exact word) to withdraw. She said that Muddassar claimed he had obtained reassurances from Tablighi Jamaat that they would treat women better in future, and he promised Tehmina “they will continue to become more liberal under his influence.”
The reassurances, if made, are risible. Tablighi Jamaat, which has 80 million followers across 150 countries, has been promoting its ideologically-driven misogyny (here) and (here) to all its followers everywhere since its foundation in 1920s India.
But Tehmina was desperate. “Muddassar is not som1 u want as an enemy – he is 2 well connected in the community,” she texted me in messages that are still on my phone. “Really sorry Muddassar has put you under such pressure and intimidation,” I replied, to which she texted “I’m still shocked that hes supporting them as his wife N***** P***** (my asterisks) is a feminist.”
“It (Muddassar’s intervention) has ruined my break,” she texted further. “It’s always left to me to stick my head above the parapet – I wish others would do so 4 a change,” she added.
I felt and feel sorry for Tehmina. Intimidation and interfering with witnesses is a dirty business; it not only indicates the depths to which Muddassar Ahmed will sink, it also illustrates the dark manoeuvring and coercion associated with Tablighi Jamaat and their mosque project. Six years ago my family and I received a death threat from another Tablighi Jamaat supporter linked to the project (here) so I know what mega-mosque intimidation is like.
Regrettably but understandably Tehmina has since denied she was intimidated and told the media that she has been “neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community” (here). The sneery knee-jerk Left such as IslamophobiaWatch (here), Liberal Conspiracy (here) and @NafeezAhmed were delighted of course. But fear has worked its effect, and her denial – subsequently repeated – is testimony to Muddassar Ahmed’s bullying control.
I can understand why my new friend Ali stays away from Tablighi Jamaat mosques.