Category Archives: Mega-Mosque

Another Mosque Defeat For Tablighi Jamaat

Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) must be punch-drunk. The Islamic group that wishes to build a mega-mosque at the Riverine Centre in West Ham close to the London Olympic stadium – now home of West Ham United Football Club – has endured so many defeats and blows to the head that its judgement has become suspect.

Certainly, like infamous former boxing champion, rapist, law-breaker and Muslim convert Mike Tyson, TJ has shed-loads of money to burn; it has lashed out hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years on court fees, lawyers’ costs, legal expenses and advisers’ bills.

Last month I attended the High Court in The Strand where the group was once again trying to stop Newham Council from closing their illegal temporary Markaz (mosque) called Masjid-e-Ilyas on the West Ham site, and bulldozing the buildings.

But whereas TJ previously had fielded heavyweight teams of top QCs, prominent advisors and excellent professional back-up, this time their lawyers refused to appear in court on their behalf as, they claimed apparently, they hadn’t been given enough time to prepare. Instead TJ sent a lone spokesman to make their case, a pleasant but legally lightweight member of the Islamic group, Moiz-ur-Rahman.

Like a disorientated prize-fighter, Mr Rahman staggered all over the legal canvas of planning applications, regulations, injunctions, enforcement notices and deeds of undertakings without landing a single valid blow on Newham Council. It was embarrassing to watch. The only effective point he made was the non-legal one that the Muslim community would suffer hardship if the Markaz was demolished; he told the court ominously that there is the possibility of the return of street protests by Muslim-run Newham People’s Alliance that we had last seen in 2013.

On the other hand Douglas Edwards QC, Newham Council’s silk, was on his toes and ruthless in punching and jabbing at TJ’s baleful catalogue of criminal offences and unlawful activities at the site. He soon had them on the ropes: they’d blatantly broken binding pledges, breached planning controls and built unauthorised structures. Newham Council had tried to accommodate them but TJ simply ignored planning protocols and carried on their illegal activities regardless.

The decision when it came was inevitable. Judge Walden-Smith told the mosque trustees that they had continued to procrastinate, their activities at the site were unlawful, the mosque had been in breach of planning control from the outset and that breaching an enforcement notice was a criminal offence. Having thereby shredded TJ’s reputation and exposed their dishonesty and lack of probity, she bluntly refused their application to suspend the demolition. It was a knock-out blow.

The Times and the Guardian carried reports, the former under the dramatic if misleading headline “Judge orders demolition of Abbey Mills mosque in Stratford, east London”: in fact the judge had, rather, refused to further delay Newham Council’s right to have the mosque demolished.

Continuing international interest in the mega-mosque issue was confirmed by the full-time attendance in court of a reporter from Pakistan’s The Dawn newspaper, who interviewed me and gave the case detailed and extensive coverage.

TJ are now out for the count as this is the end of the UK’s legal road for the trustees. They can make no more appeals and they have to demolish the illegal mosque buildings and vacate the site.

However, the trustees suddenly surprised the court by announcing that they are moving the fight to Strasbourg: on 5th January they had filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights for a restraining order. Planning lawyers advise that this is unlikely to succeed and the demolition will have to go ahead anyway. Others say the ECtHR is unpredictable.

Whatever, as always, it ain’t over ’til its over.

The Easter Jesus v The Islamic Fake

It was the weekend before Holy Week and I was on my way home across Meridian Square outside Stratford station. I was looking forward to the coming festivals: the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper on Maundy Thursday, the solemn reflection on his death on Good Friday and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. For a Christian it’s the heart of the Gospel and highlight of the year.

HijackJesuspic2On the Square I was confronted by some Muslim men doing dawa (proselytism) at an Islamic book table. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this as freedom to promote your religion, and indeed your non-religion, is vital to our society.

But, deliberately courting controversy, they were trading upon our Christian festivals by wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words, “I love Jesus (peace be upon him) because I’m Muslim!

I was well aware that their “Jesus” is a fake. So I chatted with them briefly, took a picture with their consent and tweeted it with the caption, “@ Stratford #Newham this w/e: #Islam hijacks, demotes & discredits Founder of #Christianity”.

Immediately I was contacted by our local paper, the Newham Recorder. Would I write an article to reflect my views? 250 words; deadline 10.00am on Tuesday.

I did. I wrote:

The True Jesus

“We love the Wife of the Duke of Edinburgh as much as you Brits do,” said an imaginary American in my dream. 

Queen Elizabeth“If that’s so,” I retorted, “you wouldn’t downgrade her. Instead you’d acknowledge her role properly as Her Majesty, Elizabeth ll, Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth.” 

There was a bearded young man outside Stratford station last Saturday. “We Muslims love the prophet Jesus (pbuh) as much as you Christians do,” he declared. 

“If that’s so,” I reflected, “you wouldn’t demote Jesus and insult his self-sacrifice. Instead you’d acknowledge him as he truly is – the Son of God who for our sakes went willingly to his death on a cross on Good Friday 2,000 years ago.” 

Easter this weekend is the highlight of the Christian year, when Jesus’ followers commemorate both his death and resurrection. It’s a wonderful time of significance and celebration. Yet Islamic zealots like the bearded young man are trying to hijack Jesus, diminish his role and spoil the party… 

‘Jesus’ translated into Arabic is ‘Yesua’, but there is no such person mentioned in the Quran. Instead there is an inferior prophet called ‘Isa’ who ranks significantly below Muhammad. Isa wasn’t God’s Son and he didn’t die on a cross, but nonetheless some Muslims insist on misnaming him ‘Jesus’ after the Founder of Christianity. 

It’s simply a ploy or taqqiya (deception) to undermine the real Jesus. 

empty_tomb11However Christians don’t need to mind. It is Easter-time once again; Jesus is Jesus; and in Christ we are free to celebrate his life-giving resurrection from the dead.


However the Newham Recorder didn’t publish it!

It’s not the first time the paper has failed to publish my work. A few years ago I wanted to place a campaign advert against the proposed London Olympic mega-mosque at West Ham near my home. At the last moment they pulled the ad because they feared violence.

This time they say that they couldn’t find a Muslim writer to answer my points.

So it’s published here on my blog instead.

Would any Muslim like to respond to the piece and justify Islam’s ‘Jesus’? Avoid vulgarity and personal abuse and I will publish your comments unedited in the appropriate place below.

Giving Thanks

“You say grace, Alan,” someone urged.

I was in a classy restaurant in London’s West End last week with the small celebration wineMegaMosqueNoThanks team and our professional advisers – a lawyer, a town planner, a chartered surveyor, an academic journalist – that together opposed the construction of a huge mosque close to the 2012 London Olympic stadium in East London.

The ‘Selkirk Grace’ of the Scottish poet Robert Burns sprang immediately to mind. My father, a Glaswegian Scot to his fingertips but no church-goer, taught it to us and prayed it himself on semi-formal occasions such as family Christmas lunch:

‘Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.’ 

It’s a grace that was much prayed at Burns Night suppers this week too, no doubt – but I flunked it. Burns’ poetry needs a strong Scots’ inflection and my Sassenach tongue would mangle it. I gave thanks in English.

saying graceWe had a lot to ‘be thankit’ for. As Burns recognised, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’; but for us our nine-year campaign against the mosque had not gone ‘agley’. Rather, as regular readers of this blog will know, we’d been given real success as first the local planning authority in December 2012 and then the Secretary of State in October 2015 both rejected the mosque plans.

Tablighi Jamaat, the fundamentalist group behind the mosque proposals, are now in a desperate corner but they have very deep pockets. In December they applied to the High Court for the right to appeal the government’s decision, and no doubt they will if necessary petition the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and even up to the European Court. This likely will go on for years. As I said, they have very deep pockets…

But as we tucked in to our Cauliflower veloute and Goosnargh duck we reckoned we had much to celebrate. We were certain that our campaign had a major impact; for instance Tablighi Jamaat explained on BBC TV that they downsized the project because of our strong opposition.

robinwalesWe also had done our bit to force Newham Council to shift – grudgingly – from 100% support for a mega-mosque to outright opposition. In celebration I had long wanted to raise a glass to Newham’s Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales who huffed and puffed much vitriol towards me personally, but in the end did the necessary U-turn and came to agree with our position on the mosque.

It was at a different table the next day that other colleagues and I had another cause to celebrate. This time the event was held in the House of Lords dining room and we celebrated with very English mid-afternoon cups of tea, cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream. We had just been present at the successful third and final reading of Baroness Caroline Cox’s private member’s bill.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the bill tackles gender discrimination in Sharia councils and the growth of an Islamic parallel legal system in the UK, and also that we have been researching the issue, listening to evidence and promoting the bill for four years. The completion of the bill’s passage through the upper house means that it now goes to the House of Commons, and we were elated that en route it had received strong encouragement and warm support from all quarters in the Lords – apart from the government front bench.

The job is not yet done of course: it will be a very different ball-game in the Commons and further non-cooperation by the government will be a real obstacle. Nonetheless we had reason to celebrate progress so far and afternoon tea seemed appropriate.

dark valleyPolitical activity involves major troughs as well as peaks, dark valleys as well as sunlit mountain-tops, and in my experience it’s unusual for two political wins to coincide and enable celebrations on consecutive days. I was delighted. I was having a good week.

But in If, the English poet Rudyard Kipling famously denotes Triumph and Disaster as “twin imposters”. In Scots Wha Hae,  Robert Burns is indifferent between success and failure: “Welcome to your gory bed, Or to victorie… Let us do or die!” And in the Gospels, Christ asks us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

So at some deep and personal level political successes aren’t – or shouldn’t be – important. But it was pleasurable nonetheless to ignore past frustrations, give thanks for these wins and to celebrate roundly with friends and colleagues.

Mega-Mosque: The End

I was waiting on Dagenham East station one Saturday recently when out of the blue I received a call from Andrew Gilligan of the Sunday Telegraph.DagenhamEast

I had been door-knocking with Peter Harris, the excellent UKIP candidate for Dagenham & Rainham at the general election last May and for the London Assembly in the GLA election in May next year. He had discovered that Barking & Dagenham council were trying quietly to foist a mosque onto greenbelt land in the predominantly White English neighbourhood of Eastbrook, so we had been assessing local opinion with a door-to-door survey.

But Gilligan had good news for me about a different and much bigger mosque, the proposed London mega-mosque at West Ham in Newham close to the 2012 Olympic stadium. Mega-mosqueOriginally this mosque had a futuristic design and a proposed capacity of between 45,000 and 70,000 which would have made it one of the biggest in the world. In the face of our vociferous opposition the mosque capacity was downsized but the mosque architect still claimed the building would be the size of Battersea Power Station with a capacity three times that of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve been campaigning against it for nearly a decade.

At first on my own but in due course backed by a superb small team, I had spent months studying, analysing and understanding Tablighi Jamaat – the fundamentalist and isolationist group behind the project. As our opposition campaign took off I encountered vicious verbal hostility and a death threat, and had a website set up against me personally; our combative team produced the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign website, video channel and Facebook page and participated in two huge Public Inquiries; we delivered at least one campaign leaflet to each of the 97,000 homes of Newham’s 300,000 residents, and four or five leaflets to each home in the West Ham neighbourhood;  2000px-Seal_of_the_Ronald_Reagan_Presidential_Library.svgI was flattered to receive a ‘Hero of Conscience’ award for our efforts at a glittering American Freedom Association event in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California; I undertook public debates in Newham and at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, and engaged in informal discussions in cafes and on the street with mosque supporters many of whom live near my home in Muslim-majority Forest Gate; and I was interviewed by journalists and on TV and radio from around the world as well as in our national media.

crossculturalHandshakeIt has been an extraordinary journey during which I have come to like and respect the overwhelming majority of Muslim people I have engaged with, but also to loathe the dark fundamentalist Islam that is rising across the world from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to the UK and Europe, from Pakistan in South Asia to Nigeria in West Africa. And recently in Paris too.

But the journey was coming to an end. “The mega-mosque isn’t going to happen,” Gilligan told me. “Reliable sources say that the DCLG (the Department of Communities and Local Government) will announce soon that the trustees’ appeals have failed. The mega-mosque isn’t going to be built. My exclusive on this will be in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph,” he continued, “and I need a quote from you.”

My joy was great and relief was deep.  I could hardly believe my ears. Gilligan swore me to silence until his exclusive was published the following day, but that didn’t matter. This massive platform for promoting fundamentalist Islam globally which also would have had a disastrous effect on social integration locally, was over, sunk, dead. My colleagues and I could relax, be grateful and celebrate. Our job was done.

Gilligan’s story was published and four days later the formal decision of the Secretary of State at the DCLG, Greg Clark, was published too. To our amazement he took a firmer line against the mosque project than the Planning Inspector recommended;Bulldozer not only is the mega-mosque not to be built, but within three months the mosque trustees must cease using the site and must demolish the 2,000-capacity wood-frame buildings they are using there as a temporary mosque.

Technically the trustees still have the right to challenge the Government decision. However, due to new and tighter regulations that came into force just two days before the decision was announced – the Government was astute in its timing – they have first to apply to the High Court for permission to make the challenge before submitting the challenge itself, and they have to do so by 9th December. Also the challenge can be only on technical points of law and not about the decision itself. This is a huge mountain to climb for the trustees and if they have any sense they will not waste their time and money.

Meanwhile I now find myself involved with UKIP in the much smaller mosque project close to Dagenham East station where I took the call from Andrew Gilligan. Here, as in Newham, the authorities have been secretive and ignored local opinion until we forced the issue into the open: Peter Harris contacted and briefed the Dagenham media; we undertook a door-to-door survey where we found 93% of locals were against the mosque for reasons ranging from “too much traffic already” and “save our greenbelt” to “no Muslims live here so no need for a mosque”; Eastbrookmeetingand ten days ago we held a residents’ meeting in a pub and invited UKIP heavyweights Peter Whittle – our London mayoral candidate – and Roger Gravett. The pub was packed. You can read about it here and here.

Inevitably, as in Newham, Labour’s borough leadership in Barking & Dagenham has been incensed by our actions.

So deja vue. Here we go again…

What’s In A Name?

Sun_lounger_on_the_pool_terraceIt’s that lazy hazy holiday month of August – and time off from the usual activities. It’s an opportunity for reading and reflection, preferably sitting beside the pool with a book, a notepad, a cool drink, and shaded from the blazing sun by a large parasol…

Involvement in heated campaigns, local as well as national, brings with it media controversy. Some time ago when I was at loggerheads with our borough’s Labour Mayor, the Labour-leaning editor of our local rag, the Newham Recorder, twice mockingly published my picture upside down: “Alan Craig turns logic on its head”.

More recently the Left-kneeling Bishop of Buckingham splurged his sub-Christian spleen over the website of the Guardian claiming that my language during the gay marriage debate was “childish”, “offensive” and of course the Left’s default catch-all,  “bigotry”.

dramaThe twin imposters of media approval and hostility are exactly that. It’s important to become impervious to both.

But it still can be a welcome change to move into the calmer waters of books and libraries and have your activities assessed by those who at least claim to be objective and neutral.

This first happened for me when “Rescue From Danger – The story of the RFD Group” by Harold Nockolds – the author also of a definitive study of Rolls-Royce – was published. I had been the jet-setting Porsche-driving young chief executive of RFD, a Stock-Exchange-quoted international manufacturing group. Not long out of business school and appointed at 29 to effect a corporate turnaround, I’d enjoyed an exhilarating time as we moved dramatically from loss to profit, revitalised and restructured the management and then started to expand by acquisition both in the UK and in the USA. The tale was told by elderly old-school Nockolds after this thrusting and often arrogant young turk had decided to move on. Nockolds’ book concluded generously, “Alan Craig left RFD… having served the company well…”

Earlier this year Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, Ralph Grillo, published a weighty academic work, Muslim Families, Politics and the Law. Half the book is related to Baroness Cox’s ongoing Private Members Bill in the House of Lords that tackles gender discrimination in Sharia courts. My own comments made on the Islam Channel and elsewhere are cited repeatedly, and Professor Grillo quotes lengthily from one of my posts here on AlansAngle. Even if he himself would not support our proposed legislation, he is forensic, rigorous and insightful. It is refreshingly different from the media bearpit.

vintage books and a cup of coffee

Coverage of our nine-year campaign against Tablighi Jamaat’s proposed mega-mosque close to the London Olympic stadium moved recently from the newsstand to the library. Although herself a journalist, Innes Bowen’s acclaimed book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam published last year analyses the mega-mosque controversy with neutrality and nuance. Even where she flatly contradicts me, she quotes me fully and fairly. The whole book is a useful read.

Zacharias Pieri, formerly at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and now a political sociologist on the staff of the University of South Florida, is an academic who has closely followed the controversy for years. Pieri studied the ‘contentious politics’ surrounding the proposed mega-mosque for his PhD thesis; authored Lapido Media’s popular Handy Book about Tablighi Jamaat and the mega-mosque debate; co-authored a study  of the ‘scalar politics’ surrounding the mega-mosque and the Olympics for Sociology journal; and recently published his magnum opus on the saga, Tablighi Jamaat and the Quest for the London Mega-Mosque.

labelsIn this he argues that the “genius” of our campaign “was to frame the issue as the ‘Mega Mosque’, an epithet that soon became a synonym of large mosques being constructed around the world.” Pieri reckons that this simple tag, and our wider moniker ‘Olympics mega-mosque’, were key to our success; from the start they put the mosque project on the back foot in the media, from which it never properly recovered.

This is flattering of course. It’s a surprise too, as at no stage were my colleagues and I aware of the power and strategic importance of these labels until Pieri published his analysis. After all, what’s in a name? We simply described the mosque plans that were promoted in front of us and ran with a self-evident description, even identifying our opposition campaign with the epithet Mega Mosque No Thanks. To us it wasn’t genius. This wasn’t a ‘giant mosque’ or a ‘huge mosque’. And ‘monstrosity mosque’ would be too pejorative. The name we chose was the gift of an easy and obvious alliteration.

Away from the heat of battle then, the detached academic can usefully both analyse the broader picture and provide in-depth insight, and here Pieri is persuasive about the power of our labels.

I must note this for future campaigns. So, now, where’s my campaign notepad?

I’m certain I put it under the sun lounger for safekeeping…

Muddassar’s Dirty Tricks At The Mega-Mosque Inquiry

MMNTdesign“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.”

MMNT logoIslamic 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.

Newham-Peoples-AlliancePublic 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.

Muddassar Ahmed(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.

problem solvedI 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.

EricPicklesLord help us if the Planning Inspector recommends, and Eric Pickles decides, to allow the mega-mosque project go ahead. We can expect more, many more, such dirty tricks.

I can understand why my new friend Ali stays away from Tablighi Jamaat mosques.

So Tablighi Jamaat Doesn’t Do Politics?

Barbara MetcalfIt is an untruth universally acknowledged amongst western liberal academics like South Asia specialist Professor Barbara Metcalf that Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), the subcontinent-based but global Islamist group behind the West Ham mega-mosque project, doesn’t do politics. ‘A-political’, ‘detached’ and ‘quietist’ is how she describes them, and she also likes to equate them with the inoffensive and commendable self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous (here).

Duh! Is such blindness and blandness wilful? It is certainly influential. So the question must be asked: What is Ms Metcalf”s agenda? Or, worse, who funds her professorial chair and skews her analysis?

Mind you, I have to concede that TJ’s statement about the 300-strong protest outside Newham Town Hall two weeks ago (here) by the recently-formed Newham People’s Alliance (NPA) seems – on the surface – to support Professor Metcalf’s thesis.

NPA demoNPA, which calls itself a non-partisan multi-faith, multi-party pressure group, held the demo to protest against Newham Council’s current High Court action to remove TJ from their West Ham site (here). This action has been parallel to but separate from the Council’s recent rejection of TJ’s planning application for a 9,500 capacity mega-mosque on the site (here).

NPA is not as diverse and inclusive as it claims. It is overwhelmingly Muslim in membership, holds its meetings inside mosques, distributes its leaflets outside mosques and uses Islamic words like mashwera in its notices (here). Significantly it also has links with the inimitable George Galloway MP (here) who, attired entirely in black, graced Newham with his presence after Christmas and, in a master-stroke of opportunism, relaunched the Newham branch of his Respect party on the back of Muslim anger over the rejection of the mega-mosque planning application (here).

George Galloway(Just this week Galloway and NPA came together at a meeting to launch what they call a ‘Newham Spring’ revolution to sweep Sir Robin Wales, Newham’s autocratic Labour mayor, from power like a Tunisian or Egyptian president (here). Of course in fact Galloway and his friends could only trigger a Newham Winter and dump us out of the Labour frying pan into the combustible fire-ice of east London Muslim politics. But at the launch event hundreds turned up to hear him speak (here). Watch this space.)

So NPA held the Town Hall demo in support of the mega-mosque – but the mega-mosque trustees objected to it strongly. They issued a public statement condemning NPA for calling the protest and for using the mega-mosque rejection for political benefit. “This is a planning issue which these people are trying to hijack for their political gain,” complained the trustees. In other words, “TJ are peaceful. We do mosque planning not street politics.” Professor Metcalf would applaud.

But their statement was itself merely a political PR manoeuvre designed to persuade Newham Council that they want to work cooperatively in order to submit a revised planning application as soon as possible and convince them that political pressure through street demos is not the TJ way. This of course is nonsense:

planning committee demoThe Council planning committee met to review the original planning application just over two months ago. A week before the meeting, controversial cleric Sheikh Haitham al- Haddad (here) issued a call on behalf of “the brothers who are in charge of the markaz” (the TJ trustees) for 15,000 supporters to demonstrate outside the town hall on 5th December in order to put pressure on the committee members meeting inside (here). In the event 3,000 turned up, and when I approached the demonstrators – who were peaceful and friendly – I was formally introduced to TJ trustees who were there approving and participating.

TJ uses various techniques to pressurise and persuade. Last October when our campaign against the mega-mosque planning application was gaining traction and likely to be successful (here)  I received an email from a Dr Sohail Hameed, Chairman of Hainault & Chigwell Muslim Association, threatening me with legal action because I was “spreading violence and stirring racism” and “hurting feelings of billions of Muslims living worldwide”. He wrote, “I like to give you formal NOTICE to stop negative and baseless without any evidence propaganda against Muslims and Islam and Holy Quran. It is illegal because you are spreading racism.”

I emailed Dr Hameed that I was not spreading racism, that I stand firmly against any form of racism, and that I would be happy to meet with him to discuss his allegations.

In reply he dropped his claims of racism to accuse me instead of illegal “spreading religious hatred”. He refused to meet because he was “very busy with our planning application”. He said he would see me in court…

TJ uses other methods too including electioneering. In April 2010 when I was campaigning for re-election as a Newham councillor and also campaigning hard against the mega-mosque, a local Pakistani Muslim convert to Christianity I know received a knock on the door. He immediately recognised his visitors as TJ followers and they, thinking he was Muslim, gave him an election flyer. Entitled “Alan Craig is an enemy of Islam”, the flyer quoted dramatically out of context some “very untrue, bad and offensive things” I have written about Islam’s Prophet on this blog (here). The flyer urged electors to vote Labour “as they have the best chance of getting rid of Alan Craig as Councillor”.

No doubt the flyer persuaded some of my Muslim supporters against me and reduced my total votes. But thankfully it didn’t decide the election outcome which was driven by other factors.

obituaryAlso, in November 2007, just over a year after our campaign against the mega-mosque started, a TJ supporter called Muhammad Abdullah, whose YouTube channel was linked publicly to the mega-mosque’s website, posted a video entitled ‘In Memory of Councillor Alan Craig’. This featured not only myself but my wife and two young daughters. Police arrested Abdullah, YouTube took down the video, and the incident received headlines in the press (here). I said it was either a sick joke or worse (here). Some reckoned it was definitely the latter (here). Either way, it was hostile and threatening. TJ was forced by the outcry to terminate the link and disassociate itself from the video.

So when Professor Metcalf claims that TJ is non-political, quietist and comparable to Alcoholics Anonymous, she is away with the fairies and maligning an admirable organisation that supports compulsive drinkers. It has to be asked again: What is Ms Metcalf’s agenda? Who funds her work?

Mega-Mosque: TJ Take The Gloves Off!

The mega-mosque is back, and it’s metamorphosed into a mosque the size of Battersea Power Station. 

Of course it never went away. Misinformed headlines like the BBC’s “Plans collapse for the biggest mosque in England” (here) and the inevitable public silence following Tablighi Jamaat’s (TJ’s) successful appeal last year against Newham Council’s attempt to move them off the site (here), lulled many into a false sense of security.

But they’re back now, and they’ve taken their gloves off. Earlier this month they officially submitted their plans to inflict on the residents of West Ham a 9,350-capacity mosque which their architect trumpeted would be the size of Battersea Power Station (here).

You’ve got to admire their chutzpah – or their Saudi-backed arrogance depending on your point of view. Last February they publicised plans for the site that seemed roughly in line with Newham’s core planning strategy for the borough which requires a mixed-use development on this key location – it’s beside the busy West Ham interchange station. TJ said then that they intended to build separate residential, retail and business units in addition to the mosque. It would of course have been the UK’s first custom-built Sharia-controlled zone, but nonetheless it might have satisfied the mixed-use criteria of the Council.

But in reality they’ve always had the ambition for a mono-use mosque-only site, as this is to be an important global platform for the fundamentalist movement with its 80 million followers worldwide and a huge Islamic statement to the rest of us. So now they’ve done a U-turn, thrown caution to the wind, taken the gloves off and decided to go for broke.  They’ve dropped February’s plans for the mixed-use ancillary units and replaced them by a 2,000 capacity dining hall for worshippers, an Islamic library, eight flats for Imams and overnight mosque visitors, children’s facilities – and, to pacify the planners, some sports fields ‘for the wider community’… Anyone for a game of mixed doubles?

So TJ is deliberately waving two fingers at Newham Council whose local planning strategy cramps their burgeoning global ambitions. And they’re not giving a toss either for the West Ham residents who would have to live with both the growing number of disciples of TJ’s socially-hostile ideology who will come to live locally and the architecturally deficient mega-mosque (someone astutely called it “the love-child of Stansted airport and a failed social housing development”).

TJ clearly expects – even intends – that their planning application will fall at the first hurdle of Newham Council’s planning committee. But with a ‘stuff you Newham!’ they doubtless expect to succeed when appealing over Newham’s head to the national Planning Inspectorate. And, with the Planning Inspector’s pusillanimous track record at the previous appeal and George Osborne’s current more liberal ‘boost the economy’ planning environment (here) and (here), who can blame them?

Fortunately, life – and a planning application – has its inevitable twists and turns and straight-line strategies rarely work. Besides, despite the best efforts of our self-serving political and professional elite, we still live in a democracy where the ordinary punter, in West Ham as elsewhere, hasn’t yet been fully shut out and shut up.

So there’s lots to play for and our MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign team of committed volunteers (here) doesn’t intend to be silent or inactive. TJ is large, well-funded and ambitious but so too was Goliath. And David, with a confidence outside himself, triumphed over Goliath with just a sling and a well-aimed stone.

Meanwhile we’ve alerted local people by placing this half-page advert in last Wednesday’s Newham Recorder: 









Stepping Down And Moving On…

After a decade at the helm it’s time for me to step down as leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA).

The party is currently reviewing its way forward for the next few years and in my view my resignation is necessary so that new blood can come forward and a new vision develop, unimpeded by the past.

Furthermore since ceasing to be a Newham councillor in May 2010 many fascinating and hopefully useful new doors have opened, ranging from working in Baroness Caroline Cox’s parliamentary office to supporting the church against militant Islam in northern Nigeria and challenging the aggressive and culturally destructive gay political agenda here at home.

The role of national leader of our small party has proved fulfilling, but especially enjoyable were my eight years as CPA local councillor and leader of the Opposition on Newham Council and also the campaign as candidate for London mayor in May 2008.

Promoting CPA’s Christian democratic vision at national and local level is a tough call in our selfish materialistic society where money, power and now celebrity are the public measures of personal value and the elderly, the unemployed, the vulnerable, the inarticulate and the ugly are consigned to the margins. A sleek self-centred liberal individualism dominates all public life and, despite exciting bits of progress especially in the technical/scientific/medical arenas, our once-vibrant national culture is decaying, our social capital is dissipating, and our previously prosperous civilisation seems in terminal decline.

What’s more the current fashion- and arts-driven ‘Cool Britannia Mark 2’ and the capital’s Jubilee/Olympics feel-good froth have encouraged the complacent liberal media to salivate over the wonders of the UK’s politically correct multi-culturalism (necessarily only the polished version made visible on our screens by Team GB of course) and the undoubted creativity of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. But these enjoyable diversions are simply metropolitan mood music played by the orchestra on the deck of the stricken Titanic.

The nation’s underlying and intractable greed-fuelled debt-driven financial crisis continues to push us towards the economic precipice. This is but a deep symptom of an even deeper malaise caused by the loss of our civilisation’s foundations: integrity, self-restraint, public service, objectivity, responsibility, patience and commitment to family and community have all but disappeared as public values, with no adequate replacement.

As on the Titanic (here), the funereal ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ seems the appropriate national swansong as Britain and Europe steadily sink under a cynical secular public discourse, an indigenous birth-rate below replacement, widespread welfare-bred apathy, and the loss of hope, descendants and a future. The decline and fall of Roman civilisation took more than quarter of a millennium; ours looks to be much quicker. How urgently we need the rich revitalising truth-based love-your-neighbour teachings of Jesus Christ.

Despite (Sally reckons because of) the odds and Labour Party hostility, I hugely enjoyed pioneering Christian democracy at the local level in east London. There’s no doubt our CPA team usefully impacted the Newham agenda on a wide range of issues, including challenging the brutal Canning Town housing regeneration project, disputing the closure of local Post Offices, supporting a local UNISON trade union leader against Council persecution, exposing the separatist and sexist fundamentalism behind the proposed West Ham mega-mosque, defending the excellent Queens Street market at Upton Park from senseless redevelopment and opposing the massive biennial arms fair at ExCel exhibition centre.

In particular I enjoyed helping local people with their individual problems. Unlike the then-West Ham Labour MP Tony Banks, I received real satisfaction from serving constituents. It’s a mystery why Banks was idolised locally when he so publicly despised the lives of the people he represented (here). But his dismissive attitude was typical of Newham Labour Party and explains why I battled against them so much.

So I step down with great personal memories, no regrets and many thanks to my party colleagues and to the voters in Newham.

CPA now needs to move forward with optimism and expectation. I find myself doing just that in new pastures and at full speed by God’s grace.

The resignation takes place formally at the party’s AGM on 13th October, dv.

TJ’s Ideal Woman: Invisible And Anonymous

She is normally a vivacious young woman. Attractive and outgoing with a touch of whacky artistic temperament, she has learnt stage magic tricks using a white dove and goldfish that endlessly surprise and entertain local children.

She is of Bangladeshi Muslim background although she has left Islam and says she has no faith. Married to a Bangladeshi Christian, they have a six year old son.

Like many others they came to the UK to free themselves from minority oppression in their home country and to make a new life. But as she sat distressed and crying in my living room, it became clear it hasn’t worked out like that for them.

Four years ago she got a job as a shop assistant in a local pharmacy in the Muslim-majority area of Shadwell near their home in Tower Hamlets, east London. The shop neighbourhood is dominated by the 1,300-capacity Christian Street (sic) mosque of fundamentalist sect Tablighi Jamaat who aim to build a new headquarters mega-mosque (here) four miles further east at West Ham, close to the site of the 2012 London Olympics.

She says she gets on well with most of her customers, and with her warm friendly personality I don’t doubt that’s true. But soon some customers – both men with beards and women in burqas – started objecting to her western clothing. “This area is 95% Muslim,” they told her, “you should cover up and wear a burqa” (here). During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan they objected to her enjoying a refreshing cuppa in the shop. They objected too to the non-Islamic name of her son who sometimes came to the shop after school, and to the fact that she is married to a Christian.

But her clothing was the main issue. One day early this year a man came to the pharmacy, asked her into the street outside and made it clear in no uncertain terms that she should wear a burqa. Then in April local men complained formally about her western clothing to her employer. Her response to this ongoing harassment and intimidation: “I don’t want to wear Islamic clothing and in this country I’m free not to,” she argued courageously, and finally reported the matter to Tower Hamlets police.

The growing Islamisation of significant areas of the UK is a complex issue. Fair-minded people will have nothing to do with Muslim-bashing. And freedom for Muslims to practice their religion is a key principle of our liberal democracy. But some Islamic values are so inimical to 21st century Britain that a challenge to them is not only inevitable, it’s right.

Originating from South Asia, Tablighi Jamaat is the most successful Islamic missionary group on the planet and the UK is one of their prime missionary targets. During the recent public inquiry into the use of their West Ham site, the sect’s trustees explained how they reconcile their active promotion of wedding ceremonies with the fact that theirs is a male-only mosque. At the ceremony the marriage contract is signed solely by the bridegroom and the father or brother of the bride. The bride does not sign it. She does not even attend her own wedding!

The Planning Inspector, blinded and biased by his profession’s multi-cultural mores, subsequently reported (here) merely that “the highest standards… of inclusion for women… are not being achieved” at the male-only site (yes, he really wrote such tripe, check it out: para 77) and that the all-male mosque is “generally an inclusive environment”! Troglodyte Saudi authorities that bar female car drivers within the regressive Kingdom can eat their hearts out: this bride-ban is happening in 21st century London apparently with the active connivance of UK authorities.

And there’s yet more misogyny. One of Tablighi Jamaat’s chief ideologues, Ashraf Ali Thanawi, teaches that a woman is to follow her husband’s will and whims in all things, to seek his permission on all issues and to call day night if he does (here). Another, Ashiq Elahi Bulandshahri, teaches that a woman should be confined as far as possible within her husband’s home as “the devil himself begins to accompany her the moment she steps out of the house” (here). She should only be allowed out if accompanied by a male relative and concealed within a veiled black burqa.

This commodification and invisibilisation of women is alien to central Christian teaching where women, like men, are celebrated as created in the image of God. It is no surprise then that the niqab (face-veil) seems so restrictive, degrading and hostile within UK culture; one way or another in this land we are heirs to a thousand years and more of life-affirming humanity-celebrating Christianity. “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”

The pharmacy assistant is at the growing frontline clash between these value systems. “We now see more burqas in London than Dhaka,” a Bangladeshi man told me recently.

Her courageous and public rejection of an imposed burqa has brought a torrent of hatred, abuse and threats around the assistant’s head, and this has taken a toll on her peace of mind as I saw in my living room.

She deserves our admiration and needs our prayers.

(This post also appears as an article in today’s edition of The Church of England Newspaper.)