A Muslim scholar who has courted controversy in Islamic circles for his progressive views on women has stepped into the equally fiery territory of contemporary architecture.
Taj Hargey is an imam and the director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford who is best known for allowing men and women to pray together and for discouraging veils. He describes himself as a “thorn in the side of Muslim hierarchy”. Now he is risking a similar status in architecture after weighing into the long-running row over plans for a giant mosque on the Olympic fringes.
Cambridge practice Nicholas Ray Associates & Plastik Architects (NRAP) is the third architect in five years to work on the project in Newham for Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat, after it dropped Mangera Yvars and then Allies & Morrison.
Newham Council insists the 7ha project must be mixed-use and the latest plans are for a 9,500-capacity mosque surrounded by a park, shops and 300 flats in five blocks of up to seven storeys. But Hargey described the plans as “smoke and mirrors” designed to “dupe” the local authority into granting planning permission.
“Tablighi Jamaat presents itself as inclusive but is anything but,” he said. “It is a sectarian group that does nothing much for social cohesion with its fundamentalist view of Islam. If someone wanted to open a lingerie shop there, can you imagine they would be allowed to? It will only be Muslim-approved businesses.”
He added: “This should have been a golden opportunity for a fusion of the best of British indigenous architecture fused with eastern design. Islam does not have a culture – Muslims do. Muslims in Britain want to bring the culture and style of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but it’s not healthy, especially in this post-9/11 world.”
A statement on the Riverine Centre website insisted Tablighi Jamaat was a peaceful group and said: “We believe that our plans will give the site a new lease of life and allow the community to make better use of it. This is an important boost for the local economy, being financed entirely from private donations and creating a new wave of jobs in the construction industry as the Olympic construction comes to an end.”
Hargey, you may recall, has been campaigning against the Newham project in an alliance with right-wing Christian fundamentalist Alan Craig.