The Olympics is meant to promote solidarity – but the 2012 Games has become a question of faith for some in East London as Christianity and Islam vie to become the most visible religion around the 500-acre park.
Muslim leaders have begun a charm offensive with residents in the borough of Newham over controversial plans to build a 12,000-capacity “super-mosque” on the edge of the Olympic Park. Trustees of the Abbey Mills Mosque conducted tours of the 18-acre site in West Ham last week to show they had “nothing to hide”, say their Westminster lobbyists.
The Kingsway International Christian Centre, which claims to be the fastest-growing church in western Europe, wanted to build a church capable of holding 8,000 people – or five times the size of Westminster Abbey – after it was evicted from its home on the Olympic site. The congregation is still homeless and “crammed” into a 1,000-seat cinema while it plans its appeal, according to Pastor Dipo Oluyomi.
Alan Craig, a local councillor and leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance Party, is fighting their cause. “The symbolism of the largest church in Europe coming down and the largest mosque going up is powerful,” he said. “The whole world will come to East London and they won’t see a church or a cathedral, they will see a mosque.”
He is accusing officials in Newham borough, where Christianity is the dominant religion, of bias towards the Islamic project after they invited 250 community groups to the mosque’s open weekend.