Terror link group to build London’s biggest mosque
By Andrew Gilligan
Evening Standard, 17 July 2006
PLANS for a giant “Islamic village” next to the London Olympic site, including Europe’s largest mosque, have moved a major step closer after Ken Livingstone’s London Development Agency and Newham council said they were “very much in favour” of the scheme.
The group behind the massive project is the Tablighi Jamaat movement, which has been accused by the FBI of being a recruiting ground for al Qaeda. Two of the London bombers are believed to have attended another mosque run by the organisation. Tablighi Jamaat itself says it is apolitical.
According to the website of the architects, Mangera Yvars, the Abbey Mills Islamic Centre will occupy 50,000 square metres of the lower Lea Valley at West Ham.
The first phase of the mosque alone will accommodate 10,000 worshippers, with further expansion later, said Abdul Kalik, project director for Tablighi Jamaat. “The original plan was for 40,000, but we need to be realistic,” he said. “If the requirement increases, we’ll increase the figure.”
Ultimately, it is envisaged that the mosque and surrounding buildings could accommodate as many as 70,000 visitors, only 10,000 fewer than the capacity of the Olympic stadium next door. The total project cost is put at £100 million, which will be funded by donations.
The mosque, intended as a new “Islamic landmark” in Britain, will be prominently visible from the Olympic site and to many travellers arriving in London by air. It will not be a traditional structure with domes and minarets, but a long, undulating building borrowing ideas from “nomadic structures and tented cities”. It will be illuminated at night by millions of translucent tiles and surrounded by an “Islamic garden, transposed on to modern-day London”, according to the architects.
Also on the site will be a school, youth facilities, dining and residential accommodation, plus an “exhibition zone” to explain the Islamic faith to non-Muslims. “We would like to think that the Olympic authority will use it as the Islamic quarter of the 2012 Games and we would be honoured if they do,” said Mr Kalik.
The scale of the scheme is likely to be controversial. “It will rival, if not exceed St Paul’s, and perhaps be the most dominant [religious] site for the whole of London,” said Patrick Sookhdeo, of the Barnabas Fund, a Christian group. “The local people have not been consulted. They are going to have their community handed over.”
Any implication that Islamic athletes could be separated from the others in 2012 might also contravene the Olympic spirit of international brotherhood.
But Mr Kalik said the centre would welcome people of all faiths.
Local opinion in West Ham last week was mixed, with some residents welcoming the plan as a “big boost” for the area and others saying it would “overshadow” it.
The area proposed for the centre – in the corner by the station, north of the District line tracks and west of the Jubilee line – is already owned by Tablighi Jamaat and is used for a smaller, temporary mosque currently housed in portable cabins. The area is zoned for a “community facilities cluster” in this year’s London Development Agency plan for the lower Lea Valley. Part of it is also needed as an access route from the Tube station to the Olympic Park.
But Ali Mangera, the architect designing the new centre, said he and Tablighi Jamaat had had several high-level meetings with LDA officials, including one with Tony Winterbottom, the director of regeneration and development. “They are all very much in favour of the scheme. In particular they want to see an Islamic landmark,” he said.
The LDA said it was in “detailed discussions” with the scheme’s promoters about how their plans could “complement and fit around the 2012 Games”. A spokesman for Newham council said it, too, favoured the scheme.
Tablighi Jamaat, whose name means Proselytising Group, also attracts mixed reviews. Many experts describe it as a peaceful, apolitical movement, devoted to spreading Islam, but others accuse it of links with Islamic extremism and even terrorism.
French intelligence officers described it as the “antechamber of fundamentalism”, according to the Paris newspaper Le Monde. Michael J Heimbach, the deputy chief of the FBI’s international terrorism section, said in 2003 that “al Qaeda used [Tablighi Jamaat] for recruiting, both now and in the past”, according to the New York Times.
Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London suicide bombers, attended the Tablighi Jamaat’s current UK headquarters mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Tanweer also studied at the madrassah (Islamic school) attached to the mosque and visited Pakistan with the movement. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the bombers, who lived in Dewsbury, is also believed to have attended the Tablighi Jamaat mosque.
Tablighi Jamaat has not, however, been implicated by any commentator in any act of terrorism.
“We do not allow politics, political speeches of any kind, or even the distribution of leaflets,” said Mr Kalik. “When you have a successful organisation, you will always have these kinds of criticisms.”
Asked about Tanweer, he said: “Unfortunately, the way Islam has been projected through the media, you will always get these kinds of associations – if one person goes to a particular mosque, is it the mosque which has changed him or is it something else?”
Organisers of the new project stress that it will be open to anyone, without any obligation to belong to the Tablighi Jamaat movement. “This will be a major project that will bring Muslims and non-Muslims together in a very important way,” said Mr Mangera.