Regular readers may recall earlier posts on Tablighi Jama’at’s desire to build their European Headquarters on the site they own, which they call the Riverine Centre, or Abbeymills Mosque or London Markaz, or Markaz Ilyas, on the banks of the River Lea, or more accurately those channels of the River Lea system in East London known as the Bow Back Rivers.
Things went quiet for a year or two during which Newham council failed to get the site shut down under the Enforcement notice they served on the mosque in February 2010 several years after temporary planning permission had expired.
At a public inquiry at Newham Town Hall in early 2011 planning inspector Graham Dudley granted the Mosque's request for an extension of permission despite admitting harm would be caused to the area and that there was a history of non-compliance with planning guidelines. He said the “substantial need” for religious facilities and the scarcity of land and finances for new community buildings outweighed the negative factors.
As I wrote during the period of that hearing “That is completely contrary to what Mary and I were told at the mosque open day in 2008.Then we were told that the mosque was not intended as a local mosque for local people, but as a training centre of regional, if not national significance, with a catchment area within a 70 mile radius. 70 miles from Newham takes in all London, Essex, Kent and the Home Counties, touches Ipswich in the east, Swindon in the west, Peterborough and Kettering in the north, Southampton in the south. We were told many things that day which were wrong; some we knew to be wrong at the time, others have proved to be wrong later. I think they call it taqiyya.”
Any further extension was conditional on Tablighi Jamaat preparing a masterplan for the 9,000-capacity Abbey Mills Mosque. Other conditions included an “ecological buffer zone” to safeguard the nearby environment, a travel plan and structural repairs, as well as improving access for the disabled.
I noticed a new row of conifer saplings along the stretch of land by the railway line a few weeks ago, and that diggers and men with wheelbarrows were in operation. I decided to go and take a closer look.
It just so happened that the weekend I picked was the very weekend the Mosque trustees chose to present an exhibition of their latest plans for the site. They gave it even less publicity than the open day in 2008; it was not until I saw the article (below) in London 24 two days ago that I found out what the small poster saying ‘Exhibition’ meant.
The demeanor of the men on the gate and the general forbidding atmosphere did not make my husband and I feel that we would be welcome to walk in and say hello.
The Christian ladies of Newham who gather nearby once a month to pray about the Mosque and Islam nodded good morning as we passed them.
I wanted to get some photographs of the movement on the site from the other side of the Channelsea River. An island in the Channelsea River is also part of the site. So far as I know, few people have set foot there for years; the young man who showed Mary and I round was unaware that the Mosque owned it, or what their intentions are.
I now know that the Mosque Trustees intend to present their latest plans to Newham Council some time before the Olympics open this summer.
According to London 24 the plan includes a 9,500 capacity mosque with 40m high minarets, library, visitors centre, and a 300-space car park for worshippers. A spokesman for Tablighi Jamaat said the reaction was largely positive. The trustees hope to submit an application before the Olympic Games.
He said: “It seems appropriate for Newham to be setting an agenda for London of cohesion and acceptance by promoting public spaces that facilitate both secular and religious activity in a benign manner. The most significant strategic decision has been to place the mosque at the heart of the site, as a powerful unifying element, a symbol of London’s diverse heritage and a celebration of our cultural diversity.”
Photograph above - the proposed view from 'North Square'
It will feature five public spaces, described as “character zones”. One will house the visitor centre and others a nature trail. The mosque will be equivalent to an eight-storey building, while apartments will range from four to seven storeys high.
Former Christian People’s Alliance Cllr Alan Craig, now campaign director at Newham Concern, said: “If they wanted to put a modest mosque in Newham I wouldn’t have a problem. But they want to put their Western world headquarters there. It’s going to be isolationist and will simply create a large custom built Islamic ghetto.
“It will be Newham’s first Sharia-controlled zone.”
A spokesman for the trustees shot back: “Alan is yesterday’s man and that’s the truth of the matter. The facts are there. It going to be a mixed use facility with public access.”
Alan Craig and a small number of other Christian People’s Alliance councillors were the only opposition on Newham Council. After the election in May 2010, Newham, like Barking and Dagenham became one party boroughs, exclusively Labour party. No opposition, no dissenting voice, no argument.
Chine Mbubaegbu of the Lapido Review has spoken to some people concerned with the plans.
Haroon Saeed, a representative of the Riverine Centre, told Lapido: ‘The current space is not enough for our requirements. And even if we got the planning permission today, it would take a good number of years before the site is completed. But this is about looking ahead to the future.’
Architect Richard Owers of Cambridge-based NRAP Architects told Lapido the site would benefit the whole community. ‘This is a contaminated site, and so the best chance Newham has of seeing it developed is through this client and this community. We are committed to providing high quality spaces based on the courtyard model of a mosque, with the mosque as the centre point.
‘This is no different from any European city where the church is the focal point.
‘One of the key things is to try to balance the planner’s requirements and what is genuinely mixed use with better facilities for worship for the Muslim community.’
I am saddened to hear this from an English architect. He is virtually admitting that the Mosque is to dominate the area, declaring that this is now land sacred to Islam.
Lapido also spoke to Imam Dr Taj Hargey of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford who is a very good man who has received death threats from other Muslims for his modern views and efforts at integration. He describes the proposal as a ‘towering edifice’ and a symbol of triumphialism.
“If this goes ahead, it will give Muslims in this country the idea that only this ultra-conservative, puritanical Islam works because they would have succeeded where others haven’t; and it will encourage others to follow this Neanderthal version of Islam.
‘It would also be a body blow for the non-Muslim. Here we have a group in our so-called multicultural society which espouses sexism, separatism and supremacy. . . We want an Islam that’s at peace with its neighbours. Tablighi Jamaat is not conducive to good relations with those around it.”
He described the mixed use plans as mere ‘smoke and mirrors’. ‘It’s all a façade,’ he said. ‘It’s propaganda. They will pass through the hoops that have been placed in front of them by the council, but I don’t see how they are truly going to jettison their sexist and separatist views. It’s all designed to dupe the local government and the public.’
So there we have it. Of course in the last five years people are more aware of what a threat these groups are to Western Society. Like Dr Hargey we know what taqiyya means. More is being done to counter them.
The Bow Back Rivers are not the new Savile Town.
Photographs 1-4 E Weatherwax February 2012