To Stratford Old Town Hall on the evening that the London Borough of Newham made their decision on the latest proposals from Tabighli Jamaat for their Riverine Mosque. For our non-English readers this is not Stratford on Avon where Shakespeare came from; this is Stratford atte Bow (as it was when Chaucer mentioned it) in East London.
The planning meeting was scheduled to start at 7pm with the doors opening to the public from 6pm. Haitham al Hadadd, while not a member of TJ, himself said that this was a landmark for Islam in the heart of London to benefit all the ummah and he called upon 15,000 Muslims to line the entrance. I arrived shortly before 5pm and there were already about 500 people, no I'll rephrase that, 500 Muslims, identifiable from their Islamic dress, lined up outside the Old Town Hall. I had heard that the hall would take 200 people, and that admission was on a first come first served basis. I knew immediately that I had no chance of getting inside. More and more Muslims were arriving every minute, 95% men, but a few women, many in niqabs were on the edges with their mahrams.
They poured out of the station and through the Stratford Centre, ignoring the blandishments of the men selling Sky TV deals. Two valiant women sang hymns on the pavement by the Broadway.
They were silent and well behaved, no chanting, no crys of 'Allah Akbar' and 'Takfir!'. The banners announced that this Islamic Association, or that Masjid (several different Mosques from around the borough) supported the Riverine Mosque. Individuals carried small posters printed with one of two alternatives; either "Sir Robin (Newham Mayor) take notice WE are your voters" or "After 15 years waiting Riverine Mosque now". My camera is not at its best at night but there are a selection below.
I got talking to people as they came out of the Stratford Centre. Every non-Muslim I spoke to, black or white thought that the Mosque was too big, and one mosque too many. A policeman told me that the original intention was to send 15 officers to police the crowd. That was revised considerably by this morning. By the time the meeting was due to open there were about 3000 Muslims outside the Town hall, down the side streets and across the road. I fell in with some friends and we moved away from the main concourse.
Afterwards I was able to speak to some people who had managed to get inside. They told me that the speakers against the Mosque were several local residents, a Newham Councillor and the Borough Planning Officer. Speaking on behalf of the Mosque were one of the elders and their own specialist planning consultant. Alan Craig of Megamosque Nothanks was present in the area but did not attend the meeting itself. The vote was unanimous against the proposed plans.
A councillor interviewed for BBC local London news said that the reason was because the Mosque was one huge structure on the site, to benefit only one section of the community, bringing no homes and no permanent new jobs.
As the site is one that had been earmarked for 'strategic development' (which begs the question how TJ managed to purchase the old factory site in the first place) the decision has to be ratified by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He is known to favour the decisions made by Councils, and the Mosque will not provide the mix of housing, industry and retail use which he expects on a 'strategic' site.
The Mosque elders told the BBC that they intend to appeal, taking the matter to Judicial review in necessary. That is expensive, but we know that TJ are not short of funds.
All in all a very satisfactory evening.