by Esmerelda Weatherwax (June 2007)
I wrote last month in The Iconoclast about the Mosque, known colloquially as the Mega Mosque which it is proposed to build on land in West Ham which was formerly the site of the old RTZ Chemical Works. To be known as the London Markatz it is expected to be the biggest in Europe with a capacity far greater than our largest Cathedral, the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool. This contains an update on what has happened this last week or two.
On May 21st The Times reported that
One of Islam’s most secretive sects has begun a charm offensive to win support for plans to build Britain’s biggest place of worship.
Tablighi Jamaat, an ultra-orthodox religious movement, abandoned its traditional dislike of modernity and politics to set up a website, broadcast on YouTube and hire a Westminster lobbying company.
The group, which intelligence agencies fear is a gateway to extremism, wants to build a mosque with a capacity for 12,000 worshippers. It would cost up to £75 million. Outline proposals for the site, beside the London 2012 Olympic Park, also envisage a religious boarding school with places for 500 pupils.
If the scheme goes ahead the new mosque would dwarf other mosques and churches; Britain’s largest Anglican cathedral, in Liverpool, holds a congregation of 3,000.
Tablighi Jamaat’s plans have been in a state of flux for months. Strong local opposition has generated bad publicity about a “mega-mosque” and there have been reports that government ministers will seek to block planning permission. The group claims that it has dismissed Ali Mangera, the award-winning architect who drew up futuristic designs for the mosque complex, and is revising its plans. But Mr Mangera told The Times he was still involved in the project and expected an announcement soon.
On Tuesday 29th May The Times had further news.
An ultra-orthodox Islamic sect has delayed plans to build a “mega-mosque” in East London after the Government warned it could “raise tensions” in the community.
Tablighi Jamaat had intended to submit plans to build Britain's largest place of worship next to the Olympic site, this September. But the group told Times Online that no plans would now be submitted until next year at the earliest.
A spokesperson for Tablighi Jamaat said that plans for the 18-acre site in Newham were being drawn up, but he added: “There's no expectation of any planning application before the end of the year, because of the size of the application.”
Plans for the mosque have been blighted over the last few months. The group, which intelligence agencies fear is a gateway to extremism, recently claimed they had dismissed award-winning architect Ali Mangera from the project, and has yet to announce his replacement.
Readers may remember our recommending the No 10 Downing Street on line petition calling for the plan to be scrapped. Those of us who signed received a response in advance of the closing date from No 10 last week. It said –
Under planning legislation, local planning authorities are responsible for the day to day control of development in their area. In doing so they are required to take into account all material considerations including the views of interested persons and particularly local communities.
With respect to the proposal associated with a site near the Olympic development in Newham, we understand from Newham Council that there is no current planning permission or application for a mosque and Newham Council do not expect a planning application in the near future.
The Government believes that where controversial issues such as this arise, all involved should ensure that discussions are conducted in a manner that respects the views of all sections of our communities and in a way that does not raise tensions in local areas.
This is disingenuous, to say the least. Leaving aside the vague admonition to submit it is misleading to suggest that there is no planning afoot. The official website of the Mayor of Newham contains the memorandum of agreement between Anjuman –e-Islahul Muslimeen of the UK Trust and the London Borough of Newham.
The London Borough of Newham and the Trust agree that they are both committed to achieving the comprehensive and lasting redevelopment of the land known as the Abbey Mills Riverine Centre/former RTZ chemicals site London E15.
The Council wishes to see a mixed use development of the Riverine site and confirms that it has no objection in principle to the inclusion of a major new, high quality mosque and related study and community uses as part of the comprehensive redevelopment of the site.
The trust commits itself to the principle of achieving the comprehensive redevelopment of the site which includes a mix of uses as well as a major new, high quality mosque and related study and community uses.
The Trust recognises that the council has a proposal for a new road and canal in the Lea valley as part of its overall proposals to transform the Lea Valley as expressed in the Lea Valley Framework plan. The road and canal proposals traverse The Trust site.
Read it all, it makes fascinating reading.
This may be the time to bore you with a little local history and colour. The River Lea (or in some places Lee) is one of the largest tributaries of the River Thames. It flows south from its source in Bedfordshire, giving its name to Luton and Leyton on the way and forming the boundary between Essex and Middlesex. It is, or was, prone to flooding so over the centuries various relief channels, canals and overflow rivers have been cut. Two of these form the boundaries of the site in question.
Like the Thames the Lea is tidal for some miles upstream. The tide was the power for the Three Mills (sometimes called the Abbey Mills because the land was once the property of Barking Abbey) just north of the site on the other bank of the channel. This is now a conservation area of great historic and architectural interest, home to studios, an arts centre and a regular craft fair. There is also the pumping station in Russian Orthodox style known as the “Cathedral of Sewage.”
The land was bought by the Trust in 1991 when the chemical works closed. There are some small buildings which I believe were the office accommodation from the works which are already used as a mosque. Some years during festivals worshippers are also accommodated in temporary marquees.
The plans which have been publicised were criticised for being over optimistic and too big for the site. This may have been one of the issues in the arguement with the architech.
With Ali Mangera off the project I would imagine that the very large designs that were being shown around will go. Mangera’s vision was of a tented city, breaking away from the conventional Saudi and Ottoman concepts of what a mosque should look like.
One of the drawings is below. Below that is the artist’s impression of what it would have look like from above in situ, just above the gas works. Compare it with the map further down. Reference points are the four gasometers, river and railway lines. A direct entrance from West Ham tube station, to facilitate dawa was anticipated.
These are photographs of the site which I took from the south.
Above you can see the current adapted buildings.
The cleared site with the tower of the pumping station through the trees.
Below is a comparison of the space compared with the St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey sites. This gives an idea of how much “high quality mosque and related study and community uses”, including a boarding school for 500 pupils, could be fitted in.
However the most serious objection is the organisation funding the building, and who will run the site. Tablighi Jamaat. Many local Muslims who worship in the numerous and varied small local mosques are unhappy at the thought of this monolith controlling their community. A commentator at another forum thought that “ one of those 'Human Rights' groups or the MCB, or the MPACUK is going to sue the government for denying them 'the right to practice [their] religion”
As it happens several of the angry young bruvverz who debate on the forum at the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK are among those Muslims who have reservations. They want smaller mosques in areas where there is no mosque already in existence and assistance to the victims of the Pakistan earthquake. They make comments such as:-
“I personally find it hard to be in favour of a masjid that costs 100M!! There are a lot of other things Muslims could do with that kind of dosh! Couldn't TJ be a bit more humble and scale the plan back?”
“I am not even sure why the area needs another mosque. There are plenty round there”.
“I have a piece of advice for the 'Fat belly' Tablighis: It has been one year since the devastating earthquake took place in Pakistan. There are thousands of people still without homes, food, clean water, warm clothing, blankets, and homes, why not cancel you multi million dollar project of your 'Markaz' and donate the money to the victims of the Pakistani earthquake?”
“Soon the whole of London will become one big mosque! . . . This is silly. I reckon, part of it, every group wants a bigger M. than the next one. And they just want to recruit to their cause and are not thinking long-term or in the best interests of the (British) ummah”.
- The Borough Council have agreed in principle to the building of a Mosque.
- Planning permission may not be applied for until next year but a new architect will be engaged and plans will be drawn up. No one permanently uses a £1.6 million site via old huts and marquees.
- Meanwhile worship continues on the site in the existing old buildings.
- Tablighi Jamaat are not an organisation we should be encouraging.
- Local Muslims are as suspicious as any of us.
The petition has six weeks still to run.
If you have not signed it yet I urge you to do so.
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Esmerelda Weatherwax is a regular contributor to the Iconoclast our community blog. To view her entries please click here.