Return to Waltham Forest

by Esmerelda Weatherwax (March 2007)
I grew up in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.  My husband and I returned there earlier this week to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried.
The area has changed a lot in recent years and is now home to one of the UKs largest Muslim communities.

This is the Masjid-e-Umer mosque seen from the Victorian town cemetery. I remember this as an Edwardian synagogue which became a mosque in 1981. Then houses next door were purchased, an extension was built, and then everything was pulled down and this £2 million building built about 3 years ago. I find it out of context with the rest of the street, with it’s Victorian and Edwardian houses, the cemetery from 1871, a school arts centre and an ornate pub, now boarded up.

The last time I visited I don’t recall such stout security around the mosque.  Something to do with recent events, perhaps?
About 400 yards away down the streets behind the mosque are the Anglican Church where I went Brownies, and the area’s last remaining Synagogue. I was glad to see that the anti-semitic graffiti on the walls near the synagogue had been scrubbed clean since my last visit.
We made our way out of Queens Road, along Markhouse Road, past the police notice appealing for information.
Serious Sexual Assault – a white woman assaulted by a Somali man, purporting to be a taxi driver. Telephone police station etc.
And then into Lea Bridge Road.

The Jamia Mosque was built in what was originally a carpet factory and later a clothing factory making Highlight denims. That is the women's entrance.  It features on the Local Authority list of buildings of interest as -  
Mosque: 439-451 Lea Bridge Road E10 - Imaginative and well-executed
conversion of part of a 1930’s factory into a Mosque with decorative
minarets 1993
When it was still obviously a converted factory a banner appeared across the front. This would have been mid 1980s. It said
“God is only one.
He has no son”
Which made me rather angry, considering that my Mother had spoken up locally in favour of this mosque being allowed planning permission. She took the view that worship of God was to be encouraged and that a mosque was no different to a Synagogue or a Catholic Church. She never lived to learn differently.
The first ever time I saw a girl wearing a hijab was outside that mosque.
The banner disappeared and I wasn’t in a position at that time to follow up how and why. But I doubt that I was the only local offended.
It didn’t seem a good idea to photograph the heavily veiled women making their way up and down outside the shops. Then my husband spotted these on lampposts and road signs along the road.

Worshiping Allah, honesty, charity, family values, morality
State terrorism, exploitation, homosexuality, alcohol, gambling.
This next one was one of several wrapped round a post. The others had been torn down or defaced. 
According to the Government you are an Islamic Extremist
IF YOU:                                                                love the Prophet Muhammad (saw),
call to Islam
reject occupation,
like to live under Islamic law,
reject freedom and democracy,
want an Islam education for your kids,
own fertiliser and an ipod,
or speak Arabic on an airplane…

I’ll repeat that. Reject freedom and democracy. Reject that most precious state which my parents and their generation, and my generation since fought to protect.  The pictures have deteriorated in quality after I sized them to fit here; on the originals the lettering of these posters and the entrances to the Jamia Mosque are much clearer.
I am a stranger in my own home town now. Even an elderly Pakistani neighbour who knew my father wanted to leave when I bumped into her last year.
 “It’s not nice round here any more” she said
She’s not wrong.
The day after our visit, and this is co-incidence, more men were arrested on suspicion of terrorist offences.  
Pictures by Mustrum Ridcully.
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Esmerelda Weatherwax is a regular contributor to the Iconoclast, our community blog. To view her entries please click here.

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