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Newham: Giant mosque is ‘no different from any European city where the church is the focal point’, say planners

by Chine Mbubaegbu - 7th February 2012 

REVISED plans to
build a huge mosque in the heart of east London will ‘dupe’ the local authority
into believing a ‘separatist’ and ‘supremacist’ Muslim group is committed to
social cohesion, an imam has said.

The Tablighi Jama’at sect are hoping they will be
granted permission to build a 9,500-capacity mosque in Newham with a roof the
equivalent of eight storeys high, including minarets towering 75m and 45m into
the London skyline.

But in order to comply with Newham Council’s
requirements that the Abbey Mills Riverine Centre be a mixed use site
promoting social cohesion,  a range of additional features were unveiled
at an exhibition in a marquee on site on Saturday (4 February), including
commercial office space, retail units, apartments, a food hall and a visitors’

Critics argue, however, that the concept of social
cohesion is totally at odds with this Deobandi-inspired, ultra-conservative
Muslim group which was founded to assert an Islamic identity, and shuns the
outside world.

To get residents’ buy-in ahead of a planning
application submission, the project team which consists of top consultancy, PR
and architectural firms, held an exhibition revealing the masterplan at the
contaminated site where the TJ have been meeting for the past 16 years.

‘The masterplan responds to Newham’s design agenda
for a borough of cohesion and acceptance by making public spaces that bring
people together in a safe environment,’  the statement from the Riverine
Centre read.

‘The masterplan creates a new part of London. We
believe that the presence of a significant public building, and in particular a
religious building, can greatly enhance public space adding to its meaning and

‘For this reason, 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.’

But Imam Dr Taj Hargey of the Muslim
Educational Centre of Oxford
 said, far from
promoting social cohesion, the ‘towering edifice’ would be dangerous and
divisive if it were ‘ever to see the light of day’.

‘I’m not against a mosque being built on the site,
but this particular group represents, in my opinion, a distortion and a
travesty of Islam. We shouldn’t be engaging in nonsensical projects of this
nature because we have no need for this symbol of triumphalism,’ Dr Hargey

‘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.

‘The TJ are a caricature of the Saudi Wahhabi
branch of Islam. And this is not a variation that we Muslims need in Britain.
We want an Islam that’s at peace with its neighbours. TJ is not conducive to
good relations with those around it.’

 It has been a long road for the controversial
re-development , which at one point included plans for a mosque accommodating
70,000 people which would have made it the largest place of worship in Europe.

In May 2011, the Tablighi Jama’at community won an
appeal against an enforcement order issued by the London Borough of Newham, and
were given two-year planning permission for the current use of the site – where
the 3,000-strong membership were until recently, meeting illegally in temporary
buildings on-site since 1997.

Following the decision, the Trustees of the
Riverine Centre pledged to create ‘a mixed use scheme that meets both the needs
of our community and the planning requirements of the statutory authorities’.

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

Despite fierce criticism over the plans from Newham
Concern – a group set up to oppose the building of what it dubbed the
‘mega-mosque’ – 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.’

But Dr Hargey said the mixed use plans were merely
‘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.’

If planning permission is granted, the development
could be completed within four years.



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