With the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful
ATTEMPTED EXTREMIST TAKEOVER AT AL-TAWHID MOSQUE
Al-Tawhid Mosque in Leyton, London E15 is one of the closest to the London 2012 Olympics site, which is clearly visible from the neighbourhood of the mosque. Of the 15 (or so) mosques in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, Al-Tawhid is the only one that falls within the Olympic zone.
The mosque is historically a salafi mosque, having links with Saudi Arabia.
For many years, the mosque has been a platform for intra-Muslim and intra-salafi debate, with voices across the spectrum from spiritual salafism to political salafism to Jihadi salafism. This has involved moderate & extremist interpretations of Islam and salafism.
Thus, the attempted exclusive takeover at the mosque by hardline salafists, including supporters of extremism, terrorism-sympathisers and narrow-minded fanaticism, and to expel all moderate voices, is a major cause for concern, since it will seriously damage women’s rights and community cohesion at best, and become a major national security threat at worst.
1. The mosque is one ofLondon’s leading salafi mosques, if not the leading & most influential one, and is linked to Jamiat Ahl-e-HadithLondon. (Ahl-e-Hadith is the name of the salafi movement in the Indian subcontinent.)
Salafism is closely linked to “Wahhabism,” and has overlaps with Islamism (over-politicised Islam) and Jihadism (that can range from justifiable Jihad to terrorism).
Salafism all over the world has strong links with Saudi Arabia, where the official religious establishment may be seen as the home of salafism.
Many terrorists and hate-preachers, including those convicted in the UK, are heavily-influenced by extremist interpretations of salafism: hence, the importance of moderate salafism. Some of the people referred to in the previous sentence are: Usama bin Ladin, Abu Hamza, Abdullah Faisal, Abu Qatada & Anwar Awlaki. (See below for the latter two’s associations with Al-Tawhid Mosque.)
2. Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith London used to be part of Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith (MJAH), a national HQ and registered charity headquartered at the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham, featured heavily in the “Undercover Mosque” Dispatches programme (Channel 4, 2007), about extremism in UK mosques. Many of the extremist speakers featured in that programme and its follow-up have been suggested as speakers at Tawhid Mosque over the years. Over the past decade, I had repeatedly blocked invitations to such speakers in my role as Khatib and Vice-Chairman.
3. Since the 1990’s, Al-Tawhid Mosque has functioned independently from MJAH, under a Trust.
4. The Ahl-e-Hadith movement inPakistanhas strong links with Lashkar-e-Taibah (LeT), proscribed by the Pakistani, US &UKgovernments as a terrorist organisation. In April 2012, theUSgovernment placed a $10 million bounty on the head of Hafiz Saeed, founder & leader of LeT as well as its successor organisations after proscription. (Hafiz Saeed was an official guest of MJAH & a keynote speaker at their national conference in Birmingham in 1995, many years before he was internationally designated as a terrorist.)
TheUKintelligence authorities seem to have been monitoring LeT’s links in theUK, especially after the Mumbai massacre of 2008, blamed on LeT. For example, in 2009, Leyton Police showed me a letter from Scotland Yard urging national police forces to keep an eye on fundraising by Ahl-e-Hadith organisations, presumably due to LeT being part of the wider Ahl-e-Hadith movement in Pakistan.
5. Extremist interpretations of salafism tend to be xenophobic, encouraging hate-speech against kuffar or non-Muslims, and misogynist, denying women’s rights. The struggle over women’s rights inSaudi Arabia between conservatives/extremists and reformers/moderates is an example of this issue. Hence, the many examples of salafi hate-speech in theUK.
Struggles against extremism at the mosque
1. In 1998, supporters of the notorious hate-preacher & terrorism-sympathiser Abu Qatada tried to gain him a foothold in the mosque, even organizing an unauthorized study circle or two with him there. This was ended by Sheikh Suhaib Hasan’s firm stance on the issue, forcing Abu Qatada & his followers to back down. Sheikh Suhaib realized that if Abu Qatada gained a foothold in the mosque via a weekly study circle, the natural, next step by his followers would have been to allow him to lead the Friday prayers, thus giving him a large audience and possibly leading to a takeover attempt by him, as happened with Abu Hamza at the Finsbury Park Mosque. (All this was before Abu Qatada became well-known to the UK & its media.)
2. In 2002-3, Anwar Awlaki spoke several times at the mosque, invited by one of the myriad of London salafi groups, including a weekend lecture, at least one Friday sermon (in which he referred to the arrest of terror suspects in the UK), and a packed weekend course on the Lives of the Caliphs that remains a popular audio series of lectures amongst some British Muslims. This was before Awlaki’s terrorist teachings were known.
In 2011-12, it has become clear that the attempted extremist takeover at the mosque involves supporters and sympathisers of Awlaki. Some people have tried to claim that I am somehow responsible for Awlaki’s visits (I did not organise any of them). The truth is that whilst I have been outspoken against extremism and terrorism for many years by the grace of God, it is people like Saleh Patel who promoted Awlaki until as late as April 2009 in London (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/higher/rosie-waterhouse-universities-must-take-action-on-muslim-extremism-1922730.html ); as did Cage Prisoners (see Hitchens’ report on Awlaki, http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk/files/1289579667_1.pdf ), for whom Saghir Hussain, the lawyer, worked for many years; as did Islam Channel until 2010 (http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/images/stories/islamchannelreport.pdf ), for whom Talat Sultan works. In contrast, I publicly criticized Awlaki’s extremist views as soon as I learnt about them, e.g. at the City Circle meeting about the Gaza crisis in January 2009. And about a decade before that, it was my father who forced Abu Qatada out of the mosque by the grace of God.
3. In 2006, after the arrests of the transatlantic-airliner “liquid bomb” plotters, including two from the Leyton area, one of whom was on his way to another Leyton mosque (not Al-Tawhid) for evening prayers when he was arrested, local mosque committees went into denial about the problem of extremism and refused to speak to local & national media, being incapable of dealing with the issue. I was outspoken, however by the grace of God, giving interviews to Simon Israel & Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, and to the local newspaper, the Waltham Forest Guardian. The problem clearly needs to be addressed, since Leyton is a centre of extremist activity, including Al-Muhajirun and its successor organisations, as well as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. One of the convicted 21/7 terror plotters also lives in the area, although he has served his time in prison and reformed, now working to get youth away from terrorism.
4. In 2007, a 1-hour CNN documentary, The War Within, profiled me as Imam Usama Hasan at Al-Tawhid Mosque, and as one of the moderate voices against extremist Muslims in Britain. An article based on the documentary may be found here: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/01/17/warwithin.overview/index.html?iref=allsearch
5. Also in 2007, the Policy Exchange named a number ofUK mosques, including Al-Tawhid, as having links to extremism in a major report. I defended the mosque against this accusation, with the help of an interview given to BBC Newsnight, which featured a famous, live studio clash between Jeremy Paxman and Dean Godson of the Policy Exchange.
6. The people adamant on expelling me show signs of xenophobia and misogyny, a notable feature of extremist salafism (see Introduction). For example, they officially criticized my speaking at a meeting of the Redbridge Three Faiths’ Forum in Spring 2011 held at the mosque, when I shared the platform with Rabbi David Hulbert and a Christian priest. Furthermore, they have objected to the hosting of female speakers (Lauren Booth & Myriam Francois-Cerrah) speaking for the first time to a mixed male/female audience in 2011-12, since they believe that female speakers should only speak to female audiences under all circumstances.
7. Since the attempted extremist takeover in 2011, there has been a concerted attempt to suppress moderate voices and invite extremist ones. For suppression of moderate voices, including Abu Muntasir of JIMAS, Myriam Francois-Cerrah & Ajmal Masroor, see: http://www.masjidtawhid.org/news/42-unauthorised-events-by-khola-hasan-and-jimas and http://www.masjidtawhid.org/news/12-masjid-management/19-unauthorised-event-organised-by-usama-hasan. For an example of an extremist voice, see the hosting of Assim al-Hakeem on 2/4/12: http://www.masjidtawhid.org/news/41-beneficial-lectures-by-sh-asim-alhakeem-and-sh-muhammad-salah , a speaker described as a “superstar extremist” by Student Rights, an active and influential group dedicated to tackling extremism on UK campuses: http://www.studentrights.org.uk/article/1903/edinburgh_napier_university_hosts_superstar_lineup_of_extremists (all URLs were active until at least 17/5/2012)
Al-Tawhid Mosque is surrounded by the dangers of extremism and terrorism. The congregation, trustees, Charity Commission, local and national government, police and wider British society all need to ensure that it, and other UK mosques, are run effectively by people with a firm grounding in moderation, non-violence and anti-extremism.
 See R. Meijer, Global Salafism: Islam’s New Religious Movement (Hurst, 2009), in which the author of this post is quoted several times, for a recent, comprehensive discussion of these themes in salafism.
 See Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens’ report on Awlaki (King’s College London, 2011), in which the author of this post is quoted.