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British Muslims Monthly Survey for June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6


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Features

Census 2001

The government finally allowed Parliamentary time on June 20 to discuss the proposed inclusion of a religion question in the 2001 Census, almost guaranteeing that the Census Act will be amended in time to allow the question to be included in the Census (See British Muslims Monthly Survey for January and May 2000). The Bill had been postponed on three previous occasions and looked set to be defeated on a technicality. However, Muslim groups continued to press the government on the need for the question, saying there was a need for the Muslim community to be defined by faith not by race or ethnicity. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote: "It would be the single most important step taken by the Government to recognise not only the needs of the faith communities but also clear recognition of religion as a living force in our society." It added: "Another ten years means a whole generation of British born Muslims will have been invisible, unaccounted for and inequitably provided for. It’s saddening, desperately frustrating" (MCB Press Release, 06.06.00). Yousuf Bhailok, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, in a later press release, said: "The eleventh hour it may be, but this is the right decision. It’s a clear recognition that the faith identity of its citizens is important, and that must be understood in all its aspects. We urge all MPs to give their fullest support" (MCB Press Release, 16.06.00, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 21.06.00). The proposal to include a religious affiliation question has the support of a wide range of faith and non-faith organisations including the CRE, the Inner Cities Religious Council and the Home Secretary’s Race Relations Forum. Ian White, spokesman for the Office for National Statistics which included the question in a test census in 1997, said the response was very positive. He added that the question had passed all the relevant tests: "There is nothing in the information we gathered that would militate against including the question in the 2001 Census" (Q News, No320, 01.06.00, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 08.06.00, Church Times, 09.06.00).

Ziauddin Sardar, in the New Statesman (26.06.00), writes about why the question of religion and faith identity is important to the Muslim community. He writes: "The denial of religious identity to Muslims has led to state-sanctioned discrimination against them. For example, Muslim community projects, such as the Muslim Women’s Helpline, are not recognised as legitimate "ethnic" organisations and therefore cannot get council or government funding. The Muslim News does not qualify as an "ethnic" paper and is thus denied advertising from local authorities, government agencies and the Commission for Racial Equality, which sustains newspapers such as Asian Times, Caribbean Times and the Voice." He adds that Muslim women are often discriminated against for wearing the hijab, in schools and other institutions but there is no legal redress, unlike the Race Relations Act 1976 which covers blacks and Asians. Also, Muslims, he says, have a dislike to "ethnic" labels, as it is not the "colour, race or ethnicity of individuals and communities" which concerns them, but "what humanises them and inspires them to be good citizens." British Muslims have been playing a leading role in this movement, under the wing of the multi-faith Religious Affiliation Group which was set up five years ago. This campaign has been generally ignored by the mainstream media, despite Tony Blair’s admission last year that discrimination against Muslims would continue unless they were recognised as a legitimate minority. He said: "One way to ensure that the Muslim voice is heard is our decision to include a question on religion in the 2001 census. This will give us the information we need to take fully into account the needs of Muslim communities." The Census Amendment Bill has been given its second reading, although the question is likely to be voluntary, not obligatory. [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 1]

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Mawlid celebrations

The Gravesend Messenger (07.06.00) reports that the Muslim community would be celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on June 14/15, and gives a brief description of how the day is celebrated. It says that in countries in the sub-continent, such as Pakistan and India, and some Arab countries such as Egypt, the celebration begins with readings from the Holy Qur’an, followed by poetry and songs praising the Prophet and his life. In bigger cities the day is also marked with processions and lights. It goes on to say that in Graves end, and in the UK, Muslims celebrate mainly in the mosque, with prayers and readings from the Qur’an, as well as children’s performances of poetry and song. The Halifax Evening Courier (17.06.00) reports that Muslims celebrated the day at the Central Jamia Mosque and Madni and Education Centre in Halifax. Hundreds of people attended the event, and prominent scholars from Pakistan and London were present to give talks and lead prayers. Later, more than 2,000 people marched through the streets of Halifax carrying banners and flags in celebration.

In Slough, a procession of hundreds of people took place between Montem Lane Mosque and Diamond Road mosque. It ended with a series of talks by Islamic scholars (Slough & Langley Observer, 16.06.00). Between 2,000 and 3,000 Muslims were to take part in a march around the town centre in Keighley. Organised by the Keighley Muslim Association, the procession has become a traditional event during the Prophet’s birthday celebrations, which starts and ends at the Jamia Mosque in Emily Street. The Association’s General Secretary, Mahboob Alam, said: "The march has always been a peaceful event, demonstrating the respect, love and understanding our prophet showed to all people. We hope that all communities in Keighley, regardless of religion, are able to understand the importance of the event." Following the walk there were to be prayers, recitations of the Qur’an and lectures (Keighley News, 16.06.00, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 21.06.00, 26.06.00).

A coach load of passengers from High Wycombe took part in an Eid Milad-un-Nabi procession in Walthamstow, where they joined thousands of other Muslims from all over the country. The procession was led by Syed Abdulqader Shah Gilani. He also addressed the gathering in the Lea Bridge Road mosque along with a number of other well-known speakers. A march through High Wycombe and Chesham was also planned (Bucks Free Press, 16.06.00, Bucks Examiner, 16.06.00).

The Independent (10.06.00) carries an article written by Fuad Nahdi, editor-in-chief of Q News. He writes that "those celebrating the birthday of the prophet this week should recall that he was unique not for his politics but as the exemplar of a new kind of human soul." Despite the fact that the Prophet initiated a movement which saw Islam spread from Spain to Indonesia, and 14 centuries later these Muslims are still Muslim, the Prophet is not remembered "for his political genius, but for the virtues which made Islam permanent." He goes on to say: "Love of the Prophet, the driving emotion of traditional Islam, transformed history. Celebrations of his birth are celebrations of love. His title may have been "God’s beloved", but he is loved by the faithful as well, who find in such celebrations a refuge from both poverty and from the aridities of loveless fundamentalism, so remote from the ethos of mainstream Islam." He gives examples of celebrations and poems of praise from Jerusalem to Zanzibar to Tower Hamlets. He ends by saying: "For those who listen, however, mainstream Islamic verse remains proof of the love at the core of Islam, and which, however frantic the intolerance of a minority, has always been irrepressible. Hearing these Happy Birthdays to the Prophet is surely not only to give way to nostalgia, it is to hear the voice, unmistakably beautiful, of the Muslim future."

Q News (No320, 01.06.00) in honour of the Prophet’s birthday, has printed extracts from a book by Dr Henry Stubbe (1631-1676), called Rise and Progress of Mahometanism. They also give a brief account of Dr Stubbe’s life, and it is thought he may have written this book around the time of his imprisonment in 1673, although the book was never published. The extracts give an account of the character of "Mahomet" and errors published by the Christians concerning him and his religion, as well as a chapter entitled "Concerning the Alcoran & Miracles of Mahomet, the Prophecies Concerning Him & and a Brief Account of His Religion and Policy". Q News also has printed extracts of work by Sayyidina Shaykh Ahmad bin Idris concerning the Prophet’s last words; an account of his ascent to the Heavens; and Qur’anic verses regarding the Prophet as "A Mercy to the Universe." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 1/2]

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Women convert

The Scotsman (20.06.00) carries a story about a British woman who converted to Islam, asking what makes a woman turn her back on her western upbringing to convert to a faith generally seen as oppressive to women. Research has revealed that the bulk of 10,000 to 20,000 new Muslim converts in Britain are women. The Islamic Academy in Glasgow is among many to report a noticeable surge in the number of white women attending conversion classes in the last two years. In the United States, women converts outnumber men by four to one. Dr Elizabeth Sirriyeh, of Leeds University, says: "I do feel this is quite a wide phenomenon. There’s very much a trend in West Yorkshire and London which I’m certain is reflected in other parts of the country." Tanwir Hussain, of the Islamic Society of Great Britain, said that many young women were converting not because of marriage, but to fill a void in their lives: "Most women have a spiritual, intellectual or religious conversion first and then later marry Muslims as our religion decrees." Religious education teacher Rose Kendrick agrees with this opinion. She says: "I was a theology student and it was the academic argument that led to my conversion." She added: "Within the next 20 years, the number of British converts will equal or overtake the immigrant Muslim community that brought the faith here." For Lucy Morris, adapting to Islamic ways from a western lifestyle was not as difficult as people may think. Now Bahiya Malik, she says that she has never been happier. Married to a fellow Muslim convert, she has two children and lives in Edinburgh. She said: "Islam has taught me how to live my life. It has given me a peace and tranquillity that was missing before. It showed me the way forward."

Ahmed Andrews, a sociologist of religion at the University of Derby, believes that women are disenchanted, feeling that western men no longer fulfil their emotional and intellectual needs. He said: "Disillusionment with Christianity or life, such as a personal crisis, are usually behind a conversion but for women there appears to be an added element. It’s a search for spiritual enlightenment, to find oneself. A feeling of taking back control of their lives and a freedom of expression from the old boundaries." This seems to be a common theme among women converts, where they feel that far from oppressing them, Islam gives a liberating sense of independence from the ties of their gen der, self-imposed or otherwise. Bahiya says that her whole life has changed for the better: "I have direction in my life, a sense of purpose and of who I am." Bahiya was brought up by practising Christians, and was brought up with good moral values. She never questioned those values until her brother returned from the Middle East, now a Muslim and full of tales of the Islamic culture. At this time, she was 19 and half-way through a radio and television course in Edinburgh. She said: "I was already a little disillusioned. My life was not turning out the way I wanted. I was interested in a career in media, but it all began to seem so pointless, so shallow. I began to feel that there must be more to life than this, that there must be a reason for us being here. I was seeking a meaning to life, if you like...I really didn’t know anything about Islam or what it taught. The only contact I’d had was a school visit to a mosque in Birmingham once. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I realised it was what I’d been looking for. A lot of women have a void in their life nowadays, maybe because so much is expected of them. Islam gives respect to a woman which is not evident in Western society." Bahiya admits that her parents were shocked when she and her sister joined their brother in converting, but accepted the decision when they met other Muslims, namely her brothers Arab wife. But, she says, her parents’ faith has been strengthened by their children’s decisions. Ahmed Andrews, however, says that not all parents are tolerant: "Many converts find themselves isolated from friends and family. These are often tremendous gulfs with their roots which can never be healed. It can be very traumatic, especially for young women. At a vulnerable age, many can find themselves completely ostracised from their families, from society and from the confines of norm. It can be a lonely place." For Bahiya, being a Muslim woman makes her far happier than she was before. She appreciates the importance given to wives and mothers, and finds her marriage much more fulfilling than any of her previous relationships. [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 2/3]

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New proposals on forced marriages

The Home Office report on forced marriages, A Right to Choice, was published recently, but has received mixed reactions from members of the Muslim community. The report suggests that the practice of forced marriage should be treated as domestic violence or child abuse and that changing attitudes was they key to ending the problem. However, Hannana Siddiqui, from the Southall Black Sisters group, who resigned from the working party that produced the report, condemned the proposals it makes. She is particularly angry over plans that officials should mediate between families and estranged women, which she claims would force these women back to their "abusive" situations. Home Office Minister, Mike O’Brien, suggested several ongoing initiatives unconnected to the study could help victims. Changes to housing policy, giving priority to victims of domestic violence, and new immigration procedures, with women being interviewed before their husbands entered the UK, could help these situations. However, the report showed that the difficulty of drafting any law was due to the interpretation of "force" which could mean anything from emotional pressure to rape and murder. It concluded that better use of existing laws and altering attitudes in communities where the practice still took place was the best way of tackling the problem. Labour peers Baroness Uddin and Lord Ahmed, who chaired the working party, said the discussion it had provoked was already improving matters. However, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain dismissed the report as "a bland document which reads like a post-graduate research paper." Parliament leader, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, said: "It is long on description but short on prescription. It contains no firm strategy for future Government action, strategy, funding allocation or policy implementation." The report itself acknowledged that little could be done to tackle the problem until the full extent of forced marriages was known, and that no reliable figures were available. Mr O’Brien said the government’s response to the report would be to include plans to monitor the problem better (Glasgow Herald, 30.06.00, Teletext Services, 29.06.00, East Anglian Daily Times, 30.06.00, The Guardian, 06.06.00).

Responding to the report, community leaders in Southampton have shown their concern over the proposals. Nasim Moghul of Southampton’s Asian Women’s Group, said: "Many Asian people will feel offended by the government’s proposals. The majority of Asian parents believe it is their right to arrange a marriage for their son or daughter, and there’s a very thin line between encouraging an arranged marriage and forcing them to marry a person of the parents’ choice. Only a few Asian couples I know would let their children choose their own partners. There’s already a lot of tension within the Asian community over arranged marriages at the moment, and these proposals will not help…Parents arrange marriages to maintain our culture, but increasingly, younger generations of Asians are not so tied to Asian culture and want to make their own choices and decisions." Zahir Ahmed, secretary of Southampton’s Mosque Trust, added: "Islam forbids a man and woman to be forced into marriage, but I know that for social and cultural reasons it does happen. Arranged marriages are important within our culture and when parents recommend a partner and both the boy and the girl are happy, it works very well. However, when the boy and girl are not happy with each other, then they should not be forced to go forward into marriage. The problem with the proposals is what is ‘force’. How do you decide what is a forced marriage? Is a forced marriage an arranged marriage with a degree of gentle persuasion from the parents to accept their recommended partner? But from my point of view, if this new law stops parents making two people marry when they don’t want to, then I’m happy" (Southampton Daily Echo, 24.06.00).

In Keighley, Khadim Hussain, from Keighley’s Sangat Centre, claims that the issue has been exaggerated and the government should leave the Muslim community to deal with it themselves. He said: "There is an exaggerated number of girls involved. Of the 500 cases we have seen of people wanting advice about immigration, none has involved forced marriage. Legislation is over the top. Unless the community takes ownership of this problem, legislation will not change things." Keighley MP Ann Cryer, who has vowed to clamp down on forced marriages, said: "It’s a growing problem. There is a worry that unless something is done there is going to be a timebomb as more and more girls in this country say they want the same rights as my daughter" (Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 30.06.00). Director of the Belgrave Baheno Women’s Organisation in Leicester, Rita Patel, who is also a member of the forced marriage working group, said: "The working group recommended a multi-agency strategy be set up to provide help dealing with the issue positively, but sensitively." She said awareness of the issue needed to be raised "because it is an infringement of basic human rights." The Baheno organisation apparently has received eight calls in the last three months from women being forced into marriage, but Bhagini Centre, also in Leicester, which provides educational and social support for Asian women, said they received a call a week about this problem (Leicester Mercury, 30.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 3/4]

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Student recruitment for ‘jihad’

The Guardian (16.05.00) reports on the increase in student recruitment by certain Muslim groups to engage in ‘jihad’ in countries abroad like Kosovo, Kashmir and Chechnya. It gives an example of three students from Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, who withdrew from their studies last February to train abroad, after being recruited by members of Al-Muhajiroun. Apparently, the founder of al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Muhammad, personally arranged the recruitment of the three students through his contacts in Britain and abroad. Omar Bakri founded the party in Saudi Arabia in 1983, and says it is the duty of all Muslims to engage in jihad. He said: "I believe in the divine cause for Muslims to struggle." Al-Muhajiroun has a network of centres all around the world, and is divided into two wings. He said: "There is the Da’wah (propagation) network, and there is the Jihad network." The da’wah network attracts students to the party in campuses across Britain, and from there students interested in the party are told of the possibility of being involved in military struggles "for the sake of Islam."

Abdullah [not his real name] became attracted to these Islamic parties in his final year of university, and has become a devoted member of a party he would not name. He has been abroad for military training, but returned six months ago. He said: "There are quite a few people in the UK who can arrange for you to go to the camps," which usually involves a trip through various countries to prevent authorities from tracing them. He said; "Often you would go from England to France, and from there to another country, and so on. Then once you are in the right country you would go by car or rail to a specified destination, and then be guided to the actual camps. The majority of spaces are filled by students. Even 16 to 17-year-olds skip schools to go on training." However, sometimes their families are aware of the students’ involvement and are supportive.

The military camps are normally run by Muslim soldiers who have defected from their national armies. They train the recruits as well as providing them with free food and board. Abdullah denies that force or coercion is ever used to ensure the recruits go on to fight: "You always have a choice." It is still not clear why so many students are enrolling for these courses in military training abroad, but most of them do believe that it is a religious duty to propagate Islam and defend fellow Muslims anywhere in the world. Many of these parties have been banned from university and college campuses, but this does not mean the group will stop their recruitment. Instead they will use other names to hold meetings. Omar Bakri said that when Al-Muhajiroun is banned from a student union they "use the names of societies like the Pakistani society, the Bangladeshi society, etc, to get in." He adds: "When a college like the London School of Economics bans us, we set up stalls outside the campus, where the students can reach us but the authorities can do nothing."

The Sunday Telegraph (21.05.00) reports on one of these military camps operating in the US. One advert offering a course at this camp in the US, appears on the internet under the title ‘The Ultimate Jihad Challenge’, and states: "Due to the arms law of the UK all serious firearms training must be done overseas. The course emphasis is on practical live-fire training. You will fire between 2,000 and 3,000 rounds of mixed calibre ammunition." Recruits are also taught how to open fire on vehicles, survive in the jungle and shoot at night. The courses are run by Sakina Security Services and take place on a 1,000-acre estate in the United States. The company’s operational head is Muhammad Jameel, a British-born Muslim, who has strong links with Omar Bakri Muhammad and Abu Hamza. Omar Bakri said: "I know Brother Jameel very well. He is extremely trustworthy and honest. As head of Al-Muhajiroun (meaning The Eyes, The Ears) [sic], I have overall responsibility for a number of organisations fighting for the Islamic cause.

Sakina is one of those." Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon, said he would refer the military training courses to officials at both the Home Office and the American Embassy in London. He said: "Obviously, the existence of such training camps and their use by extremists is shocking. The question is, what can we do about it?

Unfortunately I imagine that what they are doing is perfectly legal in the United States. But we need to find out more so we can stop this practice." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 4/5]

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Reports

Community

Conversation with Yousuf Bhailok
Q News (No320, 01.06.00) carries an interview with Yousuf Bhailok, the new Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), who has promised to make the MCB more representative of the Muslim Community (See BMMS for May 2000). Mr Bhailok has been in Britain since 1962, and says he has been involved in grass roots issues in Lancashire from a very early age. Some of the work he did in the area included being the chair of the local mosque in Preston, and setting up an organisation called the Preston Muslim Forum, which was set up to address wider issues in the Muslim community. He was also a school governor, as he is interested in education, and is currently chair of the Islamic College in Lancashire. He has been involved with the MCB since it was formally founded two years ago. He believes the MCB is successful because "it has built up a good profile at national level and it is participating from within to make our mark on society. We are expressing our views with a coherent voice and indeed we are committed to serving the community. I do emphasise the word ‘service’. I regard myself as a public servant to the other members of the MCB. So our main success has been to bring people together and to become part of the national landscape."

Despite the fact that the MCB has been criticised for having a very narrowly drawn representation, i.e. mainly from the Pakistani and Indian male section of the community, Mr Bhailok thinks the MCB still has a lot to offer the community and is widening its membership. Asked what he feels are the main priority areas for Muslims in Britain, Mr Bhailok said: "We form part of British society. We are Muslims and we have certain specific needs but we need to play our role in wider society. One of the things I have always had an interest in is education. We need to improve our attainment levels. We need to play what role we can through parent governors, through councils. We also need to make sure people understand Islam. We have been here for forty years but many people still regard us a different breed which doesn’t fit into British society. We are part of British society. We need to sweep away the negative stereotypes." As for the MCB as an organisation claiming to represent the British Muslim community, Mr Bhailok said: "The MCB in no way claims to be the only representative of the Muslim community in Britain. There are many organisations, many of which have been around for a lot longer. Some of them have done some good work and we have the utmost admiration, good will and respect for them. We need to work together. Our objective is to work for the common good. There is no intention to displace any other organisation. We must move forward together." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 5]

Oxford Centre decision
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has given the go-ahead for plans to build a £20 million Islamic centre in Oxford (See BMMS for June, August, September, October and November 1999, March, April and May 2000). Plans for the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies have been surrounded by controversy since the application was submitted around five years ago. The building, which will have a 108ft tower and 75ft dome, was given outline planning permission by Oxford Council on April 17, but had to go to Mr Prescott for the final decision. The council will now grant consent, subject to a strip of land along the western edge of the site being kept free to allow a footpath link to be created from King’s Mill Lane to the Angel and Greyhound Meadow. Green Party councillor Mike Woodin, vice-chairman of the council’s planning committee said: "Personally I don’t agree with this decision. It was pushed through by the Labour group. This decision reflects the council’s view. It is a finely balanced issue" (Oxford Mail, 06.06.00, Oxford Mail, 02.06.00, Oxford Times, 02.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 5]

Brent protest leak
Q News (No320, 01.06.00) reports that the journalist who was leaked confidential information regarding the letters sent to Brent councillors about the recent Israeli independence celebrations, is also a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies. Mike Brooke used the private material for an article in the Wembley Observer, in which he rubbished the complaints by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), who sent the letters, as the work of a fundamentalist group bent on inciting racial hatred against Jews (See BMMS for April and May 2000). Mr Brooke declined to answer questions to a Q News reporter as to why he failed to disclose his Zionist connections in the article, a version of which also appeared in the London Jewish News. Apparently Mr Brooke threatened the reporter with court action, saying: "I’ve been in this business longer than you’ve been on this earth and I warn you if you slander me I’ll take you to court." The editor of the Wembley Observer, Aaron Gransby, defended his reporter, saying: "Mike Brooke is a highly experienced and professional journalist. I am quite content he is able to cover an event without allowing his religion to colour his journalistic independence. I believe any reporter we would have sent to cover the event would have reported it in the same way." However, this is not the first time Mr Brooke has attacked Muslims in Brent. In 1998 he reported on fellow Zionist Bob Blackman, leader of the local Conservative Party, accusing Labour councillor Ahmad Shahzad of making an anti-Semitic statement during a Pakistani independence day speech. Mr Shahzad issued a court writ against Mr Blackman for defamation and won an out of court settlement for around £25,000. The Islamic Human Rights Commission were also shocked when they read the article which condemned them as hatemongers and anti-Semites. They had sent the letter to all of Brent’s 66 councillors calling for them to stop the event because they believed it celebrated oppression and racism against Palestinians. Chairman of the IHRC, Masoud Shadjareh, said: "Since the beginning of this episode we have been baffled as to why we have been deliberately misrepresented and demonised in this way when our campaign was very clear that we were against the promotion of racism and the abuse of human rights. It is now clear that we could not have expected any objective reporting when somebody is as deeply involved as Mr Brooke." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 5/6]

Compensation for pilgrims
A Hajj tour organiser in Yorkshire has been ordered to pay nearly £2,000 compensation to a family of four for failing to deliver its promises (See BMMS for April 2000). Barket Travel and Tours, one of the region’s biggest Muslim pilgrimage companies, was ordered to pay compensation to Mohamed Ismail under 1992 package travel regulations which require tour operators to deliver what they agree. Dewsbury County Court heard that Mr Ismail travelled to Saudi Arabia in December with his wife and two children, aged eight and five. Barket Travel had told them that they would be staying in private four-star accommodation for their stay in Makkah, but this turned out to be an overcrowded room with a shortage of beds, infested with cockroaches, and smelling of urine from the nearby toilet. The room was so bad that Mr Ismail had to move to another hotel at his own expense. For the next stage of their Umrah in Madinah, they were promised a luxury hotel, which was in fact a windowless box-room which the family had to share with eleven other occu pants. There was no lift to the ninth-storey room and the toilet was being shared with occupants of six other rooms. Mr Ismail, 33, said: "It was absolutely disgusting. You just don’t expect such a poor standard of service. We were even short of food sometimes." After seeing photographic evidence of the accommodation, Judge Edwards called it a "complete tip", and ordered Yusuf Ellam, the owner of Barket Travel and Tours, to pay £1965 in compensation - amounting to the proportion of total package cost that Mr Ismail had paid for accommodation. Solicitor Ilyas Bulbulia, who represented the Ismails, said: "With Barket it’s been a problem year in, year out. It’s about time we did something about rogue travel agents who take people for a ride." He added: "This sends a message that if they don’t deliver what they promise they can end up before the courts." Mr Ellam, maintained that the problem arose because his customer had booked a tailor-made package and had then arrived in Madinah earlier than planned. Pilgrims travelling with Barket in 1999 complained that while in Madinah they were placed in a hotel that was due for demolition. Mr Ismail added: "It wasn’t about the compensation, it was the principle. We go there to worship and instead of solving our problems these people just create them. The service is a load of bull" (Q News, No320, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 6]

Kalim Siddiqui seminar
As part of a Dr Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Seminar held in London on 6 May, Fuad Nahdi gave an address on "British Muslims, Britain and the Global Umma," which is printed in full in Q News (No320, 01.06.00). Mr Nahdi said that it is important for British Muslims to have events such as this memorial seminar as part of the Muslim calendar of events, as "it is not only part of our tradition to respect and honour those among us who have selflessly contributed towards the development of our community but it should also be seen as part of the continued process of change and progress that is essential for the historical contextualisation and maturity of our community." He adds: "This event is particularly apt because it is the way KS, as some of us were fortunate to affectionately refer to the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui, would have liked it. For more than anything Dr Kalim Siddiqui was a man who loved and thrilled in dealing and combating with ideas." Mr Nahdi talks about the ‘special relationship’ Britain has had with the Muslim world, from the eighth-century encounters with Muslim traders, to the strong presence of Muslims in Britain today. He goes on to talk about some of the early Muslim visitors to Britain, who came as explorers and traders, but found that "the country was poverty-stricken, physically hostile and lacked any exotic goods or produce that could initiate any form of long-term mercantile relationship." However, it seemed that the Britons were attracted to the vibrant Muslim world for trade and commerce, and "by the 14th century following the crusades and the introduction of several Muslim cultural traditions into British life, from the paisley [pattern] to the arch to spices and the very concept of chivalry - the Muslim world was also admired and respected for its scholarship and advances in all fields of knowledge." He goes on to say that the important factor of British colonialism and colonial policy led to a heavy Muslim contribution to the prosperity of Victorian and Edwardian England, and he believes "it is Muslim wealth and human resources that put the Great in front of Britain." Now there has been a Muslim presence in Britain for at least 350 years, with colonialism leading to the mass migration of Muslims in the middle of the last century. He mentions the variety of Muslim businesses set up, for example, "Mahomed’s Baths" in Brighton in the nineteenth century.

He gives this historical overview to contextualise British Muslims within known British history. More recently, he points out that the Muslim Manifesto and the Muslim Parliament were important turning points in the development of Islam in Britain. He believes that the future of Islam in Britain depends on the shaping of a Muslim identity, which takes into context the nature, experience and potential of British society. He says: "Britain and the Muslim world" needs Muslims with a healthy and balanced identity which is the starting point for the emergence of a genuine Islamic movement. This would enable communications and interactions with others and is important in discovering one’s purpose and ways one might contribute to the world." He adds that another issue of identity is who Muslims are as a community, saying "No matter what our ethnic origin, language or culture, we are more than just Muslims in Britain: we are British Muslims," and this is something that has to be recognised and not shied away from. He ends by saying: "We need to do some serious thinking on developing such a culture, which would serve as a bridge between Islam, our Muslim cultural heritage and our cultural and social environment. We must re-educate our people: we must learn to discuss rather than argue; to smile rather than frown; to sing rather than growl. Our future in Britain may well depend on how well we are able to do just that." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 6/7]

Imam denies assault on girls
A Muslim religious teacher has been placed on the sex offenders’ register after being convicted of indecent assault on two girl pupils (See BMMS for February 2000). The jury found Mohammed Mukit guilty of two indecent assaults on an 11-year old in 1998 and one indecent assault on a 12-year old girl in the same year. They cleared him of two further charges of indecent assaults on the 11-year old. Judge Shaun Lyons, at Bristol Crown Court, ordered Mukit, 29, to surrender his passport and report to the police three times a week until he is sentenced on July 21. The court heard that Mukit, an imam and father-of-two, came to Britain in 1994. Prosecutor Ian Fenny said Mukit had been in a position of trust, being called in by the families of the girls to teach them Arabic. Mr Fenny said: "He would have known, and we say he calculated, that these children would have been too intimidated by his position to speak out." The two girls, who are cousins, had the courage to write their parents a letter telling them what had happened. At first one of the girls’ fathers tore up the letter after arriving home to find his wife in tears. But then he realised the seriousness of the allegations and taped it back together. He first went to the local Bangladeshi Association to demand Mukit was sacked, but he was not satisfied with their reaction and called in the police. Mukit denied that he had indecently assaulted the girls claiming the only time he touched them was to pat them on the shoulders if they did well at their lessons (Bristol Evening Post, 20.06.00 and 23.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 7]

Community centre wanted in Banbury
Muslims in Banbury are urging the local council to assist them in providing a Muslim community centre next to their mosque, on Merton Street. The Madni Mosque Trust sent a petition with over 500 signatures to Cherwell District Council asking them to provide more facilities in the town for the Muslim community. The trust hopes to buy the land next to the mosque to build the centre, which will mainly be used for educational purposes but would also have a play area and would be hired out for functions including weddings. Gul Bahar, chair of the trust, said that there were around 500 Muslim families in Banbury and the number was growing. He said: "We have got a big mosque in Banbury and are quite happy with that but we would like to have more space for the Muslim community and we need somewhere for weddings. We are now hoping to get the backing of the council." Richard Collins, town and district councillor, said: "I have got no problem with a community facility being allocated to the Muslim community. Obviously that is a decision to be taken by the district council if a suitable site is found to put it in. They haven’t got a community facility at the moment and it’s something that is needed so we can only support it." Patricia Scott, manager of a community education centre near the mosque, said: "It’s just like anybody else wanting to provide something for their community as far as I’m concerned. Good for them if they can do it. I would never see it as competition as there is such a need in the community for all sections of the community. The fact that we ourselves are desperately short of space proves there is a need. I think it’s something the Muslim community has wanted for some time like other communities as people are wanting to provide for their own faith communities." The matter was to be referred to a policy committee which was meeting on June 26 (Banbury Guardian, 25.05.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 7]

Man attacks mosque with sword
Muslims in East London have praised the police for the way they handled a siege at the East London Mosque. Police were alerted to the scene at 7:15am on May 25, when mosque members noticed part of the mosque’s door had been broken. On their arrival, officers were confronted by a "mafia-like figure" who claimed: "I am the protector of the mosque." The area was immediately evacuated after the man pulled a three-foot long Samurai sword from under his jacket. An elderly man was held hostage inside the mosque for four hours while the police began negotiations with the man, said to be of Middle-Eastern appearance. Sixty-five-year old Abdur Rahman Khan said he was terrified during the ordeal as he was told by the man: "I am going to show you the hereafter." Mr Khan said: "In 40 years with the mosque, I have never seen anything like this. Thank Allah the man came during the early hours of Saturday morning and not during prayer time when literally thousands of people would have been present. And thank Allah there were no sisters present. It would have been carnage." He added: "The man was shouting all sorts of things. He kept waving his sword and saying: ‘I’ll show you what the sword of Islam really means!’ I have never seen a sword so big. At one point, he said he was going to burn the mosque down. I thought it was a nightmare. I just closed my eyes and prayed to God." A police interpreter had been called in to deal with the hysterical man, who police feared was in danger of harming himself. But just five minutes before Zuhr prayer, the man surrendered himself to the police. Mr Khan said: "It was a miracle -we were praying that it would not affect the main prayer at 1pm." The 40-year old man appeared at Thames Magistrates Court charged with public order offences and carrying an offensive weapon. He was remanded in custody and taken to St Clements Hospital in Bow, where he was placed under police protection (Asian Times, 30.05.00, East London Advertiser, 25.05.00, East End Life, 29.05.00) [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 7/8] 

Aylesbury family help drought victims
A Muslim woman in Aylesbury has set up a fund for drought victims in Pakistan after being horrified by scenes she saw on television. Firdaus Khan decided to help with the fund-raising campaign, and set about knocking on doors with her two children, Aqib, 3, and Khairun, 2. Ms Khan has lived in Aylesbury for 18 years and has worked as a voluntary youth worker at Aylesbury’s Multicultural Centre. She said: "I used to watch men at the Aylesbury Mosque raising money and I decided that the women should get involved. More than three million people are at risk, so I decided I had to try and help." Ms Khan said she relies on the kind nature of Aylesbury’s community: "We raised £100 from the Jackson area alone, this encouraged me to visit other areas. There are people out there who want to help, we are all human beings, these things affect us all." So far, Ms Khan has raised £1,475 from her walks around various areas in the town. She is also hoping local businesses will help her cause. She said: "Because of my religion it is not appropriate for me to go to big companies and ask for money. I am so pleased that individuals have been so generous and I believe businesses would be too. The situation is desperate now, it has been going on for three years. Having a family of your own makes you think about other children." Ms Khan hopes to continue raising funds and plans to set up a Muslim women’s fund-raising group in Aylesbury (Bucks Advertiser, 26.05.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 8]

Simba centre to close
The Simba Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, which was the site of the controversial school run by the Nation of Islam, is set to close in July, to be replaced by affordable flats, with just the ground floor remaining for community use. The council say the closure comes as the centre was being under-used, but Unison says the closure is to hide the fact that the council has failed over the last two years to evict the Nation of Islam’s 60-pupil school from the building. Closure of the centre has come about as a last resort. The Muslim sect moved the school, the Star Chamber Academy, into the centre in October 1997 without consent from the council. The school, for both junior and secondary school pupils is run as a full-time school for children of the Nation of Islam. The council tried to evict the school in July 1998 because it did not want a private school run from the community centre, but this led to a demonstration in King Street by the group. The school remained at the centre, but is said to owe the council thousands of pounds in rent. Unison branch secretary David Whittaker said: "We are really angry the council is closing down the only centre in the whole of the borough which particularly serves the Afro-Caribbean and ethnic communities. The directors are claiming there’s declining usage and budget for the centre. But the Nation of Islam has a school in the centre. The council has not done anything about resolving the issue of this group using the centre. The whole black and ethnic communities are being penalised for the council’s failure to resolve this issue with one tenant." A council spokesman said: "The reason it’s being closed is low usage and budget problems. The council is turning most of the building over to a housing association. The remainder of the building will be used for community use. Most of the building is used by the Nation of Islam. They are leaving and we want to maintain it as a community facility." The final decision was to be made on June 15 (Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 8]

High Commissioner visits Leicester
Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Professor Akbar Ahmad recently visited the Islamic Foundation in Markfield. The Foundation boasts the largest Islamic library in Europe, and is frequently visited by scholars from all over the world. Deputy director of the Foundation, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin said it was a real honour to have Professor Ahmad visit for the second time. Mr Mueen-Uddin said: "He said this is one of the institutions that all Muslims should feel proud of." Plans are also under way at the Islamic Foundation to extend the campus for a new academic centre it is building, which will be called the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. The institute will be affiliated to the University of Portsmouth and will offer Islamic Studies courses (Leicester Mercury, 01.06.00).

Meanwhile, The Times (08.06.00) has reported that Professor Ahmad has been dismissed from his post, following a dispute about spending at the mission and a public row about his controversial film, Jinnah. Professor Ahmad was appointed as the High Commissioner to London six-months ago, and said his dismissal was unexpected and no reason was given for it. He said: "I have tried to act as a bridge between Britain and Pakistan and I feel I have made some progress in bringing the two cultures together. I was just returning from Glasgow from a big conference when I was informed of the decision and given one month’s notice. Nobody told me why, but that is often the way of these things. I bear no ill-will."  [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 8]

Holy tree found in prison
An inmate of North Sea Camp Prison in Lincolnshire was stunned when he noticed a tree in the prison compound spelt out the name ‘Allah’ in Arabic. Mohammed Tair, serving two years for a total of 18 offences including burglary and obtaining property by deception, said he noticed the word in the branches on his way to Friday prayer. He said: "A strange feeling came over me seconds before I saw the manifestation. I had never felt like this. I glanced east and saw the words ‘Allah’ in Arabic in the tree. It is a sign for Muslims that Allah is everywhere. It is nature’s proof of Islam’s truth" (Eastern Eye, 16.06.00). He called over fellow Muslim inmates, who agreed that this was a sign from above, and later a local imam was brought in to give his verdict. A prison spokeswoman said: "Once the tree was verified as an Islamic miracle we had no hesitation in affording it the respect it deserved. It is difficult to accommodate all of the people who wish to see it because a prison is not the ideal place for people to be coming and going, but we will do all we can when asked" (Derby Telegraph, 09.06.00). Maqsood Ahmed, Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service, said: "Everything is a creation of Allah almighty. He can shape anything He wants to. I see nothing unusual in a tree spelling his name. We will respect the tree, but will not worship it." However, Eastern Eye claim that the tree is the centre of a Home Office cover-up. The paper, which published the first pictures of the tree, claim the Home Office wanted to ban anyone seeing the photographs because they are planning to sell the land on which the prison is built. According to one source: "They do not want Muslims to know about this and they do not want details to get out because they are planning to sell the prison to a private company." The Home Office replied it had no plans to sell the prison, although a review of five open prisons in currently underway (Eastern Eye, 16.06.00, Daily Star, 03.06.00, Derby Telegraph, 09.06.00, Derby Evening Telegraph, 09.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 8/9]

Art for mosques
As part of the ‘One World, One Oldham’ festival, original pieces of artwork were created for four Oldham mosques. Internationally renowned artist Bashir Makhoul worked with communities in Glodwick to create calligraphic pieces inspired by the Oldham Art Gallery exhibition, ‘Sacred Beauty’. Organiser of the project, Sarah Terkaoui, said: "Calligraphy is more than an art form in Islamic countries because writing has special significance, stemming from the belief that the Koran is the literal word of God. We therefore wanted to work collaboratively with the local communities to create permanent artworks which reflect their spirituality in the new millennium." The workshop was held at Glodwick Community Outreach Project, where community members helped execute the design scheme (Oldham Advertiser, 08.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 9]

Swansea cultural fair
The Muslim Cultural Fair in Swansea has been given a £300 grant by the city’s crime prevention panel. The Muslim community is hosting a day of events at Bishop Gore Comprehensive School on August 20, and members of all communities will be welcome to take part in sporting events including cricket and football. There will be 50 displays including cooking, calligraphy, music and cartoons (South Wales Evening Post, 08.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 9]

Money raised for Kosovo mosque
Muslims in Walsall have raised around £15,000 to be used to rebuild a mosque in Kosovo which was destroyed during the war. Volunteers from Walsall’s Kosovo Relief Fund are getting ready to go on a trip to the town of Vushtri to help with the building. The cash was partly raised through a name the mosque contest. The group are flying out at their own expense, and two 17 tonne trucks are also leaving for Kosovo provided by the relief fund. The cargo includes an ambulance bought by Burton upon Trent Lions and 1,000 leather jackets donated by an Oldbury businessman. The previous visit made by the Kosovo Relief Fund was in September 1999 when they went to help repair a school (Walsall Express & Star, 12.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 9]

Muslim Parliament wants polygamy recognised
The Muslim Parliament of Britain, which claims to represent the views of Britain’s 2 million Muslims, are pushing for the government to recognise polygamy amongst Muslims. They want changes to the law to allow a man to take more than one wife and for the spouses and their children to be recognised as equal claimants to his estate when he dies. Mushaba Hussein of the Muslim Parliament said: "The law should change so the courts can adapt to the problems of Moslems with polygamous marriages. The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are willing enough to change the law on divorce, and to give rights to unmarried fathers, and to help cohabitees." He also said that there will be a test case in the autumn when the Human Rights Act comes into force, which allows for checks on whether British laws measure up to the European human rights charter. Former secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, said they had raised the issue with ministers. He said: "When the British ruled India, there was a "Moslem Personal Law" which recognised polygamous marriages among Muslims. It seems to us that a similar rule could operate here." National Family Campaign spokesman Hugh McKinney said: "This is a Christian country where generally the law is consistent with Christian beliefs. Recognising polygamy would send all the wrong signals to society" (Daily Mail, 15.06.00, Evening Standard, 14.06.00, Northampton Chronicle, 16.06.00 [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 9]

Radio talk show controversy
A Birmingham radio show caused controversy recently when one of its talk show hosts suggested that Muslim men were ‘religiously inspired philanderers’. The late night phone-in show on BRMB sparked a heated debate after a female caller asked for advise on how to deal with her married Muslim lover who, having just performed the Hajj, wanted to put an end to their relationship. Maureen Messant, who is also a columnist and feature writer for local newspaper the Evening Mail, said: "What I’m going to say will upset a lot of people but I’m going to say it anyway. With his Muslim outlook on life you will always be a little knockabout on the side." This comment prompted a string of complaints from Muslims to the Late and Live show of April 21. The live verbal wrestling match looked like getting so out of hand that host Jezza barred any further calls on the subject. But one listener who was cut off when he rang in has drawn up a petition and solicited the help of local councillors against the station. Inam Malik said he wants an apology from the station for the offence caused by Ms Messant’s comments: "What she has said is completely out of order. It’s as if their faith predisposes all Muslim men to infidelity." Mr Malik has compiled a petition signed by 500 Muslims to submit to managers at BRMB. He has also received some support from local politicians. Lib-Dem councillor Nicola Harry said: "The story has left us absolutely stunned. We’ve never heard anything so outrageous. BRMB should issue a full apology to the Muslim community and also to Mr Malik who they’ve treated pretty shabbily. It’s hardly in the spirit of good community relations to allow a presenter to abuse religious groups on air." However, Ms Messant stood by her comments, and writing in her column for the Evening Mail, said: "Muslim men find themselves in the awful condition of being caught between the sexual pressures of Islam and the freedom of the west and it puts them in an impossible situation." She said she believed Muslim men were living two lives: "When they are educated in western ways but reared in Islamic ways some of them are going to falter. I was brought up in Ireland as a strict Catholic and when I came here and saw all the freedom I let myself go. I screwed around because everybody else was doing it." She added: "Do you know how many randy Muslim taxi drivers there are in Birmingham who are up for anything they can get their hands on?" (Q News, No320, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 9/10]

Internet site to help charities
Muslim charities could soon benefit from a new internet portal which offers users utility, telecoms and financial products as well as community information. Charity organisation The Donation Group, at www.donation786.com, has promised to channel a proportion of its funds back into the Muslim community. The site is set to launch a Donation 786-branded mobile phone and also a WAP mobile phone and credit card. Mike Buchanan, marketing manager at Donation Internet, said: "Users will be able to receive messages indicating prayer times, messages of the day and community information." The site is the first in a series of portals planned for the UK and Europe. Mr Buchanan said: "The Muslim community was an obvious first choice because I believe it is the biggest single community in the UK and Europe, with a high level of IT literacy and an above average penetration of mobile phones and home internet access" (Q News, No320, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 10]

Nelson community raises money
Muslims in Nelson have raised money to help drought victims in Pakistan. Lack of rain in the provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh over the past few months has caused the destruction of crops leaving people without food and water. Many men, women and children have already died and thousands more face starvation. As part of the fundraising effort in Nelson, students at the Minhaj-Ul-Quran school raised the money with the support of parents and teachers. A spokesman for the school said: "We highly commend their efforts in raising this money and would like to acknowledge the role of these young people in lending a hand to their Muslim brothers and sisters in a time of need" (Colne Times, 09.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 10]

Spiritual leader visits Slough
A spiritual leader from Pakistan recently visited his followers now living in Britain. Babajee Sufi Mohammed Nawaz Shah Qadri visited the Qadri Centre in Slough, where he was invited by Sufi Mohammed Hanif Shah who founded the spiritual centre in 1990 on Mr Qadri’s advice. Mr Qadri led prayers and meditation for more than 30 followers, some of whom had travelled from as far as Hong Kong, on a day which was also the anniversary of the death of Shabbuddin Suhrwardi, a master of Sufism from Iraq. The next day, more than a hundred followers celebrated at a festival at the Chalvey Youth Centre. Mr Qadri said: "Sufism is something for everybody, for every religion. A way to learn spiritual knowledge of the subconscious, to love and respect each other. I hope to use this visit for private consultation and attend to other peoples’ spiritual needs on an individual basis" (Slough & Langley Observer, 16.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 10]

Festival goes on air
The Keighley Mela, planned for June 24 and 25 after an absence of two years, was to be broadcast on a local radio station to increase publicity and support. Festival Radio, run by members of Keighley’s Asian community, was transmitting throughout June, with a daily schedule of live talks, interviews, news, discussions, competitions and religious programmes for all ages. Javed Bashir, one of the organisers, said Festival Radio was covering many issues that concern the local community, such as education, crime and employment. He said: "We’re getting people’s views on different topics each day. We get people in all the time to talk about these topics." The biggest outside broadcast by the station will accompany the mela as it showcases the best of Asian sport, entertainment, food and culture. Mr Bashir said: "Broadcasts on the radio will enable people to hear in their homes what’s happening in the street." The Saturday was to be devoted to sport, with the main event being a game of kabadi, described as being something like touch rugby, where the Pakistan team was to be making its only appearance in the North of England. The Sunday events were to focus more on song, speeches, music and poetry recitals (Keighley News, 16.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 10]

Men jailed for attack
Four men who took part in a brutal attack, in which a Rottweiler bit off part of a man’s ear, have been jailed for a total of more than 16 years. The assault in Forest Gate on October 28 1999 began with Munawar Iqbal, 36, and Shaun Javed, 33, who were angered by a van which blocked the entrance to a shop which they were renovating. The owner, who ran a furniture shop nearby, told Iqbal he did not have his keys with him. Snaresbrook Crown Court heard Iqbal and Javed left but later returned with a mob carrying baseball bats and spanners in a revenge attack described by the prosecutor Sally Howes as a "turf war". The group also included Shaufkat Mahmood and Arif Khan who were also jailed. Ms Howes said that Iqbal "was not the sort of man to take no for an answer," and that the parking row had "put his nose severely out of joint." She added: "A group of seven or eight Asian males armed with sticks described as baseball bats, and one with a large dog on a chain, entered Upton Lane. The assault only lasted two or three minutes but it was very violent and very shocking." Mohammed Nadeem, who had gone into the travel shop where the attack happened, was struck to the head by Javed with a hammer. After falling to the ground he was attacked by the dog which was handled by Mahmood. Another two victims who tried to intervene also received hammer blows to the head, and were treated for depressed fractures to the head. Mr Nadeem was airlifted to hospital where his injuries were found to include a fracture to the right side of his skull and a small brain haemorrhage. Part of his ear had been bitten off by the Rottweiler. Jailing the group, Judge Simon Wilkinson said: "To come into a busy street in this way with these fearful weapons and to beat victims is quite intolerable and unacceptable." Police in the area have dismissed claims that the area was gripped by a gang war, and spoke to members of the Asian community to reassure them. Newham Council and Muslim councillor Riaz Ahmed Mirza were enlisted to help tap into the knowledge of the incident held by the Asian community. Mosques were also visited in order to establish channels of communication (City of London Recorder, 16.06.00).  [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 10/11]

Yusuf Islam visits Cardiff
Visiting a day conference at Cardiff’s Discover Islam Centre, Yusuf Islam spoke about the perception of Islam in this country, and the need for Muslims to break down these stereotypes. Speaking after the conference, which was attended by around 3,000 people, he said: "The perception of the Islamic world [in Britain and the West] is still focused on violent images of marches on television. It is not to do with the core issues of the faith. A lot of people are not getting to hear about the beauty of Islam as a faith for which people might be looking." He said that Muslims suffered from a lack of understanding from the rest of the community, but added that they themselves need to look at how they can improve the situation. He said: "There could be more understanding of the needs of Muslims. But sometimes Muslims themselves need to do more to explain their needs. It’s reciprocal. Sometimes, Muslims do not feel at ease to communicate their feelings. It’s very difficult these days to escape without some kind of scathing remark. But if you look at the majority of Muslims in this country, they too have a cup of tea in the morning and go to work. They don’t march through the streets." He added that British society as a whole could benefit from knowing more about the Islamic way of life, saying: "If you go into a Muslim home, it’s actually like the traditional, old-fashioned British home used to be. The mother is an important pillar of the family. If she’s not at home, that creates instability for the children. Islam does not stop women from working. If a woman wants to take a job, she can. But elsewhere in modern Britain, there are children as young as three years old being put into nurseries. Having no contact with their mother makes for instability in the young generation. We [Muslims] can contribute to reminding people of what used to be the benefits of a religious family home - a family that believes in morality" (Cardiff Western Mail, 19.06.00 and 21.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 11]

The Islamic Experience in Bedford
A multi-media exhibition, called the Islamic Experience, featuring the religious and cultural beliefs of Muslims, is to be organised by Bedfordshire County Council. It is part of a series of events highlighting different faiths and cultures in Britain. The exhibition was due to begin on 26 June running until July 7 at Biddenham Upper School (Biggleswade Chronicle, 23.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 11]

Swindon Islamic project
Two Muslim groups in Swindon joined forces to organise a one-day event to raise awareness of Islam. Swindon based Islamic Awareness and Education Project (IAEP) and JIMAS, an Islamic Awareness Project from Ipswich, pooled resources to stage the event, entitled ‘Does God Exist?’. The speaker, Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information Centre in Toronto, Canada, flew over especially for the talk which was intended to show the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Mr Ally is the author of numerous articles and booklets about Islam and comparative religion, and hosts a weekly radio show in Toronto. Event co-ordinator, Hassan Morrison, said the event attracted 75 people from different faiths. He said: "We were expecting a very low turnout due to the bright sunshine and very hot weather, but we were pleasantly surprised." Visitors came from as far away as Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham, London and Reading. The IAEP was also preparing to stage a free Islamic exhibition at Broad Green Community Centre on July 15 (Swindon Evening Advertiser, 23.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 11]

[back to contents]


Education

Birmingham college scam
Three men and two women who set up a money making scam to defraud a Birmingham college have been given suspended prison sentences. Birmingham Crown Court heard that the group stood to gain more than £1.2 million from Bournville College, by claiming for franchised community-based classes, some of which never took place. However, they only received £50,200 of the money before the fraud was exposed. Mohammed Aslam, 67, chairman of the Pakistani Muslim Community Care Association was said by the judge to have played a key role, and helped to negotiate the deal with the college in 1994. Aslam lodged claims for a total of 120 classes, running for 15 hours a week over a 32-week period. But some classes did not exist, and lists of students provided to the college included the names of children too young to take part. In passing sentence, Judge Alistair McCreath said: "This was a fraud on a very substantial scale which would have brought to those behind it large sums of money and which would have caused a huge loss to Bournville College. But I accept that in the early stages it was the intention of those involved in the scheme to run it properly and honestly and by so doing to confer some real benefit to members of the Asian community who might have otherwise been denied education and training which the courses were designed to offer." He also said that an important factor in not passing immediate prison sentences was the fact that the offences happened five-and-a-half years ago. The judge also criticised the college saying: "The measures taken by the college to ensure that the purpose for which this very considerable sum of public money was to be used were very lax. There appeared to be few if any spot checks and the qualification requirements were changed in a fundamental way after the scheme had start ed." Aslam, who admitted three charges of conspiracy to defraud, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment suspended for two years. Sabia Kauser, 26, who also admitted the same three charges, and Mohammed Tazeem, 47, were given nine-month sentences suspended for two years. Javid Aziz, 34, and Naveed Narmah, 50, received six month jail sentences, also suspended for two years (Birmingham Post, 19.05.00 and 20.05.00, Birmingham Evening Mail, 19.05.00, Times Educational Supplement, 26.05.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 11/12]

Bolton madrasa refused permission
Permission to set up an Islamic teaching centre in a terraced house in Bolton has been refused. Councillors voted by 11 votes to nine to refuse the application for the centre in Grasmere Street. The original application was for up to 70 children to use the centre, but after a site visit by councillors, it was reduced to 40. However, councillors still felt the property was not big enough for the number of children that would be using it. Councillor Pauline Spencer said: "The environmental health officer recommended it be turned down and these children should not have to put up with lower standards than we would normally expect." But leader of Bolton Council had supported the application. Councillor Bob Howarth said: "The discipline at madrassas is usually very effective. The children will be repeating the Koran and it would not be noisy chanting." Councillor Cliff Morris said: "At a children’s party you could have ten children in a small terraced house. Many Sunday Schools in Bolton began in terraced houses" (Bolton Evening News, 12.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12]

College allowed play-area
The Islamic College of Higher Education at Hospital Road, Bromley Cross in Bolton, has been given planning permission for two portable classrooms to be put up. They have also been allowed to make a floodlit play area and build a new car park. Twenty letters of objection were received by Bolton Council, complaining that the play area was too close to homes and would cause disturbance in the evening. But council officers had recommended that it should be accepted and some councillors argued that there were similar facilities at other Bolton schools (Bolton Evening News, 13.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12]

New school opens in Glasgow
The Central Mosque in Glasgow recently held an open day for parents and children to look around the Islamic Evening School which opened in January. Over 200 parents and children attended the open day at the school which gives children the chance to learn the Qur’an and about Islam. The school is different from other mosques in that it has a set curriculum, teaching Qur’an, Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad), Beliefs, Islamic history and theology. At the end of the year the children, aged between 5 and 14, will take a written and oral examination. The cost of the school is £2 per week, with the cost of books coming to around £30 a year. There are, however, only seven teachers for the 150 pupils. The mosque is also running a summer school from July 20 to August 20 for girls and boys aged between 16 and 24 years. The classes run from 10am till 2pm, and costs £10, including an optional certificated exam at the end of the month (Local News for Southsiders, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12]

School organises separate worship
A Church of England school where 95 per cent of pupils are Muslim is organising a separate act of worship for the Christian children at the school. St Andrew’s Church of England primary school in Keighley, made the arrangement after new guidelines for worship in church schools were issued by Bradford church leaders. Because there are so many Muslims at the school, its regular act of worship includes songs, stories and prayers that are appropriate for children of different faiths - the emphasis being on God rather than Jesus. The new Bradford guidelines are designed to keep schools together and to avoid children from minority faiths in schools being withdrawn from acts of worship. Malcolm Halliday, Bradford’s diocesan director of education, said: "Because the Muslim community is growing in Bradford, this has become more of an issue in church schools. In schools like St Andrew’s, the day-to-day worship will have to be on a level which is acceptable to the majority but we don’t want to sell short the Christian children. So the head is taking these children for an overtly Christian act of worship." He added that Christian children would continue to attend the worship offered for the rest of the school (The Independent, 24.06.00, Church Times, 24.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12]

Pupils visit mosques and abbey
Pupils from schools in Dewsbury and Bradford were taking part in a exchange visit as part of a pioneering arts project designed to draw cultures together. The mainly Muslim children visited Whitby Abbey, a Grade I listed monument founded in AD657, after which, pupils from Whitby were to visit Bradford to look at the architecture of two mosques. The idea is that both sets of pupils will be inspired to produce art work based on the different buildings. English Heritage officer Julie Ward said: "We’ll be getting children to look at details such as the shape of arches and windows and to encourage them to express what they see. We want them to experience environments that they have never considered before and use that as a vibrant source of inspiration" (Yorkshire Post, 27.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12]

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Politics

Tower Hamlets new mayor
The new mayor of Tower Hamlets was sworn into office on May 25. Alom, 40, said he was keen to work with business in Canary Wharf "for the benefit of everyone." The new mayor, who runs a community centre in Shoreditch, paid tribute to his predecessor, Denise Jones, for her success in building links between business and the community. Originally from Sylhet, Alom came to Britain at 19 and studied at Guildhall University. He is married and has four children (The Wharf, 25.05.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 12/13]

New mayor of Sutton begins work
Sutton’s first Muslim mayor recently took his place in office and pledged to provide "a lasting and fruitful legacy to future generations." Councillor Lal Hussain MBE was born in India, and has worked as a teacher for over 30 years until retiring in 1991. He received an MBE in 1997 for services to community relations in Sutton and became a councillor for Sutton East ward in 1998. In his acceptance speech, Cllr Hussain said: "It is with great pride that I take my place as Mayor of Sutton. Through a strong and continuing partnership between the council, its partners and, most importantly, the residents of this borough, we can achieve the goals we have set ourselves and deliver a lasting and fruitful legacy for future generations." Cllr Hussain, 62, has also been the secretary since 1981 of the Muslim Cultural and Welfare Association of Sutton, which aims to fulfil the educational, social and cultural needs of the Muslim community. The new mayor has chosen the Institute of Cancer Research as his designated charity this year (Sutton Advertiser, 26.05.00, Sutton Guardian, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 13]

Mayor’s first civic visit
The first civic visit of High Wycombe’s new mayor was said to be a success when he raised more than £5,000. The visit, to High Wycombe’s mosque in Jubilee Street, was attended by the mayor in full regalia, accompanied by other councillors and dignitaries. The fundraising officially began at the mosque, where recitations from the Holy Qur’an were heard, and then the dignitaries went to Green Street School. About £5,500 was raised in an hour to help people with heart problems, with £1,000 being donated by Councillor Mahboob Hussain’s own family. He hopes to raise £50,000 for heart equipment for Wycombe Hospital. He chose this appeal as members of his family have died because of cardiac problems. Dr Gordon Hendry, a cardiologist at Wycombe Hospital, said: "Given that the mayor had a free choice of charities, it is a great honour that he has chosen Wycombe Hospital for his appeal. We face an increasing number of patients who need to be investigated. It is, sadly, particularly a problem in Asian communities and it is going to help a wide part of the community in Wycombe." The mayor said: "I am very proud. The civic ceremony has been very successful. It encourages me. I will raise £50,000 in the time I have" (Bucks Free Press, 16.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 13]

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Racism

Racism survey in jails
According to a new survey by the prisoner welfare body, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, race discrimination and Islamophobia are rife in the prison system. It reports that almost 50 per cent of Asian and 27 per cent of black inmates are victims of verbal abuse. Twelve per cent from each group have suffered a racially motivated physical assault. The survey, conducted in men’s and women’s prisons across the risk categories, asked prisoners and staff their views and experiences of racism. While the survey concentrated on racial discrimination, it did turn up evidence of Islamophobia in the system. Among the accounts of maltreatment there is one submission from a Muslim inmate: "I was told nothing would happen. I am white - I am a Muslim and I get called a Paki lover." The majority of Asian inmates are Muslim and they reported the highest levels of discrimination and abuse. Because of the particular focus of the project, the survey did not seek to find out if Islamophobia might be responsible for this. Maqsood Ahmed, the recently appointed Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service, said the higher percentage of Asian victims may conceal Islamophobia. He said: "Muslim people are more conscious of their religious and cultural requirements. But there is no other channel to highlight their grievances except through the racial categories. I made the point at the conference that the survey’s terms of reference didn’t include Islamophobia. It should have targeted religion, not only race" (Q News, No320, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 13]

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Interfaith

Multi-faith Britain
An article was printed in the Methodist Recorder (01.06.00) written by Stuart Burgess about living in a multi-faith Britain. He says that other religions have always been important to him, as "there is a richness in all this splendid diversity." Recently, Mr Burgess visited the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sachs, the Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, and the Hindu Temple at Neasdon. He gives a brief introduction to the faith, and then summarises the main topics that were talked about. At the Central Mosque, Mr Burgess met Dr Muhammad El Sharkawy. They talked about the three different faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism being "the same" in essence; that Islam was against fundamentalism and extremism which, although it is associated with an unrepresentative minority of Muslims, is unfortunately reported the most by the media. He believed British Muslims wanted to be accepted in British society and to work for the good of the society. He also said that the role of women is changing, and Muslim women are increasingly playing an important role in the 21st century and, as imam of the mosque, Dr Sharkawy’s role is "pastoral, liturgical and quasi-legal." [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 13]

Investigation into anti-Semitic email
Manchester University has begun an investigation into an anti-Semitic e-mail message sent during student elections in March. The message was apparently sent to 97 students with Muslim-sounding names, and is said to also have contained homophobic comments. It told students not to vote for "the enemies of Islam" and claimed Muslims were discriminated against at the university because "the union leadership is made up of people who hate Muslims or are influenced by those who hate Muslims, e.g. racist Zionist Jews and extremist homosexuals." It also gave a list of 28 candidates thought to be "sympathetic to Muslims," whom the students were encouraged to support. Many of the university’s Muslim students have expressed disgust at the message, and the Islamic Society has condemned the message. The society’s president, Bilal al-Khaffaf, said: "It was definitely not sent by the university’s Islamic Society and we would like to distance ourselves from it. It was probably done by a few people trying to cause trouble." The listed candidates said they had no prior knowledge of the circular, and were angry at being associated with the views being expressed. Returning officer Rainbow Murray said that the e-mail had "caused distress to everyone concerned: the recipients of the e-mail, Jewish students and the candidates who were listed." She added that it was difficult to tell what the impact of the e-mail may have had on the outcome of the elections. The union is trying to trace the origins of the e-mail, and a spokesperson said that if a student was found responsible, action could be taken because the message infringed the union’s no-discrimination policy and the prohibition of e-mail during the election campaign (Jewish Chronicle, 09.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 13/14]

Links with Islam and Christianity
An Islamic scholar was to travel to Swindon from Canada to give a talk about where Christianity and Islam meet. The three-hour event was organised by the Islamic Awareness and Education Project, and was entitled ‘Does God Exist?’. The speaker, Shabir Ally, was to demonstrate similarities and differences between the two religions. Organiser of the event, Shabir Hussain, said: "There really are a lot of comparisons. Just think of Moses, Abraham, the disciples and prophets. There’s a lot to be learnt and we expect a big crowd from both communities" (Swindon Evening Advertiser, 13.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 14]

Security guard starts fire at cathedral
A security guard who started three fires at Bradford Cathedral, causing damage estimated at £30,000, has been jailed for two-and-a-half years. David Simpson could not give police a clear explanation for the arson attack, but said he had converted to Islam and was upset about the massacres involving Muslims in East Timor and Chechnya. Bradford Crown Court heard how Simpson got drunk while he was supposed to be guarding a construction site near the cathedral and took paraffin to start the fires. A smoke alarm alerted cathedral staff living nearby. The fires damaged cathedral furnishings and property including Bibles, tapestries, altar clothing and communion linen. Simpson, 25, was arrested about 10 days after the incident and immediately admitted responsibility. He said he did not have a grudge against the cathedral or its staff, but admitted that the alcohol had impaired his judgement. Simpson’s barrister Stephen Wood stressed that it was not a case of his client going out to target the cathedral for religious reasons. He said: "He got very drunk and he behaved extraordinarily foolishly and recklessly. There is, in the cold light of day, remorse for what he did." Judge Roger Scott gave Simpson credit for his early guilty plea but noted that he had two previous convictions for criminal damage (Yorkshire Post, 15.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 14]

Faiths unite to cut TV sex and violence
Muslims and Christians in Gloucestershire have united in their fight to ban sex and violence from television. A petition calling on the government to regulate the media market has been signed by more than 1,000 people. Protesters are also planning to take part in a Media March in London in September. More than 350 Muslims had several months ago already signed a petition against TV sex and violence, which was also sent to the government. Gloucester Muslim Welfare Association secretary, Ismail Ginwalla, said: "We tend to do things on the quiet. We feel it is not just Muslims who are harping on about moral issues. We feel that we share a common ground on that with Christians. Some Muslims don’t have television in their homes - I have got no television and my parents have no television." Gregory Braithwaite, who is chairman of the Christians Caring for Gloucester group, said the petition sounded like a great idea. He said: "I would agree that there is too much sex and violence on TV" (Gloucester Citizen, 20.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 14]

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Halal

Meat on menu for children
Muslim children in Reading will now be able to eat halal meals at school after the success of a pilot experiment at Alfred Sutton Primary School. Halal meat was served here in place of ordinary meat every Wednesday, and now five more schools have joined the scheme. These schools will have a halal option on their menus two or three times a week. Manzoor Hussain, secretary of the Reading Muslim Council, has campaigned for ten years to have halal meat served in schools. He said: "Many Muslim children go straight to the mosque when they come home from school, meaning they’re not getting a decent meal for most of the day. Often people do not have much knowledge of what halal meat is. It’s a healthier alternative and it shouldn’t be just Muslims who eat it. We’re very pleased that things have started to get moving but we still want more schools to come forward and use halal meat. There are schools with 50 or 60 per cent Muslim children who don’t use halal meat. We want to extend the scheme beyond primary schools." Councillor Christine Borgars, who helped set up the scheme, said: "The schools that are involved in the pilot are thought to be the schools where halal is most in demand. If we can demonstrate that it’s viable and popular, we’ll look at the demand in other schools in the borough." A spokesman from Initial Catering, the company which provides most school meals in Berkshire, said: "We’ve been talking to the community for a long time. We decided to go ahead with the scheme because of the demand and because we realised that it wouldn’t be that difficult to do" (Reading Chronicle, 15.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 14]

Halal restaurant may be refused
Northampton Borough Council looked set to refuse plans for Northampton’s first halal restaurant. The proposed site is currently a computer shop in Abington Square. The restaurant and takeaway would cater for lunch and evening trade for about 30 to 40 customers, employing five or six staff members. However, officers recommended the application be refused because of the lack of parking for customers and the loss of shops to the area. There are also concerns over the busy bus route that runs in front of the proposed restaurant because it may be affected by customers parking outside the restaurant to collect food. In a letter to the council, the applicant said that there was a great demand for the restaurant and takeaway among the Muslim community (Northampton Chronicle, 27.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 14/15]

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Health

Health day for Asian women
The Gravesend and Dartford Muslim Women’s Group arranged a health day for women of the Asian community. It was organised by Patricia Jefford, Gravesham Environmental Health Services manager, on May 31 at the new Gravesend Medical Centre. Following a guided tour of the centre, the women were taken to the conference room to discuss various health issues with local GP Dr Janet Hall. One important issue raised was the need for circumcision operations, a vital requirement of the Muslim faith, to be carried out locally. Currently, families have to travel to Walthamstow in East London for this service. Dr Hall promised to look into the possibility of providing the service in Gravesend. The Muslim Women’s Group had also arranged some activities for the children while their mothers were attending the health day, as it was halfterm week. David Evans of Groundwork kept the youngsters busy making solar powered boats out of polystyrene which were tested out on the lake. The MWG was very grateful to David Evans and Groundwork who has always provided the most interesting activities for the children to take part in (Gravesend Messenger, 14.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 15]

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Employment

Woman wins payout from Met
A Muslim woman who sued the Metropolitan Police for race and sex-discrimination has won a record £1 million settlement. Sarah Locker sued the force for failing to honour promises to reinstate her after she won compensation seven years ago for racial and sexual harassment. Scotland Yard agreed to pay her a £215,000 cash sum, as well as a police injury award and an enhanced pension 24 hours before her test case was to go to the High Court. Ms Locker, 38, said that her former boss, John Grieve, now head of Scotland Yard’s racial crime task force, had ruined her life. In 1993, Ms Locker, a constable with 13 years service, won an apology and £32,000 for racial and sexual harassment. She said she was harassed by white male colleagues, where she was often asked by other officers about sex life and what underwear she was wearing. She also received letters making derogatory references to her Turkish background. She said she was also given an official police form that had been altered to say that the police did not want foreigners in the force. After her payout, Mr Grieve was put in charge of overseeing her return to work. She returned to work in 1994, but was medically discharged six weeks later after suffering a nervous breakdown. She subsequently sued the force for beach of contract and negligence. Ms Locker said: "My return to work was met by an unwillingness to work with me, there was a failure by senior managers to assist and recognise those problems. It was a kind of mental torture. I was shunned by all my colleagues." She added: "John Grieve has ruined my life. He gave me promises that he failed to carry out. My childhood ambition was to be a police officer and they have ruined it and torn my life apart. I want to say shame on you, John Grieve and the Metropolitan Police. I have lost the job I loved and no money you pay me can make up for those losses. My family have suffered and I have had a nervous breakdown and am still on medication." Her solicitor, Jane Deighton, said: "She has not had an apology, despite it being so clear that such a vast amount of compensation amounts to an admission of responsibility. When will the police ever learn? It took six years and a public inquiry before the police apologised to Stephen Lawrence’s family." A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police has settled this case without admission of liability. We consider we had a good case but felt it was not in the interests of Sarah Locker or the MPS to have a lengthy or expensive trial. The claim refers to issues which occurred six years ago and the organisation has moved forward since that time" (The Times, 06.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 15]

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Mosques & Burials

Aberdeen
Muslims in Aberdeen have revealed plans for the first purpose-built mosque of the ‘granite city’. They say the mosque will be designed in traditional Islamic style, featuring gardens, a courtyard and water features. The mosque will also function as a community centre, open to all Aberdeen citizens. A five-acre site is being sought, but nothing has been suggested so far and no planning application has been lodged. Project leaders hope the mosque will relieve the current situation where cramped offices are the sole meeting place for the 5,000 strong Muslim community. There is also no space for parking or any activities. Scheme spokesman Abdul Latif said: "Our aim is to create a visionary project - a jewel in the crown of our Granite City. Our vision is for a modern building in a beautiful setting." Features of the mosque would include prayer and lecture halls, a library and bookshop, a nursery, cafe, children’s play area and sports facilities. Mr Latif added: "We want to work with Aberdeen City Council to realise this vision - this beautiful project needs a beautiful site." Councillor Maureen Irons said the scheme could help build links with the Muslim community. Mr Latif said: "It will certainly have a significant impact on race relations - we want our children to play together and be educated together" (Aberdeen Evening Express, 30.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 15]

Cuffley burials
Residents in Cuffley are waiting to find out whether agricultural land can be used for a cemetery. At a hearing at Welwyn Hatfield Council’s offices in Welwyn Garden City, Mehmet Kanal from North London appealed against a decision made last year by the council that the site at Colesdale Farm could not be used as a cemetery. The site is in a conservation area and the green belt. Planning inspector Phillip Ware, from the department of the environment’s planning inspectorate, was to make a decision within a few weeks. David Lane, representing Mr Kanal, told the hearing that the application was for no more than two burials per day, or ten per week, at the site and the headstones would not be above ground level. The area would be landscaped and blend in with the surrounding open countryside. In the appeal papers the cemetery was stated to be for the Turkish Cypriot Muslim Community but Mr Ware said he would be treating the application as non-denominational (Cheshunt & Waltham Mercury, 02.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 15/16]

Darlaston, Walsall Rd
Council planners have delayed a decision for a new £300,000 mosque in Darlaston after the group behind the plans changed the design following concerns over inadequate parking provision (See BMMS for January, February and April 2000). Darlaston area planning committee were proposing to reject the plans for the centre in Walsall Road, but councillors on the committee agreed to defer the decision on the application after the Muslim Welfare Association changed the plans. Councillors were told that the applicants had made a number of minor changes to the design, including an increase in the number of parking spaces. They will now give more time to the Association to discuss the new proposals. A report to the committee had said that policy required 116 spaces for the proposed mosque and although allowances were often made for places of worship the proposed provision was insufficient. The design includes four minarets, separate entrances for men and women, a ground floor worship hall for 210 people, a ladies prayer hall, two classrooms and a library (Walsall Express & Star, 13.06.00 and 16.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 16]

London, Kentish Town, Weedington Rd
A group of Muslims are bidding to convert the ground floor of a house in Kentish Town into a mosque. The property would be used by around 200 worshippers to meet and pray on Fridays. Shahjahan Mohammed, who has lodged the application on behalf of the group, said there was not enough provision for the growing number of Muslims living in the area. He said: "There are no mosques around Kentish Town, the nearest one is in Euston and it is very small. The people will come from Kentish Town, Hampstead, Chalk Farm and Haverstock Hill. They usually have to travel long distances to get to a mosque." Mr Mohammed said that no work would have to be done to the interior of the property to prepare the rooms for worshippers. He added: "It is very important to us that we get permission for this." The decision will be made by Camden Council’s development control committee in the coming months (Ham & High, 09.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 16]

Palmers Green, Oakthorpe Rd
Work has begun on the new mosque and Islamic Centre in Palmers Green, north London (See BMMS for April 1999). The Muslim Community and Education Centre have commissioned a firm of Turkish architects to build the mosque which will cater for up to 500 worship pers. So far, despite fundraising missions to the Middle East, the MCEC has only managed to raise £165,000 of the £1,250,000 needed to complete the project. Secretary Feisal Adam said: "We only have enough money to get the foundations up, the drainage and the car park done." Apart from the MCEC which operates from a temporary site where only one daily congregational prayer is allowed to take place, there are currently two other mosques serving Enfield’s Muslim population of 39,000 (Q News, No320, 01.06.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 16]

Redhill, Earlswood Rd
Members of a mosque in Surrey say an "act of God" stopped a burglar from entering and damaging their mosque. Elders of the mosque arrived at the mosque to find a window had been smashed. Mosque president, Zulfiqar Noon said he had left the building "in the charge of God" the night before, who had punished the would-be trespasser. Mr Noon said: "It is a miracle. The vandal got cut trying to get through the window and he ran for his life." He said he followed a trail of blood from the mosque to a telephone kiosk opposite Earlswood train station, where he found a blood-soaked cardigan in a bin. He said: "God punished that man who was cut. Islam is a very practical religion and it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that it is a miracle. It is God’s premises and God looked after it." Osman Ahmed, a spokesman for the Muslim Information Centre in London, apparently said that there have been several Islamic miracles around the world, including sightings of Allah in Germany and Australia! Treasurer of the mosque Munir Ahmad said it was the first time worshippers had seen an act of God. He said: "It was God who saved us. The mosque is a house of God and God will save us on His property. We already pray five times a day but we will pray specially now." A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said there is a verse in the Qur’an which says that anyone who trespasses in a mosque will be punished by God. He said: "I cannot confirm for you that the incident in Redhill was a miracle because I did not see it. Muslims do not depend on miracles for their religion but if it happens it happens." A spokesman for Surrey Police say they are looking for someone in connection with criminal damage, but were unable to issue a description or say what condition the suspect was in (Surrey Mirror, 25.05.00). [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 16]

Slough, Stoke Poges Lane
Applicants for a mosque being built in Slough have been told by planners that the two conventional minarets at the front of the building cannot be built. Instead, they have given permission for one minaret to be built at the back of the nearly completed mosque, saying the original application for two towers at the front was not acceptable. However, Muslim leaders have said that without the right combination of minarets, the building will have no religious significance. Project manager for the new mosque, Latif Khan, said: "The minarets are normally on the front, either one or two. One at the back serves no purpose if there is none at the front. We are going to submit another application.

I have already contacted the architect. It would be nice to have two. What we want is a symbol, without that symbol mosques are nothing. On the other hand we don’t want to cause problems for the council or the residents. Our aim is to have a symbol and in a way which does not offend anybody else." Planners say the minaret at the back will be less visually intrusive. The mosque is said to cost a total of £2.4 million (Sough & Langley Observer, 02.06.00).  [BMMS June 2000 Vol. VIII, No. 6, p. 16/17]

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