Tablighis: engaging in Bradford, isolating in London – or is it just a misunderstanding?

Olympic mosque could create breeding ground for extremists, says senior Anglican - Telegraph

This was in yesterday’s Telegraph, and it surprised me how many specific falsehoods and irrelevances could be crammed into one article. The claims come from one Dr Philip Lewis, “an interfaith adviser to the Bishop of Bradford”, who as one brother suggested on the MPACUK forum, must have bought his PhD from Woolworths!

Let’s take the claims one by one:

“Tablighi Jamaat does not try to engage with wider society so there must be clear worries that such a mosque would lead to a ghetto,” he said.

“The danger is that this becomes a self-contained world, which would be vulnerable to extremists.”

The fact is that the new mosque is intended as their markaz or centre, to replace buildings which had already been used for this purpose. It is in a mixed area, where the Muslims are already of a mixture of Islamic groupings: some Bareilawi, some “salafi” and some Deobandi/Tablighi. People come from outside east London to attend the gatherings, as they are well-known. None of this is likely to change if this mosque is built. In fact, if the TJ are in charge of a major mosque, they are unlikely to be allowed to run it as any kind of fiefdom and exclude women, or do any of the other things alleged here. Many Deobandi/Tablighi mosques already admit women anyway.

The Deobandis have several mosques in south London, and there are no ghettoes around any of them.

The leaders of the liquid bomb plot, who were last month found guilty of conspiracy to kill, attended mosques run by Tablighi Jamaat. Suicide bombers who carried out terrorist attacks in July 2005 also went to meetings held by the group.

Irrelevant. Hundreds of Muslims attend gatherings of the Tablighi Jama’at; they talk about strengthening religious faith and practice, not usually about politics, least of all contemporary politics. If it was the TJ that turned these men into terrorists, one would have thought that there would already be a civil war in this country.

Dr Lewis, one of the Church’s most respected Islamic experts, said that the organisation lacks Muslim scholars and does not educate its followers in the “richness of Islam”.

This is such nonsense. The Tablighi Jama’at are close to the Deobandi establishment, and they have some of the most well-established Islamic learning institutions in the world, including Deoband itself and similar institutions throughout the Subcontinent (most notably Karachi), and in South Africa and even in the UK. The TJ has access to all of their scholars.

“There’s a religious supremacy in their teaching which doesn’t accept other religions. It can create an us and them mentality.”

It teaches that Islam is the final revealed religion and the only remaining religion of value before God, which is standard Islamic teaching. Do Christians not teach similar things about their own religion in relation to other religions, including Islam? The Deobandis are not the most hardline about that particular issue among the Muslims in east London, including those in charge of mosques, and there does not seem to be much if any conflict between them; since this mosque is a move, not an expansion, it will not make any such conflict better or worse.

According to Dr Lewis, followers of the sect are told not to mix with non-Muslims and read a book, called the Tablighi Nisab, which “could be read as a romanticisation of jihad”.

The Tablighi Nisab has not been called that for several years; it is called Faza’il-e-A’maal, roughly translating as “Deeds and their Virtues”. The book has six sections, namely:

  • Stories of the Sahaba
  • Virtues of the Holy Qur’an
  • Virtues of the Salaat
  • Virtues of Zikr (remembrance of God)
  • Virtues of Tabligh
  • Virtues of Ramadan

Modern editions have an additional section, Muslim Degeneration and its Only Remedy, which refers to their work, which they call tabligh. The sections which might involve “romanticising jihad” are likely to be in the first section, and the jihad in question was a defensive effort against various attempts to destroy the Muslim faith at its beginning. There is nothing in there about any of the movements associated with jihad now. Lewis is being dishonest by suggesting that the book (in general) is a “romanticisation of jihad” because of these sections when there is much more to the text than that.

He also raised concerns about their treatment of women, revealing that the group is extremely conservative in refusing to allow women to leave the home unless they are accompanied by a male.

This is nonsense. Some scholars may say this, but women can be seen on the streets of any district where Tablighis hold sway. Well-covered, but there all the same, and usually not accompanied by men.

Furthermore, women are not permitted to interact with a man that is unrelated, the interfaith adviser said.

What is missed out here is “without good reason”. Men and women talking to each other in general is not forbidden, as long as certain etiquettes are observed, most particularly, that they are not alone in a room together. Neither of these teachings are specific to the Tablighi Jama’at.

Councillor Alan Craig, who leads the Christian People’s Alliance and organised the meeting, said that Dr Lewis’s contribution to the debate was a great boost to the campaign to block the mosque.

He said: “For someone of Philip Lewis’s stature and experience, who has good relations with Muslims, to make these comments is a great help to our campaign.

“It shows that this is a reasoned campaign against the mega-mosque and is not built on Islamaphobia, but on facts and evidence.”

Alan Craig is a councillor on Newham Council, but not for the area (or ward) where the mosque is planned. His long-running campaign against the so-called “mega mosque” has been as based on half-truths, red herrings and distortions as this article is; I rebutted a few of them, from YouTube, here.

Senior Government sources told The Sunday Telegraph last year that it is prepared to block the proposal to build the mosque over planning issues and concern for its impact on community relations.

There are clear planning grounds on which the development could be turned down. It is so close to the main Olympic venues that it may interfere with preparations for the Games.

The site is the other side of a main road from the Olympic site; its nearest station is West Ham, south-west of Stratford, while the Olympic village is west and north-west of it. There is a town centre next to the site as well, with a substantial new shopping development being proposed also; I fail to see why a mosque should cause much additional disruption, particularly if parking is deliberately restricted to those who actually need to drive, such as the elderly and disabled. Even if it did, it might more fairly be said that the Olympic site is what causes the disruption; the mosque is there for the locals, who are likely to still be there, if the Olympics does not price them out of their neighbourhood, after the Olympics have finished.

Even leading Muslims have cast doubt on the need for another mosque in east London.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, who co-founded the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said: “We have too many mosques. I think it should not be built.

“What we need first is more integration between the existing mosques and the wider community.”

Irfan Al-Alawi, Europe director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, has also expressed “extreme concern” about the spread of Tablighi Jamaat.

Neither of these people are “leading Muslims”. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is a has-been, a former “useful idiot” for the Iranian propaganda ministry, whose “parliament” has not had an election in years. (It and the “Muslim Institute” operate out of the same address in Fulham Palace Road, London.) Al-Alawi is similarly a fringe figure, in league with Stephen Schwartz who is notorious for cosying up to American Jewish and fundamentalist Christian bigots (i.e. those who run Front Page Magazine, where most of his writings seem to appear) and telling the Muslims’ enemies what they want to hear by denouncing prominent Muslims as extremists. He does not exactly have a record of serving the Muslims in east London, either. Why on earth could the Telegraph not find Muslims in east London able to give cogent arguments against the proposed mosque? Did they not care to contact MPACUK, or the Barelvi sectarians who want to stop another Deobandi mosque being built for the same reasons they have hated the Deobandis for the past century?

This article is nothing but a barrage of half-truths and innuendo, and the man behind them should know better, given that just over a week ago, he signed a set of guidelines with a Deobandi ulama grouping in Bradford, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Britain. The people behind the Abbey Mills Mosque are closely related to the AMSB (or JUB). His boss, bishop of Bradford David James, said that “Bradford is a very appropriate place to host the signing of the guidelines because in the city there are many examples of Christian and Muslim leaders working in partnership”; surely this very statement disproves his accusation that the Tablighi Jama’at encourages an “us and them mentality”, rather than engagement with wider society?

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