An artist's impression of the proposed Islamic centre
THE furore over plans to build Europe's biggest mosque in Stratford, east London, has intensified.
If given the go-ahead, the London Markaz would hold more than 40,000 worshippers.
The mosque would be built on a 70,000 square-metre site at Abbey Mills on the banks of the Channelsea River near Olympic Park.
The £100 million structure, which would be the largest religious building in Britain, has been met with fierce opposition from other local Muslim and Christian groups.
A reported 2,500 Muslims living near the site have signed a petition against the plan, which also includes housing, a gym, exhibition space, a library, a small school and a garden.
The planning permission for the temporary mosque expired last Tuesday, the same day Tablighi Jamaat, the group that wants to build the Markaz, had pledged to make its submission.
A spokeswoman for Newham council confirmed the organisation had breached planning laws.
"We shall be contacting those responsible for the mosque to determine their position in terms of their overall masterplan for the site or whether they intend to renew their temporary planning permission for the current buildings. What they tell us will determine our next move," the spokeswoman said.
The London Markaz would be the biggest mosque in Europe
"The council has the prerogative not to take enforcement action. We are prepared to be flexible about the situation but are not prepared to let the matter go unresolved."
When it's received, the planning application will be examined by the council, but the decision to grant permission will be taken by the unelected quango, the Thames Gateway London partnership.
Newham Councillor Alan Craig recently renewed his call for a public inquiry into the activities of the Tablighi Jamaat.
Tablighi Jamaat was formed in the 1920s in India. It is a non-political movement and condemns terrorism.
Mr Craig, of the Christian Peoples' Alliance, said that intelligence services and academics were asking whether the group was a fertile breeding-ground for terrorists.
"There is evidence to suggest that is not the full story and that a number of people associated with alleged and actual terrorist attacks have at some stage been closely associated with Tablighi Jamaat," Mr Craig said.
The proposed mosque would have a capacity of 10,000 worshippers, with a facility to increase this at a later date.
Mr Craig is concerned that the mosque will create a "one-faith zone" in Stratford and West Ham and will become the hub of an Islamic quarter at the Olympic games.
He said: "Surely this is contrary to the Olympic idea. The Olympics is supposed to bring together people of all races, cultures, religions, colours and nationalities.
"We should not allow a divisive separate sector for one religion alone."
Mr Craig said he had encountered many Muslims in Newham who privately had concerns about the mosque and Tablighi Jamaat.
He said: "We must encourage our Muslim fellow citizens to speak up without fear. We live in an open society where peoples' opinions count, they must not feel intimidated into silence."
Doctor Sam Solomon, an expert in Sharia law, said that the Islamic doctrine of Al-Wala' wa Al-Bara' (loyalty and disavowal), as practised by Tablighi Jamaat, encouraged separatism.
Dr Solomon said: "The result of these doctrines is the second and third generation of Muslims and the converts completely rejecting British freedoms and values and refusing to assimilate."
Tablighi Jamaat does not usually talk to the media, a policy defended by the mosque's director of development Abdul Khalique on Radio 4's Sunday programme recently.
Mr Khalique said: "If someone or some organisation is innocent, why should they be put in a position that they should defend themselves?
"Our view is we are clean, we should pray for those people who are going astray and trying to stick mud on us."
Last year, Mr Khalique told a sister newspaper of This is Local London that the group's foremost vision for the centre was to break down the barriers and to bring the people of Newham together.
"If we can understand culture, and not try to change culture, we will get on together more happily."
Mr Khalique said the design of the complex embodied this inclusivity: "It is not a typical mosque from the Far East. It is Newham, it is us, it is London. It is an open door through which everyone can come and ask questions and use the building - it is for the people."
The design has been drawn up by Clapham-based architect Ali Mangera, of Mangera Yvars Architects, who say Islam has traditionally been at the forefront of technology and change.
The planned building will feature decorative calligraphy, and a roof structure which will let light in during the day, and glow in the night sky.
At the moment the site is used as a temporary place of worship by between 2,000 and 2,500, and Newham Council says the current owners are a group called Anjuman-E-Islahul Muslimeen UK.
Mr Khalique said the organisation bought the land in 1996, and had been in consultation with the council ever since.
In October 2001, permission was given for the site to be used as a place of worship for five years. Plans for the new mosque are scheduled to be ready for submission by the time that period is over, in October 2006.
Mr Khalique said the centre could be finished in time for the 2012 Olympics.
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