Stanmore mosque in London is at the centre of a row over a “Zionist” speaker who was invited to give an address there on Sunday, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Rabbi Natan Levy is an interfaith officer at the pro-Israel Board of Jewish Deputies and was invited to speak about Imam Hussain.
But members of the congregation as well as community activists are furious that the mosque, whose congregation is overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, invited a Zionist to address them.
Community activist Nazim Ali told 5Pillars that the row began when he criticised the mosque on his Facebook page.
Ali then approached several sponsors of the event whom he said “hit the roof” when they found out that they would be associated with an event featuring a Zionist. Some of them, he said, pulled out.
Ali said he then received a call from the “event organisers” assuring him that Rabbi Levy would be “uninvited,” and his name and picture were indeed taken off subsequent publicity material.
But Ali said that the mosque had basically “misled everyone” after the event did indeed go ahead last Sunday with Rabbi Levy as one of the speakers.
“Inviting a Zionist to an Islamic centre to talk about Imam Hussain is like inviting Yazid to do the same, or like inviting ISIS to talk about Islamic unity. And today’s Yazid is Zionism,” he said.
“If they want to have a dialogue with Zionists over a cup of tea and biscuits they should do it elsewhere, but don’t invite a Zionist to a mosque to lecture you.
“The Zionists are just using the interfaith dialogue scene as a means of normalising Zionism and legitimising themselves. But Zionism isn’t even a faith, it’s a secular political movement, so I’m not sure why we’re talking to them in the first place.”
Ali admitted that the mosque congregation itself wasn’t “making a massive fuss” about the affair, but he claimed that was because they don’t want to “rock the boat.”
“I know a lot of people are angry but the congregation is basically a small clique and no one wants to fall out,” he said. “A lot of parents send their kids to the mosque’s madrassa which provides an excellent education and charities are funded by the wealthy community that runs the mosque. So it’s in no one’s interests to create a big fuss.”
“The importance of dialogue”
Stanmore mosque is a Shia mosque which is thought to follow Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani in Iraq who has himself issued a fatwa calling for a boycott of Israeli goods.
Sources told 5Pillars that the mosque is run by the Khoja community which is a fairly wealthy community of Asian/East African background. The sources said they were surprised that the mosque would hold such an event because the congregation is very-well educated about global politics and especially issues related to the Middle East where Israel is killing and persecuting Palestinians.
Others said they were concerned that Muslims with a sectarian mindset would use this event to link Shia Islam with Zionism.
5Pillars contacted the event organiser Mukhtar Karim and he cast doubt on the credibility and the conduct of those who were complaining against the mosque.
He said that the allegations were largely based on anonymous hearsay and he also maintained that Rabbi Levy had never been “disinvited” from the event.
“I have not represented to anyone that Rabbi Natan Levy would not be attending the talk by Dr Chris Hewer to share his reflections on the message of Husain bin Ali,” he said. ” If anyone felt they were misled on the point by a member of the madrassa leadership or jamaat EC, perhaps the question to them is who they asked.
“The manner in which the sentiments of the group you seek to represent have been made open and apparent for all. The conduct of the morning’s programme at Hujjat Islamic Centre (Stanmore mosque) were also open and all guests freely interacted. I’m not sure where these further allegations therefore arise from.”
Supporters of the stance the mosque has taken have also criticised Mr Ali on his own Facebook page.
They said that dialogue between different faiths is important, especially in times of tension; they said Mr Ali was being mischievous and spreading fitna; and they said that while Israel was never praised at the event itself, Imam Hussain was.
Others have also noted that other major Islamic centres in London, such as Regent’s Park Mosque and East London Mosque, have also hosted so-called Zionist speakers.