Around 35 civil society organisations and individuals have protested to the Charity Commission over its decision to impose a non-Muslim manager to oversee the Islamic Centre of England.
In a strongly worded letter to Orlando Fraser, Head of the Charity Commission this week, the signatories accuse the charities watchdog of continuing a vendetta against Muslim charities that has seen dozens investigated in recent years.
Earlier this month the Commission imposed an interim manager to run the ICE, which is one of the UK’s largest Shia mosques and is affiliated to Iran. The centre has since closed its doors to worshippers.
The Charity Commission move followed a campaign against the centre by secularist opponents of the Iranian government, Zionists and right-wing MPs.
Their objections centre on activities and statements made by a trustee and attendees of the centre supporting Iran and its policies.
This, say the signatories, is an unwarranted intrusion into the Centre’s affairs. They say that it is not the business of the Charity Commission or any other state body to tell religious communities what they can say or believe in their places of worship.
They accuse the Charity Commission of acting heavy-handedly and failing to ensure the best interests of the centre and its congregation.
The letter goes on to say that the measures will result in the alienation of Muslims from their places of worship.
The regulator appointed managers to take over the charity last month as part of an ongoing statutory inquiry, saying the trustees had failed to comply with their legal duties.
The Commission opened its inquiry into ICE in 2022, saying it was acting after “extensive engagement with the charity over several years”.
That included an official warning after two events held at the charity’s premises in 2020 that honoured Major General Qasem Soleimani, who was subject to UK sanctions.
The regulator said in October last year that it was also assessing a speech made by Seyed Moosavi, one of the charity’s trustees, in which he described protesters in Iran as “soldiers of Satan.”
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “The circumstances in which we can appoint an interim manager to any charity under inquiry are set out in the Charities Act 2011 and the Commission must determine when it is considered necessary and proportionate. It is a temporary, protective measure.
“The Charity Commission is an independent regulator. Any suggestion we have acted beyond our statutory objectives, functions and obligations as a public body is misleading.”
The letter by the complainants was published in full here and can be read below:
Re: Interim Manager at Islamic Centre of England
We, the undersigned, are writing to protest your recent decision to impose an interim manager to run the Islamic Centre of England.
We believe that this decision is politically motivated and serves the interests of Islamophobes who have been targeting this diverse community centre and place of worship.
Rather than remaining a neutral arbitrator and serving to address any genuine shortcomings that may exist, you have shown a biased approach and used punitive measures that unfairly penalize Muslim charities.
It is concerning that the Charity Commission continues to tell religious communities what they can say and who they can invite to their centres. The Commission is not qualified to determine what religious communities should be discussing, it is not the business of any state body to tell its citizenry what they can say or believe in their places of worship.
The appointment shows a clear lack of understanding of the needs of the Islamic centre and its congregation. To appoint an interim manager who is not from that faith community, not aware of its spiritual and religious needs, nor aware of the specific needs of that particular congregation, shows us that the Charity Commission has yet again failed to protect the best interests of a Muslim religious centre and its congregation.
It is wholly unfair that a Muslim charity is treated in this way due to the perception of it not conforming to Western foreign policy interests. Naturally, this behaviour will add to the chorus of voices accusing the Charity Commission of deliberately harassing and hindering the work of Muslim-run charities and adds to the litany of oppressive measures carried out in aid of furthering Islamophobic British state policies and the agendas of politically motivated and divisive pressure groups.
The outcomes of such actions by the Charity Commission will result in the alienation of Muslims from their own places of worship.
In the interests of fairness and justice, we call upon you to urgently reconsider this decision.
Massoud Shadjareh, Islamic Human Rights Commission
Sayyid Samir Al-Haidari, Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission
Mohammad Reza, Idara e Jaaferiya
Shia Welfare Association, Manchester
Shaykh Ghulam Hurr Shabbiri, Al Zahra Foundation Nottingham
Roshan M Salih, 5 Pillars News
Hossein Ataei, Union of Islamic Students Associations in Europe
Ahammed Hussain, Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK
Sayyid Wajahat Ali, Imamians UK
Muhammad Rabbani, Cage
Ahmed Faqih, Qaem Foundation
Abbas Ali, Inminds Human Rights Group
Syed Hashmi, Al Mahdi Foundation, Glasgow
Sayyid Mohammad Sibtain Razavi, S.I. Education Society
David Cannon, Jewish Network for Palestine
Reverend Stephen Sizer, Convivencia Alliance
Mick Napier, Scottish Palestinian Society
Scottish Lebanese Society
Scottish Friends of Palestine
Ali Rabetnejad, Tawheed Islamic Centre, Newcastle
Sajjad H Shah, Anjum-e-Hussainiya
Daud Abdulla, Founder of British Muslim Initiative, Director of Middle East Monitor, Chairman of Masjid Annoor
Glenn Bowman, Emeritus Professor of Socio-Historical Anthropology, University of Kent
Prof. Haim Bresheeth, Lecturer at SOAS University
Inayat Bunglawala, Activist and TV Broadcaster
Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford
Shaykh Suliman Gani, Imam of Purley Masjid
Reverend Frank Gelli, Anglican Priest
Shaykh Meisam Ghasemi, Islamic cleric
Ibrahim Hewitt, Chairman, Interpal
Prof. Nur Masalha, Lecturer at SOAS University
David Miller, Professor of Sociology, Co-Founder of Public Interest Investigations
Diana Neslen, Member of JfJfP and JVL
Syed Taqi Jaffer Razvi, Islamic cleric
Duncan Taylor, Member of Lewes Amnesty International
Chris Williamson, Former MP and broadcaster