Love for All, Hatred for None (The Baitul Futuh Mosque, Morden)

Making plans for my forthcoming trip to Afghanistan I had become uneasy at the thought of the Taliban and some of the more misogynistic aspects of Muslim extremism when I noticed a poster on a local bus offering Jubilee congratulations to H.M. the Queen from the “Muslims for Peace” organisation. Reminded of the lovely welcome that I had received at “The Mosque” while serving at Wimbledon Police Station in 2003, I rang up and arranged a little visit for myself and a couple of friends.

We call it The Mosque locally because it is so big, the largest in Western Europe, built less than ten years ago on the site of the old Express Dairies and conveniently sandwiched between two sets of railway sidings. A great deal of community liaison went into ensuring access for the thousands of people who regularly attend Friday prayers and even the minaret is adapted from the old industrial chimney. It may not have a set of stairs or a microphone but, as the Ahmadis say, everyone has a wristwatch to tell them when to pray nowadays.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Sect has been established in the UK for almost a hundred years and its adherents here now number in the hundreds of thousands. Strong roots in the community and an overtly peaceful message have tended to keep them out of the media to the extent that not too many non-Muslims are aware of the persecution that they have (and still) suffered in many other Muslim countries. If I attempt to explain the theological differences I will probably make a mess of it and there is plenty of information on-line but suffice it to say that “love for all, hatred for none” seems to be a doctrine that can have you declared a heretic in Pakistan.

Our very helpful guide, Umair, foundered a little on a couple of questions we had about male/female interaction, specifically about women having access to the library. After all, the commodious sports hall has different opening times for men and women, surely educational facilities are far too precious for the answer: “The women could always use the children’s’ section if they wanted to come in here”? I’m sure that if we had had a female guide, as I’d requested, we’d have got a different answer for this is a group of people who positively revere academic achievement. For everyone.

Even though I’d made a couple of visits in the past, this trip did help me to clear up a few simple misunderstandings about Islam in Britain:

The London Mosque, is a pretty little building just down the road from the All England Tennis Club in Southfields. Built in 1926, it was earned its name by being the first Mosque in London and it has long been managed by the Ahmadiyya community. And over the years I have walked passed it many times without realising its significance.

Because of this earlier establishment, The larger and better known Mosque built in Regents Park in 1978 is known as the London Central Mosque. It is not run by the Ahmadiyya community but I am told that visitors are made really welcome and I have no excuse for not having been yet.

The one that I have visited, a delightful little nineteenth century jewel box of a building in leafy Surrey, the Shah Jahan (or Woking) Mosque, has also been taken over and cared for by the Ahmadis, as I was pleased to discover during Tuesday’s visit.

No one could have made up a story like the one of Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a British Orientalist of Hungarian Jewish extraction, who built this little treasure in the a heavily romanticised “indo-saracenic” style as a companion to the Oriental Institute which he founded nearby. A widely travelled man who spoke many languages, he took the Muslim name of Abdur Rasheed Sayyah although it seems he was buried as a Christian.

Religion is fundamentally about people and a lot of people are fundamentally good and kind. I am grateful for this timely reminder before I head off into some of the most hatred-torn regions of the world.

Categories: Britain, London


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