Welcome to the Mosque was Robb Leech’s third film about Islam. The first two - My Brother the Islamist and My Brother the Terrorist – focused on his white, middle-class sibling’s conversion and subsequent radicalisation. Those were searching films where their maker carried a certain weight on his shoulders. This one, without the emotional burden, was no less probing, but it was lighter - and a valuable watch for our decision-makers, I think.
He had unprecedented access to the East London Mosque, a sprawling Whitechapel institution that includes schools, an old people’s home and a match-making service - and welcomes two million muslims a year through its doors. Among the visitors too have been potentially (as the press has seized on) a few teenagers now fighting alongside Isis.
Extremism was an ever-present issue, but this was purportedly a look at the day-to-day humdrum in the place of worship and as a business. Leech was talked through prayer rituals, sat in on administrative meetings, fundraising and PR battles. He also went on an (unofficial) trip to Turkey with some of the radicalised schoolgirls’ families with the mosque’s communications manager. Leech’s amiable, Theroux-esque style, meant he got honesty from his subjects, not least on gender segregation.
A female manager relegated to behind a screen during a meeting told him she was “comfortable” with the interpretation of Islamic teaching. “Having a girlfriend is like having excess baggage you can’t get rid of,” declared Omar later, a young scholar struggling with the transition from segregated Islamic school to “free-mixing” sixth form college. It was easier to get my head around his views on Isis. “They’re a bunch of idiots, who claim to be “Muslims,” he said.
The so-called Islamic State were never far from people’s minds. We heard, shockingly, that schoolboys at the mosque’s school had been asked by Ofsted inspectors their views on the terror group as part of the assessment of the institution. “If you’re born in Britain, you’re going to assume you’re British until someone asks you to prove it,” said Leech. Take note, Cameron, Corbyn et al.Reuse content