Civil war breaks out at mosque over eviction of blinded imam


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The Independent Online

A civil war has broken out at Britain's most prestigious mosque over the treatment of an imam who was blinded in an attack and is now being evicted by the mosque's authorities.

Protests have erupted at the Regent's Park mosque over attempts to kick out Sheikh Mohammed El-Salamouni, a respected imam who had his eyes gouged out in 2007 during an unprovoked attack by a mentally ill man.

The sheikh, who trained at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, has resided in a flat owned by the mosque for the past four years. But he has received an eviction notice ordering him and his wife to vacate the premises by 9 August.

His supporters are furious that the mosque, which has enormous financial backing from across the Muslim world and is home to the prestigious Islamic Cultural Centre, has made no attempt to compensate the scholar for the attack and is now forcing him out of his home. They suspect he has been sent the eviction notice because he is suing the mosque, claiming that security was inadequate at the time of the attack.

The furore has been exacerbated by growing tensions between the mosque's Saudi backers and a group of prominent Egyptians who make up a large proportion of worshippers.

Under an agreement struck when the mosque was built in the 1970s, the director is always a diplomat appointed by the government of Saudi Arabia, who provided most of the financing. The imams are sent from Al-Azhar, one of the world's most prestigious Islamic universities and an organisation that has grown increasingly critical of the hardline Wahabi interpretation of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia. The current director at Regent's Park mosque is Dr Ahmed Al Dubayan, a Saudi diplomat who chairs the influential Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board and is a patron for the Fight for Sight charity for the blind.

Hundreds of protesters have been gathering outside the mosque calling for Dr Dubayan's resignation.

Nahid Mahmoud, a former employee of Regent's Park mosque and one of the sheikh's supporters, said: "We cannot accept this kind of treatment of our imam. This is a man who lost both his eyes doing his job at the mosque and now they are trying to evict him. Where is their heart?"

The mosque says it has allowed the sheikh to stay at his flat free of charge for the past two years despite his secondment ending. "We took significant steps in assisting and supporting Sheikh Salamouni," officials said in a statement. "This included providing him with extra staff and legal support and covering various hospital expenses."

Sheikh Salamouni said he had received no financial compensation from the mosque since the attack and was fighting for his rights. "The mosque authorities and Mr Dubayan are reflecting a bad picture of Muslims and Islam by their behaviour and morals," he said. "I am simply looking for justice."