Rejected: the mosque plan that grew so big it attracted the wrong sort of crowd

A decade-long battle comes to an end - but east London is as split as ever

Plans by a missionary Islamic sect to build one of Britain’s largest mosques that left a community divided and attracted far-right groups, including the English Defence League, were tonight rejected.

Police officers were stationed outside the Old Town Hall of the east London borough of Newham as about 3,000 supporters of the plans to build the mosque gathered tonight. Tablighi Jamaat, a socially conservative Muslim revivalist movement with a strong presence in east London, wanted to build a mosque on a site in West Ham, close to the Olympic Park, to accommodate more than 9,000 worshippers – about four times the capacity of St Paul's. If the plans were approved, the building would place the site on a par with Morden's Baitul Futuh, the largest mosque in western Europe.

Opposition initially came from locals but in more recent years the mosque issue has become a magnet for far-right groups such as the EDL, which has looked to exploit the controversy as part of its wider protests against Islam.

At about 8.30pm last night, the proposals were rejected by councillors on the grounds the building was "too big", would generate too much traffic and the site was "heavily contaminated". "Councillors considered this application at length and with great care before deciding to reject it," said Councillor Conor McAuley, Newham's executive member for regeneration and strategic planning. "The council undertook a rigorous and extensive consultation about the proposals in the run-up to this decision."

Tablighi had spent the best part of a decade pushing for planning permission and said the building was desperately needed to accommodate the followers it has across the capital. Thousands of members gather each Thursday for a mass prayer meeting in the area, on a disused brownfield site. Alongside the mosque, it hoped to build a 2,000-capacity dining hall, an Islamic library, a sports pavilion and playing fields for the wider community.

Alan Craig, a local councillor and head of the Christian People's Alliance which has led opposition to the mosque, said: "I'm opposed to both the nature of the group and the size of the mosque they want to build. We have freedom of religion and if Tablighi Jamaat wanted to build a neighbourhood mosque, that's fine. But they want to build a massive headquarters in an area that cannot support such a building."

Critics of Tablighi, which include those within the wider Muslim community, said the group was isolationist, socially conservative and a gateway to radicalism. The group however claimed it refrained from "political or controversial activities and stands for democracy and freedom" and that it promoted "social and religious integration". More than 25,000 letters in support of the mosque had been received by the council, compared with 3,000 against. But in recent weeks the No lobby begun to scent victory. Last month, Newham's planning officers recommended councillors reject the plans, while the council recently lodged papers in the High Court to stop the site being used as a temporary prayer location.

In West Ham, there were mixed views about the mosque. Muhammad Khan, a newsagent, said: "It's a good thing. People will go there to get education. It is good for the community, especially the children." Another local, who gave his name only as David, added: "On paper, it's great, it's a celebration of cultures and religion. But in practice you don't always get that full integration."

Tablighi Jamaat: A brief history

The issue is a magnet for the English Defence League and other far-right groups

The organisation behind the plan to build a giant mosque in Newham is one of the lesser-known and most misunderstood Muslim revivalist movements that came out of north India at the turn of the last century.

Tablighi Jamaat began as an offshoot of Deobandism, the deeply socially conservative school of Islam to which movements such as the Taliban also trace a theological linage. But they espouse none of the violent militancy of their ideological cousins who continue to blight Afghanistan and much of Pakistan.

Founded in the 1920s by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, the organisation places enormous emphasis on returning Muslims to what it believes is the correct interpretation of Islam. It promotes grassroots preaching and is avowedly apolitical, something which enabled it to flourish across much of the Muslim world throughout the mid-20th century because it was not seen as a threat to the ruling classes.

Much like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, Tablighi volunteers spend their time going door to door spreading dawah (preaching Islam). But Tablighi Jamaat concentrates on netting Muslim followers and rarely preaches to non-believers. Outside of predominantly Muslim neighbourhoods, it is rare to come across followers.

Some law enforcement officials, particularly in the US and France, have accused Tablighi of being a "gateway" organisation to more militant or violent groups. Tablighi has long argued that this accusation is unfair given the sect's view that earthly politics should be avoided and that followers have been routinely criticised by more militant Islamist groups for not being political enough.

Where Tablighi can be more fairly criticised is its often isolationist views, which cause difficulties in western societies where immigrant communities need to integrate.

Jerome Taylor

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried