Mosque peace plan is 'impractical'

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AN 'upstairs-downstairs' peace plan aimed at ending confrontation between rival Muslim factions at a Bedfordshire mosque has proved 'completely impractical', the High Court was told yesterday.

The compromise formula, which proposed that the rival religious factions conduct separate prayer meetings on the ground and first floors of Luton Central Mosque, was drawn up to ease tension when a 'raging dispute' erupted over control of the building last May.

One faction, claiming it was voted in charge after a ballot of mosque members, ousted a second group which has the support of trustees of the charity responsible for the running of the building. Both groups claim to be the rightful managers of the mosque in Westbourne Road.

The trustees claim that the new management committee, led by Haji Mohammad Suleiman, was elected unlawfully and took over the mosque by force, and that the religious leader, Iman Qazi Abdul Aziz Chisti, was punched and kicked and thrown out of the mosque by a mob supporting the new committee.

After the takeover, the trustees successfully sought a High Court injunction to regain access, and the 'upstairs-downstairs' compromise was struck. But Hubert Picarda QC, for the trustees, told Mr Justice Ferris that his clients were prevented from entering. 'The upstairs-downstairs arrangement unfortunately . . . is plainly impractical,' he said.

The trustees now want the new management committee banned from holding meetings at the mosque and from interfering with the administration of the mosque charity, or the conduct of religious ceremonies. The injunctions, if granted, would run until the dispute was settled lawfully.

The court was told that police had to be called to maintain peace at the mosque when trouble began. The new committee suspended the religious leader, and claims that there would be a 'risk of serious public disorder' if he is allowed to enter the building.

Earlier, Mr Justice Ferris dismissed a contempt motion calling for Mr Suleiman to be jailed for allegedly refusing to allow the trustees into the mosque in defiance of a High Court order.

It was alleged that attempts by the old management committee and its supporters to gain access to the first floor were blocked four times, with Mr Suleiman shouting abuse from behind a closed door.

Mr Justice Ferris said that this decision should not be regarded as a 'great victory on anybody's part'. There was evidence of a 'considerable collective disobedience' of a High Court order.

The hearing continues today.

(Photograph omitted)