Sunni vs. Shia in Gerrard’s Cross: New mosque highlights growing tensions among British Muslims

In Fulmer, Buckinghamshire a village close to Gerrard’s Cross it was announced that a former church in the village had been bought for £2m, with a plan to turn it into one of Britain’s leading Shia mosques, assurances were sought about traffic and increased noise. But otherwise the new arrivals have been made welcome. The Muslim community faces an increasing threat from polarising clerics on both sides of Islam’s principal rival sects. The concern is rooted in increasingly vociferous opinions being expressed on both sides of Britain’s three million-strong Muslim community.


A leading mainstream Muslim group told The Independent yesterday it was concerned at the presence of “divisive and sectarian personalities” in Britain after it emerged that a controversial Saudi Sunni cleric, who was banned from entering Switzerland because of his extremist views and has frequently preached against “evil Shiites”, has been in London for the past week.


The respected Al Khoei Foundation, a mainstream Shia organisation which has drawn up a code of conduct to fight against Muslim sectarianism in Britain, said: “The Muslim communities remain concerned but vigilant about the possibilities of divisive and sectarian personalities being given the air of publicity in the UK. But we remain equally confident of our commitment to unity in the face of any hate speeches or crimes against us or against any community.”


Police were called to a demonstration in London’s Edgware Road last month led by Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the banned Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun. Participants in the protest held placards condemning the continued bloodshed in Syria and “the Shia enemies of Allah”. The violence at the heart of one of London’s most diverse Arab and Muslim areas has caused alarm in the wider community and was swiftly condemned by a coalition of Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), amid growing concern that extremist preachers are finding fertile ground in sectarian tensions generated by the conflict in Syria.


In a joint statement, which singled out the “antics” of Mr Choudary, the MCB said: “Sunnis and Shias remain united in the UK and have a long-established history of intra-faith co-operation. We are acutely aware that the complex situation in the Middle East and Muslim world has the possibility of threatening that tradition… We should avoid hate and condescending speech and literature in our midst.”


David Cameron hinted last week that mosques seeking to ban extremist preachers could have their legal fees paid from public funds as part of a raft of measures being drawn up by a ministerial task force, which is also considering direct bans on so-called “preachers of hate” being given public platforms.

Debating about the new mosque

For the xenophobic Northern League’s newspaper “La Padania”, the building of a mosque in Greve is a disgrace, exactly like the idea of building a mosque in Ground Zero. Indeed, in their opinion, what is taking place is a clash of civilizations. The Greve’s Northern League group leader announced a referendum. The mayor of Greve, member of the Democratic Party, explained that Muslims have never asked the municipality to build a mosque, but only support to find a place for worship. However, the mayor continued, the Northern League is propagating that the municipality’s money would pay for construction of a mosque, and asks residents to oppose the construction. Although this false, is nevertheless gaining support among many politicians, even left wing parties. Despite all this, according to the mayor, cultural and religious diversity is a positive development, and has to be sustained and enhanced. For this reason, he has just started a programme with the help of local associations, to explain to people how to tackle the issue of integration and coexistence. He reaffirms that religious freedom is a constitutional principle and, indeed, has to be granted.

New mosque to open in 2011 in Marseille, France

Construction of the largest mosque in France is set to begin in Marseille. UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin delivered the building permit; Marseille has approximately 200,000 Muslims, approximately one quarter of the population. The 8600 m2 lot was formerly an abattoir and will house the prayer hall, theological school, library, restaurant, bookstore and amphitheatre. The prayer hall should hold 7000 and will feature a minaret 25 meters tall.