The London Markaz The Sunday Times (London) has an article today with an update on plans by Tablighi Jamaat to build a gigantic mosque complex, called the London Markaz, on a 10-acre site in Newham, a mere 500 yards from the site of the 2012 Olympic games. The Markaz' size and ambition are as noteworthy as Tablighi Jamaat's agenda is dubious.

The project's backers hope the mosque and its surrounding buildings would hold a total of 70,000 people, only 10,000 fewer than the Olympic stadium. Its futuristic design features wind turbines instead of the traditional minarets, while a translucent latticed roof would replace the domes seen on most mosques. The complex is designed to become the "Muslim quarter" for the Games, acting as a hub for Islamic competitors and spectators.

With a built area of 180,000m2, the site is 1km in length and sits on the banks of the Channelsea River in proximity to the London 2012 Olympic sites.

The east London complex would have by far the largest capacity of any religious building in Britain. The biggest at present is the Baitul Futuh in Morden, Surrey, which holds about 10,000 worshippers. Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, the largest Christian place of worship, has a capacity of 3,000. The three-storey mosque will be designed to accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers. Its sweeping roof is intended to evoke tented cities. The complex would include a garden, school, library and accommodation for visiting worshippers. Islamic calligraphy would cover the walls and ceilings, the washing areas would have cascading water to mimic a stream, and the complex's buildings would be adapted to allow extra worshippers during festivals such as Eid, accommodating a further 30,000 visitors.

The Times says that the project is expected to cost over £100 million, with donations now being solicited in Britain and elsewhere. But British Muslim sources estimate the cost at £300 million, and note that this is not much less than the £420 million King Hassan of Morocco spent on his sea-side mosque, which is the most expensive modern mosque in the world. (The Saudis have spent considerably more renovating the mosques in Mecca and Medina.)

Comments: (1) Should this project come to fruition, it will surely be the outstanding symbol of Islam in Europe, at least until an even larger and more expensive complex outdoes it.

(2) Currently the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel, opened in June 2004, holds the title for the UK's grandest mosque compound. As I earlier described it, "the six-storey building can hold 10,000 worshippers and includes a gym, a library, crèche and classrooms." But what is of greater interest is that "center members raised about £4 million (of the total £10 million), with the bulk of funding coming from taxpayers via such public agencies as the European Development Fund, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and the London Development Agency." One can only wonder how much the European, British, and London taxpayer will put out for the Markaz.

(3) That the largest Islamic house of worship in Great Britain is already over three times larger than the largest Christian counterpart speaks volumes about the spirit and ambition of British Muslims; that they are planning one almost 25 times bigger reinforces the point many times over. (November 27, 2005)

July 17, 2006 update: TheLondon Development Agency and the local town are said to be "very much in favour" of the Markaz plan, moving it closer to reality. But not everyone is pleased. "It will rival, if not exceed St Paul's, and perhaps be the most dominant [religious] site for the whole of London," notes Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund. "The local people have not been consulted. They are going to have their community handed over."

Aug. 20, 2006 update: In the course of a major article on the Tablighi Jamaat (titled "Army of darkness"), the Sunday Telegraph provides an update on the Markaz:

The Tablighi is in advanced discussions with the London Development Agency (LDA) for the construction of a giant, 70,000-capacity mosque complex - Europe's biggest and the centrepiece of an "Islamic Village" - in the east London borough of West Ham. If it goes ahead - at an estimated cost of £100 million-£200 million - it will become London's biggest religious site. Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, is a supporter, as, it appears, is the LDA and, once again, much of the money is likely to come from the Saudis.

Comment: How can one resist noting that this "Islamic Village" will come into existence in a borough called West Ham?

Sep. 24, 2006 update: A battle royal is developing over the Markaz, reports the Observer.

Sep. 25, 2006 update: In a skeptical piece on the London Markaz, "The shadow cast by a mega-mosque," a town councillor representing the Christian People's Alliance who lives about a mile from the 16-acre site on which the Markaz is to be built, Alan Craig, notes two developments: Even though formal permission for the Markaz has not yet been given, "Muslims are moving into the area in preparation. The Savile Town area of Dewsbury where Tablighi Jamaat is currently based is now more than 90 per cent Muslim." Second, close to where the mosque location, the Kingsway International Christian Centre, Europe's biggest evangelical church, accommodating 12,000 worshippers, is being torn down to make way for the Olympic stadium.

Whether or not Tablighi Jamaat will get permission to build the Markaz, because it is so large, will be decided not by the local Newham town councilors but by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, a public body funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, whose board is appointed by the secretary for communities and local government, currently Ruth Kelly. Should the board corporation approve the Markaz proposal, that is that, with no right of appeal. Should it reject the plan, however, Tablighi Jamaat can appeal to the Government. Patrick Sookhdeo of the institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity notes that the outcome is a foregone conclusion: "The corporation has already said that the new mosque will make West Ham a ‘cultural and religious destination'." The Conservative spokesman on planning for the London Assembly, Tony Arbour, complained: "For this major decision to be taken by a quango is undemocratic. Local residents have been shut out of the process."
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