East London Mosque bans homophobes
For the last three years, Time Out has reported on a series of attacks, both verbal and physical, by members of the Muslim community on gay men and women in Tower Hamlets. Now, in a major breakthrough, Whitechapel's East London Mosque has pledged to ban homophobic preachers from speaking on its premises.
Last week, campaigners including prominent members of the Muslim community - such as Paul Salahuddin Armstrong and Mohammed Abbassi, co-directors of the Association of British Muslims, and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy - as well as gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Time Out's Gay & Lesbian editor, Paul Burston, called on the mosque to ban anti-gay speakers.
In a statement, the activists said some preachers at the East London Mosque and its cultural wing, the London Muslim Centre, had 'created an atmosphere in which hate is socially acceptable; they have spread a message in which maiming and violence is the most dutiful, honourable, devout thing to do'.
Muslim clerics who have spoken formerly at the mosque include Abdul Hattin (whose presentation there in 2007 included a game called 'spot the fag') and Abdullah Hakim Quick (pictured inset), who is on record calling for the death penalty for homosexuals.
Recent Metropolitan Police figures show that anti-gay hate crime has risen by 21 per cent in a year in Tower Hamlets, from 67 attacks to 81. In August 2008 fashion student Oliver Hemsley was paralysed from the neck down following a vicious attack in Shoreditch (TO 2048); more recently, a Muslim man, Mohammed Hasnath, received a fine of just £100 for putting up 'Gay-Free Zone' stickers in the borough (TO 2126).
The campaigners claim that Hasnath's stickering was part of a wider agenda to target the gay community and that the law had treated a 'co-ordinated anti-gay intimidation campaign as nothing more serious than illicit flyposting or spitting in the street'.
The East London Mosque has responded by saying that anti-gay speakers will no longer have a platform at the mosque. 'If it has been shown that someone has made homophobic remarks, they can no longer be allowed to speak here, even if they have spoken here in the past,' ELM spokesman Salman Farsi told Time Out. He said the booking procedure for speakers at the mosque had been tightened up and acknowledged that a £100 fine for putting up 'hate' stickers was a mere 'slap on the wrist'.
'There are a small number of extremists in our community that are stirring things up,' Farsi said. Asked if the mosque will be publicising its stance to the wider Muslim community, for example on its website, Farsi said that the pledge by the mosque had been widely reported.
'This is a great step forward by the mosque and will contribute hugely to community relations,' said Paul Shetler, one of the campaigners. 'But when I talk to people in the area about this new policy they are mostly unaware of it. The mosque now needs to honour its commitment and publicise its new position.'