A massive mosque that will hold 40,000 worshippers is being proposed beside the Olympic complex in London to be opened in time for the 2012 Games.
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.
“It will be something never seen before in this country. It is a mosque for the future as part of the British landscape,” said Abdul Khalique, a senior member of Tablighi Jamaat, a worldwide Islamic missionary group that is proposing the mosque as its new UK headquarters.
Tablighi Jamaat has come under scrutiny from western security agencies since 9/11. Two years ago, according to The New York Times, a senior FBI anti-terrorism official claimed it was a recruiting ground for Al-Qaeda. British police investigated a report that Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the July 7 London bombers, had attended its present headquarters in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. In August, Bavaria expelled three members of the organisation on the grounds that it promoted Islamic extremism.
Defenders of Tablighi Jamaat say that it is not political and confines itself to humanitarian work. It was founded in India under the British Raj and has many members in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
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 new building will be called the London Markaz (Arabic for centre) and will be built in place of an existing mosque on a 10-acre site 500 yards from the Olympic development.
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.
Ali Mangera, the London and Barcelona-based architect who is designing the mosque, said: “People in this country build mosques with fake domes and plastic minarets to look like the mosques back home. Islam has traditionally been at the forefront of technology and change. The Markaz will reflect this. It will be more than a mosque. The whole idea behind it is to break down barriers.”
Mangera has previously worked with leading British architects including Zaha Hadid, designer of the Cardiff opera house. Mangera and Tablighi Jamaat are in negotiations with Newham council, the Greater London Authority and the Thames Gateway Development Corporation for planning permission.
Sunil Sahadevan, a planning officer at Newham council, said: “We are working towards the mosque application with the organisers and discussions are ongoing. The application will be finalised over the next year.”
It is estimated that the project would cost more than £100m and donations are being sought from Britain and abroad.
Additional reporting: Tom Baird