Police took ‘every step’ to respect Islamic faith

Leaflets try to assure residents of respect for Islam
The Times (England), Jan. 21, 2003
By Ian Cobain and Stewart Tendler

From the moment senior police decided to raid the Finsbury Park Mosque, Scotland Yard knew that it would face a wave of criticism.

Muslim police officers were consulted and officers were ordered to slip on overboots as they burst through the front door.

Yesterday thousands of leaflets were being handed to people emerging from the nearby Underground station, reassuring them that they were at no risk and pointing out alternative places of worship.

The raid was in support of “the investigation into terrorism in London and elsewhere in the UK”, the leaflet said. “There have been many confirmed links between other strands of the investigation and the mosque.”

A spokesman said: “We have taken every step possible to show our respect for the Muslim faith and to minimise the impact to those who use the mosque, and the wider Muslim community.”

Nevertheless, Muslim figures outside the mosque were not consulted, amid fear of a breach of security in advance of the raid.

And while the reaction from prominent Muslims and clerics was mixed yesterday, with some speaking in support of the police, many voiced their grave concern.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, also said that he was appalled by the raid. He said outside the mosque: “During a long campaign against the IRA we never had any churches being raided. This raid will increase Islamophobia and it will fuel racism.”

Dr Siddiqui claimed that the investigation could have been conducted in a “more civilised” way, by approaching the mosque’s trustess rather than with a large show of force: “As far as the wider community is concerned, they are appalled.”

Dr Siddiqui was also highly critical of Abu Hamza, whom he accused of “courting al-Qaeda” and being in “wrongful occupation” of the mosque. However, he added: “There are enough laws existing to deal with this situation.”

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that he was saddened by the raid. He said he hoped police officers had not entered the main place of worship, especially with shoes on. That would be considered highly sacrilegious.“One cannot condone any form of illegal criminal activity being carried out anywhere,” he said. “A mosque is not a place for criminals to carry out illegal activities.”

However, Mr Sacranie said that local Muslims had been raising concerns about the mosque with the police for several years, with little response.

“What is worrying is that the people who have gone out fighting around the world have been arrested but not the people who encouraged and incited them. No action has been taken against them.”

At the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman, said that Muslims should support the police raid. “If the police had good reason to arrest these men then there is no religious dispute with their actions,” he said.

“The most important thing is that the police maintain a relationship of trust. What Muslims want to see is transparency, and the police have been in touch with us all day, which is a good thing.”

Mr Bunglawala said that Abu Hamza’s rhetoric had done “immense damage” to the image of Islam in Britain.

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